Opinion: Sen. Heinrich is coming for your gas heater/stove

Paul J. Gessing
Rio Grande Foundation

For most Americans natural gas is a clean and affordable fuel they use to cook, heat their water, and provide warmth in the winter. Millions of Americans appreciate its benefits, even if they don’t think about them very often. 

Just because you don’t think about natural gas doesn’t mean radical environmentalists (including New Mexico’s senior US Senator Martin Heinrich) aren’t. In fact, Senator Heinrich recently wrote in the New York Times that “working to electrify our vehicles, homes and businesses is a critical part of achieving economywide net-zero emissions.” 

During the 1930s New Deal “electrification” meant helping people in rural and impoverished areas who didn’t have access to the grid, get electricity. That was a worthwhile effort to improve lives, and our rural electric co-ops are an outgrowth of that effort.

Unfortunately, to Senator Heinrich and many well-funded environmental groups, “electrification” means a government-enforced abandonment of natural gas in homes and businesses (and gasoline in cars) to a 100% electricity-based energy system.

Heinrich is pushing legislation in Congress and for funding in the “infrastructure” bill for “electrification” – which is really another way of saying phasing out or even banning your natural gas stove, oven, and furnace. 

According to the Sierra Club, Sacramento recently became the 46th US city to begin “phasing out natural gas in new buildings.” It’s not just happening in California. According to the Wall Street Journal, “Seattle, Denver and New York have all either enacted or proposed measures to ban or discourage the use of the fossil fuel in new homes and buildings.” 

Just a decade or so ago the Sierra Club and other environmental groups supported natural gas as a cleaner-burning alternative to coal. Now, Senator Heinrich – counter to the economic interests of the state he represents (New Mexico is a major natural gas producer) and against the expressed preferences of consumers who use such appliances – is pushing to eliminate natural gas.

The push for a natural gas ban is premised on the idea that we should replace fossil fuels with wind and solar technologies that put us on a path to “net-zero emissions.” Of course, we’re not just talking about replacing all existing electricity generation; just 10% of current electricity production comes from wind, solar, and geothermal combined. Experts say “electrification” would increase US electricity consumption by 40 percent.  

Paul Gessing

To say the least, Sen. Heinrich’s “electrification” scheme will require astonishing amounts of new electricity generation (at great economic cost) not to mention batteries to ensure reliability and new transmission lines to distribute it. Want to guess who pays for all that new redundant generation? You, the ratepayer.

It’s an even bigger problem considering the reliability and demand issues already facing the Western United States this summer and utilities’ (including PNM’s) difficulty bringing new “renewables” online.   

And then there are consumer preferences for natural gas, which for some reason get casually ignored. You will have to search far and wide to find an electric stove in your favorite restaurant. That’s because natural gas is superior to electricity for cooking on both food quality and price.  It’s also often much quicker to cook with gas; banning natural gas in restaurants means you would be waiting longer for your favorite meal while also paying more. 

Additionally, while any serious push for “electrification” of our economy will require massive government subsidies (thus Heinrich’s push in the current “infrastructure” bill), with electricity reliability already an issue whether throughout the West this summer or in Texas this past winter, the reliability of natural gas can be a literal lifesaver.

We all want clean, affordable, and reliable energy. Natural gas provides all three. And while the US has been steadily-reducing CO2 emissions for over a decade, China now emits more CO2 than the rest of the developed world combined (that includes the US, Canada, Europe, and Australia). Sen. Heinrich’s forced-shift to all-electric in the US will be costly and won’t achieve the environmental gains he seeks. 

Paul Gessing is president of New Mexico’s Rio Grande Foundation.