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Senate again passed NY HEAT Act. What legislative roadblocks are ahead?

Flames emerge from burners on a natural gas stove.
Steven Senne
/
AP
Flames emerge from burners on a natural gas stove.

The New York HEAT (Home Energy Affordable Transition) Act was passed through the Senate for the second year in a row on Tuesday, Mar. 19. However, Democrats and Republicans are still at odds over certain aspects of the bill that are meant to reduce the amount of fossil fuels burned in the state — regardless of consumer choice.

State Sen. Mario Mattera (R-Smithtown) described the bill's contents as an “experiment” at a Capitol press conference alongside other Republican members of the Senate Energy Committee. Mattera said alternative energy options should be considered such as thermal, green hydrogen and retooling existing power plants.

“These are good investments in our renewable energy needs that will protect workers’ careers and not put an unnecessary burden on our ratepayers and their families,” Mattera said.

Mattera said certain mandates in the bill take away the customer's right to choose whether or not they want to switch over from natural gas to electric. One of the policy changes is the elimination of the 100-foot rule — which allows energy companies to put in natural gas lines for homes and businesses with easy access free of charge.

“The cost of connecting will be borne by the customer and it’s too costly. Homeowners and businesses will not be able to afford the construction costs,” Mattera said. “This is a total attack on all New Yorkers.”

However, some lawmakers on the other side of the aisle believe that New York state should accept the bill in its entirety. Assemblymember Taylor Darling (D-Hempstead) gathered with other lawmakers and climate activists on Mar. 7 in support of the bill being included in Governor Kathy Hochul’s 2024 executive state budget.

“Passing the NY HEAT Act is not just about fighting climate change; it's about empowering residents to take control of their energy bills,” Darling said. “By prioritizing energy affordability and sustainability, lawmakers can pave the way for a future where New Yorkers can save on their monthly utility expenses while collectively combating climate change.”

The rally took place on the steps of the Nassau County Executive office in Mineola. Darling said the act would draw oversight on utility regulation to align with New York state’s Climate Action Plan — which emphasizes a path to a zero-emission electricity sector by 2040.

If passed, the NY HEAT Act would remove the subsidies and legality that push the expansion of gas systems. It would also amend the Public Service Law and the Transportation Corporations Law to ensure that state regulations align with climate justice and emission reduction mandates established by the Climate Leadership and Community Protection Act.

Suffolk County’s average utility bill for high-burden households is $398 per month, with 25% of homes having high energy burdens. Activists say the NY HEAT Act would lower 23% of Long Island households to almost half of what they were paying before — a whopping $164 every month.

"The data is clear. If implemented, NY HEAT would make a significant dent on Long Island's energy affordability crisis. A quarter of Long Islanders are highly energy burdened, and their bills would be cut by forty percent, on average," said Juan-Pablo Velez, the executive director of Win Climate.

However, this isn’t the first time the bill has been introduced in the New York Assembly. It was submitted to the Energy and Telecommunications Department on Jan. 18, 2023, before making its way through the Senate and was delivered to the Assembly on Jun. 6, 2023. It stayed there for six months before dying in the Assembly and returning to the Senate on Jan. 3, 2024.

In this year’s budget, Governor Kathy Hochul included a portion of the bill’s policy in her 2025 fiscal budget. However, that didn’t include the 6% cap on utility costs for low or moderate-income households to prevent utility companies from raising their rates.

This comes when the Long Island Power Authority voted to increase electric rates by 11.6% in their 2024 budget which they attributed to the cost of fuel and power.

"The NY Heat Act will enable us to transition off of fossil fuels, reduce public health issues, ensure that financially strapped New Yorkers' costs are capped at 6% of their income and stop the requirement that current gas customers subsidize new customers, wasting money to prolong a technology that, sooner rather than later, must become a relic of our past, like the horse and buggy," said Karen Zilber, a campaign coordinator for All Our Energy.

Lobbyists with New Yorkers for Affordable Energy say the legislation faces an uphill battle in the state Assembly — and with Governor Kathy Hochul who has not signaled whether they would agree on all items in the bill package.

The bill now heads to the Assembly. If approved, it will head to Gov. Hochul’s desk to become law.

Sara McGiff is a news intern at WSHU for the fall of 2023.