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As it looks more and more that the moratorium on new natural gas will be permanent in the Town and Village of Lansing, government officials and residents have been asking  what New York State will do to to provide 'energy equity' for the Lansings.  The question was partially answered Monday when HeatSmart representatives explained to the Town Planning Board the benefits of heat pump technology and New York State Energy Research and Development Authority (NYSERDA) incentives for installing it.  Intensives that are specifically targeted at the Lansings because of the moratorium.

"NYSERDA came up with this clean action plan in response to these gas moratoria, saying we're going to help these communities to transition off of fossil fuels onto more sustainable types of home heating," said Lansing HeatSmart Coordinator Lisa Marshall. "The way they're going to do that is to lower energy costs for consumers, promote economic development, and deliver more resources."

The HeatSmart program is offered by Solar Tompkins, the same organization that hosted the successful community solar program starting in 2014.  That program exceeded its goal of doubling the amount of residential solar photovoltaic (PV) installations in Tompkins County, and jump-started solar adoption across the county.  They launched Heatsmart in 2015.  The programs are similar in that they include a heavy education component, coupled with information on how to make the most of available monetary incentives.  The program partners with local installers to make it easier for homeowners to connect with installers who are certified to take advantage of the incentives.

Marshallsaid that an incentive for installing ground source heat pumps specifically targets the portion of the Lansings that is impacted by the moratorium.  New York State is offering incentives for ground source heat pumps amounting to $1,500 per cooling ton (which comes to between $6,000 and $7,500 for a typical home.  This incentive is available anywhere in the Town and Village of Lansing.  But a larger incentive is being offered to those Lansing homeowners within the moratorium area (which roughly spans between the Lansing school campus and the southern border of the Village of Lansing) of $1,875 per cooling ton (between $7,500 and $9,400 for a typical home.

"This is a really fantastic incentive,"Marshall said. "Most states don't have any incentive or anything close to this.  New York State is way ahead of the curve on this.  After the end of 2019 these incentives are not going to be available any more. Also federal tax credits start to go down at the end of this year.  So this is the best year to put in these systems in your home."

Even with incentives it may be cheaper to simply replace your old oil or natural gas furnace with a newer one.  Or replacing them with heat pump systems may turn out to be a better long term strategy.  The key is to know about your home's current system, insulation, and so on, to understand the impact of long-term savings, and to understand the requirements of state and federal incentives and how they would apply in your specific situation.

Heat pumps can certainly be cost effective in new construction.  With new natural gas off the table, HeatSmart Program Director Jonathan Comstock says heat pumps are already saving money for Lansing projects such as Village Solars on Warren Road.

"In new construction, the fact that the ductless mini splits don’t need radiators of venting systems can actually save a lot of money," he says. "Steve Lucente for example says he is saving millions in his multi-family complexes by using air source heat pumps instead of gas furnaces.  I know that Steve would use gas for many kinds of building projects if he can, but I don’t think that he will ever go back to furnaces in his apartment complexes."

Lisa Marshall, Jonathan Comstock, Leigh MillerLeft to right: Lisa Marshall, Jonathan Comstock, Leigh Miller

Comstock noted that one way the program supports economic development is creating jobs for installers, although he noted he doesn't expect the same volume the Solarize Tompkins program generated.  When planning board member Lin Davidson asked whether homeowners could qualify for the incentives if they installed their own heat pump systems, Comstock replied that they don't.

"It has to be a NYSERDA certified installer.  It doesn't have to be one of the installers HeatSmart is working with, but the installer must be NYSERDA certified," he replied. "To qualify for the ground source incentive you need to have a signed contract, but for air source the installation must be completed.  For ground source it's when the installer sends in the NYSERDA application for you.  That becomes the date that determines what you are eligible for.  But you won't get the money until the system is fully installed."

Marshall said that the Lansing HeatSmart program will aggressively promote the program using advertising, community events including a planned celebration of the program's launch in Myers Park (August 4th, 3-6pm, Pavilion E), home tours and house parties in homes that already have heat pumps installed.  The program is also reaching out to Lansing's faith communities, and volunteers will be knocking on doors to spread the word about the program.

