Plumbing

San Francisco advances new constructing fuel ban

San Francisco is ready to push ahead with building electrification with a proposed regulation banning natural gas infrastructure in new buildings.

San Francisco board member Rafael Mandelman and the city’s Department of the Environment announced new laws on June 30 that would prohibit the city from granting building permits for new buildings that contain gas connections. After January 1, 2021, San Francisco would only issue permits for buildings with all-electric heating systems, stoves, and appliances. The law would cover residential and commercial buildings with narrow exceptions.

Legislation in California’s fourth largest city expanded the electrification movement for buildings in the Golden State, where 30 local governments have put gas restrictions in new buildings in place since 2019.

This isn’t San Francisco’s first building electrification move. In January the Board passed a measure requiring all-electrical systems for new buildings and major renovations to city buildings. Days later, the panel passed a regulation preventing developers from building structures with gas systems by requiring them to achieve higher energy standards than all-electric buildings.

“Today’s ordinance to eliminate natural gas from all new construction projects will mark the culmination of that effort and get our city firmly on the path to a safer, cleaner, zero-emissions future,” Mandelman said during a news conference on June 30th.

Mandelman’s office has been working on a broader code for several months and finally decides to follow an approach developed by Berkeley, California in July 2019. This approach relies on the city’s power to change building codes to protect public health and safety.

“We passed this ordinance because it was initially a health and safety bill for buildings. It is not an energy bill,” said Cyndy Comerford, climate program manager at the Department of Environment. “We’re really looking at the holistic effects of natural gas beyond climate change – health, safety, resilience and equity.”

The draft ordinance states that due to its geography, topography, and population density in San Francisco, the city is at increased risk of fires and gas infrastructure explosions from earthquakes and landslides. According to the ordinance, gas combustion in buildings also exacerbates the health effects of smog and ozone on residents and at the same time contributes to climate change. The construction operations accounted for 43.7% of the city’s greenhouse gas emissions in 2017, while 80% of these emissions came from gas consumption or the district steam generated by gas combustion, according to the regulation.

The ordinance would enable a construction officer to issue a permit for a building with a gas installation if the construction of an all-electric structure is “physically, technically or structurally not feasible”. The outsourcing would be subject to review and limited to that part of the building where electrical systems are not feasible. If possible, the client would also have to install connections for the future conversion to electricity.

A second exemption would allow permits for gas connections in areas of the building that are intended for commercial kitchens. However, this exemption would only last one year until January 1, 2022.

The feasibility study is pretty common in such laws, and cooking is growing in popularity to avoid battles with the restaurant industry. The California Restaurant Association sued Berkeley in November 2019 over its construction gas ban.

San Francisco is one of six California cities to follow the Berkeley model, although three of these communities have overlaid range codes in addition to gas bans. Range codes, a term used for local regulations that go beyond California’s minimum energy standards, can dictate all-electric designs, for example.

Cities don’t need to submit Berkeley-style gas bans for review by the California Energy Commission, although the agency has approved many of California’s 30 building electrification ordinances, including the San Francisco preferred range code.

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