Coloradans do need a “smart, balanced and cost-effective approach” toward reducing the state’s carbon footprint, as Ted Leighty suggests (“Don’t ban natural gas from Colorado homes,” Sept. 15). However, accurate data on energy prices and heat pump performance show that approach actually includes building healthy, efficient and electric new homes.
According to a recent analysis by the Southwest Energy Efficiency Project (SWEEP), using the most recent Xcel Energy electric and gas rates for residential customers as well as modeled heating system performance, the annual heating costs for a new home in Denver with an efficient cold-climate heat pump and heat pump water heater are actually about 13% less (or about $125 per-year cheaper) than those for a mixed-fuel home that uses gas for space and water heating. And given the global demand for U.S. LNG, gas prices are likely to increase or stay where they are compared to electricity prices.
In addition, the initial costs of building an all-electric home are about the same (within about 4%, including the avoided costs of gas piping), according to SWEEP’s analysis. This conclusion is consistent with the cost estimates from Diverge Homes, one of the leading builders of all-electric new homes in the Marshall Fire rebuilding effort.
The favorable economics of new all-electric homes will be further enhanced if the Colorado PUC adopts a reasonable policy on “extension allowances” for gas pipelines that requires new gas-fueled residential developments to pay their fair share of the costs of their new piping infrastructure, rather than burdening all ratepayers.
Beyond using energy more efficiently, electric homes have cleaner indoor air quality, avoid safety concerns about gas explosions and carbon monoxide poisoning, and typically have greater resiliency in natural disasters like wildfires, as demonstrated in the Marshall Fire.
The main challenge to building more healthy, efficient and electric new homes is not the home buyer demand, as Leighty alleges, but rather the lack of training of builders and their HVAC contractors. This is a hurdle that the Beneficial Electrification League of Colorado, and its utility partners Xcel Energy, Tri-State Generation, Platte River Power Authority and Holy Cross Energy, are addressing through training programs, technical resources and workshops. In addition to generous tax credits and rebates for heat pumps for homeowners, the recently passed federal infrastructure bill and Inflation Reduction Act will provide more funding for training of HVAC professionals to encourage more adoption of efficient heat-pump technologies in homes.
I know of no state legislator proposing a statewide ban on gas for new homes. However, with better-trained HVAC contractors, rich rebates and incentives for developers, more and more Coloradans will choose to live in all — or mostly — electric new homes. And with improved health and safety, excellent comfort, much lower carbon footprint and low energy costs, these homes are an excellent choice.
Neil Kolwey is a beneficial electrification specialist with the Southwest Energy Efficiency Project in Boulder.