The new year is quickly approaching, and it is bringing a slew of new laws with it. Starting January 1, Berkeley, California will be the first US city to ban the installation of natural gas hook-ups for stoves and heating systems in new builds. The law applies mostly to multi-family dwellings; exceptions are made for first-floor retail buildings and certain large structures.
The ban is part of California’s plan to reach its zero net carbon goal by 2045. But the electricity that powers stoves and heating systems is mostly generated by fossil fuels, including natural gas. Gas generates 35% of the nation’s electricity supply, so switching from gas stoves to electric ones simply shifts the point at which the natural gas is inserted into the supply chain.
Gas currently heats about half the homes in the United States, and it is used to manufacture paints, fertilizers, antifreeze, medicines, plastics, and more. Gas is used in too many capacities to shut down its extraction and use altogether. Since Berkeley’s own ban provides for the continued use of natural gas, the infrastructure used to store and transport it isn’t going anywhere. Furthermore, multi-family dwellings is a five-dollar word for “apartment buildings,” so middle and lower-income families are going to bear the financial brunt of this ban.
Other cities and counties are also considering a natural gas ban. Los Angeles plans to phase out some gas infrastructure while simultaneously investing in a new gas-fired power plant, reasoning that burning gas is cleaner than coal. This move highlights a double standard: It’s okay for cities to burn natural gas in order to save money, but its citizens must pay higher rates to install and operate electric appliances. As more households fully electrify, the power plants will have to increase supply to keep up with demand and thus burn more natural gas.
As a homemaker, I’m keenly interested in saving money while providing my children with a warm place to sleep and home-cooked meals. Families are going to bear the cost of this new regulation, the net effects of which won’t be quantifiable for at least a couple of decades. With new builds accounting for only 1% of homes in California, regulations will likely soon come to force more residents to switch out gas appliances for electric ones. Gas pipelines and storage tanks located at homes that fully convert to electric systems will become worthless relics.
Currently, renewable energy sources make up 17% of our nation’s power supply. Banning nonrenewable energy sources won’t have a noticeable effect until renewable energy sources become more efficient and comprise a larger segment of our power generation.
Rather than pass more regulations at the consumer level, legislators would be wise to support innovative scientists and promising research projects that are working to develop better methods, ones that can actually keep up with the nation’s insatiable appetite for electricity. Wind turbines are stymied by their negative interactions with wildlife; solar panels are unreliable on a large scale; and hydropower relies on water, which is a precious commodity and already the source of much contention in the West.
Encouraging people to use renewable energy sources is commendable, but these regulations are misguided. They start at the wrong end of the supply chain. Instead of forcing consumers to install electric appliances that are perceived to be greener but are actually more expensive ultimately trace back to fossil fuels, more effort should be concentrated on increasing the output of renewable energy sources – or finding new ones altogether.
Maybe the best, most efficient, most green source of energy hasn’t been discovered yet.