A fringe “Keep It In The Ground” activist group in Massachusetts is advocating for residential electrification in order to reduce cooking’s effect on air pollution while downplaying their own cited studies’ findings that proper kitchen ventilation and use of a range hood vastly improves indoor air quality.
This deeply flawed “report” comes from Massachusetts Public Interest Research Group (MASSPIRG), an inherently biased organization opposed to natural gas from the wellhead to end use, and it’s supposed solution to require electric cooktops in place of gas stoves doesn’t address the problem if residents aren’t aware of best practices to mitigate pollutants.
Ventilation Stops Unnecessary Electrification
MASSPIRG’s warning that seasonal cooking can harm inhabitants’ health was timed to scare monger for Thanksgiving dinner and resurfaced for the holiday season. However, the data in its report is old, failing to account for modern kitchens and cherry-picked to make the argument for electrification.
The report cites a RMI study to argue that gas stoves emit dangerous levels of nitrogen dioxide (NO2), but RMI’s study fails to distinguish between homes with modern gas stoves from older homes with a continuous pilot light. And MASSPIRG’s supporting argument from another cited study is selective in drawing a conclusion from a simulation that excluded ventilation and didn’t account for the particulate matter involved in the cooking process. The same study saw a 55 percent decrease in emission rates when residents used a range hood.
The importance of ventilation was a focus of the Boston News article that picked up the story. According to Dr. Brita Lundberg and Yale Appliance Resident Chef Saba Duffy, proper ventilation is key to cooking, regardless of the fuel source.
An analysis of a UCLA study pushed by the Sierra Club on indoor air quality found that UCLA researchers ignored their own findings that indoor air quality is more a function of what is being cooked, than the cooking fuel. The UCLA study even notes that:
“There are indoor air quality issues associated with the use of gas cooking appliances that will remain despite the implementation of electrification, and we do not account for this. Some PM emissions are associated with cooking oils and foods, and there are no mitigation methods for this, other than the use of ventilation devices such as range hoods. We do not claim that the transition to electric appliances would make a substantial difference in terms of emissions from cooking oils and food.” (emphasis added)
MASSPIRG’s suggested solution is to electrify everything, but research demonstrates again and again that the problem isn’t the fuel firing up the stovetop.
Resources Better Spent
The money and effort that MASSPIRG and other electrification advocates put towards removing affordable energy solutions from homes would be better spent on weatherization programs and ensuring proper ventilation of homes.
Cooking food on either type of burner produces fine particles and some organic chemicals that are known to be hazardous, so ventilation will be key in any cooking scenario. But instead of ensuring that hood fans are vented to the exterior and residents are educated about proper ventilation, advocates in the state are attacking the Mass Save program that would allow residents to purchase newer natural gas appliances that contribute significantly less to indoor emissions, in hopes of turning residents to their preferred solution – electrifying everything.
On their way to this solution, electrification advocates have skipped multiple steps to support their position and failed to provide any tangible benefit to residents. Massachusetts pays 18.19 cents per kilowatt hour for electricity, ranking fifth highest in the nation. A switch to electricity without first addressing building efficiency would mean increased bills, money flying out of drafty windows and seeping through poor insulation.
And failure to address ventilation is dangerous – ventilation takes on additional significance in scenarios that improve building efficiency and seal building envelopes. Tighter building envelopes means a higher concentration of particulate matter and increased need to have all residents utilize their range hoods for air circulation.
To reach electrification supporters’ goals to transition all homes to all-electric, the state needs to be converting 100,000 homes a year from natural gas to electricity for cooking, heating, and cooling. They are averaging 461 full electric conversions a year. If electrification supporters are actually concerned with reducing emissions, resolving energy insecurity, and improving health outcomes for residents, they should focus on ventilation and essential energy interventions – energy audits, weatherization, intelligent sensors, etc. to really improve more homes.
Advocating For Whom?
MASSPIRG is a self-titled advocate for the public interest, but its pursuit of electrification has ignored the interests of everyday people. Instead of pursuing a policy that could reach thousands of more homes, they have opted for a policy that would have residents pay more for everyday energy needs. It’s a fact that the California municipalities that have pursued natural gas bans in favor of electricity on average earn more than 60 percent higher than the state average. Electrifying everything isn’t for everyone.
It’s possible to see the disconnect between the organization and the people they supposedly advocate for after taking a look at the company they keep. MASSPIRG is the state chapter of the Public Interest Research Groups (PIRG), an organization that has been in litigation for questionable pay practices and is affiliated with several “keep it in the ground” groups.
As a part of the Public Interest Network, PIRG shares an affiliation with Environment America which Energy In Depth has previously called out for recycling thoroughly debunked reports and redefining terms to fit its agenda (see also here, here, here, and here). Importantly, the group was lambasted in local media for falsely accusing the industry of having issues at well sites in the Marcellus during Hurricane Lee – by using a picture of a rig in Pakistan – and then the following year used an image from Africa to claim toxic sludge was being released in the United States.
Environment America is vehemently anti-fracking, so it’s no surprise its sister organization, PIRG is advocating for electrification to replace gas stoves.
MASSPIRG is putting residents in a catch-22 situation in which it proposes electrification to a solution that is readily addressed by ventilation. A solution that is necessary regardless of residential cooking fuel and becomes more important in increased efficiency scenarios.
There are a number of more effective building solutions available to reduce emissions in the state and improve quality of life for its residents. But failure to utilize these options and not addressing residential concerns to push electrification will result in more of the same – 461 homes retrofitted a year and hundreds of thousands waiting on basic energy efficiency interventions.
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