San Jose could become largest US city to ban natural gas in new construction

San Jose is poised to become the largest American city to ban the use of natural gas in new home construction. Such a move would be another restriction on home building designed to further protect the environment.

Tuesday San Jose Mayor Sam Liccardo announced his push to require electric use, not natural gas, in new home construction. Everything from hot water heaters to stoves, to lights and appliances, would be powered by electricity.

“The kind of concrete action we can take today to confront our climate emergency and send a clear signal to the markets and other cities throughout the country. And most importantly, to our own residents,” said Liccardo.

Environmentalists and city officials say the action exceeds current state standards and targets single-family homes, adult dwelling units, and low rise and multi-family buildings. It would reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 90 percent in new buildings, and lead to a healthier environment and populous by mid-century.

“Our kids need us to electrify our buildings as much as possible, and stop building with gas,” said Susan Butler-Graham of Mothers Out Front, a non-profit seeking to move climate change issues to the political forefront.

But critics are raising a red flag, warning another mandate on the construction industry could cost everyone more. 

“If it raises the costs, I think we have a detriment. I think that we are jumping, when we should be walking,” said San Jose District 10 councilman Johnny Khamis.

He and others say higher costs could haunt residents in the form of higher rents and purchase prices, which are already among the highest in the nation. Some opponents also worry increasing electric demand by requiring more electric buildings could actually mean more emissions into the environment, not less.

“We’re not building any nuclear power plants or any dams, so we gotta burn something,” said David Gibbons, a senior vice president with South Bay development firm Swenson.

Supporters counter in two years San Jose’s clean energy program could provide all the electricity for the new buildings.

“When we look across the life of buildings, it’ll pan out that all electric buildings are in fact better, cheaper to operate and use,” said Kimi Narita of the Natural Resources Defense Council.

The ordinance, which will likely pass the council Tuesday evening, incentivizes electric use in large office buildings, and has a requirement for electric car spaces and charging spots in multi-family developments.