Are Natural Gas Bans the Next Energy Trend?
by Christina Nagy-McKenna, Enerdynamics Facilitator
America’s love affair with natural gas is over. Or at least it seems to be in parts of the country as regions struggle with how to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. In city council chambers across the country, the move toward municipal “reach codes” that call for new housing to be built without installing natural gas is gaining ground. The country’s largest natural gas distribution utility is fighting the movement city by city in Southern California and hopes to persuade council members that an all-out ban on natural gas is not the answer to climate change.
But in parts of the country where coal and oil have been banned as heating fuels, the only fossil fuel left to pursue is natural gas. Long seen as the bridge to a clean energy world, some industry observers are wondering aloud if we’re on the wrong side of the bridge as the cost of renewable energy continues to drop.
In July 2019 the City of Berkeley became the first in the nation to ban the use of natural gas in new homes. It might be easy to dismiss the small city’s ruling, but Berkeley was also the first to ban smoking in restaurants in 1977. It took a few decades, but the rest of the country followed suit on the smoking ban. So, is it crazy to think natural gas bans will become commonplace?
Since July, a number of California cities including the City of San Jose (the United States’ tenth largest city), Santa Rosa, and Mountain View, also put similar bans in place. It would be easy to label “reach codes,” which are more restrictive than state building codes, as a California issue, however the move away from natural gas is spreading nationwide:
- The State of Vermont is considering a bill that would ban new fossil fuel infrastructure from being built.
- The Town of Brookline, Mass., banned natural gas in new buildings and gut renovations.
- The City of Honolulu, Hawaii, is considering banning gas water heaters in new homes.
- The City of Portland, Ore., banned the construction of new fossil fuel terminals and the expansion of existing ones in 2016.
The speed at which bans of natural gas in new homes is gaining ground is startling, and it is threatening the long-term viability of gas-only distribution utilities. The largest natural gas distribution utility in the U.S. – Southern California Gas Company (SoCalGas) – serves 21.8 million consumers and has a service territory of 24,000 square miles. The company and its parent company, Sempra Energy, are squarely in the path of a state that is historically aggressive with its environmental aspirations. California is aiming to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 80% by the year 2050, based on 1990 levels, and to achieve carbon neutrality by 2045. Given that coal and fuel oil use was eliminated by California utilities years ago, natural gas is the only fossil fuel still in use, thus making it a big target. Recognizing this, the company has embarked on a campaign across Southern California cities asking for support in the fight against electrification. The message is one of “balanced energy solutions,” and it warns cities that state lawmakers are proposing new regulations and legislation that limit a city’s ability to make its own energy-related decisions.
Additionally, the company has expressed interest in using more renewable gas in its service territory to help the state meet environmental goals and to more efficiently use its pipelines. So far 100 counties and cities have agreed to support SoCalGas’ proposal. Santa Monica is the first city in the area to state its bias for electricity by requiring new all-electric buildings to meet the state’s least-stringent energy efficiency standards, while those building with natural gas must meet stricter standards.
While the momentum to jettison natural gas in new construction projects will continue on the West Coast and in pockets around the country, other parts of the U.S. are still eliminating coal and other fossil fuels (fuel oil home heating, for example) and will look to natural gas as a way to accomplish those goals. According to U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA) data, natural gas use for electric generation will grow in the U.S. by 6% in 2019 but only by 2% by 2020. Wind power will increase by 6% in 2019, and by 14% by 2020. Both are forecasted to be the fastest-growing fuels for electricity generation in the short term, but wind is outpacing natural gas as soon as next year.
As the cost of solar and wind power projects plus large-scale commercial batteries continue to fall, more discussion will happen about letting go of natural gas and fully embrace renewable energy resources. As the debates are taking place on smaller, local levels, it is forcing gas utilities to respond locally as well. Unlike the market restructurings of the 1990s and early 2000s, this time the next step in the energy revolution is coming from the consumer, and at least some of them are ready to take bold steps forward now. America’s love affair with natural gas may be over, but our adoration for renewable resources is just beginning.
It's crazy to think that natural gas bans are the next energy trend but this is the way of the future. Our evolution of renewable energy uses across the world are changing the industry in more ways than one, but we know it's for the better. To learn even more about renewable energy topics and advance your knowledge of renewable energy utilities, take a look at our online energy courses or live seminars. Our team here at Enerdynamics can help guide your business in the right direction and help everyone at your company learn more about the concept of renewable energy.