Oil dealers urge halt to conversions, cite risks to power grid

Written on: December 18, 2021 by ICM

Article courtesy: Hartford Courant

Home heating oil dealers have called on New England’s governors to halt utility-funded conversions to natural gas and electric heating systems, (AP Photo/Tribune-Democrat, John Rucosky). (The Associated Press)

Home heating oil dealers are calling on New England’s governors to halt utility-funded conversions to natural gas and electric heating systems, saying the practice will strain the region’s electric grid.

State energy officials and environmentalists say the oil dealers’ argument is backward and is delaying efforts to reduce and eventually end the use of carbon-based fuel.

Home heating oil dealers on Thursday cited recent warnings from ISO-New England, the region’s grid operator, that controlled blackouts are possible if winter weather turns bitterly cold, stressing natural gas supplies.

The oil dealerships, most of which are family-owned, pointed to extensive damage to the Texas grid in February in the wake of powerful storms, warning that New England’s grid could face the same crisis. The region’s six states “have utility-funded programs in place promoting the installation of heating systems that threaten to further constrain our critical energy infrastructure,” they said.

“Knowing all this, how can our states justify encouraging more residents to convert to natural gas and electric heat pumps,” the dealers said.

Sean Cota, president of the New England Fuel Institute, which represents the home heating fuels industry in the region, said the states need to put a hold on a “rapid movement of electrification of heat because that will only reinforce a weak grid where we’ve not planned out or allocated enough resources for the electric grid to continue at capacity.”

State energy officials and environmental advocates dismissed those arguments.

Will Healey, spokesman for the Connecticut Department of Energy and Environmental Protection, said the “fossil fuel lobby predictably doesn’t want our grid to be powered by sources other than fossil fuels, which do some of the most damage to our environment, and are trying to leverage the tragedy in Texas with false claims.”

ISO-New England, the region’s grid operator, has “not indicated an emergency scenario is on the horizon,” he said.

Melissa Birchard, senior regulatory attorney and director of the Clean Energy Program at Acadia Center, an advocacy group seeking to cut carbon emissions, defended policies expanding electrification.

“The short- and long-term answer is to help residents shift from reliance on volatile fossil fuels to electric alternatives that are cleaner, safer and equally comfortable,” she said.

The oil dealers say they do not oppose net-zero emission goals. “On the contrary, we share them,” they said. The industry said it has committed to reduce emissions 15% by 2023, 40% by 2030 and achieve net-zero emissions by 2050 using blends of renewable liquid heating fuels.

Connecticut oil dealers have battled the state before. Business owners fiercely opposed the energy policies of then-Gov. Dannel P. Malloy nearly 10 years ago that encouraged businesses and homeowners to connect to natural gas, arguing it was then cheaper than oil.

Oil dealers now justify their opposition to conversion to natural gas and electrification by citing warnings of ISO-New England on Dec. 6 that power outages are possible if the winter turns bitterly cold and high demand saps fuel supplies. The Holyoke, Mass.-based grid operator said it will meet consumer demand if the winter is mild, but a severe and prolonged cold snap could require emergency actions, including controlled blackouts, if generators lack access to fuel.