What does a ban on natural gas appliances mean for homeowners? – The Hill

history at a glance

  • While environmentalists have praised California’s decision to phase out natural gas-fired heaters, others are concerned about the viability of the ban.
  • Natural gas combustion from residential and commercial buildings accounts for an estimated 5 percent of the state’s total nitrogen oxide emissions, and 90 percent of these emissions result from space and hot water heating.
  • As part of the proposal, the state will offer rebates to those who switch from natural gas heating to electric heating.

As California progresses to become the first state to ban natural gas-fired space heaters and water heaters by 2030, there is a growing debate about what the ban means for homeowners and how it might extend to other devices.

The ban, passed unanimously by the California Air Resources Board (CARB), directs agencies to create a draft rule that will face another vote in 2025. The move was introduced to help Californians wean the transition from natural gas to more renewable energy and meet federal ozone standards.

According to the proposal, by 2030 residents will only have zero-emission replacement appliances for old stoves and water heaters. However, some question the feasibility of the decision.

Heating and furnace upgrades

Natural gas plays an important role in California’s energy landscape, with consumption far outpacing other resources such as gasoline and renewable energy in 2020. Although burning natural gas emits less carbon dioxide than coal and oil, the fuel poses additional health and environmental risks. Research has shown that natural gas water heaters, in particular, emit methane into Californians’ homes.

In the public comment section of the CARB meeting, Michael Kapolnek, a retired engineer, offered his support for the decarbonization effort but called the new policy burdensome for homeowners.

The standard “will force many homeowners to make expensive upgrades to their electrical service while trying to make an emergency repair to restore hot water or heating to their home,” Kapolnek said.

In April, however, the California Public Utilities Commission announced incentives for residents to switch to electric heat pump water heaters. Low-income, single-family household customers can receive up to $4,885, and incentives for other customers are capped at $3,800. The Commission will also provide incentives when an electrical panel upgrade is required to install the heat pump water heater.

Research by RMI, a clean energy non-profit organization, found that heat pumps are more cost-effective than natural gas heating and air conditioning combined.

But Kapolnek argued that families must sacrifice space or hot water during the process, and offered an alternative recommendation to implement building codes that only mandate zero-emission devices in homes whose service panel already includes the capability for those units.

Concerns about supply chains have also been raised. “The market penetration of electric water heaters with heat pump in [California] is currently less than 4 percent,” Christopher E. Ochoa, senior counsel at the California Building Industry Association (CBIA), told Changing America.

“PG&E and other major utilities across the state are more than a year behind in locating transformers to power our new communities. We have completed houses where the new owners will be put in hotels because the utilities cannot turn on the lights.”

CBIA is also yet to hear “tangible and realistic evidence” of how CARB plans to meet its 2030 goal, Ochoa said, adding that the state’s power grid may not be equipped to handle such increased power demands.

“CBIA has seen no plans or real discussion of how [California] plans to harden the power grid to accommodate all-electric households and electric vehicles, increasing our existing power grid by 2-3 times the current load. Battery storage in combination with solar energy must become more and more the standard in the coming years, which also leads to significant costs for housing construction.”

The Southern California Gas Company, one of the state’s top natural gas utilities, supports California’s efforts to meet federal air quality standards and its decarbonization and net-zero goals, a spokesman told Changing America.

“We will continue to engage in this effort alongside other stakeholders and offer innovative solutions. We remain convinced that SoCalGas’ assets, operational experience and expertise in owning and operating pipeline infrastructure are critical to delivering clean, reliable and affordable energy to customers – today and in the long term,” the spokesman said.

Natural gas combustion from residential and commercial buildings in California accounts for an estimated 5 percent of the state’s total nitrogen oxide emissions, while 90 percent of these emissions come from space and water heating. Nitrogen oxides contribute significantly to smog.

According to CARB’s proposal, “at the regional level, about a third of projected building-related emissions on the South Coast could be reduced by 2037 if zero-emission standards for space and hot water heating were implemented in 2030.”

The Sierra Club of California and the American Lung Association were among groups supporting CARB’s proposal to ban natural gas heaters and stoves.

