For years, Santa Barbara residents have demanded strong climate and clean energy goals and supported long-planned updates to the building code to achieve this.
Unfortunately, recent misleading, legally questionable spam texts by gas interests have spread misinformation, which was further amplified by Santa Barbara South Coast Chamber of Commerce president and CEO Kristen Miller’s Jan. 17 commentary, “Santa Barbara City Council Should Focus on Economy, Not Overreach on Natural Gas Ban.”
On behalf of the Community Environmental Council, itself a chamber member, I would like to correct the record and offer some good news about the City of Santa Barbara’s plans for a “REACH Code” ordinance.
Like dozens of other California cities, Santa Barbara is in the process of updating its building code to require all-electric new construction — which is good news for housing affordability and health. Not building gas lines and dual energy systems saves $5,000 per home according to the Statewide Utility Codes and Standards Enhancement Team.
According to a study for the Los Angeles Department of Water & Power, all-electric homes save homeowners $130-$540 annually on utility bills compared to homes that burn gas. And they are also far healthier to live in.
The combustion of gas inside our homes produces harmful indoor air pollution, specifically nitrogen dioxide, carbon monoxide, nitric oxide, formaldehyde, acetaldehyde and ultrafine particles.
In fact, children living in a home with a gas stove are 42 percent more likely to have asthma. That is why the American Institute of Architects California favors all-electric building codes, including efficient induction stoves and heat pumps, that can both heat and cool homes, making them healthier and more comfortable to live in.
It is important to understand the affordability benefit because cost has been a chief target of misinformation. For instance, Miller’s commentary incorrectly cited a study that included a high $7,345 per home “electrification cost” to retrofit an existing home that is not relevant to new buildings.
The study also used inflated electric costs and optimistic gas prices, relying on the same flawed assumptions as an earlier Navigant study commissioned by SoCalGas that was discredited by energy and climate experts before the California Energy Commission. Independent studies by the state of California confirm the cost-savings of moving to all-electric construction.
This was further confirmed by energy staff and experts at the last Santa Barbara City Council meeting. Affordable housing experts and builders support the code update.
We at the Community Environmental Council are concerned that newly constituted chamber’s ties to and funding from the fossil fuel industry may lead it to side reflexively with oil and gas interests without full consideration of the benefits and objectives of the proposal and without hearing from the many Santa Barbara organizations, businesses, architects, builders and energy companies that support this policy.
Santa Barbara has very few, if any, people employed in building new gas infrastructure. It has a great deal of people employed in fields like green building, solar energy, tourism and technology.
Solar energy is among the fastest growing job segments in the country, and Santa Barbara solar companies support this policy as all-electric buildings are ideal for solar.
Santa Barbara’s environmental leadership and green reputation is an important asset in attracting businesses and visitors. Businesses benefit from reducing air pollution and healthy, affordable housing for their employees.
The chamber also claims that the proposed building code would have little to no effect on global climate change, yet natural gas consumption made up more than 20 percent of direct emissions in the Santa Barbara Climate Action Plan.
There is no way to meet our climate goals without addressing these emissions, and the most cost-effective place to start is with new buildings. Santa Barbara is on track to meet its goal of 100 percent renewable energy by 2030 so all-electric homes will be fossil-free, an impossibility for gas homes.
The answer to “Public Safety Power Shutoffs, fires and rolling blackouts” is not more combustible gas that further damages our health and safety.
The driver of these problems is climate change. The solution is to stop burning fossil gas and to harden our grid, which we are doing. Commercial battery storage projects are being built in Carpinteria and Goleta. Solar/battery systems for buildings are now more affordable than solar alone was a few years ago and can be financed.
Above all, solar/battery systems are most affordable when installed on new all-electric buildings. Southern California Edison, which operates our grid, supports the building electrification code update.
The final argument against all-electric new construction is that people prefer natural gas for cooking, but that is changing as familiarity with superior induction cooktops grows — which won’t burn your fingers or off-gas toxic fumes. Big cities like San Francisco are doing it, and Santa Barbara can, too.
We will find that these small adjustments will improve our lives and are far less disruptive than the climate-fueled cataclysms to come if we fail to wean ourselves from fossil fuels.
Let’s continue to take pride in Santa Barbara’s environmental leadership and embrace efforts to build safe, healthy, affordable buildings designed for our fossil-free future.
— Katie Davis is a member of the Community Environmental Council’s President’s Council and chairwoman of the Santa Barbara Sierra Club Group. The opinions expressed are her own.