To the potential dismay of cooks and chefs, Berkeley City Council is set to discuss an ordinance Tuesday that would prohibit natural gas infrastructure in new buildings.
Council members Kate Harrison, Cheryl Davila, Ben Bartlett and Sophie Hahn have proposed the agenda item which, if passed, would allocate $273,341 per year to a new position in the building and safety division of the city’s planning department. The new staff member would be tasked with overseeing a project that would prohibit developers from applying for permits to build structures with any gas infrastructure, such as stoves and water heaters, and implement “energy-related ordinances and codes” in new developments in Berkeley, according to item 21 on the council agenda. They would also look at providing incentives to property owners to provide more energy-efficient systems in their buildings.
The proposal cites natural gas as a “leading source of green-house gas emissions (GHGs) in Berkeley, responsible for 27% of the GHGs released in the city.” While the council members who are proposing the ordinance recognize Berkeley’s past efforts to increase energy efficiency in buildings, they argue it is not enough. They say action already taken “indirectly results in lower emissions, but does not directly phase out fossil fuel consumption in new buildings.” With the rise in population, and increase in building development in Berkeley, the council members say it’s time to enact an ordinance that helps create a more sustainable future for the city.
There are also economic benefits to residents who switch the infrastructure in their homes from gas to electric, according to the proposal. One of several studies cited supporting this argument was conducted by the Rocky Mountain Institute. It found that switching from gas space and water heating systems to fully electric systems in single-family homes in Oakland could save “$1,000 to more than $24,000 per single- family home, with a median value of $8,800.”
The University of California is already implementing a strategy that increases energy efficiency in new buildings and phases out gas use. According to a September 2018 statement by UC “[n]o new UC buildings or major renovations after June 2019, except in special circumstances, will use on-site fossil fuel combustion, such as natural gas, for space and water heating.”
While Berkeley has a history of being on the cutting edge of efforts that promote sustainability, these council members believe there is more to be done. If the four sponsors of the proposal vote in its favor, it would only need a single additional vote for it to pass.
Corrections: This story was updated after publication to make clear the the sponsors of the proposal said natural gas is the second leading cause of greenhouse gas emissions, not the leading cause; and that UC is phasing out rather than reducing natural gas in new buildings.