Credit: Beazy on Unsplash

In early 2020, Berkeley became the first city in the nation to ban natural gas in all new buildings. This week, the city released a rough draft of a blueprint for how it will electrify existing buildings by 2045.

“Berkeley has a goal of becoming fossil fuel-free as quickly as possible,” said Billi Romain, manager of the Office of Energy and Sustainable Development for Berkeley. “This strategy is a critical piece of advancing that goal.”

On Tuesday, Ecology Center, a Berkeley-based nonprofit that focuses on improving the health and the environmental impacts of urban residents, hosted a community meeting where officials shared the outline of the draft electrification plan and residents shared some of their concerns.

During the 90-minute Zoom meeting, city officials touted electrification as a way to combat climate change, improve health outcomes and bring cost savings and green jobs. Gas stoves have proved to be linked to aggravated respiratory symptoms, irritated airways, increased risk of asthma in children and cardiovascular effects.

Natural gas’ negative health impacts is heightened for residents living below the poverty level or in multi-family dwellings, who may not have the money, access or ability to electrify their homes easily. And officials stressed the importance of placing “equity guardrails” on the electrification process. “We know that climate change affects communities of color first and worst,” Romain said. “And tackling climate change is especially important” for these communities whose children experience a high level of asthma in Berkeley.

Speaking in breakout rooms, residents expressed worries about the cost of electrification — especially in homes built 75 to 100 years ago – and how those living in multi-family buildings and lower-income neighborhoods would be able to meet the new requirements.

In 2006, Berkeley residents voted to reduce the community’s greenhouse gas emissions by 80% before 2050. The city reduced 26% of greenhouse gas emissions by 2018 and imposed the natural gas ban on Jan. 1, 2020.

Residents and business owners can take a survey on the city’s electrification strategy. Comments will be accepted through May 15. The city expects to finalize the report this summer and submit it to the City Council in the fall.

The question of whether restaurants will also be required to end their natural gas use is still pending. In 2019, the California Restaurant Association filed a lawsuit against the city of Berkeley in federal court over its decision to ban natural gas in many new buildings, calling the ban “irresponsible” and claiming it does “little to advance climate goals.”

The city’s proposed electrification timeline:

  • Through 2025: Phase 1 lays the groundwork to develop accessible and affordable solutions
  • 2022 to 2030: Phase 2 would see the implementation of core policy levers
  • 2027 to 2045: Phase 3 finalizes the move toward complete building electrification