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Everything you wanted to know about electrification and the proposed natural gas ban on new construction in Santa Barbara buildings.

Intro

The City Council of Santa Barbara recently voted unanimously to further explore a “REACH” code, an Energy Code Amendment to require all-electric new construction. Adopting this policy is a promising pathway for Santa Barbara to tackle climate change by phasing out fossil fuels from new homes and commercial buildings. All-electric REACH codes have been adopted by over 40+ California cities, and allow new construction to be cleaner, safer and more affordable. As the City begins switching to 100% renewable electricity within the next decade, shifting to electric power will significantly lower greenhouse gas emissions. Meanwhile, momentum is building for a similar statewide all-electric building code across California.

What is the REACH Code?

In addition to California state building codes, cities can also choose to go further by enhancing these construction standards. Reach codes can provide additional health, safety, and environmental benefits in the local region. The Santa Barbara building REACH Code establishes new building and construction standards. It is an all-electric building code which means that new construction must install electric infrastructure rather than gas for heating, cooking and other uses.

Why make buildings electric?

Every year the grid is becoming cleaner and more electricity is provided by renewable resources. Eliminating our dependence on fossil fuels such as natural gas is not only a critical step in meeting climate and energy goals but also to creating more healthy and resilient communities. According to the US Energy Information Administration, buildings account for roughly 40% of the United State’s energy use and greenhouse gas emissions, and nearly half of all homes rely on natural gas as their primary heating fuel.

Many studies have shown that transitioning to all-electric homes and buildings, which can run on 100% renewable energy, is the lowest-cost, lowest-risk pathway to decarbonizing buildings and reaching broader climate goals.

What are the health impacts of using natural gas in our homes?

The use of natural gas for cooking and heating has a number of negative health impacts. It has been linked to higher rates of asthma and can release harmful indoor air pollution. Children living in a home with a gas stove are 42% more likely to have asthma.

Gas cooking is particularly hazardous in kitchens with poor ventilation. Gas inside our homes releases large quantities of nitrogen dioxide, carbon monoxide, nitric oxide, formaldehyde, acetaldehyde and ultrafine PM 2.5 particles. A literature review conducted by the Rocky Mountain Institute found that homes with gas stoves have levels of NOx pollution that are 50%-to-400% higher than homes with electric stoves. Nitrous oxide and PM 2.5 are two pollutants known to cause or exacerbate asthma, lung cancer, and respiratory diseases.

All-electric building codes can improve indoor air quality by making the switch to efficient induction stoves and heat pumps, that can both heat and cool homes, making them healthier, safer, and more comfortable to live in.

Why is this good for tackling climate change? How does electrification of new buildings help Santa Barbara reach its climate goals?

Recent unprecedented wildfires and heat waves in California have made it overwhelmingly clear that we need to address the climate crisis now. In September 2020, the City of Santa Barbara committed to one of the most ambitious climate goals in the nation – reaching Carbon Neutrality by 2035, – and had previously set a goal of providing the community with 100% renewable energy by 2030. As the City begins offering 100% renewable electricity, all-electric buildings will help us get one step closer to Zero Carbon Communities.

Currently, natural gas consumption makes up more than 20% of direct emissions in Santa Barbara. Our climate goals cannot be met without reducing these emissions and new buildings are the cost-effective place to start. Santa Barbara is on track to meet its goal of 100% renewable energy by 2030 so all-electric homes will be fossil-free, an impossibility for gas homes.

Isn't natural gas considered clean?

Natural gas is often marketed as a “bridge” fuel because it burns cleaner and produces fewer greenhouse gas emissions than coal and liquid petroleum. However, the burning of natural gas still emits large amounts of carbon dioxide and methane leaks are additionally a serious problem. Methane, a greenhouse gas that is about 87 times more potent than CO2, is released in large quantities during extraction and transport of natural gas. The dramatic spikes of methane emissions since 2002 can be attributed to the boom in natural gas extraction in the U.S— these spikes cancel out much of the reduction in CO2 emissions brought about by replacing coal with natural gas.

Most of California’s natural gas supply is imported from other states via pipelines. According to the US Energy Information Administration, roughly 70% of marketed natural gas in the United States is fracked. Hydraulic fracturing, also known as fracking, is the process by which natural gas is extracted from wells. Fracking is a dangerous practice that can endanger humans and pollute surface and groundwater. Excessive gas drilling can also poison wild landscapes and disturb wildlife.

How would this affect building construction and energy prices? Is this switch more expensive or more affordable?

This code would only apply to new construction and going electric can lower homeowner’s utility bills. By not building gas lines and dual energy systems in the first place, consumers save $5,000 per home, according to the Statewide Utility Codes and Standards Enhancement Team. Additionally, solar and battery systems are more affordable when installed on new all-electric buildings. Southern California Edison, which operates our grid, supports the building electrification code update.

According to a study for the Los Angeles Department of Water & Power, all-electric homes save homeowners $130-$540 annually on utility bills compared to homes that burn gas. In addition, energy staff and experts present at the last Santa Barbara City Council meeting, along with affordable housing experts and builders, support the code update.

What buildings will this REACH code apply to?

This code only applies to new construction in Santa Barbara county, where it is most-cost effective. Existing buildings are not impacted at all.

Are other communities adopting similar REACH codes?

Santa Barbara will be joining over 40 cities in California that have passed codes to move away from fossil fuels in new construction.

Conclusion

If the City of Santa Barbara is to successfully meet its carbon neutrality goals in the next decade, our community needs to adopt forward-thinking policies like the “REACH” energy code. 45 organizations issued strong support of the energy code, including Allen Construction, American Institute of Architects Santa Barbara, Clean Coalition, Central Coast Alliance United for a Sustainable Economy (CAUSE), and Sierra Club. Eliminating our dependence on fossil fuels is critical to improving our health and creating a more resilient community, which is why CEC supports this code as well.

Additional Resources

  • Attend a City of Santa Barbara virtual workshop on Friday, February 12 or Wednesday, February 17 to learn more about the proposed code changes and how they might impact you.
  • Read more about CEC’s Action Alert to support the ban on natural gas in new building construction.
  • Read this press release and letter that Sierra Club, CEC and 43 other organizations sent to the Santa Barbara City Council.
  • Read this op-ed from California’s second largest affordable home builder, about how they’ve crunched the numbers and all their new developments are all-electric because of cost savings.

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