BERKELEY, CA—This week, the Berkeley City Council banned natural gas in new low-rise residential buildings, the first in the nation to do so. The law goes into effect January 1, 2020 and phases out natural gas by requiring all new single-family homes, townhomes and small multifamily buildings to have electric infrastructure.
“I’m proud to vote on groundbreaking legislation to prohibit natural gas in new buildings,” said Berkeley mayor Jesse Arreguin in a tweet. “We are committed to the Paris Agreement and must take immediate action in order to reach our climate action goals. It’s not radical, it’s necessary.”
Anne Torney, lead partner at Mithun in San Francisco, says the ban is the result of many years of work by a lot of people, including Mithun’s informational/educational input based on five all-electric multifamily projects as case studies.
Torney already has one completed all-electric development, in addition to five projects underway. Mithun projects include Maceo May Veterans Apartments, Casa Adelante–2060 Folsom, Hunters Point Shipyard Blocks 52 and 54, Casa Adelante–681 Florida and Balboa Park Upper Yard.
“With major advancements like Berkeley’s vote, the fossil fuel-free future is arriving, starting now,” Torney tells GlobeSt.com. “The Bay Area’s push for all-electric buildings is unfolding as the energy infrastructure of the future. In our work with several such projects underway, all-electric apartments can be cost-neutral in terms of first-costs compared to conventional natural gas buildings.”
What’s more, Torney says project sponsors are recognizing that designing new buildings to include natural gas systems is designing for obsolescence, making later retrofits not only expensive but perhaps completely redundant. Complementary design advancements are already coming to the field such as in right-sized engineering and systems, heat pumps for energy efficiency, better PV and more advanced appliances.
“With solid benchmarking data coming in over the next three to five years, we anticipate even more evidence-based design iterations from project results and experience that can make all-electric, more sustainable design a first choice,” Torney tells GlobeSt.com.
In addition, there are impending guidelines from the city of San Francisco mandating zero emissions. The city’s published goal is to “ensure all San Francisco buildings are net-zero emissions by 2050”. Plus there is increasing industry acceptance among urban apartment developers who were previously reticent due to unfamiliar technologies and costs.
“Not only is Berkeley becoming the first city to ban natural gas in certain new construction, it’s also huge news with PG&E fully supporting the ordinance and encouraging other communities to help the utility avoid making new investments in stranded gas assets,” Hilary Knoll of Mithun tells GlobeSt.com. “PG&E is the second-biggest gas seller based on number of gas customers in the country after SoCal Gas and the first dual fuel utility we are aware of to support the beginning of the end of their gas business.”
As part of its comprehensive effort to reduce greenhouse gas emissions in Washington State, the 2019 legislature adopted a new measure, HB 1257, aimed at reducing greenhouse gas emissions from Washington’s commercial building sector, according to the National Law Review. The new legislation, along with three companion bills–the Washington Clean Energy Transformation Act, which requires Washington’s electric utilities to phase out greenhouse-gas emitting generation by 2045, a bill limiting emissions of hydrofluorocarbons (gases used in refrigeration and other industrial processes) and a bill encouraging electrification of Washington’s transportation system–promise to profoundly change Washington’s energy consumption patterns during the next two to three decades.
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