JACKSON: Can California Really Ban Natural Gas In New Buildings?


Kerry Jackson Contributor
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The San Francisco Gas Company was founded in 1852. Two years later, natural gas was used to fuel street lamps downtown. Los Angeles followed in the late 1860s, installing 43 lamps to light up the night.

Today, less than 200 years after gas helped modernize the state, the last person who’ll use it in California is probably walking among us.

In the state’s rush to go green, the Public Utilities Commission is reviewing a proposal to achieve a state of “decarbonization,” a radical shift likely to lead to banning natural gas as an energy source in new homes and commercial buildings and replacing it with electricity.

No longer could restaurants connect to natural gas in new buildings — even though 98 percent of chefs in one survey preferred gas over electric. Nor could natural gas be used to heat water, dry clothes, and fuel furnaces, pool and spa heaters in newly built homes.

The PUC is moving ahead with two programs — Building Initiative for Low Emissions Development (BUILD), and Technology and Equipment for Clean Heating (TECH). They will be financed by the very utilities that lawmakers and regulators want to drive out of business. According to the PUC’s own documents, BUILD and TECH “are to be funded with the revenues received by gas corporations.”

Should natural gas be effectively outlawed, as has already happened in Berkeley, Sacramento will be kind enough to still let us use electricity in our homes (which can increase utility bills by 30 percent). Lawmakers haven’t mandated candles yet. But if California is to reach its objective of having 100 percent of electricity generated by renewable sources by 2045, the energy will have to be produced by windmills and sun, both of which are still unreliable because — this is so obvious that it’s almost painful to point out — the sun doesn’t always shine and the wind doesn’t always blow.

One day the technology might be advanced so far that a single hour of sun on a home’s solar panel will provide a week’s worth of energy for that house. Or two hours of a windmill continuously spinning in a strong breeze would generate enough electricity to light up a city block for days.

But the technology hasn’t arrived yet.

“Fluctuating solar and wind power require lots of energy storage, and lithium-ion batteries seem like the obvious choice — but they are far too expensive to play a major role,” according to MIT Technology Review.

They also “don’t last nearly long enough,” which limits “the role they can play on the grid,” according to experts.

“If we plan to rely on them for massive amounts of storage as more renewables come online — rather than turning to a broader mix of low-carbon sources like nuclear and natural gas with carbon capture technology — we could be headed down a dangerously unaffordable path.”

As much as lawmakers and bureaucrats think they can control the sun, moon, and planets through the force of their government-backed will, passing and signing legislation and handing down regulations won’t speed up innovation. So what happens when 2045 arrives and there’s not enough wind and solar power to keep the lights on? The law says California will not be able to import conventional power from other states. Are we just to sit in the dark or the cold?

As it almost always is, California’s in a unique position. At the same time that no other state imports more of its power (and only about 20 percent of it from renewable sources), no other state has given itself a deadline to eliminate fossil fuel usage within a generation.

While legislators and regulators will impress themselves, and their “progressive” counterparts across the country by outlawing natural gas, there’ll be no enthusiasm from California’s poor. This state has the highest average electricity prices in the lower 48. Though increased prices down the “unaffordable path” won’t bother the coastal elites, they will place a heavy burden on those who live inland, where power bills are already 57 percent higher on average in the summer months.

Getting burned by California’s green obsession is not a new experience for the poor. Beginning in January, every home built in the state, including condominiums and low-rise apartments, will have to be outfitted with solar panels. The mandate could increase the cost of each unit as much as $16,000, making California homes even more unaffordable.

Roughly nine in 10 homes in Central and Southern California use natural gas to cook, warm rooms, and heat water. Across the state, nearly two-thirds of all homes burn it for heat. Almost all restaurants rely on natural gas to cook for their customers. It is going to be a hard habit to break.

Kerry Jackson is a fellow with the Center for California Reform at the Pacific Research Institute, a nonprofit group advocating for limited government.

 The views and opinions expressed in this commentary are those of the author and do not reflect the official position of The Daily Caller.