How will the ban affect those who like woks?
An expected vote on a ban on natural gas in new buildings took a surprise turn last week, when the Encinitas Environmental Commission announced a change of plans. They would devote the meeting to public comments, instead.
The controversial item was continued from a meeting in November. Had the commission approved it on December 12, it would have gone to the city council to consider an ordinance banning natural gas pipes in all new homes or commercial buildings, including remodels.
"The gist of this proposal is to reduce our greenhouse gases, which of course is the main goal of the climate action plan," explained Jim Wang, the commission vice-chair who wrote the ban. "So that is the proper context for this proposal rather than having a stand-alone ordinance."
As the city updates its climate action plan in the next three to six months, they will assess the measures now in place, where the city is on meeting its goals, and what additional measures may be needed, said Erik Steenblock, environmental programs manager. "It's in that context commissioner Wang has identified that this would be a better conversation, if it even emerges as a potential for a measure."
The city's 2018 climate action plan lists transportation as contributing 54 percent of greenhouse gas emissions; electricity, 23 percent; and natural gas, 13 percent. But while natural gas reduction isn't a specific strategy in the plan, the fuel's main component is methane, a far more potent greenhouse gas than CO2, Wang said in a report.
As cities seek to slash where they can, greening up buildings, which spew roughly a quarter of the state's emissions, is catching on. Berkeley was the first city in the U.S. to pass a ban, which takes effect next year. More than a dozen California cities have passed similar measures affecting new construction.
Carlsbad took on gas water heaters in an ordinance last March as part of their own climate action plan, using a "reach code" – a more stringent code the state allows to help cities meet clean air goals. Developers of new low-rise residential projects must install non-gas water heating equipment in their projects, the city website says. Home energy use accounts for about a quarter of Carlsbad’s greenhouse gas emissions.
Supporters say California’s commitment to 100 percent clean electricity by 2045 requires a transition to non-polluting electric appliances. New jobs and products will begin to replace those that now lean on natural gas.
"We need to think in terms of moving ahead and meeting our 100 percent renewable energy goals," said resident Helen Bourne. "It's said that it will affect jobs, yet I think it would produce more jobs. Greener jobs."
But that transition won't happen overnight.
"This will put into jeopardy jobs, retirements, and benefits for up to 400 of our union families," said Nate Fairman, business manager for International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers, Local 465, which represents 2700 workers for SDG&E, the Metropolitan Transit System, San Diego Trolley, Imperial Irrigation District, and others.
Pat Lopez, of Hearth Industry, a fireplace services company, said the city should "at least offer people a choice," noting that some cities with bans "have actually allowed gas but with offsets or other provisions which still allow choice."
Berkeley's ban allows exemptions where gas use serves the public interest. Menlo Park's ordinance has exceptions for life-science buildings, emergency-operations centers and non-residential kitchens – and smaller residential buildings can keep using gas for stoves, fireplaces, and other appliances if they also have pre-wiring for electric appliances.
The proposal for Encinitas mentions allowing "reasonable exemptions." For one, homes that add an accessory dwelling unit attached to an existing structure "should be permitted to use the same energy supply."
For many restaurants, a ban on gas, which allows precision cooking, is especially harsh, said Roz Mancinelli, chief executive officer of the Encinitas Chamber of Commerce. She urged the city to consider such businesses in their decarbonization policies.
Electric fryers would greatly slow down the productivity of small restaurants, particularly those that are seasonal. Opening a new restaurant in the city would be prohibitive for many.
"Encinitas has built a thriving restaurant scene in recent years," she said. But it's a tough business that operates on thin profit margins, and often, the need for a flame. "There is no electric alternative that can get the high heat required in a short burst to perform wok style cooking," for example. "It would put such restaurants out of business."