New buildings would be required to use electricity instead of natural gas for cooking and heating under legislation proposed by Supervisor Rafael Mandelman. (Shutterstock)

SF may prohibit natural gas in new buildings

San Francisco is moving toward cleaner air with a proposal introduced Tuesday that prohibits the use of natural gas in newly constructed buildings starting next year.

Instead, new residential and commercial buildings would have to go all-electric.

Supervisor Rafael Mandelman, who introduced the legislation to impose the requirement, said, “We are taking a big step toward a safer, more resilient carbon-neutral future.”

There are exceptions. Construction of commercial food service establishments like restaurants would have an additional year to comply, and projects that can prove areas aren’t feasible for all-electric can obtain an exemption.

The proposal is expected to impact 65 percent of the housing units in the pipeline for development in the coming years, or about 53,000 units, according to Cyndy Comerford, the Department of the Environment’s climate program manager.

Buildings were responsible for 43.7 percent of citywide greenhouse gas emissions, according to 2017 city data. And about 80 percent of the greenhouse gas emissions from those buildings was due to use of natural gas.

“Natural gas is a leading source of carbon emissions in San Francisco,” Mandelman said. “That makes building electrification a critical component to achieving our city’s bold climate action goals, including our commitment to net zero emissions by 2050.”

The proposal does not apply to existing buildings. But electrifying existing buildings is something city officials also plan to address.

Debbie Raphael, director of the Department of the Environment, said there have been conversations in the past year “on how we might tackle existing buildings” and that she plans to announce policy ideas “in the next few months.”

Raphael emphasized that the proposal addresses the safety concerns related to natural gas in addition to the health and environmental concerns.

“Natural gas is highly combustible and we have seen examples where our natural gas lines lead to fires and harm in our city,” she said.

Combustion of natural gas emits air pollutants like carbon monoxide, nitrogen oxide and particulate matter which are linked to health effects like asthma in children and cardiovascular disease, according to the Department of the Environment.

The proposal comes after the Board of Supervisors approved legislation earlier this year requiring municipal buildings are built all-electric.

Matt Vespa, a staff attorney with the environmental group Earthjustice, said San Francisco’s effort could help push other jurisdictions to adopt similar measures.

“With the California Energy Commission now considering updates to statewide building codes, San Francisco’s action gives more momentum to the adoption of all electric requirements for new buildings throughout California,” Vespa said.



jsabatini@sfexaminer.com

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