City Hall will encourage residents and businesses to replace natural gas appliances with electric heating and cooking equipment as it pursues its goal of reducing carbon emissions to 20% of their 1990 levels by 2030.
The City Council discussed Tuesday how to incentivize consumers to forgo appliances powered by natural gas in favor of electric heating and cooling systems, stoves and dryers.
Natural gas is the second-largest source of Santa Monica’s emissions after gasoline since the city switched from Southern California Edison to the Clean Power Alliance in January. About 92% of residents and businesses now pay slightly higher rates for 100% renewable electricity and about 5% opted to stay with SCE.
Natural gas is more than 90% methane, which is 80 times more potent than carbon dioxide. Extracting, producing, transporting and storing natural gas results in methane leaks at a rate of up to 3%, said sustainability analyst Drew Lowell.
While renewable natural gas is one alternative, its scarcity and high cost relative to renewable electricity makes it unlikely to ever meet a significant share of the demand for natural gas, Lowell said. It also still consists largely of methane and still leaks into the atmosphere. But replacing heating and cooling systems, gas stoves and clothes dryers is a lot trickier than changing utilities.
Eliminating natural gas in Santa Monica’s buildings will also only reduce carbon emissions by 2%, while renewable electricity cut emissions by 19%. Lowell said a new building with electric instead of gas equipment is $5,000 to $10,000 cheaper to construct and twice as efficient. The city is developing building codes that incentivize developers to construct electric buildings, he said.
Replacing an existing building’s gas appliances improves indoor air quality and eliminates hazards like carbon monoxide and explosions, he said.
However, most consumers are unfamiliar with electric equipment and may not want to replace their appliances until they are unusable, Lowell said. Older buildings may also have limited electrical capacity.
Councilmembers said the city would need to develop an outreach program to educate property owners about how to replace natural gas appliances and possibly offer financial incentives.
“We need to guide people into this,” said Councilmember Sue Himmelrich.
Mayor Gleam Davis said financial incentives or rebates should go toward people who most need them.
“When we gave rebates for people to switch out their lawns for drought-tolerant plants, people who took advantage of that were people in single-family homes who could afford to do it anyway,” Davis said. “We need to figure out if there is a way to focus rebates on people with the least wherewithal to make those changes.”
Councilmember Greg Morena said it would be challenging for restaurants to switch to electric induction stoves because the vast majority of chefs cook with gas. Induction stoves are also much more expensive than gas stoves, he said.
“I want to caution us against going down a path that we don’t necessarily have a solution for,” Morena said. “Costs increasing in a restaurant industry where margins are single digit … we don’t have a lot of room for it.”
City Hall to encourage replacing gas appliances with electric alternatives, by Madeleine Pauker, Santa Monica Daily Press, September 16, 2019.