To reduce greenhouse gases and increase energy efficiency, Half Moon Bay officials are contemplating requiring that all new housing be powered through electricity and not natural gas, and also instituting a phase-out plan for current homes.

The City Council instructed city staff Tuesday to develop reach code ordinances amendments to limit natural gas usage in buildings, both residential and nonresidential, increase building decarbonization and find more solar and electric vehicle options. The city will formulate a draft ordinance and provide opportunities for comments and public input from the community.

A reach code is a local building energy code that goes beyond state requirements. The benefits of changing the codes include advancing state climate and decarbonization goals, environmental benefits and cost-effective new construction. The state has passed several laws requiring more stringent greenhouse gas reductions to meet energy goals. According to a city report, energy represents 49% of all greenhouse gas emissions for Half Moon Bay. Cities can help reduce greenhouse gas through more stringent reach codes beyond statewide standards, which interests the council.

The city will explore ordinances for all electric with no exceptions for residential properties, which would forbid gas lines running through the property. For nonresidential properties, most of the council favored all electric with exceptions and requested more information about how businesses would be affected, such as a medical or science building that needs gas. The council also wanted to understand more about how hotel fireplaces would be changed, along with pool and spas.

Councilman Harvey Rarback said Half Moon Bay should lead and require any new construction reach code ordinances be all-electric for residential and nonresidential, with help from Peninsula Clean Energy and other organizations.

“I would heartily recommend an all-electric requirement. Among other things, it will actually reduce in many cases the cost of construction because you don’t have to pull any gas lines, and that saves money,” Rarback said.

Vice Mayor Debbie Ruddock supported all electric for new construction for residents, with some exceptions for outdoor amenities like a spa or pool, but no allowances for gas inside the house.

“The state is committed to 100% renewable energy by 2035, so you might as well get going on all electric now,” Ruddock said.

The City Council wants to incorporate building decarbonization provisions for existing buildings. Decarbonization would reduce carbon dioxide from energy sources, helping to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. It asked for more information about a hybrid approach involving a combination of burnout and retrofit options for appliances. With burnout, gas appliances would be voluntarily removed or required to switch to an electric model at the appliance’s end of use. A retrofit option would set a date, typically 15 to 20 years in the future, where everyone would be required to make conversions to meet city reach codes. Most people would meet the retrofit date through the burnout phase. The City Council also wants to expand solar and electric vehicle options where possible.

It is unclear how many customers would be affected by the ordinance changes, but Public Works Director John Doughty said, in theory, every property in Half Moon Bay would be affected in some way based on council policy direction. Doughty hopes to have a city manager update by the first meeting in March on a reach code process schedule, as the overall process could take at least six months.

The council will have time throughout the process to come back and add exceptions or changes based on staff and public input, which Councilwoman Deborah Penrose supported.

“I’m OK with it, but I would be happier with all electric with exceptions. I don’t feel like I know enough, but if it’s true during this process, some of those exceptions will come to light, and we will be able to look at them and change the ordinance, that’s fine,” Penrose said.

In other business, the council also reinstated City Manager Bob Nisbet’s original annual salary of $236,500 following a temporary reduction to $215,000 due to financial challenges from the pandemic, effective Sept. 16, 2020. It reduced his and all other represented city employees’ salaries in May and restored the city employees’ salaries in September. The council found a survey of San Mateo area city managers from 2019 that showed the average salary was $245,099 and the median is $248,495.

(650) 344-5200 ext. 102

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(1) comment

Dirk van Ulden

Another group-think action by oblivious city leaders. They never explore the life cycle cost of such a measure, only to pursue the greening of their city. It will be green alright, green dollar bills forked over to the local electric utility. As a heating source, natural gas is overall a more economical source and is far more reliable. Oh well! Instead, they should be focusing on existential problems such as crime, homelessness and a vibrant economy. Cheap decisions on energy is easier and an eye catcher.

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