"I want every resident in Lansing to have heard about our program, and know what options are available to them," she said. "We would love to see heat pumps considered as the standard default option for home heating.  If somebody needs a new furnace or wants to change what they have that they're automatically thinking about heat pumps."

In keeping with the local push, Leigh Miller, a 2018 Lansing High School graduate, has been enlisted as an intern for the Lansing program this summer.  Miller is studying environmental sustainability sciences at Cornell University.

"I'm excited to make an environmental impact in the town I grew up in," she said. "I'm a firm believer that climate change is the biggest obstacle for my generation to tackle."

Lansing representatives are also pursuing other avenues to provide 'energy equity' to the Lansings.  Last month Town Supervisor Ed LaVigne, Village of Lansing Mayor Donald Hartill, County Legislator (Town of Lansing) Mike Sigler, and Lansing Planning Consultant Michael Long went to Albany to make their case to New York State Electric & Gas (NYSEG) and the New York State Public Service Commission (PSC) that if Lansing has to be the only municipality in Tompkins County without access to new natural gas, it should be offered discounted electricity to bring electricity costs in line with communities that do have cheaper energy alternatives.  In addition, no that the Cayugas Power Plant has officially filed its application to shut down, they are pursuing transition funding the state offers to communities in which power plants have closed.

Hartill continues to argue that especially in light of an aging electricity delivery grid it is foolhardy to rely on only one form of power generation.  He says natural gas is still an economically attractive and should be an option as a 'transition source of energy' until the cost and science of renewable energy technology becomes more viable, citing Macom's decision to leave the Village for a location out of state where natural gas is available.  Hartill says the loss to Lansing was over 200 jobs, about half of which would be new jobs generated by an expansion had the company remained here.  LaVigne says he just wants reliable and affordable energy for the Town, and doesn't care to wade into the pool or politics of what kind of energy it is.  In the wake of multiple power outages in Lansing the three legislators and legislators across Tompkins County are lobbying for upgrades to the electricity delivery grid.

Comstock says that ground source heat pumps (GSHP) are better than air source heat pumps (ASHP) in terms of grid usage because they spread out electrical usage more evenly during the year.  That reduces peak loads, which, he adds, can reduce the cost of electricity because producing electricity becomes more cost effective when peak usage times are leveled out.  He also says that switching from oil or propane the ASHP will have payed for itself and then continues saving many thousands of dollars.  But he acknowledges that it is hard to make an economic case for switching from a natural gas system to heat pumps. 

"The incentive for those people needs to be some combination of health, comfort, and environmental concerns," he says. "However, if the customer is currently using fuel oil or propane they can save thousands of dollars per year and then the systems really can pay for themselves even in a retrofit."

Comstock argues that long term savings can be significant even if installation costs for heat pumps are higher than oil or gas furnaces.

"It depends a lot on the home," he says. "If there is very little total demand for heat then they aren’t buying a lot of fuel every year and its harder to talk about paying for itself.  However, if the annual cost of heating with oil or propane is $2500 to 3000 or more, and the GSHP can do it for maybe $800 a year then they are saving as much as a couple thousand per year and paying off $12,000 only takes 6 yrs.  Past that it is all savings to spend on other things."
"Even if the savings aren’t that large per year, a GSHP can be a very strong long-term investment," he adds. "First we expect the initial GSHP system to last 25 years (ASHP about 15 yrs).  The loop field will last 50-100 years.  So it will eventually pay itself off in a lot of situations.  And the replacement when it comes will be much less expensive than the first outlay that included the loop field installation.  And if we are talking about replacing a furnace and forced-air delivery, the GSHP will provide AC as well as heating."

Lansing and lower Westchester County are the only two communities in New York State thus far that have natural gas moratoriums. Marshall said that makes the two communities test cases for the rest of the state and other places around the United States.

"Because this is a gas moratorium area the State is watching this area," she said. "Other places are watching to see what happens in Westchester and Lansing.  So success here will be proof of concept that this is how we can build heating in our homes across New York and other places."

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