My Turn: What was left out of a column on heat pumps

For the Monitor
Published: 12/21/2019 6:00:12 AM

A recent column by Dan Weeks attacked the Granite Bridge natural gas pipeline project and argued New Hampshire homes and businesses don’t need natural gas to stay warm because they can just use heat pumps and solar panels instead (Monitor Opinion, Dec. 17). But as I read through this column, I had a sneaking suspicion something had been left unsaid. What exactly was Weeks’s motivation here?

The truth is, though it went completely unacknowledged in his column, Weeks makes his living selling heat pumps and solar panels. In fact, he is the director of market development for a heat pump and solar panel company called Revision Energy. It’s his job to build market share for his company’s products. What his column really amounted to was a sales pitch.

Hyping heat pumps and solar panels, while hiding that he’s paid to do just that, is misleading and disingenuous to say the least. Another fact that he isn’t honest about is that heat pumps don’t work very well when the temperature dips below freezing. Ultimately, heat pumps can’t compete with natural gas heat on price or performance, so Weeks wrote a column attacking his competition.

I agree that reducing emissions and fighting climate change ought to be top priorities, but taking away consumers’ ability to choose low-cost, clean natural gas doesn’t help us save the planet. On the contrary, blocking natural gas infrastructure projects, like Weeks proposes, takes away a valuable tool for helping families and business get off dirtier heating fuels like oil, and it hurts vulnerable people who can’t afford to pay more to heat their homes. Heat pumps could play a role in reducing fossil fuel usage, but pitching them as a direct alternative to natural gas just isn’t realistic in our cold climate, where solar power isn’t available at all on the coldest dreary winter days.

Even if the sun is shining, heat pumps just don’t work very well in cold weather, and typically can’t keep a New Hampshire home warm by themselves. I assume Weeks knows this since Revision Energy’s own website states “the most popular application for heat pumps are in supplemental heating applications,” in which consumers would “keep existing oil or propane equipment for backup.” Installing heat pumps may make sense for people like Weeks who can afford multiple redundant heating systems, but heat pumps are hardly the universal solution he makes them out to be.

If we really want to solve climate change, we need to focus on reducing emissions however we can. Contrary to what Weeks claims, the U.N.’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) still considers natural gas to be one of the “main mitigation options in the energy supply sector,” through “switching from fossil fuels with high specific GHG (greenhouse gas) emissions to those with lower ones (e.g., natural gas).”

If the experts at the IPCC think natural gas can play a role in reducing the emissions that cause climate change, why does Weeks insist otherwise? The answer is that it’s in his personal financial interest to do so.

So in the interest of transparency and full disclosure, I’ll make my own interests crystal clear right here. I’m the business manager for Laborers Local Union 976, which represents 180 New Hampshire construction workers. Our members would be part of the workforce that would build the Granite Bridge natural gas infrastructure project. I also happen to be a lifelong resident of Epping, where the Granite Bridge Liquefied Natural Gas storage facility is proposed to be located.

More than 300 good union jobs is one reason I support Granite Bridge. More than $100 million in tax revenue for my hometown is another. The fact that my hometown will see new spending by the construction workers at our small businesses is yet another. I wouldn’t expect you to take me seriously if I didn’t disclose that my members, who pay my salary through their dues, and my hometown, which sets my tax rates, would benefit from Granite Bridge. But the public benefits of Granite Bridge, including clean and low-cost energy, are very real. On the other hand, the inability of heat pumps to meet our heating needs in cold climates is well-documented as well. I would encourage you to search “heat pumps in cold weather” to judge the facts for yourself.

Natural gas is an important tool for reducing emissions and fighting climate change. So are solar panels, wind turbines and heat pumps. We should be working harder to use each of these solutions where they can do the most good, not pitting them against each other. Where natural gas could be available to displace heating oil, we shouldn’t take that choice away from consumers.

Above all, we should be honest about our own interests when having this debate in the public square. Misleading your readers by omitting his personal financial interests like Weeks did is underhanded, and ought to be beneath him.

(Dave Spechuilli is the business manager for Laborers Local Union 976 and lives in Epping.)


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