The news about how polluting “natural” gas stoves is inspiring a lot of us to consider switching out our gas range for an electric model for the health of our families. But would it really make a difference?
A nonprofit group based in New York City has launched a pilot project to find out.
WE ACT For Environmental Justice (WE ACT) plans to monitor the air quality in 20 apartments in one NYCHA (New York City Housing Authority) building over the next four months to learn how gas models compare with electric induction models. Ten of the gas stoves will be replaced with electric ones.
The expectation is that the induction stoves will provide better for indoor air quality and also use less energy overall. WE ACT is working with Columbia University’s Mailman School of Public Health and Berkeley Air Monitoring to collect data and conduct the final analysis.
WE ACT decided to focus on gas stoves for several key reasons. One is that the gas that fuels our stoves (and many furnaces) consists primarily of methane. Methane is 25 times more potent than carbon dioxide when it comes to climate change, while the fracking process used to extract it causes significant air and water pollution. Another is that methane is leaking like crazy from the gas lines that deliver it as well as from our stoves themselves. A third is that burning gas in homes creates a health hazard. According to RMI research institute, gas stoves can emit nitrogen dioxide at levels that often exceed both indoor and outdoor guidelines, putting children at greater risk for IQ and learning deficits, lung infections, asthma and more.
New York City has been on the forefront of the growing national movement to require new home and building construction to use electricity rather than gas for heating, cooling, cooking, and laundry.
WE ACT has been on the forefront too. Since 1988, the group has been working to advance environmental justice in New York City. And they work with other environmental justice alliances in the Northeast to network, collaborate, and impact environmental policy-making. To that end, WE ACT has lobbied elected officials on topics ranging from safe cosmetics and personal care products to green jobs to “decarbonization and electrification,” the effort to replace fossil fuel power with electricity from renewable energy sources like solar, wind, and geothermal energy. They also “bird dog” New York State Governor Kathy Hochul, showing up at her events to try to ask her “on the record” how she feels about a host of issues related to clean energy and environmental justice.
WE ACT recently posted this very informative Zoom recording on YouTube that explains its project in greater detail (fast forward to minute 42:12 to skip the first part of the video, which is a membership meeting). Guest speaker Stephan Roundtree, the Senior Regional Director for the Northeast and Mid-Atlantic regions for Vote Solar, dispels several myths related to gas stoves. For example, he says that gas is not actually particularly efficient to cook with. That’s a “marketing thing” and “spin” the gas industry has put on its product, he declared. “When you’re cooking with gas, only about 40% of the actual flame cooks the food.” The rest of the heat generated by the flame dissipates into your kitchen. Compared to induction cooking, which uses 80% of the energy generated, there’s no contest, Roundtree said.
Annie Carforo, WE ACT ‘s climate justice organizer, acknowledges that switching from gas to electric can be expensive initially. Also, given how many stoves may be in a large apartment building or housing project, an entire building might need to be rewired to account for the increased electrical load needed to power all the new electric appliances. A third concern is that there currently may not be enough clean energy available to power an immediate switch to an all-electric world. However, given how much space is available on rooftops, parking lots, bridges, and the growing number of community solar projects being developed, WE ACT is confident that the demand for clean electricity will be matched by an increase in clean energy technology.
A priority for WE ACT is to make sure that, as electrification expands, costs stay affordable so that low- and middle-income families can benefit equally from these opportunities. The group plans to rally for New York State’s All-Electric Buildings Act, among other initiatives, as it continues to promote #GasFreeNY.
“We are learning how hungry people are for electrification,” she says. “We need to make sure that we’re not installing any more fossil fuel infrastructure in New York State … and that costs stay affordable.
“It’s encouraging that despite the propaganda that the gas industry is putting out there, the movement to electrify is gaining momentum.”