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The End of Natural Gas Is Much Exaggerated... Maybe

Chris d Craiker AIA/NCARB

​With all the Spring weather issues and California’s overflowing reservoirs, one environmental issue may have flown under the radar. Back in 2019 Berkeley was the first city in the Nation to ban new gas appliances and hook-ups. However, the Ninth US Circuit Court of Appeals, rejected a lower court’s upholding the Berkeley ban. The three judge Federal Appeals Court agreed with restaurant owners that the city bypassed Federal Energy Regulations when it approved the ban. While this was by restaurant owners who love their gas stoves, it has far-reaching effects on all of California.

Natural gas comprises primarily of methane and gas stoves omit nitrogen dioxide and carbon monoxide. The State wide move towards all electrification and banning gas appliances and hook ups has been going on for some time. As of 2021, 50 cities and municipalities in California had put limitations on gas hook ups. None have occurred in Napa County as of yet, except for Yountville’s ban on gas leaf blowers. Typically, the bans apply to new construction and not existing homes or renovations, however, financial incentives have been offered for replacing gas water heaters with electric water heaters as an example.

California loves natural gas. Gas appliances are in 90% of California homes and gas stoves represent 70% of our residences.  Interestingly, this is almost twice the national average of 38%. It has been an inexpensive, easy to maintain and distribute source of energy, however, California’s desire for carbon neutrality is part of the decarbonization effort and natural gas is now the foe.

Recently BAAQMD, Bay Area Air Quality Management District, went so far as to approve an ordinance eventually banning all natural gas furnaces and water heater sales. The Appeals Court will probably have something to say about that.

My firm has already been notified by at one city where we work, Santa Cruz, who had previously banned gas hook-ups for new homes. They are now relenting to allow new gas hook-ups. Until this is settled, natural gas will still provide the majority of energy for California’s cooking and heating.

I have been skeptical of the rapid march towards all electrification of our homes because of the equipment and batteries are not up to snuff yet. I continue to argue that the biggest obstacle to all electrification is storage: battery storage. while Tesla batteries have improved substantially, they’re still expensive. Having solar panels on our homes is great but storing it for the times when we need it the most, in the mornings and evenings, can cost you $20,000 per household.

The other disadvantage of electric water heaters, HVAC systems and cooking appliances is during power outages there’s no other power source unless you do have expensive batteries. Electric water heaters heat less water per hour than gas and have high maintenance costs.

There’s no question that the appliances are getting more efficient and better at their jobs. The building industry and restaurant owners may complain about the march to all electric, but as we learned with the gas blower ban in Yountville and Sonoma, the opposition soon disappears as they replace their aging gas appliances with new battery blower units.

My take away is: we have to stay flexible. Banning any one energy source is a mistake. We need to keep our options open for changes. Remember in the 50s and 60s, all electric appliances were the big thing? Then we went on a rampage to only use natural gas for heating and cooking. Now we’re going back to electric. Just as the quantity of options for new renewable energy resources emerge, we have to be prepared for multiple sources of energy supplies. As we ol’ surfer dudes say, “Hang loose!”

Chris d Craiker AIA/NCARB loves his gas BBQ, fireplaces and range top.

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