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