‘It’s going to hurt us’: fuel oil industry battles efforts to eliminate state rebates

The council’s proposal, which is chaired by the state’s energy resources commissioner, follows recommendations made by the Baker administration in December for Massachusetts to achieve “net zero” carbon emissions by 2050. changes also correspond to aggressive greenhouse gas emissions reduction targets that were included in a comprehensive climate law passed by the Legislative Assembly and signed by Governor Charlie Baker Last week. One provision allows municipalities to adopt net zero building codes for new construction, which could effectively block fossil fuel hook-ups in future projects.

Significant changes in the way buildings are heated will be necessary if Massachusetts is to meet its 2050 emissions target. State officials and environmentalists hope to encourage the use of electric heat pumps in homes and discourage fossil fuels. The ramifications could be huge for the more than 700,000 homeowners in the state who use fuel oil – as well as the businesses that serve them.

Massachusetts’ electricity rates, meanwhile, are among the highest in the United States, nearly double the national average.

It is in this context that the Massachusetts Energy Marketers Association, which represents approximately 400 fuel oil dealers, finds itself on the verge of losing Mass Save discounts, which range from $ 400 to $ 800 per installation, as well as access to Popular interest-free HEAT loans, subsidize petroleum system facilities. (The advice recommends investigating the impacts on low-income households before changing the incentives for these clients.)

The fuel oil companies say their customers pay Mass Save through electric bill supplements and should be able to get discounts for upgrading their heating systems. Ferrante said he was concerned that utilities working with state officials on the program might be pressured to support his industry. He said his association intends to challenge the changes in court if they are finalized.

“We’re under the microscope to be wiped off the map,” Ferrante said.

He noted that many fuel oil suppliers have taken steps to tackle environmental impacts, switching to biofuel blends that emit much less carbon. For example, nearly 80 dealers are participating in a state-run program to encourage the use of biofuels, mainly rejected cooking oil, which can be mixed with standard heating oil; they receive incentives funded by penalties that electric utilities pay for failing to meet their renewable energy targets.

Among the participants: Cubby Oil & Energy. President Charlie Uglietto said nearly all of the Wilmington-based company’s roughly 6,000 customers burn a 50/50 mixture of petroleum and used cooking oil. He said it costs homeowners about $ 50 more per year than unblended fuel oil. A few customers use fuel made only from discarded cooking oil.

John Alefantis works in Boston for the fuel oil company Cubby Oil.David L. Ryan

From Uglietto’s perspective, biodiesel is a more cost-effective way to cut emissions than heat pump installations, which state officials want to prioritize in the new Mass Save plan.

“Neither the state, nor Mass Save, nor a lot of people recognize the value of liquid renewable fuels,” Uglietto said. “Why are we forcing people to buy heat pump systems for $ 25,000 when we can just change the fuel that goes into people’s oil burners and achieve greenhouse reductions today for pennies on the dollar? I just don’t understand.

Caitlin Peale Sloan, who heads Massachusetts policy efforts for the Conservation Law Foundation, said there wasn’t enough cooking oil thrown into restaurants. go around the fuel oil industry to rely solely on it as a solution.

The removal of oil rebates is one of many proposed changes to the Mass Save program, which is state-regulated and funded by surcharges on electricity and natural gas bills. They will now be used by the state’s major electricity and natural gas utilities as they develop a plan for the next three years to incorporate climate benefits.

“We are really reviewing all of our fossil fuel incentives and will pay attention to the fossil fuel incentives that will be retained in the next plan. It’s not just fuel oil, ”said Patrick Woodcock, State Commissioner for Energy Resources. “We believe heat pumps should be integrated statewide. . . It is a technological breakthrough that Massachusetts will seize. It’s just a matter of time. We believe the time has come. “

Efficiency board member Amy Boyd said so and utilities will be releasing a final version by the end of October. She noted that fuel oil customers could still use Mass Save funds for other efficiency measures, such as insulating their home.

“Using taxpayer dollars to buy products that will conserve fossil fuels longer is a waste of taxpayer money,” said Boyd, director of policy at the Acadia Center, a think tank focused on weather. “I’m really happy that the EEAC is taking a stand on the need for electrification.”

But Emerson Clauss, co-owner of Allegiance Construction & Development in Northbridge, said the switch to electric heating still relies heavily on natural gas, the most common fuel source for New England power plants. Clauss said he was also troubled by the net zero language of the climate law for new construction, as it could rule out fuel oil, propane and natural gas as heating sources.

“More than half of our electricity comes from natural gas,” said Clauss, president-elect of the Home Builders and Remodelers Association of Massachusetts. “Looks like we’re doing something great, going in the right direction. But don’t we just move to where the smoke is burned? “

Jon Chesto can be reached at jon.chesto@globe.com. Follow him on twitter @jonchesto.

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