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SLO goes all-electric in new buildings

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The San Luis Obispo City Council adopted the county's first mandatory all-electric building code on July 5, following cities like Santa Barbara, Santa Cruz, and Los Angeles in passing near bans on natural gas infrastructure in new buildings.

ELECTRIC ALL THE WAY Starting in 2023, all new buildings in San Luis Obispo will have to be all-electric, with few exceptions. - FILE PHOTO BY JAYSON MELLOM
  • File Photo By Jayson Mellom
  • ELECTRIC ALL THE WAY Starting in 2023, all new buildings in San Luis Obispo will have to be all-electric, with few exceptions.

The policy—which has been under discussion in SLO for more than two years—is designed to reduce greenhouse gas emissions in the building sector caused by natural gas appliances and their infrastructure.

Beginning Jan. 1, 2023, all new buildings in SLO will have to be built all-electric, with few exceptions, like for gas-powered equipment in commercial kitchens.

The ordinance passed by a unanimous vote.

"If not now, when?" Councilmember Carlyn Christianson asked at the meeting. "We put this off for decades. We are behind the times."

In a presentation provided to the City Council, SLO city staff outlined the state's growing movement toward all-electric development. Dozens of local governments have already adopted "building electrification ordinances," officials said, covering about a quarter of the state's population.

On a state government level, the 2022 California Energy Code "reflects a desire to improve indoor air quality ... and move towards all-electric new buildings," according to the city, and the California Air Resources Board is eyeing a statewide target of 100 percent electric appliances sales by 2035.

SLO also highlighted the health hazards of natural gas in its presentation, saying that "an emerging body of literature has documented public health and safety risks associated with natural gas infrastructure and climate change impacts, seismic events, and indoor air quality."

"Natural gas combustion and gas appliances emit a wide range of air pollutants, ... which have been linked to various acute and chronic health effects and exceed national and California-based ambient air quality standards," the staff report read.

In 2018, SLO adopted a target year of 2035 for net-zero emissions status, and city staff said it will fall short of its goals without an all-electric building requirement. In 2019, the City Council passed a "half-measure" ordinance that incentivized all-electric development and discouraged natural gas, but since then, developers have still chosen the natural gas route in about 50 percent of new buildings, according to the city.

While most of the public comments submitted for the July 5 meeting voiced support for the new all-electric code, residents have raised objections to a natural gas ban in the past. Opponents express concerns about rising electricity costs, blackouts, potential spikes in greenhouse gas emissions from the power sector, and a personal preference for gas stoves.

Councilmember Jan Marx emphasized in her comments the importance of building strong grid resilience locally to withstand potential electricity blackouts in the future.

Mayor Erica Stewart, who voted against previous policies targeting natural gas in buildings, said she appreciated the city's work over the past few years building support and consensus in the community.

"I think that's how we come together as a community and make these decisions together," Stewart said. "These [are] really big changes that need to happen, but yet are really stressful for people." Δ

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