‘It’s Electrifying’

by Paul Holmes ([email protected]) 725 views 

It’s easy to understand why consumers can become confused by what they see and hear and what their friends say they heard a state’s government or the federal government was planning to do next, especially when it comes to energy.

In mid-January, a member of the four-person Consumer Product Safety Commission told Bloomberg that the CPSC would consider a ban on gas stoves as part of the agency’s effort to address the stoves’ hazards. The remarks by Commissioner Rich Trumka Jr. spread like wildfire, because CPSC Chairman Alexander Hoehn-Saric walked back Trumka’s comments, telling the national media just days later that, “I am not looking to ban gas stoves and the CPSC has no proceeding to do so.”

Trumka had told Bloomberg that gas stoves are what he called a hidden hazard and a ban on the manufacture and import of gas stoves was among the options on the table. The CPSC plans to open public comment on the issue in the form of a Request for Information later this year. That sounds like somebody among the 500 people employed at the CPSC is thinking about it.

Walked back or not, Trumka’s remarks got pushback from both sides of the aisle in Congress. Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers, R-Wash, chair of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, stated her opposition as did Democratic Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va. He said the last thing that would ever leave his house is his gas stove.

If that’s the CPSC’s greatest concern for American consumers, he said, then perhaps Congress should reevaluate the commission. I think in plain Arkansas vernacular Manchin was asking the CPSC, “Don’t y’all have something better to do?” When that question was asked at the house of my childhood, we knew we’d better find something else or it would be found for us.

The notion of a ban on gas stoves also got the attention from groups who represent the stove manufacturers and natural gas distributors. The American Gas Association said in a statement the CPSC should rely on “real data and not unsubstantiated claims of advocates (of the ban.)”

Research recently published in the International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health indicated that more than 12% of childhood asthma cases in the U.S. can be attributed to use of gas stoves.

Jill Notini, vice president of the Association of Home Appliance Manufacturers, said if the aim is to improve overall indoor air quality, then the emphasis should be on ventilation, not on one particular appliance. Notini suggests behavior change may be needed rather than a change of cooking devices. She said people may need to turn on their stove vent hoods when they cook. That’s a good answer for people who have vent hoods, but for those who don’t, that is not applicable.

Cities in California and Massachusetts are said to have passed building codes that encourage or mandate new construction use all-electric appliances. The idea behind it is to discourage builders from running natural gas lines to new houses and apartments. It appears the goal is creating fewer legacy gas hookups that could be grandfathered in the future when or if electricity became the only energy source allowable for residential use.

Some 40% of American households now use natural gas stoves so it will be interesting how those cities that now have or institute all-electric appliances mandates will treat legacy gas customers who seek to replace their older gas appliances with new gas appliances.

Here are a few questions to ponder. Would they be allowed to do so? If so, would the local government impose some sort of permit fee for continued use of gas? If not, would homeowners and landlords receive financial assistance to convert stoves and perhaps heating systems as well to electricity? If so, who would fund those payments?

Of course, I would think that the plus for advocates of renewable energy is that banning gas stoves would boost the use of electricity that green advocates hope will be increasingly produced by sources of energy such as wind or solar.

In the meantime, however, we will still use natural gas and coal to produce electricity. The electricity that would cook the biscuits, run the HVAC systems and power the lights in homes and businesses would still come from traditional sources.

The automotive industry, meanwhile, is running at breakneck speed to produce new and expanded lines of electric cars and trucks. I’ll admit it would be fun but scary to drive the 2024 hybrid Corvette E-Ray that goes from 0 to 60 in 2.5 seconds.

Over the years, GM has phased out its hybrid production, but the company says the E-Ray’s technology was already developed so it went ahead with production. Other manufacturers are also busy rolling new all-electric cars and hybrids off their production lines.

The U.S. Postal Service wants in on the act, saying it will spend nearly $10 billion to electrify its fleet, including adding charging infrastructure at hundreds of postal facilities nationwide and buying some 66,000 delivery trucks in the next five years.

We have recently seen rolling power blackouts in parts of this country because of high demand during the fierce winter storm. What will it be like when we have another nationwide killer winter storm?

Still, the underlying question is, by the time the nation has converted its automotive and home energy systems, will we have developed the energy sources and infrastructure to support the increased demand for electricity?

I hope so, but if not, I want to test-drive that Corvette just once before the lights go out.

Editor’s note: Paul Holmes is editor-at-large for Northeast Arkansas Talk Business & Politics. He can be reached at [email protected]. The opinions expressed are those of the author.