State and federal initiatives to make home heating and cooling more environmentally friendly appear to be at odds with recent guidance from the federal Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) concerning the production and use of a popular heat pump refrigerant.
On Friday, Gov. Janet Mills (D) announced that Maine had “surpassed” her goal of installing 100,000 heat pumps two years ahead of schedule.
In light of this, Gov. Mills instituted an updated benchmark of having an additional 175,000 heat pumps installed by 2027.
“Since taking office, Governor Mills has prioritized action against climate change in Maine through reducing carbon emissions, transitioning to renewable energy, and making Maine communities more resilient to climate effects,” the Mills administration said in a press release.
Similarly, the Biden Administration released a fact sheet earlier this month detailing a number of measures being taken to mitigate the dangers of “extreme heat” nationwide, among them the “installation of heat pumps to reduce energy demand and keep units cool” via an $830 million investment in the “Green and Resilient Retrofit Program.”
At the same time, however, the federal Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) finalized updated guidance on Thursday regarding the use and production of hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs) – a potent greenhouse gas used as a refrigerant.
Although this move, on its own, may seem logical from an environmental standpoint, many energy-efficient heat pumps rely primarily on HFCs in order to function. Consequently, the new EPA rule appears to undermine to some extent both state and federal efforts to expand the usage of heat pumps.
As part of this effort, the EPA is expected to “phase down the production and consumption of HFCs by 85% by 2036.” According to an EPA fact sheet published in December of 2022 explaining the agency’s HFC-reduction plan, “American consumers are expected to benefit from the transition to environmentally safer alternatives and more energy-efficient cooling technologies.”
For Americans who have installed heat pumps over the past few years, however, this dramatic reduction in HFCs will likely prove to be problematic and costly.
Although a number of more environmentally-friendly refrigerants are available, it is not always possible to use them interchangeably in systems created with HFCs in mind. Guidance from HVAC professionals suggests that “refrigerants should always only be used in systems specifically designed for them.”
As a result of this, many who have installed HFC-reliant heat pumps in recent years may find themselves needing to retrofit their systems, or replace them entirely, in the coming years in order to use the alternative, eco-friendly refrigerants that are being promoted to replace HFCs.
Since one gigaton represents one billion metric tons, Maine produced approximately .0071 gigatons of greenhouse gas in 2019, or roughly .00014257% of the world’s total greenhouse gas emissions.
The Maine Department of Environmental Protection did not immediately respond to a request for comment.