FOLLOWUP: What’s next for mayor’s proposal to encourage heating-oil phaseout

Two weeks ago, we reported on the mayor’s proposal to speed up phasing out of oil heat in the ~18,000 Seattle homes that still use it. Above is video from last Friday’s City Council Sustainability and Transportation Committee briefing on the proposal – you can watch it starting 1 hour, 22 minutes into the meeting. The committee did not vote on the proposal, which would include a new 23.6 cents/gallon excise tax on heating oil, as well as covering conversion costs for low-income households, and expanding existing rebates for other households. They were told that about 1,300 Seattle households are transitioning out of oil heat each year anyway, so this is just meant to accelerate that. Committee and full-council votes will be scheduled at future TBA dates – the former, probably in the first half of September. By the way, though this proposal only involves heating oil, the committee’s chair Councilmember Mike O’Brien said they’re “working on” a future proposal to address natural gas.

21 Replies to "FOLLOWUP: What's next for mayor's proposal to encourage heating-oil phaseout"

  • Astro August 21, 2019 (3:18 pm)

    Does anyone who actually has a heat pump system, living in the City of Seattle, notice if their electric bill is higher? I’m just curious given the city has moved towards tracking usage digitally. Thanks!

    • DH August 22, 2019 (7:28 am)

      I switched from oil to a heat pump almost 3 years ago using the rebate. My electric bill is higher but not by much. It costs significantly less than what I was paying for the oil. With that said it will be years before I break even. This makes sense for people looking to stay in their house for a while. I suspect it will become, if it’s not already, a something buyers will have to consider. 

      • Astro August 22, 2019 (8:11 am)

        Thanks! DH for your reply. The break-even part is what I’m worried about and we definitely don’t qualify for anything beyond the $1500 rebate. The Mayor/City needs to have a better plan if they’re going to push this policy. I saw in previous comments on the older article that the rebate doesn’t take into account the tank decommission. We’ve already replaced many things related to having an older home, but I’m not sure about additional financing in this current economy. I was disappointed to hear the mayor’s rep say we’re not targeting anyone but if you’re going to keep oil, you will have to pay the price.

  • Alex August 21, 2019 (4:56 pm)

    Thank you WSB for following this story and letting us know the City Council is also working on a proposal to discourage the use of natural gas as residential energy source.   It’s telling how the Council advertises a $1500 rebate is available to move to a heat pump but they never talk about the cost before rebate.   I’d like to see a financial analysis comparing the cost of moving to the new system to the savings in the utility bill.   I thought AOC’s Green Deal unaffordable and unachievable for the United States, but I guess I should have remembered the scale of this Council.      With just under 500,000 households in King County using gas, where is PSE in all this.  

    • WSB August 21, 2019 (5:07 pm)

      I don’t know whether CM O’Brien’s “we” refers to the city in general or the council; this proposal (heating oil) was originated by the mayor, not the council, but requires council approval.

      • The Smiling Lies of Mike O'Brien August 22, 2019 (6:04 am)

        O’Brien’s quick to take credit for any idea that he uses to burnish his “environmentalist” image.  Notice, too, that when one of his many proposals crash, he’s nowhere to be seen.  He’ll stick a shiv into long-time “partners when he thinks he needs to, as he did with Scott Kubly and the 1st Ave. trolley-car over-runs.  But he’ll do it with a smile.

  • MadinWESTSIDE August 21, 2019 (5:52 pm)

    Another dumb idea and Tax by our soon to be ousted elected officials.   Oil heat is great.  Most families make too much money and you want us to spend $10k to replace our perfectly good furnace.  Oil is actually cheaper then natural gas some winters!   This is silly.STOP RAISING OUR TAXES !!!  Clean up the homeless crap.   Do your jobs and stop coming up with dumb ideas!

    • Eric Hodel August 22, 2019 (10:11 am)

      Ah, yes, the perfectly good furnace fueled from the constantly decaying buried oil tank that will eventually leak into the soil in your neighborhood poisoning the soil and groundwater.When you (or your neighbors) finally discover this you will declare you are now too poor to perform the cleanup yourself because you are on a fixed income and pass the costs of your short-sighted decisions on to the rest of us. Just like you’ve done all these years venting pollutants into the atmosphere for that you are refusing to clean up

    • Chuck August 22, 2019 (11:49 am)

      Thank you, Mad. Well said. I have zero plans to replace my oil furnace, taxes or no. I love my oil heat as well. I feel for the small companies trying to make a living (Sound Oil),  when they literally have to fight city hall. Who’s in your pocket, Durkan? 

  • TJ August 21, 2019 (7:22 pm)

    Once again another dumb feel good idea from the powers to be in this city, particularly if they try to do something on getting rid of natural gas. Natural gas is widely recognized as a clean burning fuel, yes not “green”, with it being a stable future energy source, and they can run at 97% efficency. Way to get on the UN climate bandwagon Durkan and let us be a climate martyr financially. National policy needs to dictate any climate regulations. After all, neighboring cities won’t be adopting these ridiculous policies (if Seattle actually tries), so Bellevue and Tacoma will reap the benefits of this disaster here. This cities contribution to climate change is like spit in a Olympic pool.

