Phaseout of Dirtiest Heating Oils Begins to Accelerate
In accordance with new regulations designed to phase out the most-polluting grades of heating oil, as of July 2012, the Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) will stop issuing operating certificates for boilers burning #6 oil.
Boilers with Certificates to Operate that renew after July 1, 2012, must be converted to burn #4 or #2 fuel oil or gas. And according to the new rules, by 2030, #4 oil will also be phased out completely and owners must convert to boilers that burn #2 oil or convert to natural gas.
The rules affecting types of oil used in boilers were passed in April 2011 as part of an update to Mayor Bloomberg's environmental agenda, known as PlaNYC. It affects approximately 10,000 buildings that burn the dirtiest types of heating oil: #6, the cheapest oil pumped into aging boilers; and #4, another heavy oil that's only slightly less noxious.
According to city officials, only 1 percent of buildings in the city burn the dirty oil. But these buildings are responsible for more than 85 percent of all the soot pollution from buildings. Soot pollution can irritate the lungs, worsen conditions like asthma, and increase the risks of heart attacks and premature death. And in a corresponding report released at the time of the regulations, the city's health department estimated that air pollution from the fine particles emitted by the dirty-oil buildings, as well as other sources in the city, caused more than 3,000 deaths, 2,000 hospital admissions for lung and heart conditions, and about 6,000 emergency room visits for asthma annually.
Under the new rule, by 2015, existing boilers must switch from #6 oil to a low-sulfur version of the #4 heating oil or to an equivalent cleaner fuel. Any newly installed boiler would have to burn an even less polluting grade—low-sulfur #2 oil—or natural gas, or an equivalent low-emission fuel, which would in effect eventually phase out #4 oil. Boilers not replaced by 2030 would need to be modified to meet the new regulations.
The phase-out, when fully in effect, will reduce the amount of fine particles emitted by heated buildings by at least 63 percent and lower the overall concentration of fine particles in the city's air from all sources by 5 percent.
NYC DEP Rule Specifics
Here are the pertinent rules issued by the DEP to implement the environmental agenda of PlaNYC:
#6 oil-burning buildings. Owners with boilers burning #6 oil need to switch to at least low-sulfur #4 oil upon boiler permit renewal between July 2012 and July 2015 whenever the boiler permit of the building expires. To check when a building's DEP boiler permit expires, go to the NYC DOB Web page, enter the building address, scroll down to “DEP Boiler Permit,” click on it, and check the date.
#4 and #6 oil-burning buildings. Owners need to switch to #2 heating oil or natural gas whenever the boiler or burner is replaced between the effective date of the rule and Jan. 1, 2030.
Sunset date 2030. By Jan. 1, 2030, all buildings still burning #4 oil will need to have converted to a cleaner fuel unless the DEP grants an extension via a Compliance Agreement.
Making the Switch to Cleaner Fuel Options
The cleaner heating fuel options are natural gas, #2 heating oil, or Con Edison steam. Eventually, a building owner using dirtier #4 or #6 oil can decide to burn only #2 heating oil, only natural gas, or a combination. Con Edison steam eliminates the need for a boiler or oil tank. #2 heating oil is 10-30 percent more expensive than #6 oil, and natural gas is cheaper than #6 oil.
Inquire about natural gas line. If your building is located in Manhattan, the Bronx, or northern Queens, contact Con Edison at 1-800-643-1289, or National Grid, if your building is in Brooklyn, Staten Island, or southern Queens at 1-877-696-4743. Once you make contact, find out: if your utility company can bring a gas line to your building; if your utility company will pay to bring the line to your building; if your building is located in a low or high gas pressure area; and about the different gas rates (firm or interruptible).
Split costs for natural gas. If your utility company won't pay to bring a natural gas line to your building and if you decide that you'd like to implement natural gas as a heating fuel, check the map at www.edf.org/edf-map-dirty-heating-oil-new-york-city to see which neighboring buildings you could contact to switch to gas as well so that you can split the costs.
Switch to #2 heating oil. If your building's existing burner can also burn #2 oil, in most cases, it will require only a tank cleaning and removal of certain equipment before the building can make the switch. These two tasks can be done in just a few weeks, according to the Environmental Defense Fund. However, if a new burner is required, it most likely will take a few months to switch.
In these economic times, the biggest challenge for owners in making the conversion to cleaner fuels may be cost. Fortunately, there are some incentives available. The following is a list of incentives provided by various companies and organizations that may help defray some of the costs associated with making the switch from oil to natural gas.
NYSERDA. Multifamily buildings with five units or more currently burning #6 heating fuel are eligible for incentives of up to $175,000. See http://getenergysmart.org/MultiFamilyHomes/OilConversions/Overview.aspx.
Con Ed. Con Ed offers customized plans to assist customers and potential customers with the capital investments necessary to convert to natural gas. You can learn more at www.coned.com/sales/naturalgas/home.asp.
National Grid. National Grid offers customized plans that cover up to 50 percent of conversion costs for multifamily customers switching from heating oil to natural gas. Learn more at: www.powerofaction.com/gcnationalgridincentiveoffermetrony/.
HESS. Contact Hess Customer Service for Fuel Oil Customers to learn about incentives Hess offers to help buildings make the conversion to natural gas: www.hessenergy.com/customer/contact.htm.
There may also be state and local incentives. To search for incentives in New York, you can visit the Database of State Incentives for Renewables and Efficiency (DSIRE) at www.dsireusa.org.