Berkeley, California made history this week when it became the first city in the U.S. to ban natural gas hook-ups in all new buildings.
Last week the city council voted unanimously in favor of the ban, which also received immense public support. This week the ban was passed into law and will go into effect on January 1, 2020. The new ordinance will ban gas hook-ups in new multi-family construction.
California currently has a goal to reach 100% zero-carbon energy by 2045. Currently, energy use in buildings accounts for 25% of greenhouse gas emissions in California, so in order to meet that goal, many other cities and counties in the state will have to follow Berkeley’s bold lead. The city of San Jose, California’s third-largest city, has already proposed a plan that would make 47 percent of its homes powered entirely by electricity.
The vote on the ban came a year after the city declared a climate emergency. “Many cities would be satisfied or content to just declare a climate emergency.” said city council member Rigel Robinson. “This is what acting on it looks like.”
Electricity in Berkeley is easier and faster to reinstate after a power outage and cleaner. According to Councilwoman Kate Harrison, in moving to electricity in homes to power heating and cooking systems, homes will be 78 percent carbon-free.
In the past gas was considered the preferred energy source to move away from dirtier fossil fuels. “There’s been a lingering perception that burning gas was cleaner than electricity, which might have been true 20 years ago when electricity came from burning coal,” said Pierre Delforge, a senior scientist with the Natural Resources Defense Council . “When we look at electrification policies, we need to think about what the grid will look like in 10 or 20 years, not what it looked like yesterday.”
A 2019 state energy commission report concluded that building electrification infrastructure was “a key strategy” for reducing climate impacts. Natural gas leaks into the atmosphere and also releases significant emissions and pollutants indoors.
In order to meet its goal, the state of California is going to have to get inventive. New construction accounts for only 1% of buildings in California, so investments will have to be made towards things like induction stoves and heat pumps.
Transitioning away from natural gas is also important in an earthquake-heavy state such as California. Earthquakes have been known to rupture gas lines, which can lead to massive pipeline explosions, such as the Pacific Gas and Electric explosion in 2010.