News Brief

Gas Is Going Out of Style

More and more cities are encouraging electrification by regulating natural gas hookups, while other areas face supply shortages.

flame on a natural gas stovetop

Electrification would make stovetops like these a rare occurrence.

Berkeley, California, started the trend. In July 2019, it outlawed natural gas hookups in new construction. The law will take effect in 2020 starting with single-family homes, and it will eventually apply to all buildings. The primary goal? To completely electrify new buildings as the grid gets cleaner and thereby reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions (see “Nixing Natural Gas to Cut Carbon in California”).

Since then, 50 California cities have taken up legislation to ban gas or at least to incentivize electrification through reach codes and other means, according to the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC). Other cities, like Ithaca, New York, and even big players like Seattle are considering gas regulations too.

Meanwhile, north of New York City, developers and citizens have raised an outcry about utility Con Edison’s moratorium on new gas hookups in a large segment of Westchester County—where building is booming. The problem there isn’t GHG emissions but a lack of supply, according to the utility. Although natural gas is plentiful, the current infrastructure can’t support the levels that new construction in Westchester County will demand. In addition, utility National Grid has said it cannot provide new hookups in Long Island, Staten Island, Queens, or Brooklyn.

In these areas, some buildings currently under construction have been delayed because their natural gas infrastructure has already been installed. Some projects in design have stalled as well.

The New York Public Service Commission is investigating Con Edison’s claims, but in the meantime, the utility has stated that the moratorium could potentially end in 2023. National Grid is pushing for implementation of a proposed Northeast Supply Enhancement project that would develop a new natural gas pipeline through New Jersey and New York by the end of 2020.

These moratoriums are unlikely to lead to building electrification, according to Zachary Steinberg, vice president of policy at trade association The Real Estate Board of New York (REBNY). “There are some who are considering [electrification] and others who don’t view it as a viable option,” he told BuildingGreen. Instead, many developers are likely to use fuel oil as a fallback. “A lot of people have been transitioning from oil to gas, and that’s a good thing,” Steinberg said. “It helps reduce emissions and makes air quality better. If that can’t continue, there are going to be real challenges.”

But Jeffrey Rios, P.E., thinks these moratoriums could nudge projects toward electrification. “We have yet to have an owner go all in on electric as a result of this,” said Rios, who is a partner at engineering firm AKF. “But there are a number of new buildings we are working on where we are either carrying an alternate for all-electric, or pursing all-electric as the base option.” Rios also pointed out that some owners are taking new laws into account when considering whether to go with gas: the city of New York recently passed controversial legislation regulating greenhouse gas emissions. That fact “adds another factor for projects in the five boroughs that are also impacted by the moratoriums, in addition to what Long Island and Westchester face just from moratorium,” he argued.

More on building electrification

Nixing Natural Gas to Cut Carbon in California

Changing Building Design for a Changing Electrical Grid

Published October 7, 2019

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Comments

October 21, 2019 - 9:47 pm

National Grid's moratorium is extortion pure and simple. But it makes the decision easier - cut the pipes. Why build a new pipeline when we need to decarbonize, and it will become a $1B stranded asset? Better to spend that money on efficiency. I already got rid of fossil fuels for heating on several recent projects. It is still hard to replace it for multifamily domestic hot water in dense NYC, tho' really easy to replace in 1-2 family dwellings. We don't need it, we just need improved electric tech.