State initiative encourages cost-efficient renewable energy

Photo from Wikimedia Commons

Heat pumps like these, advocates say, can reduce greenhouse gas emissions and air pollution, while also keeping your home toasty in winter.

NEW YORK — A state initiative to reduce greenhouse gas emissions sparked a slate of programs across the state dedicated to motivating homeowners into renewable energy systems this winter.


In this area, environmental nonprofits Catskill Mountainkeeper and Sustainable Hudson Valley are collaborating to help New York State residents optimize the energy efficiency of their homes and businesses. HeatSmart Ulster-Sullivan is one of eight community campaigns across the state sponsored through an initiative from New York State Energy Research and Development Authority (NYSERDA) called Clean Heating and Cooling Communities Campaign—a small part of the state’s effort to reduce emissions by 40% in the next 11 years.

Those who sign up for the program receive an energy audit from one of two local contractors, Energy Conservation Specialists and Hudson Valley Green Energy Group. Through these audits, residents will learn how to weatherize their homes and businesses in the most energy and cost-efficient ways. From there, the HeatSmart program helps owners switch to renewable energy systems like heat pumps.

“Having the state sponsor a program like this has been incredible,” said Sam Wright, who has been leading the program for Catskill Mountainkeeper. 

Broadly speaking, there are two kinds of heat pumps, according to Wright. Air-source and ground-source. Both are cleaner and eventually cheaper forms of heating and cooling because they convert temperature, rather than generate it like furnaces and air conditioners.

Wright describes air-source pumps as “beautifully simple systems.” They can be thought of as reverse refrigerators, pulling in the cold air from outside and using a refrigerant fluid to convert it into warm air that gets blown inside through a fan. During the summertime, this process can be reversed to cool buildings down.

Ground-source heat pumps utilize the temperature beneath the earth’s surface, which remains relatively consistent all year. They concentrate the Earth’s natural heat and use fluids to transport and exchange this heat into a comfortable temperature inside a building. They’re the more expensive option upfront, running anywhere from $7,000 to $25,000 to install, but they require less maintenance, last longer and cost less overtime.

Ground-source users are also eligible for NYSERDA and federal rebates that can account for about half the cost of the system. In general, there are a number of state and federal tax incentives and rebates for people who make the switch to renewables.

State-sponsored efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions aren’t particular to New York. In Pennsylvania, Gov. Tom Wolf has plans to slash emissions 26% by 2025 and 80% by 2050. Pennsylvania residents who use heat pumps are eligible for some incentives through their utility companies.

Wright urges everyone to weatherize their homes or buildings, even if they are not interested in heat pumps.

He also recommends that property owners with older furnaces that need repairs or replacement consider choosing heat pumps instead.

“It’s cheaper, better heating and it pays for itself over time,” he said.

NYS residents who are interested in weatherizing their homes and learning more about heat pumps can visit to sign up for an energy audit. 

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