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Within our reach

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On Sept. 3, the city of San Luis Obispo is poised to pass an aggressive building electrification reach code.

OK, before you de-glaze your eyes and flip to the movie reviews, let me take a shot at explaining why—assuming you are concerned about climate change, indoor and outdoor air pollution, deadly gas leaks and explosions, and/or affordable housing—this is something you should pay attention to and get behind, whether or not you live in the city of San Luis Obispo.

The amount of gas combustion in buildings is greater than that of all the power plants in the state. The proposed ordinance is based on the premise that fossil fuels have no place in our homes, commercial buildings, or communities, and we have a right to clean, safe, and affordable energy. It's basically a pathway for builders to go all-electric rather than including gas in new development.

New construction that opts instead for the inclusion of mixed fuel or gas must comply with CalGreen Tier 1, a stringent energy efficiency program that would incur significant costs for developers. All-electric is the more economic pathway. The elimination of gas hookups and infrastructure from new development represents a major savings for builders and the avoidance of a future stranded asset. For occupants, when utilizing available smart control technology and favorable time-of-use electric rates, all-electric buildings are cost-competitive with mixed natural gas and electric buildings even with the current low price of natural gas. Combined with solar, electric heating can cut heating bills in half or more.

If SLO passes this ordinance at its Sept. 3 City Council meeting, it will help put California on track to hit its greenhouse gas reduction goals, support local housing affordability, and add momentum to the effort of several dozen cities and counties around the state that are pursuing reach codes phasing out gas in new construction.

In other words, this is a genuine grassroots effort, as cities and clean energy advocates like the Sierra Club, Natural Resources Defense Council, and the Building Decarbonization Coalition are hoping the local ordinances for new development will be heard in Sacramento, which will act to bring the state's building energy code in line with the new municipal standards and put some serious financial incentives behind retrofits. (Those of you without air conditioning who are starting to regret that fact, take note: Replacing gas furnaces with electric heat pump space heaters confers the bonus ability of heat pumps to operate in reverse and provide high efficiency cooling.)

For every action, there is an opposite reaction. Fake grassroots advocates are pushing back, using scare tactics and misinformation, and it's not hard to guess where the push and the funding behind it is coming from.

"The state recognizes that they have to de-carbonize their buildings to achieve their climate goals," said Luis Amezcua, senior campaign representative for Sierra Club California. "(The natural-gas industry is) going to dig in their heels. ... They want to keep Californians hooked on gas."

As L.A. Times business columnist Michael Hiltzik reported on Aug. 8, the Sierra Club challenged the attempt of the group Californians for Balanced Energy Solutions (C4BES) "to be named an official party to a Public Utilities Commission [PUC] proceeding on the future of gas usage in the state."

"The group's four-page application to the PUC for party status doesn't mention Southern California Gas even once," Hiltzik wrote. "The truth is that the gas company's fingerprints are all over the creation of C4BES. The Sierra Club's filing mentions a set of 'core principles' for the group written by a marketing firm working with SoCal Gas and circulated by the gas company in October 2018 to possible recruits to the C4BES board. It's nearly identical to the 'core principles' appearing on the group's website."

The article continues: "'There's a big difference between persuading another party to support your position, versus funding a group, and having that group become a party,' says Michael Campbell, a program manager with the Public Advocates Office, which represents consumer interests before the commission. 'It's inappropriately amplifying their voice in a commission proceeding.'"

Other countries are looking to California for leadership on building codes. California is looking to its cities. Our cities are looking to you. Want to have a global impact on climate change? It would be a good idea for you to show up at SLO City Hall at 6 p.m. on Tuesday, Sept. 3, to lend your support to the ordinance. If you can't make it, drop the City Council a note at emailcouncil@slocity.org.

And if you happen to be reading this on Thursday, Aug. 22, start heading over to the Building Technology Expo, taking place from 6 to 9 p.m. on Morro Street during the SLO Farmers' Market, hosted by the SLO Climate Coalition as part of the Coalition's Climate Solutions Series, "Decarbonizing Our Future With Better Buildings." Δ

Andrew Christie is director of the Santa Lucia chapter of the Sierra Club. Send comments through the editor at clanham@newtimesslo.com.

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