Editor’s Note: This is one of a 14-piece series NGI undertook as the energy industry readied for the new year, with Lower 48 natural gas and oil supply continuing to surge in an uncertain environment as liquefied natural gas exports ramp up, Mexico markets remain shrouded and stakeholders demand more value. Get your complimentary copy of NGI’s 2020 Special Report today.
Since Berkeley, CA, enacted a ban on natural gas in new construction over the summer, the trend has spread to nearly two dozen local jurisdictions in the state, as well as up the West Coast and across the country in Massachusetts, as climate change advocates target fossil fuel use.
Macro projections for natural gas remain optimistic. In its latest Short-Term Energy Outlook, the U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA) projected that the share of gas in the power generation mix will increase to 39% in 2020 from 37% this year.
CEO Karen Harbert of the American Gas Association has argued that electrification advocates wanting to eliminate gas are hurting customer choice, given the fuel’s broader economic impacts and its proven environmental benefits.
“The idea that denying access to natural gas in new homes is necessary to meet emissions reduction goals is false,” she said.
However, local jurisdictions on each side of the United States are moving to restrict gas use in new construction. In the Northern California college town of Berkeley, city leaders changed the municipal building code to prohibit gas infrastructure in new buildings and created a two-year building and safety position to oversee implementation.
California regulators in mid December approved attempts to limit gas use within five cities and one county. The California Energy Commission (CEC) approved local building requirements against new gas use in Menlo Park, San Jose, San Mateo, Santa Monica, West Hollywood and in Marin County.
The CEC and California Public Utility Commission appear locked on “a clear mandate to decarbonize the state’s energy systems and its economy.” CEC’s Andrew McAllister emphasized the state’s precedent-setting climate mitigation measures.
Up the coast in Everett, WA, a suburb 25 miles north of Seattle with a population of more than 100,000, city leaders have initiated a climate change mitigation planning process that includes proposals to ban or limit gas in new buildings. So far, nothing has been established, according to the city’s Bob Bolerjack, executive director for state, regional and military affairs.
A draft Climate Action Plan by Everett’s planning commission outlined three actions that “focus on eliminating gas from buildings and homes.” Everett gets almost all its electricity from nearby hydroelectric supplies, making gas the only current source of greenhouse gas emissions in its buildings.
Bolerjack told NGI that the city council is not expected to see a draft plan until January, and “it is unknown whether they will even act on individual strategies or action steps, let alone when.”
Meanwhile, in Massachusetts, cities in the Boston metropolitan area, including Arlington, Cambridge, Lexington and Newton, are awaiting a review by the state attorney general of a new bylaw in Brookline to determine if it avoids conflict with state statutes before they move forward with proposed bans on new gas service.
Brookline became the first local municipality in Massachusetts to ban oil and natural gas piping in new building construction. In Massachusetts, city ordinances and town bylaws may not conflict with state regulations, and the state’s courts may ultimately decide their fate.
The proposed bans face organized industry opposition from California to New England.
The Southern California Gas Co.-backed Californians for Balanced Energy Solutions is calling on jurisdictions to support the use of natural gas. In the utility’s territory, which covers most of the southern half of the state, more than 110 local governments representing a collective population of eight million have passed local resolutions calling for “affordable and balanced” strategies regarding building energy choices.
The Edison International utility, Southern California Edison Co., one of the nation’s largest power companies, also has undertaken an aggressive electrification program touting net cost savings for all-electric customers.
In parts of New England, where fuel oil is still a dominant home heating fuel, the Northeast Gas Association, other industry groups and utility National Grid, are speaking out against the gas ban proposals.
"The gas network has an enduring role to play in bringing about a clean energy future, and customers should have the ability to choose their energy source," said National Grid spokesperson Robert Kievra.
Adding to the uncertainty among some local policymakers, New England’s grid operator earlier this year indicated it was preparing for a future without new gas infrastructure. It has also raised concerns that the region’s electricity system would not have enough energy to meet demand on the coldest days of winter.