There was a peculiar sight in front of Brooklyn Borough Hall at high noon on Wednesday, and it’s one New Yorkers might spot across the city over the coming weeks: a 10-foot sign on the back of a white pickup, advertising free ice cream and the NY HEAT Act — a state bill designed to phase out natural gas infrastructure and put a lid on rising energy costs.
Deputy Borough President Kim Council distributed popsicles and ice cream bars at what was the first stop of a monthlong citywide tour to rally public support for the legislation. While the bill passed the state Senate in June, it’s still under review in the Assembly by the Standing Committee on Corporations, Authorities and Commissions. Elected officials and a coalition of local environmental advocacy groups, which includes Food and Water Watch, are running the ice cream campaign.
“Utility bills are continuing to rise, and it’s becoming more and more expensive to live in a borough that’s already incredibly expensive to live in,” Council said. “Unless they take action up in Albany, our rates are gonna continue to rise as temperatures continue to climb, so this New York HEAT Act offers a chance to reverse this destructive trend.”
NY HEAT — or Home Energy Affordable Transition — empowers and encourages the Public Service Commission, the state’s utility regulator, to downsize and in some cases decommission the state’s system of gas plants and pipelines. According to Environmental Advocates NY, the measure would also remove the legal basis and subsidies driving the expansion of gas systems.
The goal is to bring gas energy providers into alignment with the Climate Leadership and Community Protection Act, which mandates zero-carbon emission energy by 2040. Currently, natural gas and dual fuel (gas plus oil) power nearly half of the state’s utility demand; in New York City, that number jumps to almost 90%.
This role would be a turnaround for the commission, which has traditionally expanded the state’s natural gas system. The agency was meant to ensure reliability and that utility companies acted in the public’s interest. This goal includes strictly regulating consumer prices, but also spurring infrastructure expansion.
“New York HEAT’s purpose is to modernize the public service law and specifically a framework for an orderly gas transition,” said Raya Salter, a member of the Climate Action Council and an environmental and climate justice lawyer.
How the NY HEAT Act would change things
Some of the Public Service Commission’s older rules include the “100-foot rule” — a law that requires ratepayers to take on the financial burden of paying for pipelines to buildings within 100 feet of an existing line, regardless of necessity. National Grid, a major natural gas provider in New York, makes a large amount of revenue through expansion – about $200 million annually directly from state customers.
In New York, utility companies are scheduled to spend $150 billion to replace thousands of miles of leaking pipes in the coming years, and these very investments are at risk of becoming “stranded assets.”
The NY HEAT Act proposes to repeal the “100-foot rule” and also do away with other rules such as the responsibility of providing for any requests for service. The bill gives the commission the power to discontinue the use of natural gas for any customer or service area as it decommissions sections of this fuel system. The potential legislation also prohibits the expansion of natural gas infrastructure into new service areas starting Dec. 21, 2025.
Advocates point out that current laws incentivize the continued use of gas and allow utility companies to recover the cost of those extensions by charging customers.
“The state isn’t going to hit its climate pollution reduction goals because right now the state’s laws are structured in an inconsistent way,” said Pete Sikora, climate and inequality campaigns director at New York Communities for Change. “You have requirements to hit climate pollution reductions, and you have requirements for gas utilities to keep delivering gas service. Those things are not compatible in the long run.”
National Grid told Gothamist that the bill isn’t an energy policy that will solve the “energy trilemma” of balancing supply reliability, environmental sustainability and affordability, which they said was in their customers’ best interest.
“With … the public commission actively considering the future of gas planning and the technologies and actions needed to attain the state’s zero emissions goals without compromising future reliability, the NY HEAT Act is premature,” said Bryan Grimaldi, vice president of corporate affairs at National Grid.
But the state’s current climate laws aim to free the grid from dependence on any fossil fuel sources – essentially a future without natural gas — and the NY HEAT Act includes measures to make the transition “just and affordable,” especially for low- to middle-income households.
These provisions include protecting low- to middle-income customers from energy costs that exceed 6% of their income. The total cost of utilities is considered reasonable when it is less than 10% of the customer’s income.
Such measures are also meant to soften the blow on rising fossil fuel energy costs. Monet Smith, a Brooklynite who stopped to sign the petition and get an ice cream, said her household bill has gone up by about $40 per month over the past couple of years.
“New Yorkers are struggling as it is – when you have struggles in terms of rent struggle, in terms of health struggles. Electricity is another add-on,” Smith said.
Last week, state regulators granted approval for Con Edison to increase rates by 9.1%. The hike takes effect this month. An average bill could increase by about $15 extra per month. Originally, the energy provider was seeking a rate hike of 11.2% for electricity and 18.2% for gas bills.
“There needs to be a lot more policy when it comes to just doing whatever New York can to either stop climate change or just make sure everybody is living in a comfortable, equitable environment,” said Jordan Koffi, a Brooklynite who stopped for ice cream and to learn more about the NY HEAT Act.
The “ice cream campaign” will continue through August, making stops across the boroughs. Interested parties can follow Renewable Heat Now on social media (Facebook and X, formerly known as Twitter) to learn when the tour is announcing a new ice cream stop.
On its first day, organizers purchased a total of 400 ice cream treats distributed over four stops in Brooklyn, including Sunset Park and Greenpoint.
“Make no mistake – we cannot improve our health; we cannot reach our climate goals; we cannot save anybody’s planet unless we can stop burning fossil fuels,” Salter said. “That means shutting down power plants and getting rid of infrastructure.”