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Natural Gas Ban

November 15, 2019

Ask consumers to give up their gas stoves or fireplaces, and you might have a mutiny on your hands as these continuously top the “must-have” list for homeowners. That’s exactly what cities from Berkeley to Bellingham are seeking.

Once embraced as a “bridge fuel,” the debate about natural gas has been growing over the past year as climate change activists seek its outright ban, but the conversion comes with a cost.

Walk into any appliance store, you’ll see that electrical appliances are few in comparison to gas-powered ones and can be more expensive. Consumers want natural gas to fuel their fireplaces, stoves, hot water heaters, and heating systems. It is estimated that a ban could result in increased homeownership costs of $5,000 to $35,000 per home.

While the starting point of the debate is to ban natural gas on new construction, activists want to ban natural gas outright as a next step. Older homes may require an electrical upgrade from their main panel to 220 volts plug installation, which isn’t cheap.

Bellingham’s proposal not only requires that all new construction use electric, but it also may include a requirement that on existing buildings they must electrify water and space heating when appliances need to be replaced or within two years of a property sale. Additionally, they are reviewing a requirement that all buildings generate some clean energy such as installing rooftop solar panels, or that the owners enroll in a renewable energy credit program.

These are hefty costs to consider for a new homeowner to incur and finance in their first two years of homeownership, on top of their mortgage and down payment. Not to mention the larger question of how does one achieve financing for such projects?

Local governments enacting total or partial bans create a patchwork of regulation for utilities, finance, construction, and other industries to navigate. Instead, they should be considering a transition in the marketplace through regulatory and financial incentives. They also need to closely examine myriad franchise agreements held by every municipality with providers to determine how the fulfillment of those contracts lines up with a ban.

However, the elephant in the room discussion goes well beyond the home, as our aging electrical grids were built in a hodgepodge manner across this country 50 or 60 years ago when electricity was more of a luxury.

Banning natural gas, which fuels more than one-third of our nation’s energy, pushes consumers and businesses over to an aging and overloaded grid which could lead to brownouts and occasional blackouts. You can’t simply ban a fuel source of this dependency without a plan as to how it will be replaced in an equally reliable manner.

According to Former Chairman of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission Jim Hecker, “…we’ve got a congested system that keeps electricity costs artificially high, and that translates into higher rates for consumers.”

We need a larger, more comprehensive review of how we consume energy across our state and nation. Spot bans achieve nothing if our infrastructure isn’t sufficient to meet demands. Lawmakers need to balance any transition with our ability to upgrade existing systems to ensure seamless delivery of energy to power our homes and businesses.

We are not in favor of an outright ban on any fuel source and the conversion to another type of energy requires more thought and study at the state and national level.

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