Electrifying for Peace

With the Russian invasion of Ukraine, we have all been shocked and horrified by what has been unfolding for millions of Ukrainian families who have had their lives forever changed. The whole world is facing hard truths in the wake of Putin’s aggression, especially when it comes to how we power our lives and economies. In a powerful op-ed with U.S. Senator Martin Heinrich of New Mexico, our own Ari Matusiak makes the case that through electrification we can end the days of oil and gas enriching brutal dictators, bolster our own economy and save families in America, Europe and around the world money on their monthly energy bills. We can electrify not just to prevent the worst of climate change, but also for peace.

Freedom for Ukraine, electrification for peace and prosperity

By Senator Martin Heinrich (D-N.M.) and Ari Matusiak
Originally published by The Hill

With the tragic, illegal, and unprovoked invasion of Ukraine by Vladimir Putin, the world has been turned upside down. There is a hardening resolve among peace-loving nations and people around the globe to support Ukraine and isolate the Putin regime. The U.S. is leading this effort alongside our allies, reaffirming historic bonds in the process. 

But as Americans watch the inspiring heroism of Ukrainians fighting for their land and survival, we see plainly before us the fallout from a world dependent on fossil fuels. Oil and gas have propped up Putin’s regime. Fossil fuels have enabled an autocrat to fantasize that he can reset the terms of the global order.

The only way to break free from that cycle of dependence is to stop using the machines that consume fossil fuels to heat our air and water, cook our food, dry our clothes, and take us from place to place. We must electrify. And quickly.

It is clear that dependence on fossil fuels is not just bad for the environment, but puts people at risk. Electrification can break the cycle. And while the immediate need is in Europe, going all in for electrification at home can both spur manufacturing opportunities and facilitate our own transition towards true independence.

Fossil fuels make our European allies vulnerable to Putin: Forty percent of Europe’s natural gas comes from Russia, along with 27 percent of their oil. If we include the United Kingdom, 76 million homes in Europe use gas for heat. Breaking Putin’s power grip means destroying demand for his dwindling fossil fuel resources. Every single home that runs on clean electricity is one more family that is beyond Putin’s reach. So far, the current sanctions have largely exempted Russian oil and gas precisely because of this dependency. Electrification gives political leaders more leverage to dictate the terms of engagement. 

Electrifying 76 million homes is a bold goal. But so was building 47,000 planes in 1942. War demands that we do what we think we cannot.

This will not happen overnight, but we must move swiftly. By next winter, America must help our allies electrify millions of homes. This will break families free from the web of pipes that bind them to Russian hydrocarbons. 

We call this plan Electrify for Peace. 

First, we must scale our productive capacity to manufacture heat pumps and their critical components to support European supply chains. Done right, with a focus on products and technologies that can benefit families both at home and abroad, we can assist Europe’s breakup with Russian hydrocarbons, and facilitate our own transition to cleaner energy. There are myriad pathways for the U.S. to catalyze this transformation, including placing a significant procurement order by the U.S. Department of Defense, utilizing Loan Program Office capacity, and invoking the Defense Production Act to pump out pumps—heat pumps, that is. We should do them all.

Second, we should expand the Civilian Climate Corps proposed by President Biden in his Build a Better America plan and make it international, sending Americans to Europe to train and support the installation of heat pumps. This will not take jobs from Europeans; it will simply surge capacity. And it will have the effect of creating jobs on our soil, training up a generation of highly-skilled heat pump installers who will carry forward the market transformation when they return from their support of our allies abroad. 

Third, we need to end our dependence here at home. Even before Putin’s invasion, households that rely on fossil fuels saw heating bill increases of over 50 percent in parts of the U.S., compared to only 6 percent on average for those using electricity. Today, oil is over $110 a barrel and the oil-producing cartel of nations has refused to increase supply. It turns out that half of the inflation we are experiencing as a country is because of energy bills. Electrifying the machines we use to heat our air and water, cook our food, dry our clothes, and take our kids to school stands to save the average American household over $1,000 per year. The climate provisions in the Build a Better America Act address this, providing American families with the rebates and tax credits they need to make the switch. They must be passed.  

When we electrify, we will move from a politics of scarcity and dependence to one of abundance, enabling us to build and maintain the best things about this world while doing away with the worst.

For everyday Americans, this call is also highly actionable. For too long, we have wanted to help in the fight, but had no way into battle. Electrifying your home one machine at a time is today’s Victory Garden—a thing you can do to fight tyranny, inflation, and runaway emissions. The fact that it also saves you money and increases the air quality and comfort of your home is only a most wonderful byproduct. It seems almost glib to say a heat pump is a direct line to peace, but this crisis has shown us one more time that the path forward must be electric. It is time we take that path, emptying Putin’s tank and other oil and gas autocrats like him, locking in another generation of American prosperity, and saving the planet along the way.

Martin Heinrich is the senior senator from New Mexico and is a member of the Energy and Natural Resources Committee. Ari Matusiak is CEO of Rewiring America

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