Poll finds Western New York opposition to energy shift, but statewide support

A majority of Western New York residents oppose the state’s plan to phase out the use of natural gas in homes and buildings, according to a poll conducted by the Siena College Research Institute.

But the same poll found a majority of residents across the state supported the shift toward electricity over fossil fuels, with especially strong backing among New York City residents.

The poll was commissioned by New Yorkers for Affordable Energy, a coalition of utilities, business groups and labor unions. The poll focused on elements of the state’s energy roadmap, which calls for transforming energy use in homes and buildings.

Solar panels

A poll looked at opinions about the state’s shift toward electricity, such as that produced by solar panels, and away from fossil fuels. 

One question asked whether respondents supported or opposed moving buildings from using fossil fuels including natural gas to provide heat and hot water to using electricity instead. Sixty three percent of Western New York respondents – from Erie and Niagara counties – opposed the switch, while 53% of statewide respondents supported the change, including 66% of New York City respondents.

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There was a similar difference of opinion over a plan to prohibit installing new natural gas-powered appliances in existing homes starting in 2030. Sixty five percent of Western New York respondents said they opposed the idea, while 56% statewide said they supported it.

Poll participants were asked about banning natural gas furnaces and appliances in newly constructed buildings, starting in 2025. Sixty-eight percent of Western New York respondents were opposed, while 57% statewide were in favor.

Environmental groups needled the coalition over the poll’s findings, hailing the results as evidence that New York State residents support moving away from fossil fuels.

“Even gas industry-funded polling shows New Yorkers support legislation to end fossil fuels in new buildings,” said the GasFreeNY coalition, in a statement. On Friday, climate activists tried to deliver an oversized card and flowers to a National Grid customer service center in Brooklyn as a “thank you” for the results.

New Yorkers for Affordable Energy highlighted respondents’ concerns about the cost of converting their energy systems, and their desire to keep natural gas as part of the state’s energy mix.

“Siena’s research findings show that voters are largely aligned with the points (New Yorkers for Affordable Energy) has been making for years: while they do support doing what they can to help the environment, voters are concerned about cost, and not only want to keep natural gas as an option for heating and powering their homes, but also believe that natural gas can help New York achieve its climate goals,” the coalition said in a statement.

The scoping plan approved last year by the Climate Action Council has spurred debate. Proponents say the state needs to shift away from fossil fuels, to combat climate change and protect public health. Critics say the plan goes too far, too fast, and will drive up costs for customers, without assurances there will be enough electricity to meet the goals.

Natural gas has a large customer base in this region. Census data show that nearly 90% of homes in the Buffalo Niagara region are heated with natural gas, which is regarded as the least-expensive heating fuel. 

The poll found more common ground between Western New York and the rest of the state on questions about the climate law’s timeline for implementing changes.

Participants were presented with the statement, “The rest of the country isn’t going to ban natural gas and other fossil fuels to electrify on this aggressive time line, I don’t see why New York has to be first.” Seventy-one percent of Western New York respondents said they agreed, as did 60% of overall respondents.

Seventy-four percent of Western New York respondents – and 65% of overall respondents – said they didn’t believe the state could generate enough electricity to heat buildings and hot water on the plan’s timeline. 

And 87% of Western New York respondents – and 79% of total respondents – agreed the state should create an energy mix that uses both natural gas and low- or no-carbon fuels.

The poll was conducted in early February among nearly 900 state residents. 

Matt Glynn

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