CARLSBAD — Building electrification requirements are the latest “eco-friendly” measures sweeping across the Golden State, requiring new residential construction projects to include all-electric appliances instead of natural gas.
During an April 19 meeting, the Carlsbad City Council voted to further consider a “green building” electrification ordinance as part of the city’s Climate Action Plan update next year.
Currently, more than 50 municipalities have a building electrification ordinance, including the cities of Encinitas and Solana Beach, according to the San Diego Electrification Coalition.
Councilwoman Teresa Acosta brought forth the item but said she looks forward to learning more.
“We don’t have the information yet whether it will be less expensive or a just transition,” Acosta said. “We can have staff look into the issue, then we can vote.”
The council also discussed whether to go beyond the current state guidelines by requiring more electric-based household appliances, such as water heaters, dryers, stoves and air conditioning systems, among others.
The council and staff also discussed the possibility of first retrofitting older homes and apartments, which would make a more immediate and significant impact on climate goals than newer construction, according to Kelly Batton, of the San Diego Building Industry Association.
Bob Wilcox, a volunteer with Sierra Club, said this type of ordinance would be a logical next step after the city declared a climate emergency in Sept. 2021. Wilcox said the ordinance would reach beyond the requirements of the California Energy Commission, saving residents $130 to $540 per year compared to natural gas.
Councilwoman Priya Bhat-Patel said all stakeholders must participate in discussions before any ordinance is passed.
“How many housing units would this impact?” Bhat-Patel asked about the retrofitting. “It’s important to know how many units are impacted if retrofitted. It would have to be something that would be cost savings. I have gotten mixed reviews. What are the GHG reductions?”
Hall said voted against the council’s action because of the complexities facing statewide energy. The mayor said the rush to electrify everything from homes to cars will put significant stress on the electrical grid — a larger problem that must be addressed before further taxing the power system.
Energy experts have reported electrification would require an additional 40% to 60% more electricity, but the energy grid in its current state cannot handle the additional capacity.
“(Building electrification) will put a strain on the energy grid,” Batton said. “There is high demand in the evening and night, which has the highest electricity rates.”
Hall also said natural gas will remain as a source regardless because solar and wind aren’t reliable sources due to nighttime, lack of wind and unpredictable climate conditions.
Related to cost, Batton said electrification would add to already high electricity bills, especially as rates have increased. Additionally, Batton said the cost of tankless water heaters, which are twice the cost of typical water heaters, will be passed along to homebuyers.
Councilman Keith Blackburn questioned whether California has the grid capacity to shift to completely electric services. Blackburn also noted that retrofitting an existing home is expensive and many don’t have the financial means to make those upgrades.
But Hall said the process of electrification will longer than most people realize to move everything to electrification and despite these types of municipal ordinances moving at “warp speed,” the challenges with the grid will take at least 40 years to solve.
“The thing I learned this is an extremely complex conversation,” Hall said. “By leaping forward in one area might cause delays in others. The key piece is infrastructure. It’s all playing together simultaneously. Do we have the infrastructure to support this? The insurance policy is natural gas.”
The Encinitas City Council passed a green building ordinance in Sept. 2021, which requires all appliances and HVAC units to be electric. The city was the region’s first to pass such a measure.
The Solana Beach City Council passed a similar ordinance two months later, including requirements for electric heating and air conditioning, water heaters and dryers, but not for cooking appliances.