Steven Ridge and Ross Ford: An electrification mandate for Utah homes would be a bad idea

Forcing all-electric homes would lead to more emissions, higher costs and fewer energy options

(Trent Nelson | The Salt Lake Tribune) Roger Graham reaches up to feel the flow of hot air coming from the electrical heat pump system in his Hooper home on Friday, April 29, 2022.

Efforts are underway in Utah to pursue building code changes recently adopted in Washington and, to a lesser extent, in California, New York and Oregon, that force the electrification of new residential and commercial construction.

Building electrification mandates are marketed as silver-bullet solutions to climate change and air quality — challenges that are real and deserve our focused attention. For Utah, however, a mandate will do little to solve legitimate environmental challenges, but it will reduce customer options, raise costs and defy the free-market principles that have made our state’s economy the envy of the nation. Here are three facts every Utah energy user should know.

Mandating electric-ready new construction will exacerbate the state’s existing housing affordability crisis.

According to the University of Utah’s Kem C. Gardner Institute, more than half of Utah’s households are unable to afford the state’s median home price. Envision Utah indicates that rising housing costs have emerged as a top concern for Utahns, exceeding priorities such as education, air quality and health care. Forcing homebuilders to spend hundreds to thousands of additional dollars to pre-wire all new homes for 100% electric operation will only make an already difficult situation worse. And that’s before accounting for the lower utility bills paid by electric/natural gas hybrid homeowners.

Natural gas use is not a significant contributor to winter inversions.

Based on 2019 data from the Utah Department of Air Quality, only 4% of Wasatch Front air-quality emissions on a typical winter day come from the use of natural gas in Utah homes and businesses. Dominion Energy is working to reduce that with our industry leading ThermWise program that offers rebates on home efficiency investments that reduce natural gas usage, utility bills and emissions.

Over the last 15 years, nearly 50% of our more than one million customers have voluntarily participated in at least one rebate program. That includes rebates on dual-fuel heating systems that rely on reliable and efficient natural gas heating when winter temperatures cause electric heat pumps to lose efficiency and cost-effectiveness.

Utah homes that use natural gas generate significantly fewer carbon emissions than all-electric homes that rely on the electric grid.

In fact, up to 40% fewer. All appliances, electric or gas, are only as “carbon-free” as the energy sources they connect to. Per the U.S. Energy Information Administration, 85% of Utah’s electric generation in 2021 came from coal or natural gas-fired power stations that provide reliable but carbon-emitting power. The state’s reliance on these sources will continue for decades based on electric utility long-term planning documents.

For homeowners seeking to reduce their emissions, Dominion Energy’s CarbonRight program makes that easy and affordable. A typical residential natural gas customer can neutralize 100% of their associated carbon emissions for around $5 per month without giving up any of the reliability and convenience of natural gas — no expensive new appliances or electric wiring required. All types of customers can participate in the program including schools, cities, businesses and industry.

Dominion Energy is offering customers more choices than ever so that they can manage their energy and emissions profile. We’re investing in innovative ways to make our product more sustainable because natural gas has a critical role to play in a clean energy future for Utah. Utah builders are constructing homes that are more efficient, less emitting and more responsive to customer preferences than ever before.

To be clear, we do not oppose building electrification. Dominion Energy is a national company with as many electric utility customers as natural gas customers. Likewise, Utah’s home builders serve the needs of every homeowner, whether they prefer electric or gas appliances. But good public policy must reflect all the facts rather than simply default to a pre-determined social narrative championed by states like California and New York.

Together, we support Utah’s Energy Plan that emphasizes an “any of the above” approach and commits to address energy challenges in a “pragmatic” and “market-driven” way. The last thing we need is a government mandate that limits customer options, drives up costs, and does not effectively address serious environmental challenges.

Steve Ridge | Dominion Energy

Steven Ridge serves as vice president and general manager of Dominion Energy Utah.

Ross Ford | Utah Homebuilders Association

Ross Ford serves as executive officer of the Utah Home Builders Association.