ENFIELD, N.Y. –– On Thursday, April 14, the Enfield Town Board passed a resolution to work with HeatSmart Tompkins, a subset of “Solar Tompkins” that aims to promote “clean heat” and spread awareness of heat pumps, a cleaner and more energy-efficient method of heating.

Enfield joins Caroline, Dryden, Ithaca, Newfield and Ulysses in the effort to steer people away from natural gas heating in their homes. This would involve the town putting information on their website, sending out flyers and other methods. The program over the last two years has received a total of $250,000 in grant funding from the New York State Energy Research and Development Agency (NYSERDA) for outreach efforts and low-income HeatSmart subsidies. 

The resolution puts Enfield in the running for a $5,000 piece of that grant pie—that sum has been allotted for each of the first 100 municipalities to complete the campaign. In order to complete the campaign, 10 residents must sign up for energy efficiency upgrades, and three of them must get heat pumps.

During the meeting, Lisa Marshall, program director for HeatSmart Tompkins, gave the board a presentation on how heat pumps work. She said air source pumps draw heat in from outside air, while ground source heat pumps draw heat from the ground, but both operate with the same physics and technology.

“The reason it’s so efficient is it’s not creating heat, it’s taking heat, thermal energy, from the outside air or from the ground and using it for heating your home,” Marshall said.

While heat pumps use electricity, Marshall said they were between 200 percent and 400 percent more efficient than other heating systems. She said widespread adoption of this technology would be crucial to meeting emissions reduction goals under the Climate Leadership and Community Protection Act—a 40 percent reduction by 2030 and an 85 percent reduction by 2050.

“Reducing emissions from buildings is a pretty tough nut to crack,” Marshall said, “and that’s where HeatSmart comes in, because it’s not the easiest thing to figure out all by yourself, or town by town, or city by city, how we’re going to reduce those emissions.”

Marshall said most carbon emissions come from transportation and buildings and shared a graph showing that Minnesota homes used 55 percent of their energy on heating and air conditioning, compared to 15 percent on appliances, 15 percent on water heating, 10 percent on lighting and 5 percent on electronics. She said that the heat pumps not only were an energy-efficient way to heat and cool homes, but would also help with water heating.

According to Marshall, lower-income residents pay disproportionately more for heating, but the system would save them money. One of Marshall’s friends from Dryden tracks her heating expenses on a spreadsheet, finding that she spent $3,000 per year on wood and propane to heat her house, but now spends only $400 per year on heat with a ground source heat pump, which also makes her house warmer than before.

Marshall said that some residents who heat with wood, coal or pellets are worried about their ability to continue to do so as they age, and are excited to hear about a more convenient heating system like heat pumps.

New York State is conducting a heat pump demonstration study, giving discounts on heat pumps to 500 households. To qualify, homes must have heating systems more than 5 years old, not be on natural gas, and have adequate insulation.

“Every time I drive through Enfield, I just see a ton of propane tanks,” Marshall said, “so I’m guessing we have a lot of people that qualify.”

While heat pumps are expensive to install, Marshall mentioned that there is a rebate system through NYSEG which provides around a 20 to 30 percent discount on installation, as well as federal tax credits for heat pumps. She said HeatSmart also has additional grant funds available for heat pumps and heat pump water heaters through a low-income grant and the Finger Lakes Climate Fund, which could be combined.

The Board asked Marshall questions about her proposal, such as how deep ducts for ground source heat pumps had to go to get geothermal heat, then unanimously passed the resolution to approve the campaign. After the motion passed, Marshall thanked the board for taking time out of their meeting to discuss and vote on her proposal.

“Thank you for serving the community, it’s just beautiful to see democracy at work,” Marshall said.

Now, the next step will be yard signs, in-person events that meet COVID-19 regulations and more to help spread the word to residents about heat pumps.