Mayor Durkan Signs Legislation to Help Combat Climate Crisis by Converting Thousands of Oil-Heated Seattle Homes to Cleaner, Lower Carbon Electric Heat

Using Oil for Heat One of the Most Expensive and Polluting Forms of Home Heating in Seattle 

Converting Homes to Cleaner Electricity Would Provide Carbon Pollution Reduction Equivalent to Taking 90,000 Cars off Seattle’s Roads for an Entire Year, A Key Step to Becoming Carbon Neutral by 2050 

Seattle (October 1, 2019) – To help combat the global climate crisis and fulfill a key commitment of Seattle’s 2018 Seattle Climate Strategy, Mayor Jenny Durkan signed into law her plan to speed up the conversion of Seattle’s homes that burn oil for heat to cleaner electric heating.  

First announced in August, Mayor Durkan’s plan was passed unanimously by City Council on September 23. 

Oil heat is the least efficient, most expensive, and most polluting form of home heating in Seattle. Converting Seattle homes to highly efficient electric heat pumps is another step to help Seattle become carbon neutral by 2050.  

Mayor Durkan’s plan will 1) impose a tax on heating oil starting July 1, 2020 on heating oil providers and 2) a requirement for heating oil tank owners to decommission or upgrade all existing underground oil tanks by 2028. Revenue from the tax will provide rebates and grants for Seattle homeowners to energy efficient electric heat pumps. 

A $0.24/gallon tax on oil will fund rebates and grants for nearly 3,000 households to transition to clean, efficient heat pumps. Approximately 1,000 low-income households are estimated to be eligible for a fully funded conversion at no cost their family.  

“Earlier this month, millions of young people around the world—including thousands here in Seattle— marched to demand action on climate change. They are the leaders of this climate change generation, and their activism will help transform our world for the better,” said Mayor Jenny Durkan. “We must recommit to those young people and ourselves that we will accelerate our transition to a clean energy future. Moving faster to convert Seattle’s homes off of dirty fossil fuels is good for our climate, our economy, and the future of the young people who continue to advocate for change. We will continue the important work of fighting climate change and addressing environmental inequities. By investing in more housing near transit, advancing legislation to create more green buildings, and studying congestion pricing, we continue to work to create a greener and more just future.” 

“We know to address our climate crisis, we must move quickly to transition people off harmful and polluting fuels to cleaner energy. I’m thankful the Mayor put forth a bold vision to address home heating oils,” said Councilmember Mike O’Brien. “This legislation also has an equity lens – providing help for lower income households to transition off heating oil while adding job training for those in the heating oil industry impacted by this necessary change.” 

There are as many as 18,000 oil-heated homes in the City of Seattle. Converting those homes to clean electricity is expected to reduce Seattle’s climate emissions by 433,000 metric tons over 10 years. That is the equivalent of taking nearly 90,000 passenger cars off the road for a year. 

In addition to the tax, the new law also requires heating oil tank owners to decommission or upgrade all existing underground oil tanks by 2028. Most of Seattle’s oil heat tanks are more than 60 years old and are an increasing liability for deterioration and leakage—which can damage soil, property, and potentially ground water.   

There are as many as 18,000 oil-heated homes in the City of Seattle. Converting those homes to clean electricity is expected to reduce Seattle’s climate emissions by 433,000 metric tons over 10 years. That is the equivalent of taking nearly 90,000 passenger cars off the road for a year.  

A typical 500-gallon oil tanks costs a household $1,700 per year. An electric heat pump is more than twice as efficient as an oil furnace and a conversion from oil would save the average household about $850 every year compared to oil heat systems.    

Most of Seattle’s oil heat tanks were installed between the 1920s and 1950s and are now an increasing liability as the steel tanks deteriorate causing oil to leak and damage soil, property, and potentially ground water.     

City of Seattle departments including Office of Sustainability and Environment, Seattle Fire Department and Seattle Department of Construction and Inspections will develop the criteria and plan for decommissioning aging oil tanks by July 1, 2020.   

The legislation also supports workforce development for workers in the oil heating industry. A portion of the tax revenue will support workforce training and business planning support for affected heating oil service providers.