Virtual tour of the Avila Ranch housing project in SLO
The San Luis Obispo City Council wants to discourage the use of gas appliances in favor of electric in new housing to help push along its ambitious goal of carbon neutrality by 2035.
Meaning, if you want a gas oven in your new home, it’ll cost you (if all goes as planned).
City staff doesn’t believe it can legally ban the use of fossil-fuel infrastructure. But the council unanimously agreed it should work toward city laws that could effectively phase out gas-powered stoves, heaters, dryers and other devices through the use of building rules that go beyond state standards to incentive the use of electric.
New homeowners could choose an all-electric powered home or pay more for gas-powered appliances to fund carbon offsets.
Carbon offsets address emissions generated from one source by reducing carbon emissions elsewhere, such as paying for retrofits for existing homes and buildings elsewhere in the community (retrofits would remove gas appliances and install electric power).
“I lived in a home that was built in 1961 that’s an all-electric development,” council member Carlyn Christianson said. “There’s no gas line. So we’re coming back to the future. I’m perfectly happy without gas. It can be done.”
Christianson said the city should expect community objections about impacts on home costs. But she would like people to take the “long-haul view that if we don’t do something the cost is going to be tremendously more.”
That’s because climate-change impacts, caused by carbon emissions, are contributing to wildfires, impacted water supplies and threats to agriculture and ecosystems, according to city officials.
Greenhouse gases coming from nonresidential and residential energy use made up about 40 percent of SLO’s emissions in 2016, with 51 percent coming from transportation sources (6 percent is from solid waste and 3 percent is from off-road).
The council is working toward an aggressive target to be carbon neutral by 2035. Carbon neutrality, or net-zero energy, is the concept of reducing as much carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases from the atmosphere as possible, with the overall goal to achieve a zero-carbon footprint.
“It’s going to hurt our community and culture way more if we don’t do these things,” Christianson said. “Some people will have to bite the bullet and pay for it, because it’s going to cost way more (if climate change continues to worsen).”
The city is awaiting the construction of 1,300 new homes with the approved San Luis Ranch and Avila Ranch developments. Both projects have development agreements stating they’ll comply with new city policy on energy use at the time their building permits are issued — and the developers are on board with ideas for environmentally friendly energy uses regardless of policy, according to city officials.
Councilwoman Erica Stewart, a former baker and caterer, said she thinks professional chefs and those who enjoy cooking at home may object to the idea of electric-powered cooking devices over gas stoves and ovens.
Mayor Heidi Harmon also said she anticipates similar cooking concerns. But she said many people aren’t yet familiar with how induction cookware works, and she hopes they can get acquainted with those tools.
Induction cookware heats up food electrically, and Harmon said it would be important for people to get more comfortable with those types of tools.
“As the climate crisis accelerates, and we’re really just at the beginning point of that acceleration, I can see a time when these kinds of policies will be handed down to us period anyway,” Harmon said. “That just makes me to invite the development community to consider that possibility.”
City staff said more work needs to be done to analyze the cost effectiveness of the program and to comply with state law.
Chris Read, the city’s sustainability manager, said he’ll be researching whether the possible new city code would “save more energy than the current statewide (energy) standards and that the code is cost effective for the building occupant” — both requirements to get regulatory approval from the California Energy Commission on new local laws.
Read said that means paying about the same or less on utility bills under a new policy (compared with what residents would pay under the state standard) over the lifetime of the home.
SLO also is converting to a Community Choice Energy program, in which energy provided to city residents would come from nearly all renewable energy sources — thus future new buildings that use all electrical appliances wouldn’t emit much, if any, greenhouse gases.