South Coast Air Quality District Enacts Yet Another Gas Heater Rule – California Globe

The South Coast Air Quality Management District (SCAQMD) has taken matters into its own hands again, passing a new rule that forces restaurants and other businesses, as well as regular people with pools and hot tubs, to replace their more efficient and less costly gas water heaters with electric versions.

The new rule, passed earlier this month and applicable to Los Angeles, Orange, Riverside and (some) San Bernardino counties, requires that “natural gas-fired pool heaters, larger water heaters, small commercial water heaters, boilers and process heaters must meet a zero emissions standard for nitrogen oxides (NOx) upon replacement.”

In addition, only electric water heaters may be installed in all new buildings.

The scheme will be phased in, with the first step to be implemented in January 2026 and the “final implementation phase” to begin in 2033 (conventional domestic water heaters are not affected by this scheme – unless they are tankless – but must still follow the previously established guidelines.)

“For new (constructed) buildings, small-scale (> 400,000 BTU/h) zero-emission systems must be installed in 2026. For existing buildings, starting in 2029, any small-scale system that replaces a system of a certain age (e.g., 25 years old) must be replaced with a zero-emission system,” said SCAQMD spokeswoman Connie Villanueva. “The same is true for larger and high-temperature units. For all of these categories, age is not a factor when it comes to replacing them in a home or small business. They can be replaced when they naturally do (e.g. at the end of their useful life, which can be more than 25 years).”

SCAQMD explains that the new regulations are being implemented to comply with federal air pollution regulations.

“This is the first zero-emission rule we have implemented and the second-highest reduction we have achieved through a rule in the last decade – surpassed only by our rule that reduced petroleum refinery emissions by nearly 8 tons of NOx per day,” said Vanessa Delgado, chair of the South Coast AQMD Board of Directors. “Not only is this a huge step toward improving air quality in our communities, but it will also provide tremendous public health benefits.”

The environmentalists' fight against nitrogen oxides (which, by the way, are not the stuff you get at the dentist) has grown in intensity in recent years. If you care more about the environment and society in general, this is rather odd when you consider that emissions have fallen by about 75% over the last 30 years thanks to noticeable and necessary technological improvements in cars and the like.

Although eight tons per day sounds like a lot, this cut amounts to only about a third of one percent of current national production. This airspace itself is home to about 5% of the country's population, so it is questionable whether it is proportionate to burden people and businesses with up to $100 million to make the change.

This is also questionable because environmentalists occasionally admit that nitrogen oxides are primarily considered ground-level pollutants and not “greenhouse gases.”

Compared to gas heaters, electric heaters heat the water more slowly, have problems meeting high demands and are overall more complex to operate. Since California has the highest electricity prices in the country, operating costs will actually be much higher.

Jackie Romero, director of government affairs for the California Restaurant Association, explained to the SCAQMD board how damaging the new rule would be before it voted 9-1 in favor of it.

“Our industry has been the most constrained during the COVID pandemic and unfortunately many operators continue to face these economic hardships. Our operators simply cannot afford the costs that would be incurred when considering permitting and installation costs. Electric water heaters and boilers are often 5-10x more expensive than current natural gas models, much larger, and difficult to configure in many buildings,” Romero said. “Even with the deadline extensions and additional buffers, we are still concerned that this will not be feasible by the deadlines. These costs – along with increased food and labor costs – will have an extremely severe impact on our operators. We ask that you continue to consider the costs for businesses and make exceptions for industries where the cost of installing an electric unit far exceeds that of current natural gas models.”

SCAQMD noted that a rebate program will be available to cover some of the costs…if individuals and businesses qualify.

To clarify, SCAQMD is not part of the California Air Resources Board, also known as the devil CARB. As a rule of thumb, CARB regulates things that move and SCAQMD regulates things that don't move.

The regulation affects about one million water heaters, of which about 700,000 are for swimming pools or spas. The rest are mostly corporate-owned and – as mentioned above – in restaurants and laundries, which use and require large quantities of hot water.

If you are wondering how the Federal Court ruling against the gas appliance ban in Berkeley According to SCAQMD, this ban is different because the rule “is not a ban, but rather a zero-emissions standard, allowing those affected to use various devices that do not produce emissions, such as heat pumps, fuel cells, solar heaters, etc.”

Oh, and don't forget that natural gas is supposed to save the environment.

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