HOBOKEN, NJ - FEBRUARY 23:  Trucks and cars drive with the Manhattan skyline in the background February 23, 2005 in Hoboken, New Jersey. According to the Clean Air Task Force, an average of 2,729 early deaths from diesel engine pollution occur per year in the New York metropolitan area, the highest rate in the nation. According to the report, diesel exhaust causes over 20,000 early deaths nationwide a year.  (Photo by Mario Tama/Getty Images)

Trucks and cars drive with the Manhattan skyline in the background February 23, 2005 in Hoboken, New Jersey. (Photo by Mario Tama/Getty Images)

Why natural gas is the right alternative for the dirty heating oil phase out 

The coming end to the use of No. 6 heating oil is an important positive step forward for improving the air quality of New York City. Of course, for building owners, making the transition poses significant challenges since about 30 percent of the operational costs for buildings are energy related. 

Mayor Bill de Blasio’s sweeping environmental program to boost the city’s sustainability record and improve air quality, outlined in the 2011 PlaNYC Update, bans the use of No. 6 heating oil after July 1. Despite regulatory enforcement and various awareness and incentive programs, including the NYC Clean Heat program, thousands of buildings have yet to make the switch. 

With the deadline looming, building owners are running out of time to find alternatives. While buildings will be allowed to continue to use No. 4 heating oil until 2030, it’s important to weigh the long term and total costs of kicking this oil can down the road vs. making the switch now to an approved cleaner fuel. For many reasons, natural gas can be the best choice for owners seeking to comply with the heating oil phase out. Here’s why: 

Don’t stop thinkin’ about tomorrow. It may not be difficult to convert to a boiler that burns No. 4 heating oil, but making that choice now means ultimately paying for two fuel conversion projects. That’s because all buildings must convert to natural gas, or ultra-low sulfur No. 2, by 2030. As a long-term capital investment strategy, taking the easier option now isn’t necessarily wise, especially considering the incentives and financing programs available today that can offset some initial costs of conversion projects. Information about these options can be obtained by consulting NYC Clean Heat or a local full-service energy supplier.  

The price is right (and relatively stable). The economics have changed. Heating oil is not the least expensive, most accessible fuel option. Even with last winter’s short-term oil price drop, natural gas has consistently been less expensive than heating oil. Unlike highly volatile oil prices in the global market, the price and supply of natural gas has been relatively stable in the past decade due to robust, abundant domestic production. 

TCB & TCO. Taking care of business and total cost of ownership go hand in hand when it comes choosing energy for heat. Many buildings in New York City that have historically relied on heating oil are already connected to gas pipelines and currently rely on natural gas for cooking and operating clothes dryers. Gas equipment for heating requires less maintenance, compared to their oil counterparts. Fewer problems mean more reliable heating service and happier tenants. Not to mention that switching to cleaner natural gas will significantly reduce the amount of pollutants in the air, which makes New York a better place to live, work, and visit. 

As citizens, business owners, and policymakers continue to address the complex and changing future of energy use, eliminating fuels like No. 6 heating oil is an important milestone. Cleaner alternative fuels, such as natural gas, can make the transition away from No. 6 heating oil less disruptive and more beneficial to everyone. 

John Schultz is president of Direct Energy Business based in Woodbridge, New Jersey. As a full-service energy supplier, Direct Energy Business has assisted more than 100 buildings in New York City to make the low-cost, low-risk conversion to natural gas.