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The Carlsbad City Council is pushing forward with an "electrification preferred" reach code for newly-constructed buildings. Stock photo
The Carlsbad City Council is pushing forward with an "electrification preferred" reach code for newly-constructed buildings. Stock photo

Carlsbad pushing forward with ‘electrification preferred’ reach code

CARLSBAD — The statewide push toward electrification is still on hold after the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals struck down a city’s ban on natural gas hookups in newly-constructed buildings. 

In a lawsuit by the California Restaurant Association, the federal appeals court ruled against the City of Berkeley’s ordinance banning natural gas pipelines in new buildings because the law preempts the federal Energy Policy and Conservation Act.

As the case continues through the U.S. court system on appeal, the Carlsbad City Council voted 3-2 on July 18 to press on with the city’s efforts to promote electrification in new construction.

Based on the ruling, cities across the Golden State are suspending or rethinking their building electrification ordinances and natural gas bans to align with the court’s determination and prevent future litigation. In June, the Encinitas City Council voted to temporarily suspend its “green building” electrification ordinance in response to the federal court’s decision.

In Carlsbad, the council directed staff to return on Sept. 12 with an “electrification preferred” reach code.

The proposed reach code — a local code that “reaches” beyond minimum state requirements for energy use — would allow both natural gas and electricity as potential power sources. However, natural gas would have to meet other requirements, said Katie Hentrich, the city’s climate action plan administrator.

But City Attorney Cindy McMahon said developing and submitting the code for state approval could take some additional time.

“This type of ordinance will require the approval of two state agencies,” McMahon said. “Right now, from ordinance to adoption, it would be 18 months to two years.”

Councilwoman Teresa Acosta, who brought the item forward last year, said she was frustrated at the delays in enacting the ordinance, which she believes will help meet state goals to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

“There are goals and requirements, and we can’t meet them if we are prohibited from meeting them,” Acosta said. “We declared a climate emergency in the city in 2021. I’m getting frustrated. I would like to see some progress and movement and no more waiting a year.”

But staff warned the council in May that the case between the California Restaurant Association and the City of Berkeley could take up to a year or longer to resolve. Additionally, Hentrich said that if the Ninth Circuit hears the case, the ruling could be appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court, causing further delays.

Acosta said the city could model its new code after what other cities have already done. Hentrich is researching examples of a preferred electric reach code in other municipalities and will present her findings to the council on Sept. 12. 

Mayor Keith Blackburn and Councilwoman Melanie Burkholder both voted against directing staff to research a preferred electric code as both said they felt it would be best for the court case to run its course.

Councilwoman Carolyn Luna said she is primarily concerned with the electrical grid if dozens or hundreds of cities moved toward electrification. Luna pointed to an intense heat wave last summer that pushed the grid to its limits, forcing residents to conserve energy for several days. However, Hentrich said a report from the state showed no concerns with the grid.

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