Op-Ed: Listen to NJ businesses on heat pump benefits

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March 12, 2023

Originally Published in NJ Spotlight

By EEA-NJ, KEEA, & EEA Executive Director Jeaneen Zappa

What are the real facts on heat pumps in New Jersey?

Gov. Phil Murphy’s recent executive orders set modest 2030 goals for building electrification, goals that will be easier to meet if more homes and businesses install heat pumps for heating and cooling. Some opponents of these goals are now positioning themselves in the public eye as protectors of consumers and the business community. 
But here at the Energy Efficiency Alliance of New Jersey, we know that the business community isn’t fighting heat pumps. As a trade association of energy efficiency businesses, we’re advocating for them. And we want to send a clear message to New Jersey officials and consumers: once you sort fact from fiction, it’s clear that heat pumps are good for our homes, our pocketbooks, our climate and our state economy. 
The energy efficiency sector boasts more than 34,000 New Jersey employees, making it the biggest energy employer in the state. These companies succeed by satisfying customers and finding solid solutions, an approach that protects their bottom line and pays their employees. And over the past few years, we’ve heard from our member businesses that heat pumps are an increasingly essential part of their customer offerings. Why? 
First, changes in heat pump technology now let manufacturers offer levels of efficiency and comfort that weren’t possible a decade ago. Second, new tax credits in the Inflation Reduction Act and other policy incentives have sped up interest in efficient electrification. Third, consumer interest continues to steadily grow. In 2022, for the first time ever, heat pumps actually outsold gas furnaces nationwide. 
To meet growing heat pump demand, energy efficiency firms are working and hiring in New Jersey. For example, HVAC manufacturer Daikin Applied has developed and showcased advanced heat pump technology at their Jersey City Solutions Plaza for many years now and engages a network of hundreds of small businesses across the state to install them. Energy Efficiency Stories, a nonpartisan storytelling resource operated by our sister organization, the Energy Efficiency Alliance, recently profiled Oceanside Service in Allenhurst – a Jersey Shore HVAC institution that’s thrived and grown for over 30 years by focusing on comfort, efficiency and, more recently, heat pumps. Just in April, Mitsubishi Trane celebrated the opening of a new heat pump training and distribution center in Florence. 
In other words, a huge swath of both New Jersey buyers and the New Jersey business community is already going all-in on heat pumps. Still, misinformation continues to confound many New Jersey consumers, for whom heat pumps and electrification remain new and unfamiliar concepts.  
One myth we hear often is that heat pumps don’t work in cold climates. That was true in the 1980s, but modern heat pumps can operate efficiently in temperatures as low as -13 degrees Fahrenheit. That’s part of why they’re so popular in Maine, where a heat pump rebate program has helped electrify more than 100,000 homes. 
Will heat pumps drive up consumers’ monthly energy bills? For many New Jersey households, the answer is a resounding no! A 2021 study from the Acadia Center found that the typical NJ household switching from a gas furnace to an air-source heat pump could save anywhere from $325 to $1,812 per year. Adopters who weatherize their homes and switch from an expensive fuel such as heating oil or propane achieve the most dramatic savings. 
Does switching from on-site fossil fuels to electric heat cut climate emissions? Modern heat pumps are so efficient that emission reductions are present even when heat pumps are connected to a fossil fuel-powered electric grid. Heat pumps are also more comfortable and less noisy than older heating set-ups, with customers reporting high levels of comfort and all-around satisfaction. 
Finally, what about upfront costs? Recent tax incentives and rebates have significantly altered the financial landscape for installing a heat pump. The IRA’s High-Efficiency Electric Home Rebate Program, for example, will soon provide heat pump rebates covering up to 100% of costs for low-income households. Despite the high project estimates opponents share to scare off would-be electrifiers, true electrification upfront costs vary widely from project to project like any other home improvement. Find and consult a trusted contractor before making the switch, and remember, when you’re installing a heat pump, you’re installing an air conditioner too, effectively replacing two systems with one! 
Heat pumps and electrification in New Jersey are confusing topics right now, and at least some of that confusion is by design. Get the full facts on electrification with our Mythbusters document. After getting informed, you may still not want a heat pump right now. And that’s okay: despite some of the more inflammatory rhetoric out there, no one is trying to remove your existing heating system from your home. 
Heat pumps are part of a pathway towards a more electric and efficient future – a pathway that the Garden State has already started to tread. Let’s focus on moving forward and making it easier for New Jersey residents to start their electrification journey, not reversing progress in energy technology and energy policy. 

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