Furnace rule is bad for consumers

Published 9:33 pm Tuesday, March 17, 2015

By Robert Duvall

The Department of Energy is proposing new energy efficiency standards for natural gas furnaces that would increase customer costs, energy usage and emissions, the exact opposite of what updated energy efficiency standards should do.

As a utility that promotes energy efficiency programs that save money for our customers, Virginia Natural Gas supports commonsense energy policy.

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The DOE proposal would mandate the use of next-generation furnaces that generally work well in new homes. Unfortunately, they are not easily retrofitted into existing homes without a large expense, often $2,000 to $3,000.

Under some applications, these furnaces can save about $80 a year for a typical homeowner, but about 75 percent of homeowners will not enjoy even these small savings, due to the construction expense to install them.

The DOE proposal would swing the nation away from natural gas in favor of high-cost electric heating, which relies on grid energy from higher carbon-emitting and more expensive sources like coal.

DOE admits its proposal would cost low-income customers more and that fewer of them would benefit from it than customers at other income levels.

While natural gas should be considered an affordable, environmentally preferred option to generate electricity, it is more economical and efficient for consumers to use natural gas directly from their individual appliances.

DOE’s proposal would push customers to higher-cost and higher-emissions options, such as inefficient electric heat. An analysis by the American Gas Association and Gas Technology Institute shows that customers would see an increase of $44.9 million in energy costs annually. Though the goal of this efficiency standard is to reduce harmful emissions, it would add 348,000 tons of carbon dioxide emissions per year.

The natural gas industry has a strong track record of supporting energy efficiency efforts. In 2013, natural gas utilities spent $1.5 billion on energy-efficiency programs. Virginia Natural Gas supplied roughly 14,000 Virginia customers with rebates, energy audits and low-income weatherization products.

This is in no small part due to the efforts of natural gas utilities and engaged customers.

Any decrease in the use of natural gas would be impractical and cost prohibitive. Natural gas is the cleanest and most flexible fossil fuel option.

Fortunately the new rules are not set in stone. While the natural gas industry works with Congress to ensure that consumers can make their own choices about home heating, Virginia Natural Gas encourages consumers to voice their views on this important issue with their elected officials.

Robert Duvall is the president of Virginia Natural Gas. For more information, visit www.aglresources.com.