Gas may be a thing of the past.
The Santa Barbara Sustainability Committee — composed of Mayor Cathy Murillo, Mayor Pro Tempore Kristen Sneddon and City Council member Meagan Harmon — are recommending the city make all new residential construction electric.
In November 2020, the committee began its discussion, hoping to create an opportunity for use of a Reach Code to align with local greenhouse gas goals.
The built environment, which includes homes, is the second largest greenhouse gas emitter in the state.
Reach Codes allow local governments to adopt more stringent requirements.
There are a few legal requirements by the state for Reach Codes.
The codes must be cost-effective, meaning energy savings should cover costs within the project’s lifetime. In addition, appliance requirements cannot be more stringent than efficiency levels of Federal Appliance Standards.
Finally, buildings can’t use more energy than that permitted by state code.
If adopted, all natural gas hookups in new residential construction would be eliminated.
“We’re beginning the discussion about natural gas, and natural gas is a fossil fuel which adds to our carbon footprint,” Mayor Murillo told the News-Press Tuesday. “It’s a good discussion, and the community needs to think about what kind of energy we are going to use in the future.”
The discussion also includes the same requirements for commercial buildings, but the mayor said a decision on commercial buildings will likely be made at a later date.
“We haven’t really talked about what it would mean if somebody wanted to build a new hotel or other kinds of commercial use,” she said. “It’s not likely — we have so little new commercial building.”
The decision on new residential homes could possibly be made on Jan. 12, but the council may also request more research from city staff before making a decision next week.
Mayor Murillo said the council has been getting a lot of emails and phone calls about the proposal.
“I think it got blown out of proportion a little bit,” she said. “People thought we were going to say nobody can use natural gas in their homes right now.”
According to Alelia Parenteau, the city’s energy and climate manager, this distinction is important to make.
“The key point that I think we want to emphasize is that the proposed code language applies only to new construction,” she told the News-Press. “Unfortunately, California for Balanced Energy Solutions is inferring that we are going to remove natural gas infrastructure or ban natural gas use in existing buildings, which is simply not the case.”
C4BES is a coalition of natural and renewable gas users whose goal is to “educate Californians about the importance of natural and renewable gas for improving the environment and providing for a strong economy.” The organization posted a call to action, including pre-written messages to send directly to City Council on its website called, “Make your voice heard: Tell the City Council NO on a natural gas ban.”
“If approved, the law could prohibit the use of natural gas appliances and equipment for BBQs, spas and pools, water heaters, furnaces and cooktops,” the post reads. “Instead, residents could be required to use more expensive electric appliances and equipment that would dramatically increase energy bills for homeowners and tenants, eliminate good paying union jobs and make residents more vulnerable to power outages.”
C4BES Executive Director Jon Switalski told the News-Press, “C4BES represents a broad coalition of Californians who are deeply concerned about the impact that natural gas bans would have on energy costs, grid reliability and the loss of good paying jobs in Santa Barbara and across the state. In the midst of the ongoing economic devastation of COVID-19, we believe now is not the time to unilaterally ban an affordable reliable source of energy for our citizens.”
City staff presented the following pros to going electric, including: the potency of natural gas; the rapidly decarbonizing electric grid; the easy transition to electric appliances; health impacts of indoor natural gas such as increases in respiratory diseases; natural gas distribution systems’ lack of ability to withstand earthquakes; and the reduction of greenhouse gas.
Their concerns include upfront costs; stranded assets; “customers really, really like their gas stoves”; the need for power during an electrical shut off; and pending litigation.
To adopt the reach code, there must be a minimum of two public hearings prior, approval by California Energy Commission and sunsets (unless reapproved) at the end of each code cycle.
“We have both people … telling us, ‘Yeah, we have global climate disruption — we need to stop burning fossil fuels, and this is a really small step,’” Mayor Murillo said. “That’s one way of thinking, and other people are saying, ‘No, we love using gas. It’s inexpensive and our way of life.’ I’d say the input is about half and half.”
In its regular meeting starting at 2 p.m. Jan. 12, the council could adopt the Reach Code, delay the decision or choose to come up with more research before adopting it.