Lawsuits by developers challenge Windsor’s ban on natural gas in new homes
Windsor’s fledgling natural gas ban is under legal fire from developers who argue its new mandate will increase costs for future homeowners and fails to account for the continued potential of widespread electricity shut-offs imposed by PG&E.
Two lawsuits filed by Sonoma County developers last week ask a judge to block Windsor’s requirement that most new homes use electric appliances for cooking and heating instead of natural gas technology. The court fights could shape future development in Windsor and ripple out to Santa Rosa, where the City Council enacted a similar ban earlier this month.
The suits claim Windsor’s rule violates state environmental law, glosses over the dangers of increased generator use by residents of gas-free homes and ignores some research showing higher utility bills for those who live in all-electric homes.
The suits cite PG&E’s recent electricity shut-offs and the 2018 Camp fire in Butte County — apparently sparked by the utility’s power equipment — to bolster claims that banning natural gas is unwise.
Windsor’s natural gas ban “was passed at a time when the supply of electrical power to the town and surrounding communities may be less reliable and subject to more and longer planned outages than ever before,” according to a lawsuit filed by Bill Gallaher, a prominent Sonoma County developer whose business footprint includes Windsor. Gallaher’s suit alludes to the Kincade fire, which ignited in northern Sonoma County last month shortly after nearby PG&E transmission equipment malfunctioned.
“In October of 2019 the town and surrounding area were subject to prolonged electricity blackouts and wildfires which may have been caused by electrical infrastructure. But the town failed to analyze how all-electric residential construction would exacerbate these impacts,” the Gallaher suit states.
The 17-page complaint, filed Nov. 19 in Sonoma County Superior Court, seeks to block Windsor from carrying out its all-electric requirement and asks a judge to deem the ban invalid and award unspecified monetary damages and attorneys’ fees.
The Windsor Town Council will consider the merits of the lawsuits in closed session, a discussion that could take place as early as next Wednesday, said Town Attorney Jose Sanchez. He noted that “like with any litigation, there’s always different options” for how to react to the lawsuits.
“The town is confident on the process it took, but at this point, we have to evaluate the complaints in front of us,” Sanchez said.
Windsor and Santa Rosa joined a growing list of cities moving forward with natural gas bans as part of a statewide battle against emissions tied to fossil fuels. Then-Gov. Jerry Brown last year set a goal of ensuring that California’s carbon emissions — including those related to natural gas — either are eliminated or offset by 2045.
“Time is running out” to take action to curb the most drastic impacts of climate change, said Windsor Town Councilman Sam Salmon. He supported the all-electric measure but acknowledged that defending the town’s new policy could run up a bill of hundreds of thousands of dollars, a cost that could be difficult to justify to residents.
“This was a really small step, and it may be that this was such a small step that we’ll have to consider the cost in terms of what we hope to accomplish,” Salmon said. He noted that the predominant source of carbon emissions in Sonoma County is transportation.