Terry Nagel,  Robert Whitehair and IdaRose Sylvester

With more days of scorching heat each summer and wildfire smoke filling our skies every fall, there’s no denying that climate change is here. This is not the world we want to be living in, and we certainly don’t want to leave our planet in worse shape for our children.

The best thing to do in a crisis is to stop doing what created the problem. That’s why city leaders all over California are adopting “Reach Codes” that limit natural gas (a fossil fuel) and provide electric vehicle charging infrastructure in new construction. So far, around 20 city councils in California have approved at least the first reading of ordinances that will restrict natural gas, including around 10 in San Mateo and Santa Clara counties. Some California cities, including Morgan Hill, Berkeley and Alameda, have completely banned natural gas from new buildings, and some have instituted partial bans for some building types, like San Jose.

Avoiding natural gas in new construction is one of the easiest and fastest ways that local cities can help our state reach its goal to become carbon neutral by 2045. Since homes built today are likely to be in use 50 to 100 years from now, it doesn’t make sense to keep building them with gas systems that will need to be replaced, at great expense, with electric power to comply with coming regulations.

Once considered a better option than oil and coal, natural gas is now considered an environmental disaster. More than half of U.S. production of natural gas comes from fracking, a process that injects cancer-causing chemicals and water deep into the ground, polluting air and water and even causing earthquakes. We know that natural gas, which is primarily composed of methane, is far more potent in contributing to climate change than carbon dioxide. A recent NASA survey found that oil and gas facilities cause 26% of methane emissions in California.

Eliminating natural gas has many other benefits, including:

• Better air quality. Burning gas in household appliances such as stoves can cause indoor air pollution levels that would be illegal outdoors. Studies show it contributes to asthma and other respiratory problems.

• Safer homes. Natural gas use is responsible for almost half of house fires, and gas pipelines can rupture and leak methane, which is highly flammable. The 2010 San Bruno pipeline explosion is one example.

• Saving money. The average all-electric single-family home costs at least $6,000 less to construct than one powered by gas and electricity, and new electric appliances are generally more efficient and cheaper to operate. In addition, the cost of natural gas is escalating, with PG&E asking for a 24% rate increase by 2021.

• Job creation. As new homes adopt clean energy, companies will hire more workers.

Of course, people have questions about all-electric construction. Some worry about depending only on electricity during PG&E’s rolling blackouts. However, gas does not add redundancy because all modern gas appliances require an electric starter. And gas is turned off in emergencies, too.

When electricity was restored recently to Healdsburg after a two-day blackout, all-electric homes and businesses had lighting, hot water and heat right away, while stores and restaurants dependent on gas had lighting but remained closed — sometimes for a week — while waiting for Pacific Gas and Electric to relight pilot lights.

Other people are concerned about having enough electricity. In San Mateo County, Peninsula Clean Energy has procured long-term contracts for renewable energy from large-scale solar and wind sources. Another supply option during power outages and daily usage is to rely upon a back-up source such as batteries or solar power. Huge investments are now being made in large-scale battery energy storage. In addition, Gov. Newsom is avidly promoting microgrids, which are locally controlled and operated power sources.

Still others say they can’t live without a gas stove. They may be thinking of clunky old electric stoves with slow-to-heat resistance coils. Induction cooktops are sleek and offer instant heat that is easy to control. Most people who try one out love them, including many professional chefs in exclusive restaurants, such as The French Laundry.

So, what are we waiting for? The technology for building all-electric buildings is available today. We know we’re facing a climate emergency. Let’s help lead the way to a cleaner, greener, healthier future by adopting all-electric construction in new homes.

Terry Nagel is the chair and Robert Whitehair is a volunteer with Sustainable San Mateo County. IdaRose Sylvester is campaign manager of Fossil Free Buildings Silicon Valley.

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(7) comments

Thomas Morgan

Looks like electricity generation (35%) uses just over double the amount as homes. Industrial uses (34%) are second at double the amount of houses. Houses are third at 17 percent. Not to mention improvements for the first two groups would be able to take improvements as a deduction, where as home owners would not.

https://www.eia.gov/energyexplained/natural-gas/use-of-natural-gas.php

robertwhitehair

Reach Codes cover new construction, but have long term applicability to older homes, such as the 70 year-old house in which my wife and I live. As our old gas fired appliances fail - stove, water heater, furnace, and dryer - we intend to replace them with much more efficient, electric units. As more and more new homes demand electric appliances, it will be cost effective for us to purchase readily available units. The longer our region waits to require electric in new homes, the more difficult it will be to make retrofits.

Dirk van Ulden

Robert - you will pull out your last white hairs once you have converted to an all-electric home as your utility bill just tripled after you would have spent thousands to upgrade your electric panel and internal wiring.

Dirk van Ulden

These three well meaning individuals have apparently never taken a math class. Electricity is more efficient at the point of use but very expensive to purchase. PG&E's increase in gas cost is due to their infrastructure upgrade, the cost of gas itself is still very low compared to electricity. Moreover, all dwellings and commercial buildings would require major increases in their electric panel capacities and internal wiring, costing millions of dollars. The electric utilities will have to boost their electric infrastructure as well, all at an enormous cost to rate payers. The three throw terms around like micro grids and cooking with electricity in the French Laundry (who can afford to eat there?) that are laudable but at a significant burden on your wallet. According to the California Air Resources Board, the overwhelming source of our carbon footprint results from transportation, not heating and cooking. It all sounds so good, doesn't it? Oh, I forget, it is for the children, always the same battle cry.

Ricki McG

I'm glad to have this issue brought out into public discussion. Gas has for decades been described as the cleaner, better energy source for homes, and it sounds like it's time to reevaluate.

TerryNagel

If you are building a new home or commercial building, you would be wise to go all-electric. That's what the state is mandating, with stricter building codes every three years. Construction will cost significantly less if you avoid the additional expense of adding natural gas infrastructure, and modern electric appliances are far more efficient than old ones. They are also better for your health and safety. (Gas lines leak and cause indoor pollution. The EPA found that household air pollution real concern; it can be anywhere from two to five times as polluted as outdoor air.) Plus the cost of gas is rising and is likely to increase as demand drops and more people get on board the all-electric train, which has already left the station.

Dirk van Ulden

Terry - indoor pollution is not caused by leaking gas lines. if it did your house would have blown up some time ago. Also, where do you think standby electricity, needed when the renewable sources are inadequate, comes from? Yes, from natural gas fired plants. If the cost of natural gas goes up, so does your cost of electricity. Please take off your rose colored glasses.

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