Berkeley just became the first city in America to ban natural gas hook-ups in new buildings.  They couldn’t be more short-sighted.

The new ordinance, effective Jan 1, 2020, eliminates natural gas hook-ups to for cooking, heating and cooling, and washing and drying clothes, will most likely result in unintended consequences to stymie growth like previous well thought out California decisions!

The unintended consequences of actions from previous government actions have stymied growth rather than achieve the lawmakers intent: Rent control has killed incentives for landlords to improve their rentals.  Their inability to raise rents and the CEQA permitting process is so difficult, prolonged, and costly that developers seek easier locations to build. Rent control and CEQA are major hurdles for developers of new housing.

The ramifications of Berkeley’s ban on natural gas will further stymie future housing and commercial development.

To go carbon free by 2045 is not going to be done focusing on just the limited and stymied “new” construction. To achieve the 2045 target will require inclusion of buildings built before 2020 that were constructed over the last 50+ years. Those buildings were equipped with hook ups for gas and electricity. That means to succeed at their goal gas ovens in pizza restaurants must be converted.  Korean barbecue restaurants must be converted. Most restaurants that rely on the even, controllable temperature of gas flames need to be converted.

A ban on natural gas will require that almost every chef in the city must be retrained to cook on electric grills and with electric ranges and ovens.  Do you know how hard a task that is?

Meanwhile, the non-electrical energy that has empowered the military, transportation, infrastructures, and global travel has done more for globalization and human progress than anything in mankind’s history and continue to be, met with deep-earth minerals/fuels.

Berkeley’s short-sided  actions will place more needs for electricity to take up the duties that natural gas has been performing for homes and businesses, and for generating continuously uninterruptable electricity as California is on a path toward 100% renewables and “zero-carbon” sources in electricity by 2045.

But wait, California cannot generate that much electricity!

Last year alone, California imported up to 29 percent because it could not generate that electricity in-state. The good news is that we’ve had no brown outs. The bad news is that imported electricity comes at higher costs and are being borne by residents and businesses alike. Without the huge land requirements for wind and solar renewable electricity, the need to import more will escalate every year.

The benefits of a carbon-free society are often discussed, but rarely are the high costs of achieving this technological breakthrough or the financial impact that breakthrough would have on various economies.

Under current technologies, France has demonstrated that the only way to achieve scalable, reliable, flexible, abundant, and affordable carbon-free electricity capable of powering modern societies is using nuclear power.

As you know, California is phasing out nuclear reactors that have been generating continuously uninterruptable carbon-free electricity. In 2013 California already shutdown the continuous nuclear facility of SCE’s San Onofre Generating Station which generated 2,200 megawatts of power and will be closing PG&E’s Diablo Canyon’s 2,160 megawatts of power in 2024 getting ready for the renewable intermittent electricity from wind and solar.

It gets bleaker in the coming years, as Mayor Garcetti’s recently announced that Los Angeles will shut down three gas powered power plants at Scattergood, Haynes, and Harbor: 1) The 823 MW Scattergood plant in Playa Del Rey to be shuttered in 2024, 2) the 575 MW Haynes plant in Long Beach to be shuttered in 2029, and 3) The 472 MW Harbor plant in Wilmington to be shuttered in 2029, instead of reconstructing them. He went on to say that “this is the beginning of the end of natural gas in Los Angeles.

With the shuttering of nuclear and natural gas that have been generating continuously uninterruptable electricity, our elected officials seem to be oblivious to the fact that the State has no electricity generating capacity to replace what’s being shuttered. Further, that “green” electricity from wind and solar is only intermittent electricity as neither generates when the wind is not blowing, and the sun is not shinning.

The likelihood of constructing large wind and solar farms is very bleak as evidenced by recent actions in San Bernardino. Recently the San Bernardino County’s Board of Supervisors slammed the brakes on big solar projects and highlighted a challenge California could face as it seeks to eliminate the use of fossil fuels. San Bernardino locals soundly voiced their objections to those land devouring, eco system disrupting, unsightly monstrosities that lead to higher electricity prices and lower property values for nearby residents, saying not-in-my-back-yard (NIMBY’s in action)! So, with no places to locate the renewables farms, what’s next?

California’s expensive electricity is already fifty percent higher than the national average for residents, and double the national averages for commercial, and are projected to go even higher. The inability to replace the closure of continuously uninterruptable electricity from nuclear and natural gas with renewables of wind and solar is causing the state to import more and more of its electricity.

Wind and solar obsessed Germany, Australia, and Denmark fight it out for the honor of paying the world’s highest power prices.  Just like Germany, Australia, and Denmark, before trudging into the green morass, our California leaders cannot “see’ the direct correlation between energy costs for electricity and fuels, and homelessness and poverty.

Berkeley’s actions will not contribute significantly to the 2045 targets but will most likely stymie growth of new construction and further drive up the cost of electricity for everyone. Their short-sided actions will put an undue strain on economically challenged individuals who already count every dollar they earn to make ends meet. This will not end well for anyone.

Author

  • Ron Stein is an engineer who, drawing upon 25 years of project management and business development experience, launched PTS Advance in 1995. He is an author, engineer, and energy expert who writes frequently on issues of energy and economics.