Moore’s goal of zero-emission heating leaves advocates, industry hot and cold

July 8, 2024

Maryland Matters

Supporters say it sets a model for nation; industry officials say it’s not new, could backfire

When he signed an executive order advancing the state’s pollution reduction plan last month, including a call to phase in zero-emission standards for heating systems, Gov. Wes Moore (D) used words like “bold” and “ambitious.”

Matt Rusteika thinks that might be a reach. He says many homeowners already have heat pumps, a popular type of zero-emission heating that is not new technology.

“The number of homes that have a heat pump is growing. Before the IRA (Inflation Reduction Act), before this executive order, certainly. Before Maryland’s climate law, before all that stuff happened people were buying these things,” said Rusteika, the director of market transformation for the Building Decarbonization Coalition.

Rusteika’s reaction is among the range of responses, from glowing praise to outright opposition, to the executive order that Moore called “one of the most comprehensive executive orders on climate of any governor in Maryland’s history.”

Moore’s June 4 executive order covers a range of climate issues, from expanding electric vehicle infrastructure to an all-of-government approach that requires that all state agencies submit a comprehensive climate plan by Nov. 1.

But one of the most specific elements is the order for the Maryland Department of the Environment to develop new zero-emission regulations on heating and cooling systems in the state.

One of the more popular forms of zero-emission heating systems are heat pumps. Rusteika explained that heat pumps are not new technology. In fact, he said, 1 in 5 Marylanders already have heat pumps in their homes and nearly 60% of residential water heaters in the state are electric.

“Gov. Wes Moore is riding a wave that was already there, that’s the most important thing to me,” Rusteika said.

But supporters say that whether Moore’s order is riding a wave or creating one is not important. What’s important, they say, is that the order shows that the governor is serious.

“I think it’s exciting. It shows that the Moore-Miller administration isn’t just talking, they’re acting right on our climate crisis,” said Sen. Cheryl Kagan (D-Montgomery).

Ruth Ann Norton, the president and CEO of the Green and Healthy Homes Initiative, echoed Kagan. She said the order is ” a model for the nation on how to build from the ground up the response to climate change and how to ensure the protection for all residents, that ensures that low-income communities are not left behind.”

But HVAC contractors are not as enthusiastic about the order, which they said will have adverse effects.

“We can look around the country and see other parts of the country that have already started to implement this type of initiative,” said Sean Mallones, the president of Heating and Air Conditioning Contractors of Maryland.

“And you could see that they’re suffering from extremely high utility bills and they’re suffering from rolling blackouts and brownouts,” he said.

Norton explained that the all-of-government approach included in the  executive order would minimize the its pocketbook impact on consumers. She mentioned programs that allocate more money to low-income communities and how the order makes every state agency submit a climate plan.

“The infrastructure of agencies and dollars are moving to ensure that we are able to invest in low-income communities,” Norton said.

Mallones wasn’t persuaded by the all-of-government approach, however. He explained that there is more to implementing this kind of initiative than just programs.

“One thing that they [politicians] have to understand, you can incentivize in your mind what you think with all these rebates or tax credits and everything else, but the contractors are the ones who actually have to offer that,” Mallones said.

He mentioned that politicians don’t always consider the cost and feasibility of their plans.

“A lot of times you have politicians who have an agenda, they have an idea. And it could even be a good idea. And everybody agrees that it’s a good idea. But how feasible the cost is and how feasible the time frame is in order to achieve that, that’s where the problems come in,” he said.