By Richard Rutigliano, PriMedia, Inc.
It may seem easy to dismiss the ideas of the Green New Deal as over-reach, and continue as we have done before. We do so at our own peril. Climate change legislation is real, and needs to be addressed. Taxation and electrification may not be the answers, but at the moment, they are the answers being considered.
We are facing a turning point, and everyone in the heating oil industry, from association leaders to corporate CEOs to individual retailers, needs to work together to reposition our image and our industry. It will be difficult, but our history has been written through innovation – from ice and coal to heating oil to Bioheat® fuel – and we have the knowledge and experience to build upon these challenges and be part of the solution.
The Green New Deal and Carbon Taxes
While the words “petroleum” and “fossil fuels” are not included in the Green New Deal, if passed, it would aim to “achieve net-zero greenhouse gas emissions;” by “upgrading all existing buildings in the United States and building new buildings to achieve maximum energy efficiency, water efficiency, safety, affordability, comfort, and durability, including through electrification;” and remove “pollution and greenhouse gas emissions from manufacturing and industry as much as is technologically feasible, including by expanding renewable energy manufacturing and investing in existing manufacturing and industry;” among other goals.
The Northeast energy industry is already dealing with the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI), coordinating emissions caps and selling allowances across Connecticut, Delaware, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New York, Rhode Island and Vermont. Each of these states, except Delaware, is currently considering a carbon tax in some form that will increase costs to homeowners year after year. The average homeowner would be taxed more than $100 in 2020, and these taxes could reach skyward of $800 in 2035. These carbon taxes would also be attached to gasoline, propane and natural gas, but electricity generated by fossil fuels may be taxed in some states, or exempted completely. (Visit stopthecarbontax.weebly.com for state-by-state details.)
As we write this, New York City passed the “Climate Mobilization Act,” which requires buildings larger than 25,000 sq.ft. to reduce emissions 40 percent by 2030 and 80 percent by 2050. Those that don’t will face large fines. These upgrades and fees will increase rent costs and may limit space availability for higher-energy-use businesses.
It’s Time to Band Together
These pending legislative actions have numerous battles to win before being passed into law. Yet, even if they fail this time, we must be ready for them to be presented – again and again – until some version is passed. We need to help our legislators develop a version that offers viable real-world solutions, acknowledges the problems of heat pumps in cold climates as well as issues with electric generation and distribution, and does not tax businesses and homeowners into the ground.
Join the fight. The regional associations are all fighting on our behalf. They are on the front lines in state capitals and Washington, D.C., arming themselves with facts, figures and data on the benefits of our fuels, the emissions reductions available from equipment upgrades, and the cleanliness of ULSHO and Bioheat® fuel. The NORA Technical Workshop in April focused heavily on our future with higher Bioheat® blends, other low carbon renewable fuels and smart, higher-efficiency, electric-and-oil fueled equipment.
If you are not a member of your local association – join now. Each association also has a political action committee to which you can and should donate, and most have letters you can send directly to your representatives. We urge you to do all of the above, and then share the links and information with your staff, family and friends and ask that they do the same.
Get on message. We already have a green, clean, renewable solution in Bioheat® fuel that is getting better every year. Laboratory testing as well as real-world applications have proven that B20 and even higher blends can be used safely in heating equipment, produce fewer lifecycle emissions than natural gas, and reduce greenhouse gas emissions further as the blend level increases.
Our positive message is strong and should be shouted from every rooftop, but the pocketbook issue is one that should not be discounted. These new taxes and laws are going to cost your customers real money. While we are united in the quest to reduce carbon and other emissions, there needs to be real discussions about options beyond “strategic electrification.” Electrification will not be a low-cost fix, especially for the Northeast region which will require more expensive cold climate heat pumps and back-up heat sources. There are legitimate concerns about the electric power grid and non-fossil fuel generation output. Insufficient electricity in our region in mid-December for heat-pump customers could be deadly. A storm knocking out the grid for a week could annihilate entire communities. We already have a solution that does not cost anything additional to the homeowner, provides on-demand/on-premises storage, and has an active distribution system.
What Else You Can Do
Offer Solutions: Your customers trust you with their homes. Offer them the solutions they need – clean, renewable Bioheat® fuel, higher efficiency equipment, and smart thermostats and controls to further reduce their usage. Provide them with the knowledge and empower them to tell their elected representatives that they don’t want to pay more in taxes and conversion costs and don’t want to be beholden to the electric company any more than necessary.
Website: Make sure your website features a “What You Need to Know” section with information on the Green New Deal and Carbon Tax initiatives at all levels of government. Drill down on the talking points above, and include links to your association’s website, StoptheCarbonTax.weebly.com, and other relevant sites. Include a letter for them to send to their representatives and local media outlets detailing the costs they’d incur to switch heating systems.
Digital outreach: Emails. Social media posts. Sponsored updates. Online review sites. Use these tools as often as possible to make sure customers and non-customers understand the issues involved and just how much these changes will cost them.
Newsletters and Direct Mail: Many customers still respond best to printed materials. You can produce a newsletter that focuses on these issues and the services you already offer to reduce your customers’ carbon footprints. Use bill inserts and envelope slips to introduce the issues, literally in black and white, and direct the reader to your website (or association site) for more information.
We know the drill. The industry has been here before, and we are still standing. The tools and strategies are the same ones PriMedia has been providing for more than 25 years. We have worked beside energy retailers, marketers and wholesalers through price spikes, natural gas challenges and fuel embargoes. We have also been here with dealers to celebrate ULSHO, Bioheat® fuel, and NORA’s reauthorization. From traditional advertising to customer communications to digital marketing, PriMedia can help you find the right mix of tactics to help your customers understand how the heating oil industry is not the problem … we offer the solution.
PriMedia has been providing fuel dealers and home service contractors with strategic and marketing solutions since 1993. For help with your company’s customer communications, call 1-800-796-3342 or contact us online at goprimedia.com.