Council discusses code update, leaf blower restrictions
At a workshop meeting on Monday (Nov. 14), the Beacon City Council discussed two possible pieces of legislation to decrease the amount of fossil fuels burned — and pollution produced — in the city.
The first would update efficiency standards in the building code to limit the reliance on natural gas in new construction. The second would restrict gas-powered leaf blowers.
The building code update was proposed by Council Member Dan Aymar-Blair, who, along with Council Member Paloma Wake, outlined what they said would be its benefits.
They said that a third of the greenhouse gas emissions in New York state that contribute to global warming are produced by heating units and hot water heaters and noted the state Legislature has passed legislation that requires reducing greenhouse gas emissions 40 percent by 2030 and no less than 85 percent by 2050.
Research also suggests gas-powered stoves pose a health risk because of the nitrogen dioxide, carbon monoxide and formaldehyde they produce, the council members said. One study concluded that children who live in a home with a gas stove have a 20 percent greater risk of developing a respiratory illness. Other studies have shown that electric heat pumps can save households more than $900 a year in heating costs.
With a building boom in Beacon, Aymar-Blair and Wake said that legislation to restrict additional gas infrastructure is particularly important. Both the Edgewater development and new units at Beacon Lofts are being built without natural gas hookups, according to the city’s Climate Advisory Committee.
The legislation proposed by Aymar-Blair is modeled after a New York City law, but Mayor Lee Kyriacou said that he wasn’t comfortable considering legislation that had not been written by Beacon officials. He also asked that representatives from the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority (NYSERDA) educate the council about the issue, as well as the prospects of the state Legislature banning new gas hook-ups.
“The state is working in this direction, and I think they can help us a lot,” Kyriacou said. “I don’t mind being a few years ahead of them,” but if the state legislature doesn’t go into effect for decades, “we should do something” sooner.
With gas-powered leaf blowers, the City Council earlier asked its Climate Advisory Committee to examine the pros and cons of a ban. On Monday night, CAC members Sergei Krasikov and Thomas Wright presented their findings, which they said drew on interviews with more than a dozen local municipalities that have passed similar legislation.
The hazards of gas-powered leaf blowers include the emissions they produce and noise pollution and the potential for hearing damage. Most battery-powered leaf blowers are quieter, and none produces exhaust. The CAC cited a report from 2011 in which Edmunds.com found that some gas leaf blowers emitted as much pollution in a half hour as driving a Ford F-150 from Texas to Alaska.
However, the report also explained that because batteries in electric leaf blowers hold a limited charge, and take time to recharge, they may not be the best option for commercial operations. Other municipalities said that they offer exemptions that take into account the limitations of electric blowers. Some allow gas-powered blowers for any property larger than 1 acre; others offer “seasonal exemptions” in the spring and fall when the majority of extended landscaping work is done.
If the legislation were to be introduced, the CAC recommended identifying funding sources for a “buyback” program that would help residents and landscaping companies exchange their gas-powered blowers. The committee also suggested public education around the ecological benefits of less-intensive landscaping, such as leaving autumn leaves on the ground until spring.
Krasikov, who works for the Beacon-based landscaping and design company One Nature, said that on a personal note, he and his co-workers had found electric-powered blowers to be capable of handling even larger commercial projects. Kyriacou said that he would like to hear from more landscaping companies before drafting legislation. Krasikov agreed but noted what other municipalities had already heard.
“There was pushback from landscapers who said it’s not going to work, it’s going to be miserable, and they’re all going to go out of business,” he said. But instead, “it all worked out.”
As a Beacon resident, I’m proud to be represented by City Council members such as Dan Aymar-Blair and Paloma Wake, who are taking initiative to make our neighborhoods healthier and more sustainable. State agencies like NYSERDA and independent organizations like Win Climate have released reports that gas-free buildings save bill payers hundreds of dollars per year.
Ashoka is a founding member of Beacon Climate Action Now.
How would being 100 percent dependent on electric be cheaper than natural gas or propane? Because Central Hudson’s rate increases are partially due to the politicians closing gas, nuclear and coal-fired power plants and supposedly replacing them with unreliable high-cost wind and solar, my electric rate is almost three times higher than in 2018. Can anyone explain how banning gas and propane will decrease electric rates and reduce our monthly energy costs?
When a home has a direct gas hookup, that becomes the only source of heat unless it’s retrofitted with an electric heat source. This means Beacon residents with gas hookups are reliant on gas and price swings. Natural gas prices, particularly in the winter, are much more expensive than other forms of energy.
In all-electric homes, you get all of your electricity from the grid, which is determined by energy markets. These energy markets work like other markets, with utility companies as the buyers and sellers of types of fuel generation sources (gas, nuclear, hydro, wind, solar, etc.). The utility purchases the cheapest generation available, whether that comes from gas power plants, hydropower, nuclear or wind/solar — they’re all putting electricity on the grid at different price points. The utility will always buy the cheapest available and pass that cost off to you.
However, if you have a direct gas line coming into your home, you are stuck getting your heat from gas even if it is the most expensive fuel source. As more renewables come online with more battery storage, these electricity prices will drop lower and hopefully reduce our bills.
All this doesn’t matter much for those of us who already have a home in Beacon, because the proposed law would just affect new construction.