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SLO city seeks full ban on natural gas in new buildings

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After deciding against a ban on natural gas in new buildings nearly two years ago, the San Luis Obispo City Council is changing course—signaling its support on Feb. 1 for a new, mandatory all-electric code that will come back to the council later this year for adoption.

SLO's original Clean Energy Choice Program, adopted in June 2020, aimed to incentivize all-electric development by requiring buildings with natural gas to meet higher efficiency standards. At the time, the City Council balked at an all-out ban on gas, hoping that builders would voluntarily choose the electric route.

ALL ELECTRIC, NO GAS The SLO City Council is reconsidering its local building code as it intends to start requiring all-electric new buildings. - FILE PHOTO BY JAYSON MELLOM
  • File Photo By Jayson Mellom
  • ALL ELECTRIC, NO GAS The SLO City Council is reconsidering its local building code as it intends to start requiring all-electric new buildings.

But since the code's implementation, city officials say most new homes in town are still being built with natural gas. In an analysis of 112 new units (which didn't include the large developments of San Luis Ranch, which is all-electric by agreement, and Righetti Ranch, which is exempt from the code due to its effective date), 54 percent have been built mixed-fuel.

"This rate is not sufficient to accomplish citywide objectives for greenhouse gas reductions," a SLO city staff report stated.

Electrifying buildings is a growing priority across the state. According to the city staff report, 45 cities or counties have passed outright bans on natural gas in new buildings, including the cities of Santa Barbara and Santa Cruz.

"A couple of years ago, we were ahead of the curve, and, really, we're behind the curve [now]," SLO City Councilmember Carlyn Christianson said during the meeting.

The city believes that a ban on natural gas in new buildings would result in a 6,250-metric-ton reduction in greenhouse gas emissions by 2035—the year SLO hopes to be "net-zero." Natural gas appliances, and their infrastructure, leak methane, a potent greenhouse gas.

"All-electric new buildings are cost effective, highly efficient, provide cleaner indoor air quality, and provide substantially lower operational emissions than buildings that use natural gas appliances," the city staff report said.

In supporting an all-electric code, Christianson said "we need to bite the bullet and recognize reality. ... Climate change is merciless; it's inevitable; it's here."

"We tried to be nice and give people a chance to have choice, hoping they'd chose what really is reality," Christianson said. "And apparently that's not going to work."

Mayor Erica Stewart, who previously opposed a mandatory all-electric code, didn't come down for or against the policy on Feb. 1. She said, "overall, I agree with the concept of having cleaner and healthier energy," but expressed concerns about its heavy-handedness and about possibly raising utility costs for residents.

"I, too, wish it was with a carrot versus the stick. I'm not a big fan of the mandatory aspect of this," Stewart said.

In discussing the overall transition to all-electric buildings, Councilmember Jan Marx noted the increased demand and reliance on the power grid, and said the city should take steps to prepare for that.

"I have to say that my trust for PG&E is at a continual all-time low," Marx said. "Building micro-grids, battery storage, and building security is really crucial. Going to the all-electric standard now will be the entryway to taking grid security to the next level." Δ

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