August 2019

Seattle mayor proposes heating oil tax to push electrification


August 9, 2019–

Dive Brief:

  • As part of the city’s climate plan, Seattle Mayor Jenny Durkan has proposed a tax on heating oil providers that would help transition homes from oil heaters to electric heat.
  • The proposed 24 cents-per-gallon tax would cover rebates and grants to help 3,000 homes transition to electric power, with an estimated 1,000 low-income households being eligible for a fully funded conversion. All told, the city has as many as 18,000 oil-heated homes.
  • The measure, which is being proposed to the Seattle City Council, would also require that heating oil tank owners decommission or upgrade their underground oil tanks by 2028. Tax revenue will offer rebates and grants for electric heat pumps.

    Dive Insight:

    Durkan has set a goal of making Seattle carbon neutral by 2050, an ambitious plan that has the city looking at all angles to reduce emissions. Buildings are the city’s second-largest source of emissions, after transportation, and Durkan has proposed strategies like height and floor space incentives for buildings that adopt energy and water efficiency measures. If all 18,000 oil-heated homes converted to electricity, the city says emissions would drop by 433,000 metric tons over 10 years, the equivalent of taking nearly 90,000 cars off the road for a year.

    It also fits in a broader trend of cities moving away from gas and oil power for residences in favor of electricity. Berkeley, CA, for example, voted last monthto ban natural gas infrastructure in new low-rise residential buildings starting in 2020, transitioning them to electric stoves and heating. The Berkeley measure also requires that all new buildings have the proper infrastructure to go electric.

    Despite the climate benefits, there has been concern that the oil tax will unfairly hit people who own older homes if companies pass it along to customers. Speaking to the Seattle Times, Robert Lauch of heating oil provider Ballard Oil Company called the proposal a “tax on old people.” Durkan’s office did not respond to Smart Cities Dive’s request for comment.

    Still, estimates say the costs work out in the long term. In a 2018 report, the Rocky Mountain Institute wrote that “electrification of space and water heating and air conditioning reduces the homeowners costs over the lifetime of the appliances when compared with performing the same functions with fossil fuels.”

    Article courtesy: Smart Cities Dive