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With new bill, NY could help finance geothermal energy

Making the move to heat and cool your home or small business with geothermal energy can be costly. A Western New York state Assemblyman is among a group of lawmakers backing a bill to add low or no-interest financing for that cost to the state’s On-Bill Recovery Financing Program.

Geothermal energy systems use the warmth of the earth beneath our feet to heat houses in the winter, cool them in the summer, and do the same for the water in their pipes. But installing a single system can cost between $10,000 and $20,000.

If signed, a bill currently sitting with Governor Andrew Cuomo would make low or no-interest financing for geothermal energy available to homeowners, small businesses, and not-for-profits.

“It’s good for the people in the City of Buffalo if you’re going to retrofit your house,” explained State Assemblyman Sean Ryan, one of the bill’s sponsors. “But the biggest cost-savers will really occur in the rural areas where people are now using propane to heat their house, or electricity. This will drastically reduce their energy costs.”

Using its On-Bill Recovery Financing Program, New York’s Energy Research and Development Authority would help finance geothermal in the same way it does for other energy efficient upgrades like solar panels. Ryan described it as being similar to a department store layaway plan, where New York would front the cost of the installation, and consumers would pay it off over time through balanced rates on their utility bills.

“In the interim your bill won’t go up, so you’ll still continue what your average utility bill is. You’ll be realizing savings, but that savings will go straight to paying off the piece of equipment,” said Ryan.

Once the system is paid off – somewhere in the ballpark of five to ten years depending on its size – consumers are expected to see a windfall of savings, with the actual rate of utilities cut to an estimated tenth of their current cost.

Among the added perks of switching to geothermal, according to Ryan, is the system’s expected lifespan of 50 years – 30 more than many conventional gas furnaces.

Ryan, a Democrat, worked with Republican State Senators Robert Ortt and Patrick Gallivan on the bill.

“It turns out high heating costs are a bipartisan issue,” said Ryan.

“Your utility bill doesn’t know what political party you’re affiliated with. But certainly we made the point that it really affects all areas of the state.”

Avery began his broadcasting career as a disc jockey for WRUB, the University at Buffalo’s student-run radio station.
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