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Don’t let them scare you. The future of N.J’s energy is electric. | Opinion

By Star-Ledger Guest Columnist

Ed Potosnak

The New Jersey Fuel Merchants Association (FMA), the 89-year-old self-described “Voice of Oil Heat in New Jersey,” is using scare tactics to make you afraid of — are you ready for it? — electric heat. The FMA sees the future, and they realize the end of burning fossil fuels to produce heat is near.

Electric heat is much safer and healthier than fossil fuel energy sources, such as fuel oil, methane gas and propane. It’s also extremely efficient. Modern electric heat pumps keep people comfortably warm in the winter and double as air conditioners to keep them cool in the summer. So why the scare tactics? What is the Fuel Merchants Association so afraid of?

I’ll tell you, they’re afraid of what’s to come. Clean energy sources like wind and solar are growing in popularity, and the Fuel Merchants Association wants to sell as much of their dirty, carbon-emitting fossil fuel products as possible before they become obsolete, like DDT and lead paint.

On its website, the Fuel Merchants Association declares, “We’ll be here for years to come, representing oil heat wherever and whenever your interests are at stake.” No thanks. My interests, and the interest of all New Jerseyans, would be best served by clean energy sources that don’t produce the greenhouse gasses contributing to climate change and increased rates of asthma and other respiratory diseases.

A recent Acadia Center report found New Jersey has one of the highest health burdens from outdoor air pollution directly related to the combustion of fossil fuels in buildings of any state in the country, with over 250 premature deaths and $2.8 billion in health costs annually.

New Jersey’s Election Law Enforcement Commission (ELEC) tracks the spending of organizations registered to lobby the government on policy issues. According to ELEC, Fuel Merchants Association launched the advocacy group SmartHeatNJ last September to mobilize public opinion against New Jersey’s Energy Master Plan, which calls for the common-sense switch from fossil fuels to energy-efficient, cleaner alternatives like all-electric systems for heating and cooling in New Jersey’s homes and buildings.

The Association shattered the previous record by spending a whopping $18.1 million on communications, including TV and digital advertising. That’s on top of the nearly $1.5 million FMA spent on lobbying last year — the third-highest of any organization in New Jersey.

All these expensive ad buys were designed to stoke our fears. One ad said, “Tell your legislator NO to the $20,000 home heat tax.” That sure would be scary — if it were true. Fortunately, it’s not, and neither is their claim that the government is forcing people to convert their current heating systems to electric heat pumps. These false claims are aimed at muddying the discussion over New Jersey’s real needs and what’s best for the health of people and the economy.

The Acadia Center’s report sets the record straight: New Jersey households will save money with electrification, in some cases more than 20% a year. The truth is, combining electric appliances with home weatherization measures could even cut costs in half. No wonder the Fuel Merchants are trying so hard to delay this transition — it will cut in on their profits.

Let’s also make it clear that nothing in the New Jersey Energy Master Plan forces anyone to do anything. There will come a time when people who need to replace their heating/cooling systems, stoves, washers, dryers, and so on will choose all-electric appliances because they are more energy-efficient and they don’t pose a threat to the air quality in our homes. It’s already happening, and demand for electric appliances and heating and cooling systems will only grow.

So don’t be afraid. And don’t believe the high-priced ad campaign of an industry fighting a rear-guard action against clean, safe, affordable energy sources. Fossil fuels had their day. Today, better alternatives are available. Delaying implementation of the Energy Master Plan serves only the interest of the fossil fuel industry, not the interests of our communities. Let’s embrace the transition away from unhealthy fossil fuels and leave the fear-mongering behind.

Ed Potosnak is the executive director of the New Jersey League of Conservation Voters, a non-partisan environmental organization whose mission is to help elect environmental champions.