  • 1994 August 21, 2019 (7:46 pm)

    The northward creep from California: Last month, Berkeley became the first U.S. city to ban the installation of natural gas lines in new residential buildings. San Jose, Santa Rosa and Petaluma are among the cities looking into phasing out natural gas in some new buildings as a means of meeting climate goals. Heating and appliances like dryers and ranges would have to run on electricity instead.

  • Elton August 22, 2019 (9:00 am)

    Not at all implying that I think we should penalize people for using natural gas, but just want to note that natural gas pipelines do leak, more often than you’d problem imagine. It’s quite a lossy mechanism for delivering gas, which isn’t great for the environment.   Still, there’s a lot of things we do that aren’t the best for the environment and not sure that using natural gas to heat homes is the worst. Would rather see incentives to make homes more energy efficient so that people need to use less gas or electricity to heat  their homes.

  • ARPigeonPoint August 22, 2019 (9:37 am)

    So no more cooking with gas?

    • DH August 23, 2019 (7:24 am)

      Eventually yes. So we can stop cooking the planet!

  • Mj August 22, 2019 (10:08 am)

    Hopefully the circular file, aka trash bin.  Oil heat is already phasing out on its own and simply needs to occur without more taxes and government dictate.  

  • Jimmy August 22, 2019 (10:42 am)

    Its amazing we have to give cash away to get people to do the right thing.  You go into one of these bungalow neighborhoods like Ballard during a cold winter day with stagnant air and the stench of the heating oil is very much in your face.  The tax is the better idea, dont pay people to do the right thing, punish those who do the wrong thing…   

  • dcn August 22, 2019 (11:13 am)

    I was originally unhappy with buying a house with oil heat. But, as a single parent, it was what I could afford. I was very lucky to be able to buy a home during the recession. Owning an older home comes with a lot of maintenance and upgrades, which I have to space out in order to be able to afford them. For example, I just repiped my house, replacing the old galvanized steel. I’ve needed to do this since buying the house, but could only just now afford to do it. I had to take care of other necessary items first, such as replacing the failing siding, trenching my crawl space so it doesn’t flood anymore, etc. My guess is that most owners are like me: middle to lower middle class. If we were anywhere near the top of the income pool, we would have already replaced our old oil furnaces. By taxing us 24% on our heating bill to help pay for the lowest income people to replace their systems for free, it is putting a large hardship on those of us who can’t afford to upgrade to gas or electric heat pumps anytime soon. The rebate for those of us above the income threshold to get our systems replaced for free is not nearly enough to make getting a heat pump affordable. Replacing my oil furnace is on my house to-do list, but it will be a while before I can afford to do it. I will have to eat the tax, costing me hundreds more each winter to heat my home, which will make it even more difficult to afford the switch to a more energy efficient system.

    • Astro August 22, 2019 (11:30 am)

      Thank you for you’re post. We are in the exact same position. It’s not like we don’t want to replace our oil with something more efficient. It’s just a matter of fixing things one by one on an older home. A regressive tax is not helpful.

  • AMD August 22, 2019 (12:13 pm)

    I like the principle of the proposal (phasing out oil heat), but think they need to do better with the logistics.  Giving people a year to convert before the taxes start is a pretty aggressive timeline.  The tax is supposed to be a penalty, meaning the city thinks you should be able to get this done in a year, which doesn’t seem practical.  I can’t imagine the local furnace contractors magically absorbing another 17,000 furnace conversions in one year without wait times to get the work done stretching into months.  This is not the fault of the consumer and they shouldn’t be taxed because there are no (reputable) contractors able to get it done before the penalty deadline.  And that assumes every one of those households can afford the conversion right away.  When we got our new furnace, haul away of the old one alone was almost $1000.  Then tank decommissioning is approaching $1000 (depending on your tank’s location).  Now you’re over the “rebate” before you even have a new furnace.  Then there’s the issue of the penalty for a landlord’s inaction being passed on to tenants that I mentioned in the last thread.  No incentive at all for homeowners to convert when renters are the ones paying the tax.  I think the mayor should start the rebates ASAP, but delay the tax penalty longer.  I think she should find alternate funding to increase the rebate (federal environmental grants?) if possible.  And, at the very least, there should be a low-income waiver for the penalty.  A $10,000 conversion is not a small ask and Durkan needs to realize not everyone in this city is made of money.

  • Hear No Evil August 22, 2019 (1:17 pm)

    HEAT PUMPS ARE VERY NOISY! HOW COME NO ONE IS ADRESSING  THIS?! TRY OPENING A WINDOW IF YOU LIVE NEAR ONE. THEY ARE AS NOISY IN THE WINTER MONTHS AS THEY ARE DURING THE SUMMER.  That’s NOISE POLLUTION! The expensive ones are may be quieter but guess what the homeowners who are low-income, fixed-income are only able to afford: THE CHEAP NOISY HEAT PUMPS!!!!!!  GOOD LUCK when it’s time for inspection,  the City does a Noise Review and it FAILS….. 

  • Millie August 22, 2019 (4:51 pm)

    Since I’m don’t know much about heat pumps – are they electric only?   If so, being a cynic, I wonder if we should look at Seattle City Light’s budget – is there a need for additional revenue?   Perhaps, the new meters are not bringing in enough new revenue?  Just asking?

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