San Mateo County’s transition from natural gas to electricity to power buildings is the focus of the 26th annual Indicators Report, which Sustainable San Mateo County (SSMC) unveiled on November 10 at Genentech in South San Francisco.
To access the Indicators Report, a 4-page brochure and a video of the Indicators Report Launch event, go to tinyurl.com/ssmc2022ir
Building electrification is one of the most effective ways to address climate change, said SSMC Program Manager Sarah Cassanego, who created the report with help from dozens of volunteers. She noted that 17 of the 20 cities in the county have limited natural gas (a fossil fuel) in new construction. Along with 13 cities that have done the same in Santa Clara County, plus both counties, 32 jurisdictions have approved ordinances limiting gas – the highest concentration of jurisdictions in the nation.
Keynote speaker Panama Bartholemy, founder and executive director of the Building Decarbonization Coalition, said, “The heart of the movement is right here.” He stressed the need for more leaders to promote building electrification in order to cut carbon emissions. “You cannot address climate change without addressing natural gas in our buildings,” he explained, noting that gas emissions from buildings account for one-fourth of all emissions in California.
A panel discussion moderated by Susan Wright of the county’s Office of Sustainability featured Jonathan Hartman of Group 4 Architecture, Roopak Kandasamy, who is leading BlocPower’s partnership with Menlo Park to electrify 10,000 homes during the next decade, and Jeffrey Skacel and Jena Jadallah of Genentech’s Energy team.
The Indicators Report explores many facets of this transformation, outlining efforts to electrify buildings, the benefits and complexities of electrification, best practices from other parts of the country and the world, and ways that residents and policymakers in San Mateo County can move the needle on this important issue.
Benefits of electrification include:
- Health – Gas appliances emit air pollutants that can lead to asthma and cardiovascular disease.
- Safety – Gas appliances and pipelines can cause house and building fires.
- Cost Savings – New all-electric homes cost less to build. Electrifying existing homes can be cost-effective, too.
- Resilience – All-electric homes with solar power and battery storage can avoid service interruptions.
- Job Creation – Building electrification in California alone will support more than 100,000 jobs.
- Climate Change – Electrifying all residential space and water heating in San Mateo County would have the same effect as taking 114,000 gasoline-powered cars off the road each year.
Among the complexities of electrification are:
- Battery storage limitations and the time imbalance between peak energy demand and renewable energy production
- Consumer misconceptions about the benefits and opportunities of electrification
- The need for more skilled and affordable professionals to implement projects
- Impacts on vulnerable populations, who may bear increasing high pollution and cost burdens from natural gas if investments are not made in their communities
- San Mateo County’s power grid and aging infrastructure
- Supply chain issues and technological limitations
- The economics of electrification and regulations. Decommissioning gas lines is not a simple matter. California’s public utility code requires utilities to build new gas connections when customers order them, and they can’t cut off service to a neighborhood unless everyone agrees.
Funding from the Inflation Reduction Act and the State of California promises to ease the transition with rebates from Peninsula Clean Energy and BayREN and others, incentives, tax credits, loans and creative financing options. As the impacts of climate change increase, and as more people experience the benefits of clean energy, electrification is poised to win support in many more cities across the nation.