Berkeley City Councilmember Discusses Natural Gas Ban
By Media Office Staff
Berkeley was the first city in the nation to ban the use of natural gas hookups in new construction. The ban, which was approved in July, comes as part of a larger multiyear environmental strategy from the city to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
Berkeley City Councilmember Kate Harrison spoke about the city’s decision during a Sept. 26 talk at the California Energy Commission (CEC).
“Natural gas in buildings is 27 percent of Berkeley’s greenhouse gas emissions,” said Harrison. “We would have to plant a forest the size of Alameda County to absorb all of the carbon that we are emitting in Berkeley.”
The city started thinking about a ban on natural gas after declaring a climate emergency. However, once the city council began learning more, it was clear that economics, health, and safety were all equally as important, she said.
“We are piping a dangerous gas into our homes and lighting a flame to it,” Harrison said. “This is ripe for disaster.”
Several years ago, Berkeley set climate goals and were successful in reducing emissions but did not see enough of a decline to hit its targets. The city relied on making information available when a building changed ownership. The city also plans to expand its incentive programs.
“We have done all of that in concert with the work that you [CEC] have done and AB 3232, to reduce emissions in buildings, but we have seen it as not enough,” said Harrison.
The CEC adopts statewide Building Energy Efficiency Standards every three years. Local jurisdictions can adopt codes that are more stringent than the statewide codes but are required to seek approval from the CEC.
Berkeley embedded the natural gas ban within its building code based on the community’s health, safety and welfare needs. The city also plans to adopt supporting local building efficiency ordinances, also known as energy reach codes. This two-pronged approach ensures they can be aggressive and apply to many different types of buildings, Harrison said.
Looking ahead, Berkeley officials plan to streamline and reduce the costs of green retrofits, fund fuel substitutions for existing buildings, offer rebates on the local transfer tax, consider using the allocation of utility user taxes toward panel upgrades, and work with the local utility to continue providing incentive programs.