Electric or gas appliances? It’s decision time for SLO’s proposed energy proposal

After months of community-wide discussion, debate and consideration, the San Luis Obispo City Council will meet Tuesday evening to decide whether to move forward with a new “clean energy policy” that prioritizes using electric appliances over gas in new city buildings.

The policy would establish a resolution that all new buildings “should be all electric and that energy use in new buildings should not cause net additional greenhouse gas emissions.”

But city official emphasize the proposal isn’t a ban on natural gas hook-ups in new buildings, like the city of Berkeley has passed.

Builders could still install natural gas appliances in new homes and commercial spaces, but they’d have to retrofit other existing city buildings from gas to electric, or pay an in-lieu fee to support a SLO retrofit program. And new buildings that use natural gas would still have to be wired for potential future conversion to electric.

Tuesday’s meeting begins at 6 p.m. at council chambers at 990 Palm St.

The city has received dozens of correspondence letters from community members arguing both sides of the proposal.

The item likely will be discussed later in the evening, possibly at 7 p.m. or later, after the council addresses other city business in advance of the estimated 90-minute discussion.

slo energy efficiency.jpg
A demonstration that was part of an energy efficiency display at SLO’s Farmer’s Market. Nick Wilson

The council has set a 2035 carbon neutrality target, 10 years ahead of California’s, with the vision 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.

Carbon neutrality is achieved largely by replacing fossil fuel energy sources that emit greenhouse gases with renewables like solar and wind.

And because the city is implementing its Community Choice Energy program that primarily uses renewable sources of energy to power buildings, the proposed new policy is viewed as an important step in reducing carbon emissions.

The council also has talked about a shift from using gas-fueled to electric cars and it has encouraged residents to use alternative forms of transportation to reduce car trips, among other city goals to reduce carbon emissions.

SLO’s controversial building proposal has been loudly supported by environmentalists and climate action advocates, who are championing the 2035 carbon neutrality target.

But it has been opposed by gas industry representatives, Republican county Supervisor Debbie Arnold and residents who argue the cost of natural gas will be less and the plan would limit energy choice.

energy meeting.jpg
Panelists speak at a San Luis Obispo event on energy on Thursday. From left to right are: Pierre Delforge, senior scientist at the Natural Resources Defense Council; Nick Young, senior project manager with Association for Energy Affordability; Bronwyn Barry, board chair of the North American Passive House Network; Hannah Kaye, expert product manager with Grid Edge, Pacific Gas and Electric Company. Nick Wilson

SLO is joining more than 50 other California communities currently considering ways to encourage cleaner buildings, according to city officials.

SLO officials have stated that the cost of shifting to electric-powered homes, in comparison to gas, will be similar or less.

“Cost is a concern for our community,” the city stated in a press release. “By avoiding the installation of costly fossil fuel infrastructure, and in-building piping and ventilation, all electric new buildings are typically more affordable to build, and thanks to the state mandated solar requirement for residential buildings, we’ll see fewer rate fluctuations on utility bills.”

Starting in 2020, all new homes in California must come with solar panels.

SLO’s new energy policy would come with some exemptions, such as for commercial kitchens that would be allowed to include natural gas for cooking appliance.s Attached accessory dwelling units also would be exempted.

The county library system is currently allowing people to borrow a portable induction cooktop powered by electricity to take them home and try them out.

For more information, go to https://my.nicheacademy.com/countyofslopubliclibrariesmakerkits/course/8464.

Related stories from San Luis Obispo Tribune

Nick Wilson covers the city of San Luis Obispo and has been a reporter at The Tribune in San Luis Obispo since 2004. He also writes regularly about K-12 education, Cal Poly, Morro Bay and Los Osos. He is a graduate of UC Santa Barbara and UC Berkeley and is originally from Ojai.