Atherton is taking a gradual approach to going all-electric with new construction to limit the use of natural gas, making exceptions for residents who don’t want to give up their gas stoves. Meanwhile, Portola Valley recently passed similar range codes, but with fewer exemptions than Atherton allows.
On Nov. 16, Atherton City Council voted to grant exemptions in new construction for indoor and outdoor cooking appliances, fireplaces and outdoor fire pits that use the fossil fuel, changes that will take effect Jan. 1. It adopted stricter policies than other Peninsula cities for electric vehicle (EV) charging, requiring more Level 2 chargers than most cities, including making EV chargers available for accessory dwelling units (ADUs), guest houses and pool houses.
“The most important thing is that we set a standard in the green building code to support all-electric space heating and water heating for new homes, and I think that’s a very big deal,” Mayor Rick DeGolia said at the Nov. 16. council meeting. “Gas is a fossil fuel and a pollutant, and it’s a problem. I don’t know that it’s entirely our job to tell people what to do, because I think people can choose.”
Exceptions to city rules also include the use of gas-powered emergency generators.
Councilwoman Diana Hawkins-Manuelian said moving away from gas-powered appliances is important.
The city council accepted a $10,000 grant from Peninsula Clean Energy in 2021 to offset staff and consultants’ time to study how to adopt range codes to require new buildings in Atherton to be all-electric. Atherton’s recently completed civic center is all electric. Range codes are local regulations that go beyond what is required in state codes.
Nineteen of the 22 agencies in the area have adopted range codes, said Rafael Reyes, director of energy programs at San Mateo County’s electricity supplier Peninsula Clean Energy. While some cities have chosen to include exemptions, which often involve the use of gas for cooking and fireplaces, it’s worth noting that a number of cities are reducing exemptions in the 2022 cycle, he said.
“PG&E has noted that exemptions add complexity and may result in increased costs to maintain the gas system,” he said in an email. “Cities are interested in improving emissions reduction potential, and PG&E has noted that continued low usage across the system will result in significantly increased gas costs over time.”
Burlingame recently eliminated its exemptions for indoor and outdoor cooking appliances and fireplaces. The city of San Mateo recently passed a resolution requiring all-electric new construction and conversion to electric in most remodeling of existing homes, according to the San Mateo Daily Journal.
“Atherton is cutting edge compared to much of the state (and) nation, but it’s pretty average regionally,” Stacy Miles Holland, chair of Atherton’s environmental program committee and an incoming member of the Atherton City Council, said in a statement. “But being average is a big improvement!”
Switching from gas to electricity can reduce annual emissions from a California household by 50-70% and 46-54% for water and space heating, respectively, according to a 2019 study published in The Electricity Journal.
State officials voted in September to ban the sale of new gas furnaces and water heaters starting in 2030.
“As a mother concerned about the impact of climate change on my young child, it is hugely satisfying to see Atherton join the majority of the peninsula in adopting a range code,” said Miles Holland. “There was no way for Atherton to meet its state-mandated emissions reduction goal while adding new methane gas infrastructure to the city, so we’ve taken a big first step in the right direction.”
Miles Holland said she is in the middle of electrifying her home and plans to replace her gas stove with an induction stove next month.
“I never thought I’d know so much about amps/volts on my appliances,” she said.
Portola Valley changes to green code met some resistance
Portola Valley, on the other hand, is a city that chose to adopt a green building code that includes few exceptions. On October 26, the city council gave the go-ahead to require all new construction to be fully electric. The all-electric requirements apply to all newly constructed buildings and gas-fired outdoor facilities (such as outdoor kitchens, grills, pools, hot tubs, fireplaces, fire pits and outdoor heaters).
It also requires major conversions to be all-electric, and adds some new requirements for installing a heat pump air conditioner when replacing, upgrading or moving an air conditioner, as well as prior electrification requirements when replacing or upgrading the main electrical system. panel.
However, residents will not be required to replace their faulty gas-powered units with electric ones under this range code. Owners of new building projects who have already received building permits can apply for exemption from new green building changes.
The city had explored an all-electric range code in 2020, but work on the ordinance was disrupted by the COVID-19 pandemic.
Some praised the city for taking action that will have an impact on climate change.
There was also opposition from residents concerned about the cost of requiring electrical appliances. Some even suggested that the changes to the city code should be put to a resident referendum or a referendum.
Resident Dale Kane called the code change Draconian and said it could compromise the character of a remodel or new build. He said he wanted to install two natural gas fireplaces for their ambiance and safety. He also wants a backup option due to the regular power outages in the city. (Although gas fireplaces generally work during a power outage, gas stoves and ovens generally won’t because the gas appliance’s ignition is electrical, according to PCE and the Sacramento Bee)
Others asked the city to take a more gradual approach, with one resident calling it “too much, too fast” for the city.
“I agree with eventual electrification,” said Nan Shostak, a geologist and member of the Geological Safety Committee. “I think it will be a drop in the bucket compared to coal-fired power plants in China for example. We are much safer with the gas generator than without. New construction and remodeling projects deserve the option of having some gas. We are thinking about going all electric for early.”
Council member John Richards said there is a misunderstanding of how this might affect costs. For example, in a new construction project, it will cost less to put in an electrical system without having to use gas, he said. A Peninsula Clear Energy report said that, for example, building all-electric thermal systems in a home costs just under $19,000, while building mixed-fuel systems costs about $29,000 on average.
For single-family homes in general, operating costs are about the same with all-electric, Reyes said. If the home has solar, operating costs are much lower, he said.
“It’s time to pick some low-hanging fruit and move on,” he said.
Councilman Jeff Aalfs stressed that burning natural gas inside homes actually results in “really unhealthy, and maybe even dangerous, air.”
Natural gas and propane furnaces can release carbon monoxide, formaldehyde and other harmful pollutants into the air that can be toxic to people and pets, according to the California Air Resources Board. Using a wood-burning stove or fireplace for cooking can cause high levels of indoor air pollution from smoke.
Gas stoves in homes increase children’s asthma risk by 42%, PCE report states. All-electric living eliminates the risk of carbon monoxide poisoning, and induction ranges automatically turn off when not in use, eliminating a leading cause of house fires, according to the report.
Mayor Craig Hughes noted that the city is simply “doing what other cities in the area have already done.”
Council member Maryann Derwin described it as a difficult but necessary change.
Other local green building regulations
A number of local cities adopted range codes to limit the use of gas in 2019.
Palo Alto passed an ambitious building code change last month that requires every new building to be all-electric. It expands the existing all-electric requirement the council passed in 2019, which applies only to low-rise dwellings with exceptions for ADUs.
The requirement applies to water heaters and space heaters and heating, ventilation and air conditioning (HVAC) systems, as well as to major remodeling projects where 50% or more of the walls are replaced or torn down, or where 50% or more of the roof structural frame area is replaced.
In 2019, Mountain View’s zoning code process led to a bold and rather controversial ban on natural gas appliances in new homes, while this year’s changes mainly centered on bringing the city into compliance with new state requirements and, in a few cases, recommendations. from local agencies like Silicon Valley Clean Energy, the local energy program that serves several Bay Area cities, including Mountain View.
Menlo Park adopted range codes in 2019 requiring electricity as the sole fuel source for new commercial buildings and low-rise residential construction beginning in 2020.
East Palo Alto adopted range codes in 2019 to limit gas equipment in buildings, including commercial and residential areas. It exempts ADUs and 100% affordable housing.
Woodside officials declined to consider those building range codes in October, Town Manager Kevin Bryant said in an email.