Eyeing an all-electric future, the San Jose City Council will vote Dec. 1 on whether to expand its existing natural gas ban to include new commercial developments.
San Jose’s current ordinance, passed by lawmakers last year, bans natural gas in new residential buildings including single-family homes, low-rise apartments and condos — but incoming office and retail spaces are still allowed to have natural gas systems.
“This next phase of the ordinance is an incredibly important step to creating a safer and healthier world for us and our children,” resident Kat Wilson wrote.
Many expressed concerns about the harmful impacts of gas on humans and the environment. When burned, natural gas releases toxic compounds such as carbon monoxide, sulfur dioxide, nitrogen oxides which studies show can contribute to respiratory problems.
Natural gas can also escape during the drilling process and damage the surrounding habitat for animals, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration.
In San Jose, the ban could stop 608,000 tons of CO2 emissions from escaping into the atmosphere over the next 50 years, according to Kerrie Romanow, San Jose’s chief sustainability officer.
But recent memories of wildfires and PG&E blackouts left some residents, including Myron Crawford, concerned about the reliability of electric infrastructure in an emergency. Crawford also noted that natural gas has been a proven method for phasing out more harmful diesel and gasoline fuels — which often power backup generators.
The city aimed to address this concern by proposing exemptions for food establishments, hospitals, industrial buildings, manufacturing facilities and small energy distributors.
Food establishments and industrial buildings will have to apply for a limited exemption by Dec. 31, 2022. Energy distributors must apply for a limited exemption on or before Dec. 31, 2024.
Many other California cities follow this exemption model. Berkeley, Burlingame and Menlo Park have already beat San Jose to banning natural gas for all new developments.
“Just because another city passes a prohibition on natural gas is no reason for San Jose to do it,” said Crawford in a letter to the City Council.
Crawford, who works for the real estate developer Berg & Berg Enterprises, was also worried about increasing electric costs for businesses and homeowners.
Matt Krogh with Stand.earth, an international environmental advocacy organization, said forcing homes and businesses to go all electric is better overall for reducing emissions and improving human health. But costs can potentially pose a problem depending on the kind of building someone is trying to outfit with electric infrastructure.
He said adding electric-only systems to new buildings is cheaper than making a combination of electric and gas systems, which is seen in many existing buildings.
“When we’re talking about improving existing homes, it gets into a much more complicated question of what’s in the home right now, how hard it is to take out things. But that’s not what we’re talking about. Right now we’re talking about new construction — and there’s no question that that’s cheaper,” Krogh said.
Resident Paul Wermer, a Bay Area climate advocate, said in his letter the updated ban would send a clear signal to suppliers, architects and developers that all-electric is the future. He said suppliers will invest more in heat pumps rather than gas burners and contractors will train crews to install all-electric systems so that one day existing buildings can also be converted.
“Thank you, San Jose, for showing leadership in addressing the climate crisis and creating a roadmap for other cities to follow,” Wermer said.
The San Jose City Council meeting begins at 1:30 p.m. To watch visit San Jose’s YouTube page.
Contact Carly Wipf at [email protected] or follow @CarlyChristineW on Twitter.