Menlo Park city council cautious over proposal to ban new gas heaters | New

A push at Menlo Park to switch from gas to electric appliances across town will be delayed after Menlo Park council members agreed on Tuesday to do additional outreach before considering a term.

On August 31, council members discussed a policy recommended 6-0 by the city’s Environmental Quality Commission to allow building owners to install water heaters only. and electrically powered premises, ending its allocation of new water and gas space heaters. household appliances in the city.

The recommendations stem from the ambitious goal that Menlo Park city council set last year to become a carbon neutral city by 2030. About 41% of the city’s greenhouse gas emissions came from of buildings in 2019, according to the head of sustainable development, Rebecca Lucky.

As a result, Menlo Park’s goal of achieving carbon neutrality was followed by another ambitious goal: converting 95% of existing buildings across the city to run solely on electricity by 2030. .

Since the town of Menlo Park is part of Peninsula Clean Energy, a joint authority that provides 100% carbon-free electricity to residents, the transition of household appliances from gas to electricity is a big step towards reducing emissions from gas. household carbon.

In contrast, natural gas consumption emits about 12 pounds of carbon or greenhouse gas emissions per therm, a unit used to measure natural gas consumption. The average household served by PG&E is expected to use about 13 therms of natural gas in August and up to 70 therms in December, according to its most recent residential rate forecast.

Out of a series of six next steps to achieve the electrification of buildings recommended by the Environment Quality Commission, all but one received a majority of support to continue moving forward on Tuesday, despite some reluctance from two council members.

The recommendations are as follows: Increase the city’s utility user tax rate to the level approved by voters to finance the electrification of buildings for low-income residents; find partners to finance and finance the electrification of buildings; create programs to streamline the building electrification process for building owners; start drafting an ordinance prohibiting the installation of water heaters and gas water heaters; start community outreach; and develop a long-term plan to achieve the goal of electrifying buildings in the city.

Unlike water heaters and water heaters, other commonly gas-powered appliances, such as ranges and dryers, do not require an installation permit, so the proposed ordinance would not affect them.

The only one of the commission’s six recommendations that did not get at least three votes to move forward in a poll of council members was to start drafting an ordinance banning the installation of water heaters and water heaters. gas water heater.

Mayor Drew Combs and Ray Mueller both raised concerns about the process that led to the recommendations and about raising taxes and imposing a mandate without further community input.

“I think there are some fundamentals missing from what’s on offer here,” Combs said. He argued that policy proposals should come more directly from city staff rather than an advisory board and that the proposals showed “a lack of real understanding of the impact on residents.” He added that he preferred voluntary programs to encourage people to switch from gas-powered appliances to electrical appliances instead.

Mueller said he was in favor of hiring a company to conduct polls in Menlo Park to gauge its popularity, but other board members did not support the idea. He also suggested holding an advisory vote in front of the community to see if they get majority support before increasing the tax on users of the city’s utilities.

The proposal would use the new income from the tax increase and spend it on creating a new program to help very low-income households in the community – defined as those who receive assistance to public services through PG&E. – convert their space and water heating systems into electrical systems. . Voters in Menlo Park have already approved a higher tax rate for utility users than the city currently charges, so city council could authorize this rate increase without going before voters again .

Other recommendations from the Environmental Quality Commission that provisionally had unanimous support from city council were to identify partners to fund and fund programs to help people decarbonize their homes and develop programs. to reduce what Environmental Quality Commissioner Josie Gaillard has called the “hassle factor” for building owners. the barriers that a homeowner or contractor may face in quickly obtaining the authorization, installation and operation of electrical appliances.

Such programs could include efforts to educate contractors and homeowners about electrical appliances, simplify the licensing process for electrification projects, or provide janitorial services to help individuals navigate the electrification process.

Gaillard described the recommendations of the Environment Quality Commission as a “halfway” approach, considering that Menlo Park is currently not on track to meet its adopted climate goals and the most recent scientific report. of August 9 from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, which UN Secretary-General António Guterres called “a code red for humanity”.

Creating a voluntary program to encourage people to convert their gas appliances to electrical appliances has only resulted in about 1% of households in other communities to make the change, Gaillard added.

Acting to only provide permits for water heaters and electric water heaters would cause the community to phase out natural gas without artificially shortening the natural lifespan of these gas appliances while they are still in operation, a- she declared.

Of the 169 written comments received by city council, City Clerk Judi Herren said 110 were in favor of at least some of the recommendations proposed by the Environmental Quality Commission.

James Tuleya, president of Carbon Free Silicon Valley, an environmental organization working in San Mateo and Santa Clara counties, called the proposal a “smart way to modernize the buildings in Menlo Park” to make them “more secure, more resilient and more profitable”. “

Adina Levin, member of the Complete Streets Commission, speaking on her own behalf, argued that climate change has immediate impacts and lobbied for city leadership on the issue – South Lake Tahoe was evacuated that night there because of the encroachment of the Caldor fire, and Seattle saw temperatures exceeding 100 degrees earlier this summer. The council’s political efforts last year to pass building codes requiring new buildings to be fully electric have had an impact beyond city limits, setting an example for other cities and have since been supported by state action.

While a number of community members and conservationists supported the recommendations, others expressed strong opposition to the proposed ordinance. James Pistorino has threatened legal action against the city if it goes ahead with the ordinance.

Some have expressed concerns about how the mandate could result in additional costs for homeowners, especially for older homes, who would need to upgrade their electrical panels to be able to meet electricity demands. increased water heaters and electric water heaters, a step that can cost thousands of dollars, they said. Martin Rosenblum asked why commercial, industrial and institutional buildings were not also considered for the mandate.

Others have expressed concerns about how relying entirely on electricity could leave the community without electricity if PG&E continues to implement blackouts, as it has done in large swathes of the country. California in recent years during the hot, dry months, as a preventative measure against forest fires.

Concerns were also expressed that the ordinance would put more strain on the electricity grid than it could withstand. This concern was allayed in an email from Peninsula Clean Energy CEO Jan Pepper.

She explained that switching all residential electricity in the county used for water and space heating, as well as for cooking needs, from gas to electricity would increase the demand on the county’s overall electrical load. about 15%. Peninsula Clean Energy currently only uses about 1.4% of all electricity produced in the state, so a 15% increase from that 1.4% is something the state’s power system can handle. . “(C) this increase is definitely not going to stress the power grid,” she wrote.

Email Staff Writer Kate Bradshaw at [email protected]

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