San Jose May Ban Natural Gas in Almost All New Construction

San Jose officials are looking to build on previous efforts to reduce greenhouse gases by expanding a 2019 prohibition on natural gas in new construction.

Last year, the City Council voted to ban natural gas in single-family homes, backyard cottages, low-rise apartments and condos starting on Jan. 1, 2020. At the time, city officials predicted the plan could cut greenhouse gas emissions in new construction by up to 90 percent, in addition to saving money for homeowners and tenants.

But the law only applied to residential construction, leaving out much larger, environmentally impactful commercial buildings.

On Tuesday, the council will consider banning natural gas in all new construction except for hospitals effective Aug. 1, 2021. The proposal also includes limited exemptions for food-service and manufacturing buildings through Dec. 31, 2022.

The proposal is a key part of San Jose’s Climate Smart plan—a Paris Agreement-like framework to bolster clean energy and reduce greenhouse gas emissions. The framework was adopted back in 2018 and includes a target of making new residential buildings zero-net-energy by 2020 and new commercial buildings zero-net-energy by 2030.

“In addition to providing a positive benefit on indoor air quality, updating the current natural gas infrastructure prohibition will have a significant positive impact on future GHG [greenhouse gas] emissions from the building sector,” San Jose Environmental Services Director Kerrie Romanow and Planning Director Rosalynn Hughey wrote in a Nov. 2 memo. “Based on the city’s latest five-year development forecast, the projected GHG emissions offset over the estimated 50-year lifecycle of these buildings via this update is approximately 608,000 tons of CO2 emissions.”

Prior to the 2019 residential natural gas ban, some developers and land-use consultants raised concerns that the policy would increase the cost of construction.

But in June, the California Statewide Codes and Standards Program published a study stating that all-electric mid-rise construction can be cost-effective with the right design.

While the most recent cost-effectiveness study for new high-rise residential construction has yet to be released, city officials are pointing to a 2019 report that found new electric high-rise residential construction to be cost-effective.

“These cost-effectiveness studies, which use different building prototypes to assess cost-effectiveness across a category of building types, utilize the cost-effectiveness methodology and cost-effectiveness standard required by the California Energy Commission (CEC) for updates to California’s Energy Code,” Romanow and Hughey wrote. “Although the ordinance does not update an energy code, the cost-effectiveness is an important consideration for council and the community.”

In their memo, Romanow and Hughey also addressed concerns about electrification in light of increasingly worsened fire seasons that have prompted PG&E to shut off the power in an effort to prevent downed power lines from sparking a wildfire.

“It is important to note that this ordinance does not propose electrification of one hundred percent of all buildings and grid impacts from the electrification of new construction will be marginal,” Romanow and Hughey wrote in their policy outline. “Much larger grid impacts will be evaluated for future electrification of existing buildings, a much more time-consuming and costly endeavor, and utilities and state agencies are currently planning for that future.”

The City Council convenes virtually at 1:30pm Tuesday. Click here to read the entire agenda, here to join the Zoom meeting and here to tune in on YouTube. 

Grace Hase is a staff writer for San Jose Inside and Metro Silicon Valley. Email tips to [email protected]. Follow her on Twitter at @grace_hase. Or, click here to sign up for text updates about what she’s working on.

20 Comments

  1. I hope these news constructions can handle multi-day power shut offs. It’s one thing to use electricity for all of your cooking and heating when there is a reliable infrastructure. It’s another when every heat wave, dry windy day, or active wildfire shuts off people on the periphery of Santa Clara County. A lot of folks in South San Jose were impacted by the power safety shut offs.

  2. Another example of avoidance governance. Lacking the courage to address the epic quality of life issues facing this city, at the risk of revealing they can’t actually do their jobs, our leaders opt to instead engage, all but risk-free, national and global matters over which they are impotent to affect and from which they are free from accountability. It is nothing short of functional malfeasance masked as political enlightenment.

    That said, if this city feels itself sufficiently qualified on the issue of climate change to impact residents (through new rules, restrictions, and expenditures) then it should schedule a public debate between the climatology experts in its employ and a panel of opposition scientists so it might demonstrate its credibility to the public.

  3. This is against common sense advice of putting eggs in one basket.
    If there is a power failure people cannot even have warm food via gas.
    What are the official trying to address addres ?There seem to be no long term thinking.

  4. Here’s the uncomfortable truth, no amount of effort to reduce greenhouse gases is going to matter until countries like China and India are required to participate. The amount of air pollution currently generated in just these two countries negates any effort at green energy we in the US might engage in. Don’t hear that being discussed, do you? We can bend over backwards all we want with eliminating gas powered cars, natural gas used in housing, etc… all the pollution will simply drift over the globe to our doorstep.

  5. Now we’ll put an even greater load on our frail electrical grid system that is marginal at best during peak demand times. Can we say more POWER OUTAGES?

  6. LMDEAN1971,

    In addition, there are no credible studies showing that rising CO2 is harmful — but there are tens of thousands of very credible scientists who have signed a statement that more CO2 is harmless, and beneficial to the biosphere.

    This whole “climate” scare was invented to show the hoi polo — We The People — who is in charge. It’s the same mind game the government is playing when they force healthy folks into quarantine and destroy businesses. They want everyone to understand that they are the ones in charge of our lives, not us.

    “Climate change” is just “man-made global warming” in a new package. The old scare didn’t pan out, so they’ve fabricated this new “climate change” scare.

    Their motive is never admitted, but it’s clear to anyone who has the capacity to think it through. Like the governor, they’re all hypocrites living in their beachside homes who only wear masks in public, but not at home or anywhere they think they won’t be seen.

    They’re wannabe dictators, who will morph into real dictators — but only if we let them.

  7. Nat Gas is more efficient than electricity for heating applications. I don’t think these people fully understand the loads placed on the electrical grid when you eliminate natural gas.

  8. If you have a tiered electrical usage rate, (the more you use the more you pay), which usage category rate do you think you will be in if your heating is done with electricity?

    Here’s the thing. . It’s not exactly fair if you mandate electrical usage for heating, and by default, you end up forcing people to preferentially pay the highest rate.

  9. She is entitled to sex traffic my daughter. Everything was my fault. I need to offer her as a “tax” so that she can wash her hands clean.

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