Nearly 150 people ventured out into the cold and dark morning on January 24 to attend our latest Power Pairing, Beyond Gas. Bruce Nilles and Sherri Billimoria, our inspiring speakers from the Rocky Mountain Institute, captivated the audience with a strong call-to-action for electrification in our buildings sector.
Natural gas has been used to heat homes and buildings for nearly a century—and has been used almost exclusively in new developments. But combusting fossil fuels in the spaces we live and work is dangerous both to public health and the environment. Bruce brought home this point: there are currently 70 million buildings in the United States that rely on fossil fuels for heat, principally natural gas, and in Minnesota, their collective greenhouse gas emissions increased by nearly 10 percent last year. In order to aggressively meet the goals set by transnational climate reports and mitigate additional warming of our planet, we must shift to electrification. The time is now.
Sherri Billimoria followed Bruce’s opening remarks and shared many of the findings from her groundbreaking study on the public health benefits of replacing natural gas heat with electric, specifically air-source heat pumps. Running dual infrastructures to homes (both electric and gas) is costly and unnecessary. And with the average cost of a single, new gas pipeline to a home averaging nearly $7,000, switching to air-source heat pumps is a much cheaper alternative over the lifetime of the home. For Minnesotans, Sherri emphasized that electric heat pumps can and do work well in cold climates— and this technology is continuing to improve rapidly, with lower and lower temperature ratings expected.
Merritt Clapp-Smith— a Fresh Energy board member and planner who spent ten years at the City of Saint Paul on projects including the work toward redevelopment of the 135-acre former Ford Motor Company site— emceed the event and underscored that moving toward visionary change requires commitment, passion, and involvement from many sectors and people.
Following the public event, 40 top local government, development, economic, and nonprofit leaders actively involved in this issue had a chance to roll up their sleeves and discuss the opportunities and barriers in front of us right now.
Fresh Energy’s team was thrilled with the energy in the room throughout the cold day. Stay tuned as we move ahead to:
- Support Minneapolis and Saint Paul—where natural gas dominates home heating—in moving toward more sustainable, super-efficient buildings heated and cooled by small amounts of renewable electricity.
- Gather and share the data documenting that electric heat can be cost effective and dependable in our cold climate, providing the proof-of-concept needed by developers, financers, local governments, and others involved in building-related projects across the state.
- Address barriers to embracing electric heating and appliances, including significant education efforts around the technical details, permitting, and job growth potential.
Interested in learning more now? Feel free to contact Fresh Energy’s beneficial electrification expert Margaret Cherne-Hendrick.