Op-Ed: Electrification is key to creating thousands of jobs and clean, healthier homes

Jeff Tittel | December 17, 2020 | Opinion
Time to get rid of old, leaky, and oftentimes dangerous fossil-fuel heating systems
Credit: New Jersey Sierra Club
Jeff Tittel

Just like the climate itself, attacks from powerful fossil-fuel interests on Gov. Phil Murphy’s Energy Master Plan (EMP) are heating up. The latest focus of attack is on the plan’s outline for upgrading buildings with innovative electric appliances powered by renewable energy —  allowing residents to get rid of old, leaky, and oftentimes dangerous fossil-fuel heating systems in existing homes and offices.

The plan was formulated to help New Jersey meet its climate goals. And, indeed, we can not reduce 80% of our pollution or become carbon neutral without phasing dirty fossil fuel appliances out of buildings. But the benefits of this plan extend far beyond reducing greenhouse gas pollution.

Gas appliances produce dangerous toxins, filling indoor and outdoor spaces with many of the same pollutants found in car exhaust. In fact, homes with gas stoves have nitrogen dioxide levels that are up to 400% higher than homes with electric stoves, a level that would be illegal if found outdoors. And children living in homes with gas stoves have a 42% increased risk of developing asthma symptoms. Recently, experts have linked even limited exposure to increased nitrogen dioxide to higher COVID-19 death rates. The EMP’s plan to electrify buildings in the state is an opportunity to clean up this major health risk.

Saving money through energy efficiency

Electrifying New Jersey’s homes and businesses will also bring new quality jobs to the state by replacing billions of dollars of dirty fuel purchases from out-of-state energy companies with significant investments in local clean-energy infrastructure. Furthermore, electrification will boost employment in the construction and manufacturing sectors resulting in tens of thousands of local jobs that can’t be outsourced. Additionally, electrifying buildings saves ratepayers significant amounts of money through energy efficiency and the Clean Energy Fund gives rebates at 1/3 the cost of efficient retrofits.

The fossil fuel industry is desperate to mislead New Jerseyans and is spreading a message of fear about this opportunity to create healthier homes and workplaces. But these objections conveniently ignore all the costs of our existing system that aren’t factored in by virtue of its incumbency. What is the cost of a lifetime of asthma brought on by NO2 emissions and particulate matter inside our homes? Did New Jerseyans have any choice in how their homes are currently powered and heated? And how would the fossil fuel industry fare without decades of enormous subsidies? It’s time for a change.

Our government should be guided by the best available evidence and science — and the evidence about the benefits of moving off fossil fuels for heating and cooking are clear. We can transition to a cleaner future and reap the rewards, or we can continue this debate farther inland and at much, much greater cost.

Ratepayers, legislators, and Gov. Murphy should not be intimidated by misinformation from fossil fuel interests. Leaders in New Jersey should act urgently and start the electrification stakeholder process this coming year. In the midst of a worldwide pandemic, driven by the same dynamics behind our warming planet, and on the lookout for future climate disaster, electrification is an essential step forward for ratepayers and New Jersey’s clean-energy future.

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