When Berkeley, California was the first city in the country to ban natural gas connections for new buildings last July, no one knew that the impact would spread so quickly and so far.
The Berkeley ban was part of an effort to wean developers from buildings that use fossil fuels, a cause of global warming, and to promote cleaner electricity. And it spurred other California communities to enact regulations that promote all-electric construction.
Efforts have spread to other parts of the country. The city of Brookline, Massachusetts has banned new gas connections, and nearby communities are ready to do the same.
Large cities such as Seattle, Los Angeles and San Francisco are now in different phases in which pro-electric legislation is being considered as part of the “electrify everything” movement.
As interest is growing rapidly, the real estate and construction industries are trying to keep up. Some national organizations representing builders and developers have not yet formulated a position.
However, their members disagree. Some developers and builders are already taking the purely electric route to achieve their own goals for reducing carbon dioxide emissions, even if this is not required by law. But others shy away from the rapid rollout, saying that they want to keep the option of using gas or simply believe that the new rules will come into force too quickly.
The builders call and ask: ‘Is this legal? How high are the costs? What do I have to do? “Said Robert Raymer, technical director of California Building Industry Association, a trading group with 3,100 members.
And for builders, the question arises whether the houses they build appeal to buyers if they are not equipped with gas stoves. In the south East Almost 45% of households only use electricityAccording to the Federal Energy Information Administration, people there are used to electric cookers. But in many parts of the country, Americans have a choice, and more of them prefer to cook with gas Current data from the National Multifamily Housing Council,
“It’s an important sticking point,” said Aaron Fairchild, managing director of Green Canopy, a manufacturer of fully electric homes in Seattle and Portland. Green Canopy equips the houses with induction cookers. These are high-tech stoves that use magnetic waves for cooking. In addition, cooks were commissioned to conduct cooking demonstrations in open houses to present the appliances.
The development of laws that prohibit natural gas connections or promote purely electrical construction is not difficult to understand. In the absence of a federal obligation to combat climate change, states and municipalities have set their own carbon targets, which can often only be achieved if emissions in the construction sector decrease.
Buildings cause nearly 40% of greenhouse gas emissions worldwide, but in densely developed American cities the rate can be much higher,
Natural gas has been produced as a cleaner alternative to coal for years, and its consumption has increased. But carbon emissions from natural gas consumption have also increased.
The Global carbon projectThe climate research group estimates that carbon dioxide emissions caused almost 37 billion tons of emissions into the atmosphere last year, which is due to the increased use of oil and natural gas.
Experts say that gas has to be gradually phased out and that electricity consumption in development has to be increased, especially since the electricity system, known as the grid, is getting cleaner and cleaner thanks to the addition of renewable energies such as wind and solar energy.
Kate Harrison, the councilor who introduced the Berkeley ban, said dozens of officials from across the country asked her for advice on how to pass similar laws.
The 22 other California cities and counties followed Berkeley, including San Jose, the tenth largest city in the country, has building codes that promote electrical cables and electrical appliances rather than the total ban on gas.
In January, Mayor Jenny Durkan issued a Green New Deal order in Seattle that prohibits the use of fossil fuels such as natural gas for heating, cooling, and cooking in new and fundamentally modified urban buildings.
The Brookline ban, which applies to new buildings and gut renovations, but provides for exemptions for buildings such as research laboratories, has yet to be reviewed by the Massachusetts Attorney General before it can become law.
In nearby Cambridge, city officials have already held hearings on a regulation to block natural gas connections in new buildings and those that are undergoing major renovations.
But the regulations face a certain setback.
For example, the Massachusetts Chapter of NAIOP, a commercial real estate association, has joined groups representing the gas and restaurant industries to address the measure. Tamara Small, the organization’s executive director, said the new law was premature and predicted that the Cambridge ban would be challenged in court if it were passed due to conflict with state law.
“We don’t say that at some point it won’t be possible anymore,” she added. “But we’re moving too fast.”
However, some real estate companies are already experimenting with all-electric construction, which is due to their own environmental goals or is stimulated by investors who “want to know what they are doing to address the climate risk in their portfolios,” said Billy Grayson, director of the Center for Sustainability and economic performance on Urban Land Institute, a real estate think tank.
Kilroy propertySara Neff, senior vice president of corporate sustainability, has a portfolio of 17% fully electric buildings. Neff expects this number to grow.
“We want to reduce the carbon footprint of our portfolio,” she said, “and we recognize that switching to full electricity, especially if the electricity grid is cleaner, is an effective way to get there.”
Prominent fully electric projects are in progress:
Adobe, the software company, is building one 18-story fully electric office building at its headquarters in San Jose.
Alloy Development plans to break ground this summer with new technology 38-story fully electric mixed-use tower as part of a five-building project in downtown Brooklyn, New York.
And massive development is being examined in Toronto was proposed by Sidewalks Labs, an alphabet company, and Waterfront Toronto, a public agency. It will be a purely electrical project with no gas infrastructure needed.
“In Toronto, it makes sense to design for electricity because the hydropower and nuclear power grid is so green,” said Charlotte Matthews, director of sustainability at Sidewalk Labs. “The trick is how to do it, not to increase utility costs, and part of it is to educate the market and show that it is affordable.”
The members of the real estate industry are not the only ones who are amazed at how quickly the fully electric movement has established itself.
Even environmentalists are surprised, said Rob Jackson, a professor at Stanford University who heads the Global Carbon Project. He said that “dozens, probably hundreds” of jurisdictions would pass gas bans and pro-electric laws this year, although lawsuits against them could spread.
In any case, keeping the gas out of the new building is one thing. Bruce Nilles, director of the building electrification program at the United States Department of the Environment, found that dealing with the 70 million structures already in the United States is a different matter Rocky Mountain Institute, an energy research organization.
“We have just started,” said Nilles.
Information from the Seattle Times archives is included in this report.
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