Citing the effects of carbon emissions on climate change and the potential for health risks, efforts to electrify America’s natural gas infrastructure are underway in various markets. Natural gas comprises primarily methane. Indoor appliances like gas stoves are also associated with emissions of nitrogen dioxide and carbon monoxide. The electrification efforts are making an impact at local, state, and federal levels.
At a local level, cities including Berkeley in 2019, San Francisco in 2020, and New York City in 2021, have banned certain natural gas hookups in all new building construction. San Francisco’s 2020 legislation applied to new residential and commercial building construction and required use of all-electric power. The ordinance was estimated to cover about 60% of the city’s development pipeline. It followed a similar ordinance requiring all-electric construction for new municipal projects in San Francisco.
Until recently, such efforts targeted only new construction and did not address existing homes or retrofitting buildings—outside of offering financial incentives such as rebates for replacing gas water heaters with electric heat pumps, for example. But gas appliances are found in more than 90% of California homes, and gas stoves specifically are present in 70% of California homes—a number nearly twice the 2020 national average of 38%.
Dozens of California cities have moved to electrify the gas infrastructure. Under applicable laws and regulations, California must reduce statewide greenhouse gas emissions to a level 40% below 1990 levels by 2030. The state also seeks to achieve carbon neutrality by 2045 or earlier, and the ban on gas appliances in new construction is considered by some to be part of those decarbonization efforts. According to governmental sources, residential and commercial buildings are responsible for roughly 25% of California’s greenhouse gas emissions.
Most recently, in March 2023, the Bay Area Air Quality Management District approved new rules to phase out and eventually ban sales of new natural gas furnaces and water heaters. The agency’s Board of Directors adopted amendments requiring new appliances to be zero-emission, effectively allowing only electric furnaces and water heaters. According to the agency’s timeline, only zero-emission water heaters shall be sold or installed in the Bay Area in 2027. The rule would apply to furnaces in 2029 and large commercial water heaters in 2031. It will not apply to gas stoves. The District includes Alameda, Contra Costa, Marin, Napa, San Francisco, San Mateo, and Santa Clara counties, plus southern portions of Solano and Sonoma counties.
Although prior ordinances applied to only new construction, a typical current District homeowner is affected by this rule change should his or her old gas furnace or water heater break. The replacement appliance will have to be electric. Electrical systems in older homes may need upgrades to accommodate the changes.
Cities in New York have also undertaken similar efforts. On March 20, 2023, Beacon, New York banned the use of fossil fuels in all new construction and major renovation projects, making it the third municipality in New York State to limit greenhouse-gas emissions in buildings. This followed New York City’s 2021 law limiting fossil fuel emissions permitted in newly constructed buildings, with exceptions for hospitals, laundromats, and crematoriums.
At the State level, New York is poised to enact a legislative ban on natural gas and fossil fuel appliances in most new buildings, including single-family homes. The legislation would effectively prohibit gas stoves in new homes and other gas-powered appliances, including water heaters, furnaces, and clothes dryers.
During her state address in January, Governor Kathy Hochul endorsed an all-electric building mandate, and both the Senate and Assembly included similar proposals in their respective budgets. In all three proposals, the ban will be phased in. For example, the Senate’s One-House Budget Resolution recommended a ban on the use of fossil fuels—including stoves—by 2025 for smaller, newly built structures and by 2028 for larger buildings. All three proposals are in agreement regarding exemptions for uses such as commercial kitchens, hospitals, crematoriums, laboratories, and laundromats.
Last year, Governor Hochul advocated for a similar proposal, which gained traction in the state Senate but failed to gain support in the Assembly. This year, however, the chamber’s endorsement makes enactment more likely. The differences in each of the three proposals is expected to be reconciled in the impending budget.
If an agreement is reached regarding the proposal, it would bring New York closer to achieving its greenhouse gas reduction goal set out in New York State’s Climate Act. The 2019 Act requires New York to reduce economy-wide greenhouse gas emissions by 40% by 2030 and no less than 85% by 2050 from 1990 levels.
With the Governor, Senate, and Assembly more or less on the same page, it is likely a statewide law will be approved as part of the impending 2023-24 budget. Rich Schrader, state policy and legislative director for the National Resources Defense Council, has said “it’s all up in the air” regarding whether Hochul’s proposal will gain enough traction to pass the Senate and Assembly, but Schrader “think[s] that there’s a lot more support this year than there was last year for all-electric buildings.”
At the Federal level, the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) sparked national controversy earlier this year following reports that the Commission was considering a ban on natural gas stoves. Chairman Alexander Hoehn-Saric—chairman of the CPSC—has since said that there is no plan to ban gas stoves, but that the agency is seeking ways to make them safer. Specifically, the agency published a Request for Information on March 1, 2023, asking scientists, consumers, and the public to share information regarding (1) research on the health hazards of gas stove emissions, including any connection to conditions like childhood asthma, and (2) potential solutions to remediate such hazards, including the feasibility, costs, and benefits of those options.
Given the ongoing developments in this area, manufacturers of natural gas appliances such as furnaces and stoves should monitor local, state, and federal legislative and regulatory activities. It is clear that there are significant efforts underway that will have a serious impact on those businesses.
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