Sports fans know a halftime lead is no time to rest on your laurels. Mainers are now helping lead the nation in adopting highly efficient heat pumps while phasing out polluting and expensive heating oil. We’ve accomplished a remarkable feat in a few short years, but now it’s time to build on this momentum and deliver healthier and more affordable communities that are free from fossil fuels. One bill in the current legislative session – L.D. 2077 – will be a positive step forward in achieving this goal.

Heat pumps have been running up the score on heating oil. Amid a record-high $7 per gallon price spike for heating oil, residents flooded contractors with calls to switch to heat pumps, helping blow through Maine’s goal to deploy 100,000 heat pumps by 2025. Even at $3.54 per gallon, switching from oil to a heat pump can save Mainers more than $900 per year, according to Efficiency Maine. This is a major victory for improving energy affordability in our state and reducing our reliance on a toxic, heavily polluting fossil fuel. As we continue to invest in and add renewables to the grid, the climate benefits of these heat pumps will only grow further. But just because we’re ahead doesn’t mean we can stop here.

Methane gas (deceptively marketed as “natural” gas by fossil fuel companies) has slowly gained ground over the past 20 years as the fossil fuel industry sold this gas as a cleaner alternative to heating oil. This was a part of a decadeslong effort to mislead consumers on the health and safety risks of burning gas in our homes. Decades of research have painted a stark picture: Burning gas in our homes is harmful to our health.

Gas furnaces, water heaters and stoves release harmful air pollutants like nitrogen dioxide, carbon monoxide, ultra-fine particles (called PM 2.5), formaldehyde and benzene. Air pollution levels inside homes that use gas often exceed standards set by the EPA for outdoor air pollution. Children are particularly vulnerable – more than 12% of childhood asthma cases nationwide could be attributed to pollution from gas stoves. When vented outdoors, gas furnaces and water heaters emit nitrogen oxides that can react in the sunlight to form ozone pollution or smog.

As my generation and others close in age look ahead to buying a home, starting a family and yes, even saving for retirement, the cost of maintaining methane gas pipeline infrastructure is one thing we don’t need. It’s prohibitively expensive – studies in Massachusetts and New York peg the cost of replacing gas pipelines at $3 million per mile – and a waste of infrastructure. If we continue to lay down new gas pipes, we’ll be saddling existing gas customers with higher and higher bills to pay for infrastructure that just doesn’t have a place in our clean-energy future.

This is why L.D. 2077 is so important. It asks gas regulators to scrutinize spending on the gas system to better protect gas customers from unending rate hikes. The good news is gas only heats 8% of households in Maine, so we can put all our energy into helping all residents adopt the clean-energy technologies such as heat pumps that can help deliver a healthier, more affordable future while helping existing gas customers transition toward neighborhood-scale solutions such as networked geothermal.

Maine has made amazing strides toward building a healthier, more affordable future, but if we want to make that future a reality, we need to put all our efforts toward making sure every Mainer, both today and 40 years from now, can adopt the clean energy technologies like heat pumps that will get us across the finish line.

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