Heat Pumps

All-electric heating is costly and performs poorly in cold weather

A centerpiece of the Clean Heat Standard and other Massachusetts climate initiatives is moving homes that heat with natural gas, heating oil and propane to electric heat pumps. About 75% of Massachusetts households fall into that category, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration.

Heat pump systems have long been popular in the South, which makes sense. Heat pumps rely on heat from outdoor air to warm homes. They function best in dry, mild weather. When you consider the sustained freezing temperatures of a Massachusetts winter, you will see that whole-house heat pumps are not a viable heating option for year-round use.

And your high-energy-price troubles won’t end when you switch to electric equipment. In 2022, the electric utilities serving Massachusetts had record high electricity rates, and adding more demand to an already strained electric grid will certainly keep electric rates high.

Consumer Reports advises homeowners in colder climates that “keeping a backup system can be the most cost-effective way to keep your home comfortable” in winter. Even the Massachusetts Department of Energy Resources confirms that cold weather heat pumps can only keep you comfortable in icy temperatures when “coupled with your existing oil or propane heating system.”

In other words, heat pumps need to be paired with a backup system powered by a traditional fuel that generates heat instead of transferring it from outside.

Is it any surprise that when Massachusetts ran a heat pump retrofit rebate program between 2014 and 2019, 92.8% of participating Massachusetts homes held onto their gas, propane or heating-oil-fired equipment for backup winter heat?

Moving Massachusetts homes to 100% electric heating poses a significant danger to grid reliability.

It will add massive demand to the electric grid, especially in the coldest weeks of the year. ISO NE, which keeps power flowing in our region, has repeatedly warned of reliability issues during extreme weather. These issues will be exacerbated by widespread electrification plans in Massachusetts and other New England states.

We don’t need to imagine the ramifications of widespread power outages during extreme cold. We saw the consequences in February 2021, when 10 million Texans lost power during a cold snap, and when the grid failed in Buffalo and other upstate New York communities during a December 2022 blizzard.

Heat pumps have plenty of practical purposes in Massachusetts. They provide excellent air conditioning in the summer and can warm your house in the milder fall and early winter months. But they cannot do the job on their own in the dead of winter, when your family’s comfort and safety depend on reliable heating.

Consider, too, the financial burden of forcing Massachusetts homes to switch to heat pumps. Whole-home conversions to heat pumps cost $20,000 or more. That’s a lot to pay for less reliable heating.

Policymakers in Massachusetts need to hear from everyday families, or they will only get guidance from extreme voices. Contact your legislators and tell them we need a sane, responsible energy plan, not one that strips Massachusetts families of their energy choice.