PG&E Gets on Board With All-Electric New Buildings in California
Pacific Gas & Electric has become the first combined natural gas and electric utility in California to express support for an emerging plan to require "efficient, all-electric new construction" in the state, telling regulators that it wants to “avoid investments in new gas assets that might later prove underutilized” under the state’s long-term decarbonization goals.
Thursday’s letter from PG&E Vice President Robert Kenney to the California Energy Commission is a notable concession by the state’s largest utility to the constraints its natural-gas operations will face under California’s push to attain zero-carbon emissions by 2045.
The CEC is considering stakeholder proposals for a revision to state building code Title 24 that would ban natural-gas equipment installations for new buildings constructed in the state starting in 2022. If taken up by the CEC, it would be the first such move by a state agency. Kenney wrote that “PG&E supports state and local government policies that promote all-electric new construction when it is feasible and cost-effective.”
Switching buildings from gas to electricity for heating and cooking, along with electrifying transportation, is considered to be a vital step in cutting emissions outside of electricity generation. California has taken a leading role in this effort, both at the state and local level.
Last year, the Northern California city of Berkeley became the first in the nation to ban gas lines for new residential construction, with a few limited exceptions. Since then, more than 30 cities and counties in the state have passed ordinances prohibiting new natural-gas hookups, instead requiring all-electric appliances or otherwise limiting the role of natural gas in buildings, according to a June report by Rob Rains, analyst at Washington Analysis.
“California is obviously leading this,” Rains said in a Friday interview. After California, “Massachusetts is dipping its big toe in,” with the city of Brookline approving a ban on natural gas for new construction late last year that is awaiting approval from the state attorney general’s office, and several other cities also considering bans.
Utilities taking sides
PG&E’s public support for such a move is a rarity among utilities invested in natural-gas infrastructure, Stephanie Greene, a principal at the Rocky Mountain Institute, said in a Friday interview. “As far as we know, they’re the first investor-owned combined gas and electric utility that supports an all-electric building code.”
But California’s mandate to reduce economywide carbon emissions to zero by 2045 will require its natural-gas utilities to drastically reduce their reliance on the fuel. For PG&E, which just won approval for its $58 billion plan to emerge from bankruptcy, "the best thing to do is to strategically manage a transition, acknowledging that gas use has to...