“We welcome the measure, which requires the state to sell 100 percent zero-emission space and water heaters by 2030. This will reduce the construction sector’s carbon footprint and improve public health,” said Daniel Barad, a senior political advocate for the club, during the public hearing.

Leah-Louis Prescott, head of the Oakland office at RMI, urged the board to go further and finalize the rules by 2024 instead of 2025.

“Buildings emit four times more nitrogen oxides than all of our state’s power plants and nearly two-thirds the nitrogen oxide pollution of all passenger vehicles,” said Louis Prescott. “It’s about time we addressed building pollution.”

What about other devices?

Although the current vote only affects sales of heaters and stoves, restrictions on gas-fired stoves, ovens and other appliances have sparked controversy.

This year Los Angeles decided to ban gas stoves in new residential and commercial buildings through January 1, 2023, in part due to the health hazards the appliances pose to individuals in their homes.

“Research has shown that gas stoves leak unburned gas while they are off and unburned natural gas contains dangerous air pollutants, some of which are known to cause cancer, such as: B. Benzene,” said Eric Lebel, principal scientist at PSE Healthy Energy, a nonprofit research institute, in a statement to Changing America.

“Gas stoves have also been found to emit nitrogen dioxide, formaldehyde and carbon monoxide during use.”

Appliances can also vent unburned methane gas — a greenhouse gas more than 80 times stronger than carbon dioxide — into the atmosphere even when they’re turned off, Lebel added.

Passing the Inflation Mitigation Act means consumers who want to buy an electric cooking appliance can get a rebate of up to $840 and up to an additional $500 to reduce the cost of converting from natural gas or propane to electric .

But critics of the move to phase out natural gas appliances entirely argue that it will give residents fewer energy options and increase construction costs and utility bills.

In August, the Sierra Club petitioned the EPA to ban all natural gas appliances at the federal level.

In response, the American Gas Association, which represents local natural gas companies, said: “Any proposal to ban natural gas or natural gas appliances would be harmful to consumers and the environment.”

“This proposal would place undue burdens on consumers at every step of the process, including our most vulnerable communities, without the claimed environmental benefits. This proposal is simply bad policy,” the association continued.

In California, the cost of converting all appliances in a home from natural gas to electric can range from $5,000 to $20,000. However, several factors play into the long- and short-term cost of natural gas versus electric home appliances. These include the type of appliances purchased, whether the apartment is already equipped for gas or electric appliances, and whether discounts are considered.

“The point is that product rating services like Consumer Reports believe that all-electric induction cooktops and ovens perform better, medical research shows that gas stoves are dramatically increasing asthma rates in children, and gas costs are higher,” said Ari Matusiak, co-founder and CEO of Rewiring America in a statement to Changing America.

Rewiring America is a nonprofit organization working to electrify American homes and businesses.

“None of these reasons have anything to do with climate at all. For example, some cities and states ban new gas connections, while others, like Chicago, simply require new homes to be built on electricity. The key is to reduce the friction that prevents people from going electric and to encourage people,” Matusiak said.

looking ahead

It remains to be seen whether other states will follow California’s example in phasing out natural gas appliances. Similar efforts have been made in New York state, but lobbying has resulted in municipalities in 20 states with Republican-controlled legislatures being unable to ban natural gas due to pre-emption laws.

This includes most of the southern states, as well as New Hampshire, Wyoming, Utah and Arizona. Bills are under review in Pennsylvania and Michigan.

Gas industry officials also say laws mandating electrification will hamper efforts by natural gas companies to invest in more renewable natural gas, such as B. Methane recovered from landfills. At the same time, the US power grid may not be able to handle the increased generation and transmission of electricity as more buildings are remodeled.

According to the US Energy Information Administration, 40 percent of electricity in the United States is currently supplied by zero-carbon technologies such as wind, solar and nuclear. But a long implementation timeline leaves more time to prepare for increased demand, lawmakers say.

Natural gas is also becoming more expensive and in August national prices hit a 14-year high.

For the past year, the industrial price of natural gas in California has risen steadily, with rates hitting their highest levels since July 2008. Meanwhile, data from June 2022 shows residential prices at an all-time high of $21.69 per thousand cubic feet.

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