Santa Rosa council considers requirement for new homes to be independent of natural gas

The ordinance would advance the city’s climate change policy, but it wouldn’t prohibit natural gas in homes.|

Santa Rosa may soon require that new homes be equipped to operate without natural gas, a shift city leaders hope could cut carbon emissions and lend momentum to green-building designs gaining favor after last year’s destructive wildfires.

The City Council late last month directed staff members to research and draft an “all-electric-ready” ordinance that would require new construction to be wired so homes could do without natural gas service. Going all-electric would be up to individual property owners.

The proposed ordinance would not ban the use of natural gas infrastructure in homes, but new development subject to the rules would be able to do without natural gas from the outset, according to city staff.

Already, the electricity delivered to California homes and businesses is cleaner than most other states, a factor the tiny share of coal-derived power and heavy reliance on hydropower in Northern California, as well renewable and nuclear power.

But converting to all-electric buildings remains “the best way to go with regard to greenhouse gases to prevent climate damage,” Santa Rosa Councilwoman Julie Combs said in an interview.

Requiring homes to be pre-wired for all-electric potential would be the most sensible way to start, said Combs. “Eventually, we’re going to be want to be all-electric wherever we can.”

No California city has adopted an all-electric standard, according to the city. Its report noted that Healdsburg and Novato are among eight California local governments that have adopted more stringent building codes designed to boost energy efficiency. The Marin County Board of Supervisors in March approved building codes designed to encourage all-electric construction, and since January 2017 Palo Alto has granted exemptions to local energy efficiency requirements to homes that are designed and built to be all-electric.

Santa Rosa staff are still in the early stages of drafting the all-electric-ready ordinance, said David Guhin, director of the planning and economic development. He echoed Combs on the target of the proposal. “For now, we’ll probably be focused on residential,” he said.

The shift could carry safety advantages for future homes, including those being rebuilt in fire zones.

A regional program started after last year’s infernos- and supported by PG&E, the dominant supplier of natural gas - aims to bolster the transition.

The Advanced Energy Rebuild program, a collaboration between PG&E, Sonoma Clean Power and the Bay Area Air Quality Management District, offers an all-electric-ready option to contractors working on the region’s housing recovery.

Sonoma Clean Power has received 37 all-electric-ready applications under the program. The applicant pool includes 36 single-family projects and a 96-unit multi-family development. Eleven of those projects are slated to be all-electric.

The all-electric home construction holds the promise of a “phenomenal change” - roughly 80 percent fewer carbon emissions over two decades, according to a presentation by Rachel Kuykendall, program manager for Sonoma Clean Power, the public electricity supplier.

Homeowners in Sonoma and Mendocino counties eligible for the joint rebuilding program could receive $12,500 as an incentive if they choose to go the all-electric route. Incentives of $6,250 per unit are available for rebuilding projects of secondary units or multi-family housing destroyed in last year’s fires, with additional $5,000 renewable energy bonuses.

The extra cost of going all-electric in housing isn’t entirely clear. City staff will continue to evaluate and research cost estimates, said Guhin, the planning and economic development director.

A study prepared for PG&E that evaluated the cost of all-electric construction in three building climate zones, including Santa Rosa’s, pegged the additional cost of building an all-electric single-family home at about $10,000.

However, the study included in its model the cost of installing a 2.5-kilowatt solar array, as well as additional insulation and other energy-saving measures. Simply pre-wiring homes to be all-electric in the future would cost much less, according to Andy Ferguson, a retired equipment technician and a member of a citizens’ group focused on getting Santa Rosa to align with state emissions goals.

Ferguson said $250 or less was all it would take to install four dedicated electric circuits for cooking food, drying clothes and heating water and space, which by his estimation would make a home all-electric-ready.

“What we’re calling for does not preclude people going ahead and putting in natural gas” or require them to install a solar array, Ferguson said. “The sole purpose of what we’re calling for is to give consumers a choice, which would really be the standard going forward ... to allow them to electrify if they wanted to.”

The proposal comes after a review by local transportation and climate change officials of municipal carbon emissions in Sonoma County over time. The study projected that the county’s total carbon emissions would rise more than 40 percent by 2050 under a “business as usual” forecast. Santa Rosa’s emissions would double under the same model.

After transportation, which accounted for about 60 percent of carbon emissions, energy use for buildings makes up nearly a quarter of Sonoma County’s carbon footprint.

Combs, speaking at an Oct. 23 council session, spoke urgently about advancing the all-electric-ready ordinance for new Santa Rosa buildings.

“We should go with that as quickly as possible,” she said

You can reach Staff Writer Will Schmitt at 707-521-5207 or On Twitter @wsreports.

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