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.”