Continuing Berkeley’s Groundbreaking Legacy
Berkeley has a long history of being accused of going too far when we are the first in the nation to do something, from implementing curbside recycling in the early 1970s to eliminating styrofoam in the 1980s. Yet time and time again, history has shown that these so called radical ideas were groundbreaking and became the standard bearer for others to follow. This week, history is repeating itself with our vote to prohibit natural gas in new construction.
History has shown that people look to Berkeley for leadership. Ideas start here and movements are born here. Consistent with our status as a trailblazing leader, the important step of prohibiting natural gas in new construction will send a message and a model to cities and states across the country to follow our lead.
We are in a race against time. The climate crisis is deepening. Meeting the goals set out by the Paris Agreement to keep global temperatures rising by 1.5 °C is essential in preventing a catastrophic climate crisis. We have a moral obligation, not just to ourselves, but to our children and future generations, to take climate action. The current climate situation necessitates boldness.
In the days since the ordinance was passed, several comments have arisen questioning the effectiveness of the new policy. In the interest of providing transparency and facts, below are some recurring questions/myths, and the reality behind those concerns.
Is Electrification Cleaner than Natural Gas?
Yes. There is a common misconception that our electricity comes from dirty sources. While that may have been the case in the 20th century, California has taken great strides over the past decade in significantly reducing its electricity sources from fossil fuels while conversely expanding its electricity sources from clean energy. Only one coal power plant remains in the state, accounting for just 0.15% of California’s energy production. While it is true that natural gas currently makes up a plurality of California’s energy production at 43.4% in 2017, that is quickly changing. In as recent as 2014, it accounted for 61.4%, a difference of 18%. During the same time period, renewable energy increased by 6.9% to 29.7% and is on track to meet the state’s goal of 33% by 2020 and 50% by 2030 as mandated by SB 350.
Additionally, electricity in Berkeley and Alameda County is significantly cleaner than state averages. This is because Berkeley is a part of East Bay Community Energy, which procures energy from carbon-free sources, such as solar and wind. Depending at what level people sign up for, Berkeley residents are between 78-100% carbon-free.
Finally, a word on the cleanliness of natural gas. It has been wrongly touted as a “clean” fossil fuel. While it may be cleaner than coal, it still produces hazardous levels of greenhouse gases, including methane, which is significantly more potent GHG than carbon dioxide. Its volatility also poses the risk of deadly explosions and fires, especially when earthquakes strike.
Will My Bills Increase?
Modern electrical appliances are more efficient than natural gas appliances. While it is technically true that gas in 2019 is cheaper than electricity, less electricity is being used in electrified appliances than gas ones, resulting in cost savings. And this cost differential is closing and will eventually swap, with gas becoming more expensive and electricity cheaper with renewables becoming cheaper to produce. It should be noted that this ordinance only applies to new construction. If you currently have natural gas, this ordinance will not impact you.
Another common myth is that this will increase construction costs, making projects infeasible. Studies show that the opposite is in fact true, which is why many affordable housing developments are switching to all electric as it keeps energy costs down. Lastly, the costs of negative externalities associated with natural gas such as its impacts to health and the environment are often ignored but must be considered in the overall cost of natural gas vs electric.
Will Electrification Lead to More Blackouts and Brownouts?
No. The crux of this argument is that eliminating natural gas will increase electricity usage, creating more demand than supply. However, such a change will be insignificant compared to the vast energy output in the state. With solar and wind production on the increase, especially regionally, there is zero evidence that such a switch will overwhelm our power supply. East Bay Community Energy is committed to increasing our local supply of clean energy, creating a more sustainable energy supply while creating new jobs.
Also, electricity is quicker to restart after a blackout compared to natural gas, allowing for a quicker recovery in the event of a blackout, such as one caused by a Public Safety Power Shutoff in response to extreme fire danger.
Together, we can make a difference in reducing the impacts of climate change. We owe it to our future to create a sustainable and environmentally friendly society. There is no alternative. What city, county, or state will be next? I call upon you to contact your local, regional, and state representatives to keep the momentum going. The power to change the future for the better is in your hands and your vote.