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    San Diego wants to eliminate most natural gas use by 2035. Is it doable?


    August 12, 2022 - Jennifer Van Grove, The San Diego Union-Tribune

     

      San Diego's City Council recently voted to adopt an overhauled climate action plan with the stated goal of achieving net zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2035.

      The ambitious undertaking comes with a dramatic shift in policy: A ban on natural gas in new construction. As such, developers would be required to electrify their buildings with electric heaters, appliances and systems.

      That's because, in San Diego, greenhouse emissions from buildings are second only to transportation, the city says.

      A building ordinance codifying the natural gas ban could be drafted as early as next year.

      In addition to banning natural gas in new construction, the city has set a goal to phase out 90 percent of natural gas usage from existing buildings over the next 12 years. An implementation plan for non-city buildings has yet to be crafted.

      Q: San Diego wants to eliminate most natural gas use by 2035. Is it doable?

      Jamie Moraga, IntelliSolutions

      NO: While the plan is admirable, it's ambitious. It will cost billions to accomplish, and it begs the question on how it's going to get paid for without further burdening taxpayers. It would also require residents to invest in infrastructure such as electrifying their residences and to change their lifestyles. This is difficult as residents and their families typically live in one part of the county and often commute to another part for work, school and activities. Housing costs will also likely increase with this mandate making living in San Diego even more difficult to afford.

      David Ely, San Diego State University

      NO: A ban on natural gas in new construction can be implemented quickly, and by 2035, have a meaningful impact on greenhouse emissions. Other cities have similar bans in place. However, reducing greenhouse emissions from existing buildings not owned by the city will be challenging. Developing a plan that includes funding and incentives will take some time. Retrofitting a high percentage of existing buildings by 2035 seems improbable. More time will be needed.

      Ray Major, SANDAG

      Not participating this week.

      Caroline Freund, UC San Diego School of Global Policy and Strategy

      YES: Ambitious goals maintain focus. Electrifying new buildings and replacing end-of-life water and space heaters with electric alternatives is low-hanging fruit. To minimize adoption of technologies that later become obsolete, experimentation with alternatives, such as renewable gas and hydrogen, will be important. Additional work is still needed on implementation design and support for low-income communities. Disclosure: The forthcoming Regional Decarbonization Framework report, led by GPS faculty, is supporting this effort with research-informed technical analysis.

      Haney Hong, San Diego County Taxpayers Assoc.

      NO: I give (the city) credit for being bold. This is like a new year's resolution: Setting a goal that is important. But let's be honest with ourselves and recognize there are some habits that die hard or just don't die at all. I can never cut out entirely carbs or other important food groups — ice cream is one of mine — no matter how well-intentioned I am. Better to plan for moderation than cold turkey.

      Kelly Cunningham, San Diego Institute for Economic Research

      NO: Natural gas is a relatively clean source of energy, accounting for 38 percent of all US electricity generation. According to the US Energy Information Administration, "Burning natural gas for energy results in fewer emissions of nearly all types of air pollutants and carbon dioxide than burning coal or petroleum products to produce an equal amount of energy." Efforts to ban natural gas ignore the severe economic consequences of imposing even greater costs on families and businesses.

      Lynn Reaser, economist

      YES: It will be difficult, however. While it is possible to have new construction use electricity, retrofitting older buildings will be a much heavier lift. It will be extremely expensive and businesses will suffer. What kind of financial support will be provided? It is also important to know if the additional green sources of electricity supply will be forthcoming. Otherwise, the additional supply might come from non-green sources.

      Phil Blair, Manpower

      NO: The city could certainly regulate new construction — no wood-burning fireplaces, no gas — but updating current residences and buildings sounds near impossible in 13 years. Are we sure we have ample electrical production to take on this load?

      Gary London, London Moeder Advisors

      NO: This is a nuanced response because eliminating all carbon emitters matters, but policymakers must also have their eye on other ambitious targets. Far more important than reducing natural gas, which is less polluting than other sources, is to reduce auto emissions, and to stop burning coal and start building modern nuclear plants to bolster the electric grid. A more laudable goal would be to incentivize developers to build live-work, mixed-use projects to reduce commutes.

      Alan Gin, University of San Diego

      YES: Of the top 20 most populous counties in California, San Diego uses the least natural gas per capita. This is largely due to the moderate weather here. So it would be easier for San Diego to eliminate natural gas use than other urban areas in the state. There may be a difference between the city of San Diego and the county, but that difference may not be large and may favor the city.

      Bob Rauch, R.A. Rauch & Associates

      NO: Eliminating natural gas is just another in a series of regressive costs that will be foisted upon the public in the name of climate change. Eliminating access to natural gas is a mistake, especially in a state that cannot assure access to electricity. We should certainly halt deforestation, shift to more electric vehicles and invest in clean energy but net zero by 2035 is unrealistic and will cause shocks to San Diego's economy.

      James Hamilton, UC San Diego

      NO: Using natural gas to generate electricity and transmitting the electricity to homes is far less energy efficient compared to using natural gas directly in the home. The result of a ban on natural gas use by homes could actually be a net increase in carbon emissions. I'm worried that electric "brown-outs" may become a fact of life in California. And a ban will add to the cost of new homes.

      Austin Neudecker, Weave Growth

      Not participating this week.

      Chris Van Gorder, Scripps Health

      NO: The city can certainly achieve the first goal by prohibiting natural gas in new construction, but converting 90 percent of existing buildings in 12 years is unlikely without funding help. And while it's a commendable goal, moving from natural gas to electricity in a region with such high electricity prices really isn't keeping in mind those who will have to pay those electric bills.

      Norm Miller, University of San Diego

      YES: Anything is doable with enough funding and local governments should do their part, but given there is no action plan or budget, it is very unlikely and mostly woke rhetoric. I applaud the goal and we should promote less use of gas and more photovoltaic cells, xeriscaping, green or reflective roofs, microgrids that allow us to share excess power, more efficient appliances, better passive designs, EVs and more, but the incentives we need come primarily from the state and federal government.

      This story originally appeared in San Diego Union-Tribune.

      ©2022 The San Diego Union-Tribune. Visit sandiegouniontribune.com. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

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