Strong air quality standards for HVAC and water heaters are needed to improve air quality, cut heating bills, and slow climate change.
HARTFORD — Burning gas, oil, and propane in furnaces and water heaters generates a staggering 23% of Connecticut’s nitrogen oxide (NOx) pollution, more than eight times as much as the state’s power plants, according to a report released today from Save the Sound, Conservation Law Foundation, Sierra Club Connecticut, and RMI. The report illustrates that regulators can gradually eliminate this pollution by setting strong air quality standards for homes and buildings, and that doing so could save residents significant cash over time.
“Connecticut is failing to protect residents, especially communities of color, from hazardous air pollution. The state limits pollution from vehicles, power plants, and other key drivers of smog, but no equivalent standards currently exist for HVAC and water heating equipment. Closing this loophole is essential to achieve cleaner air in Connecticut,” said Shannon Laun, vice president and director of Conservation Law Foundation Connecticut.
The report, Connecticut’s Hidden Air Pollution Problem: Fossil Fuels in Buildings, finds pollution from homes and businesses is a significant barrier to meeting federal air quality standards for ozone, the air pollutant commonly referred to as smog. Communities of color in the state are more likely to live in areas with dangerous levels of ozone.
The findings come as regulators at the Connecticut Department of Energy and Environmental Protection (DEEP) work to develop the state’s Comprehensive Energy Strategy (CES), a key opportunity to advance air quality standards for heating equipment. As part of the CES, DEEP could recommend that only non-polluting HVAC and water heating equipment such as electric heat pumps be installed in homes after 2030.
“Pollution-free technologies like heat pumps can meet Connecticut households’ heating needs, even in frigid temperatures, without fueling our state’s air quality crisis. When polluting HVAC and water equipment burns out, it should be replaced with pollution-free alternatives. It’s that simple,” said Samantha Dynowksi, state director, Sierra Club Connecticut.
In addition to cutting dangerous air pollution, setting air quality standards to transition homes to widely available heat pump technologies could help households save money on their utility bills. Analysis from RMI finds Connecticut households with heating oil and propane furnaces or boilers can save up to 35% on their utility bills by upgrading to an air source heat pump, and the average Connecticut household with a fossil fuel water heater can save up to 10% after replacing it with a heat pump water heater.
State incentives and soon-to-be available federal incentives can support Connecticut households in accessing money-saving heat pumps, although more funds are necessary to meet the scale of the need. Energize Connecticut offers up to $15,000 in combined incentives for residents to upgrade to a residential air-source heat pump. Starting next year, low-income homeowners will also be able to take advantage of federal incentives of up to $8,000 in rebates for air-source heat pumps, up to $2,500 for electrical wiring, and up to $1,600 for weatherization through the Inflation Reduction Act.
“The heating oil bills many Connecticut households saw this winter were simply staggering. Policymakers need to do more to support low-income households in accessing energy-saving technologies that can lower their monthly bills, while benefiting all Connecticut residents through cleaner air and a more stable climate,” said Charles Rothenberger, climate and energy attorney, Save the Sound.
In addition to polluting the air, fossil fuel HVAC and water heating equipment is also responsible for roughly 30% of Connecticut’s total climate-warming greenhouse gas emissions – more than three times the emissions for the entire industrial sector. According to analysis from RMI, replacing a gas furnace with a heat pump in the average Connecticut home decreases operational greenhouse gas emissions from building space heating by 27% in the first year alone and 51% over the heat pump’s fifteen-year lifespan.
Read the report: Connecticut’s Hidden Air Pollution Problem: Fossil Fuels in Buildings.
About Save the Sound:
The mission of Save the Sound is to protect and improve the land, air, and water of Connecticut and the Long Island Sound region. We use legal and scientific expertise and bring people together to achieve results that benefit our environment for current and future generations. Our vision is of a Connecticut and Sound region where the vitality of nature will be protected for people and wildlife, now and for many decades to come. A region in which citizens from all walks of life can unite in transforming struggling habitats, polluted waters, endangered wildlife, and a threatened planet into resilient, healthy, vibrant, and inspiring places that sustain communities.
About Conservation Law Foundation:
Conservation Law Foundation protects New England’s environment for the benefit of all people. We use the law, science, and the market to create solutions that preserve natural resources, build healthy communities, and sustain a vibrant regional economy. CLF’s approach to environmental advocacy is distinguished by our close involvement with local communities; our ability to design and implement effective strategies; and our capacity for developing innovative and economically sound solutions to our region’s most critical environmental challenges. Learn more at www.clf.org.
About the Sierra Club:
The Sierra Club is America’s largest and most influential grassroots environmental organization, with millions of members and supporters. In addition to protecting every person’s right to get outdoors and access the healing power of nature, the Sierra Club works to promote clean energy, safeguard the health of our communities, protect wildlife, and preserve our remaining wild places through grassroots activism, public education, lobbying, and legal action.
RMI is an independent nonprofit founded in 1982 that transforms global energy systems through market- driven solutions to align with a 1.5°C future and secure a clean, prosperous, zero-carbon future for all. We work in the world’s most critical geographies and engage businesses, policymakers, communities, and NGOs to identify and scale energy system interventions that will cut greenhouse gas emissions at least 50 percent by 2030. RMI has offices in Basalt and Boulder, Colorado; New York City; Oakland, California; Washington, D.C.; and Beijing.