Berkeley stops gas in its tracks

Berkeley, California recently passed a measure to prohibit new natural gas lines to houses.

Berkeley, California, just became the first city in the country to ban gas pipelines — the little ones that go into houses. The city council voted unanimously on Tuesday to prevent any new buildings from hooking up to natural gas starting next year. That means thousands of new housing units planned for construction over the next few years will have water heaters, furnaces, and stoves that run on electricity instead of natural gas.

It’s hard to imagine this wouldn’t get challenged in court if the natural gas companies choose to fight it. (However Pacific Gas and Electric appears to be the major utility there so maybe they don’t care.) In the long term, it sets up their community to be all-electric which could make the transition to renewables easier. But it potentially undermines a possible future in household fuel cells. And in the near term, it can be more efficient to burn natural gas on site (eg, to heat water) than to use it to fire a power plant many miles away. Experts, though, are just now trying to get a handle on fugitive emissions of natural gas, leaks at the wellhead, meters, etc.

It will be interesting to see how this plays out.