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Berkeley Bans Natural Gas in New Buildings 


The Berkeley, California, City Council unanimously voted last week to ban natural gas infrastructure in new low-rise residential buildings, beginning Jan 1. 2020.

The ordinance states:

Gas-related emissions have increased because of regional population and job growth, leading to an 18% rise in Berkeley’s population since 2000, as well as the multi-decade useful life of natural gas appliances. According to the November 2017 Planning Department Bi-Annual Housing Pipeline Report, the City approved building permits for 525 residential units between January 1, 2014 and November 2017. An additional 952 units received their certificate of occupancy during the same period. The new Adeline Corridor Plan calls for construction of another 1,400 housing units. Without intervention, the vast majority of these units would feature natural gas infrastructure.

As a result, the city has ‘locked in’ decades of additional carbon pollution, and stands to continue doing so with each new use permit approval. The persistence of fossil fuel industry marketing, fossil-fuel favoring regulations, the regional housing affordability crisis, and the associated effort to expand the housing stock will continue to drive local and regional increases in natural gas infrastructure and consumption unless we act now.

This ordinance recognizes that all-electric heating technologies are cost-competitive substitutes to their natural gas counterparts (especially when installed during new construction) and seeks to halt the expansion of natural gas into new buildings to stave off the risk of locking in significant additional greenhouse emissions. In the interim, City staff has indicated it will continue to design and seek approval of all-electric codes to help guide home builders in constructing new buildings of a type not yet modelled by the CEC and in order to increase energy efficiency.

This legislation will have the effect of ushering in all-electric new buildings, avoiding significant new greenhouse emissions and allowing the City to focus its climate fighting efforts and resources on other critical sources of emissions such as existing buildings and transportation.

The ordinance goes on to state:

Existing Decarbonization Efforts The proposed ordinance to phase out natural gas is one aspect of a larger effort by the City of Berkeley and the state of California to decarbonize buildings on a rapid and ambitious timeline. City staff from every department, most notably Planning, are prioritizing decarbinoization efforts in their work, including but not limited to phasing out natural gas.

AB 3232, passed in September 2018, mandates a 40% reduction in greenhouse gas emissions from California’s building stock by 2030. Achieving these reductions in the next ten years will require combined efforts on building green new buildings and retrofitting existing buildings to reduce emissions. The proposed ordinance phasing out natural gas, combined with a reach code to incentivize all-electric design, both serve to create cleaner greener buildings through the building stage. For existing buildings, the City is looking into new programs to streamline and reduce cost for green retrofits. The Building Energy Savings Ordinance (BESO) is being reevaluated to include aspects of electrification. For decades, Berkeley has provided a rebate on the real property transfer tax for seismic retrofits, and, based on a Council referral, is now considering how that can be expanded for green retrofits, including electrification, installing bioswales, and adding other green features. The Office of Environmental Sustainability and Development also hosted a successful Electrification Expo to educate on the benefits of decarbonization.