Natural gas, a fossil fuel, is California’s second largest source of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions behind transportation, contributing roughly one third or more of total GHG emissions. Community choice energy agencies have begun delivering carbon free (or nearly carbon free) electricity to all customers at market rates. At the same time rapid technology improvements have increased the efficiency of electric heating and appliances, while the costs have come down making all electric, zero carbon buildings not just environmentally preferable but also an opportunity to save money on construction and energy use. This means that one of the most impactful climate policy steps that Silicon Valley cities can take is avoiding natural gas in new buildings, via all electric, Zero Carbon designs.
Although natural gas was once considered a bridge fuel, much of it now comes from “fracking”. Many new studies show that natural gas has exceptionally high global warming emissions when the lifecycle of the fuel (including leaks) is considered. Natural gas also poses direct safety hazards with leaks that can lead to explosions or fires. For example, the 2010 gas pipeline explosion in San Bruno killed eight people and destroyed 38 homes. However, every year, there are thousands of fires and dozens of deaths caused by gas leaks that do not make headline news. Gas use inside buildings that are not well ventilated also leads to chronic health impacts, as well as hundreds more deaths every year from carbon monoxide poisoning. Finally, relatively large capital investments in long-lived natural gas infrastructure and the devices are at high risk becoming stranded assets as we switch away from natural gas use. (Here are two resources with more info on the impacts of natural gas from Menlo Spark and Climate Reality.)
Many cities have begun exploring policies to avoid natural gas in buildings in response to the climate crisis, and also because of the health and safety impacts. Eugene, Oregon is planning to use their upcoming contract negotiation with the local gas company to explore requirements for reduced emissions to help meet city climate goals, and possibly prohibit new gas connections unless the company demonstrates a plan to decarbonize. The City of Hayward is now slated to require all-electric buildings through CEQA (California Environmental Quality Act) for new multi-family developments downtown. The City Council of Arcata adopted a plan to establish a moratorium on new gas installations and to phase out its use completely by 2035.
Other cities, such as Boulder, Burlington, and Sommerville MA have programs assisting buildings- and home-owners in electrifying. These city-based programs, supported by the Building Electrification Initiative through the Urban Sustainability Directors Network and the Carbon Neutral Cities Alliance, are demonstrating strategies to scale up the electrification of building heating and cooling systems.