Seattle is aiming to become carbon neutral by 2050. Mayor Jenny Durkan has proposed a new tax on oil-powered residential heat to encourage a switch to cleaner electric sources. The city council takes up that proposal in committee Friday.
The city estimates as many as 18,000 homes in Seattle are still using oil as their heat source. It’s typically stored in underground tanks – most of which were built of steel from the 1920s to 1950s. They often leak, posing a the threat of contamination to soil and sometimes groundwater.
Officials say if people would get rid of the old tanks and use energy-efficient electric heat pumps instead, it would make a significant dent in Seattle’s carbon emissions over the next decade. Their estimates say it would eliminate air pollution equivalent to what comes from 90,000 cars in a year. And it also would cut the average homeowner’s heat bill in half, from about $1,700 per year to fill a 500-gallon tank to $850 for electricity instead.
So the mayor has proposed a new tax on heating oil to start next July – of .24 cents per gallon, paid by providers — along with a requirement that heating oil tank owners decommission or upgrade all underground oil tanks by 2028.
The cost for that conversion starts in the thousands of dollars. The tax revenue the city wants to collect would be used to subsidize the switch for lower income home owners. It also would fund help for affected workers in the oil-heating industry to retrain for other jobs.
According to The Seattle Times, Council member Mike O’Brien will sponsor the legislation and plans to have it before the full council in September.