Full Electrification: Richmond’s Latest Push for Green Energy
Power Plant, by Henry Lyman Saÿen
In early 2020, Richmond adopted an ordinance implementing a limited ban on new natural gas infrastructure in the city. This measure addressed a crucial component of global warming: buildings are a serious source of pollution. Their use of fossil fuels accounts for roughly 12% of the United States’s greenhouse gas emissions.
While a substantial step in the right direction, the original ordinance fell short of achieving a true natural gas ban. For example, it permits new residential construction that utilizes natural gas kitchen appliances and in-residence fireplaces. Such uses require the construction of gas pipelines throughout buildings and beneath city streets.
On September 21, Councilmember Eduardo Martinez brought the issue before the City Council, which seeks to close the loopholes allowed by the 2020 measure. The new ordinance would ban natural gas infrastructure in all new buildings in the city, with few exceptions.
This measure would not impact existing structures, but rather only apply to new construction beginning in 2022. Thus, these costs will not be borne by anyone in an already-built home. Richmond homeowners, landlords, and business owners will not need to retrofit their gas appliances as a result of this ordinance.
The timing of this proposal is important. Richmond currently has thousands of new residential units planned for development over the next several years. Most of these homes will be in large, multi-family buildings. Without this ordinance, the vast majority of these buildings will include gas pipelines throughout. Once gas lines and gas-fired appliances are installed, the gas will flow for decades, locking in unnecessary greenhouse gas (“GHG”) emissions, methane leaks, indoor air hazards, and fire risks.
BURNING NATURAL GAS EMITS GHGs
The burning of natural gas is responsible for a large percentage of GHG emissions. Considering the impact of climate change on Richmond, we must reduce GHG emissions where possible. Richmond has repeatedly asserted its support for reducing emissions by passing numerous climate-related resolutions and ordinances over the past five years. For example, Richmond adopted a Climate Action Plan in 2016, declared a Climate Emergency in 2018, and resolved to support a Just Transition away from Fossil Fuels this past January. Expanding the current natural gas ban to include all new natural gas infrastructure in the City further supports these efforts.
NATURAL GAS HAZARDS: INDOOR AIR and DANGEROUS PIPES
Gas stoves are more problematic than electric ones because they produce significant fossil fuel combustion byproducts. Sixty percent of California homes that cook at least once a week with a gas stove produce toxic levels of nitrogen dioxide, formaldehyde and carbon monoxide that exceed federal standards for outdoor air quality. Additionally, a US Geological Survey from 2018 concluded that ruptured gas pipelines within our city caused by an earthquake of 7.0 or greater on the Hayward fault pose significant risks of catastrophic fires, in part, due to natural gas infrastructure.
Cutting methane emissions is the fastest opportunity we have to slow the rate of global warming. Natural gas reductions will provide short-term relief while governments and businesses negotiate the more difficult transition from fossil fuels to clean energy. For Richmond to achieve its stated climate goals, it must transition away from fossil fuels, including natural gas. Councilmember Martinez’s proposed New Natural Gas Ban Ordinance will set Richmond on track to do just that, and do so immediately, before permits are issued for the substantial housing starts slated in Richmond over the next few years.