The Oakland City Council voted unanimously Tuesday evening to support a prohibition on using natural gas in new buildings throughout the city. The law, which will come back for final approval Dec. 15, would require only electric infrastructure and appliances in newly built homes, restaurant and shop buildings, and offices.
“This is really important in terms of protecting public health and addressing the climate crisis,” said Councilmember Nikki Fortunato Bas, a co-sponsor of the legislation. Councilmember Dan Kalb, Mayor Libby Schaaf and Oakland’s planning department were also behind the law that would prohibit any newly constructed buildings from connecting to natural gas or propane infrastructure.
“Oakland cannot meet its climate goals without shifting quickly away from natural gas use,” says a report from the Planning and Building Department. “State policies and lower prices of renewable energy mean that substituting natural gas with electricity is one of the quickest, safest, and least expensive pathways to eliminating [greenhouse gas] emissions from buildings.” Requiring all-electric construction, according to the report, will also improve public health and earthquake safety.
Developers could apply for a waiver if they believe it would be impossible, or conflict with other city laws, to use only electricity in their new buildings.
Oakland’s new Equitable Climate Action Plan calls for a citywide switch to electric construction by 2030, to help the city reach its goal of reducing greenhouse gas emissions to 56% below 2005 levels in the next decade. Oakland and California both have goals of achieving carbon neutrality by 2045, as well.
Just a year ago, Berkeley became the first California city to ban natural gas in new buildings. Since then, according to the Oakland report, 14 other cities have adopted all-electric requirements, and many more have begun to change their building codes to reduce gas use in homes, offices, and shops.
Switching to electrical appliance hookups is an equity measure, proponents of the Oakland proposal say, since poor health impacts from gas are more common in smaller and older homes with bad ventilation. Children who live in apartments with gas cooking appliances are likelier to have asthma, according to the staff report. The code change could also save lives, the report says, since gas pipeline ruptures can cause explosions and fires, especially after disasters like earthquakes.
Gas costs, however, are lower than electricity rates for utility customers, meaning PG&E bills could ultimately be higher and further burden lower-income residents if the policy is passed. But the report argues that gas rates are rising more quickly than electricity rates, and many electric appliances, like water heaters, are more efficient than comparable gas options. Renewable sources of electricity, like solar, can further offset the higher costs.
Home cooks and professional chefs alike may be slow to embrace the policy. Electric stoves are often reviled for their unforgiving coils and lack of real flames. After Berkeley passed its pioneering gas ban, the city was hit with a federal court lawsuit from the California Restaurant Association, which argued that Berkeley was overstepping its authority by prohibiting cooks from charring vegetables and heating woks. The group also said the policy was irresponsible in an era of planned power outages that leave huge swaths of the Bay Area without electricity for days at a time every fall.
The case appears to still be making its way through the court process, and it’s drawn support from other building trade groups.
The Oakland report acknowledges the stigma against traditional electric stoves, but notes that induction stoves, which are safer and more efficient than their gas alternatives, are already growing in popularity and prevalence.