Natural gas could go away in new Napa County construction

Such a move would mean , potentially making it so new Napa buildings would essentially need to be all-electric by default.|

Napa County staff, in recent weeks, has been studying how to craft a building code to limit or ban natural gas connections in new construction.

Such a move would mean new Napa buildings would need to be all-electric by default.

But with outright bans on natural gas usage under legal threat following the recent success of a lawsuit against Berkeley’s version of the code, members of the Napa County Climate Action Committee — which includes representatives from all of Napa County’s jurisdictions — have suggested the county pursue a “flex-path” approach, as recommended by county staff.

That type of code “strongly encourages electrification without requiring it,” David Morrison, Napa County’s special projects director, told the committee during its Aug. 25 meeting.

“Individual building owners can still pursue natural gas, but it’s going to be much easier to go electric rather than go natural gas,” Morrison said. “... So it’s not mandating a natural-gas prohibition, but it strongly incentivizes one.”

The flex code would still significantly cut down on carbon dioxide created by buildings in Napa County, which is one of the major contributors to local greenhouse gas emissions, Morrison said.

The county’s exploration of crafting a natural gas-focused reach code — which would allow California’s local jurisdictions to adopt more stringent building codes than the state itself — was requested by the committee in July.

Morrison told the committee that action to prohibit or limit such connections, based on either a climate- or health-related rationale, has been taken by at least 39 California jurisdictions over the past few years.

As a result, tensions concerning the legality of such codes have started to emerge, Morrison added.

The California Restaurant Association filed a lawsuit against Berkeley — the first city to enact a ban on the use of natural gas — in 2019 arguing that the city’s natural gas ban violated federal energy conservation regulations. And though a district court ruled in favor of the city in 2021, the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals sided with the restaurant association in April.

Morrison said Berkeley is now asking for a rehearing, but it hasn’t been determined whether that will happen. “The whole issue remains kind of up in the air right now in terms of whether local cities and counties have the right to prohibit natural gas,” Morrison said.

As a result, he added, many jurisdictions that were considering natural gas bans are now putting them aside until they see how the court decision will play out.

Even so, members of the committee said they still want to do what they can.

Committee member Mark Joseph said it seemed to him that developing a local reach code could potentially be a waste of time given that state building standards are likely to catch up to whatever reach code the county might adopt within the next two or three years.

Nevertheless, committee member Anna Chouteau and several others said they believe the county should move forward with a flex-path plan.

Another committee member, Kevin Eisenberg, suggested combining mandatory codes — such as improved insulation — with incentives in non-mandatory areas, such as reducing natural gas, at least until legal questions about natural gas bans are settled.

Committee member Liz Alessio noted that a significant amount of housing soon will be built in Napa County.

The city of Napa, for example, has been required by the state to build 2,669 housing units over the next eight years. Given that, Alessio said, it’s important to set the county down a path where natural gas connections are not allowed in new construction — when such an option becomes legally feasible.

Several other members said they agreed with Alessio, and they wanted to pursue the flex path option for now.

“When it comes to new builds and significant remodels, my conscience says it needs to be all electric,” Alessio said.

You can reach Staff Writer Edward Booth at 707-521-5281 or

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