Power Up

City needs to make all-electric switch

By Jeff Harris
December 2023

The West Antarctic ice sheet is collapsing, hurricanes are growing more intense, sea levels are rising. Locally we have seen two severe droughts, wildfires in abundance and a 500-year rain event, all within seven years.

Climate change is here and increasing at a rapid rate. Even the staunchest climate-change deniers are reconsidering. What should we do in Sacramento to address this global calamity?

The answer: reduce greenhouse gas emissions. The transportation sector is a big culprit. That’s where we can make huge improvements. Moving to electric vehicles and alternative modes of transportation addresses the problem.

Energy use in homes and businesses is a second big source of climate pollutants. It’s an area of focus for the City Council.

In 2021, the council adopted the new construction electrification ordinance, mandating that all new structures three stories and under must be powered by electricity, rather than a mix of electricity and gas, beginning this year.

The thinking was leaking gas lines emit methane, a powerful greenhouse gas. Plus, burning gas for heat, water heating and cooking are large sources of greenhouse gas and create indoor pollutants.

Electricity is cleaner. Power produced by SMUD is scheduled to be carbon neutral in 2030. SMUD electricity rates are among the lowest in the country.

Not surprisingly, many public reactions followed the ordinance’s adoption. Objections ranged from a strong desire to continue cooking with gas, to extra burdens placed on developers to rethink building designs and customer acceptance of single-fuel homes.

Many think the power grid can’t handle the extra loads associated with more electric appliances and car chargers. There’s worry about power outages, retrofit costs and dependence on a single fuel. These are reasonable concerns.
More angst was created when the City Council discussed mandating electrification of existing buildings at some point in the future.

To address these questions, the council told our climate action lead, Jennifer Venema, to develop strategies for existing building electrification and a pathway to achieve carbon neutrality by 2045. The strategies don’t contemplate mandating a change from gas to electric cooking.

The result is a 141-page document that addresses concerns, with analyses of the cost and benefits of electrification versus dual-fuel buildings. It’s a good piece of work and worth reading. It will help you decide if electrification of your home is right for you.

There are many rebates available to assist building owners with purchasing new and efficient appliances and solar arrays. An online tool called XeroHome (xerohome.com) is free and helps explain energy use in your home.

You can build a plan to reduce your carbon footprint, understand the upfront costs and payback periods, and make your home more comfortable and energy efficient.

Can local governments mandate that we change our energy use? The 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals said no, and blocked Berkeley’s electrification ordinance, saying the city exceeded its authority. The ruling is being appealed. Until settled, Sacramento can’t implement its new construction electrification ordinance or adopt existing building electrification rules.

I recently built an all-electric ADU. As a councilmember I voted for the electrification ordinance. I wanted to see how going all electric would play out. I’m happy to say it’s working well for me. The new appliances are excellent. Energy bills are low.

Will Sacramento’s ordinances solve climate change? Of course not. But we can be a leader in lowering our carbon footprint. There are numerous personal and societal benefits to changing our energy use. Those benefits must be our focus and goal.

Jeff Harris represented District 3 on City Council from 2014 to 2022. Follow us on Facebook, X and Instagram: @insidesacramento.

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