Berkeley becomes first U.S. city to ban natural gas connections in new buildings

In a unanimous vote on Tuesday night, Berkeley became the first city in the U.S. to ban natural gas connections in new buildings. Beginning in 2020, all new buildings in Berkeley, including commercial and residential construction, will be all-electric, with certain temporary exemptions for specific types of building systems. Existing buildings will not be affected.

Berkeley's groundbreaking new ordinance is aimed at reducing emissions from natural gas combustion, which account for 27% of greenhouse gas emissions in the city. Last year, the city declared a climate emergency and called for a review of Berkeley's emissions reduction strategies, paving the way for new measures to reduce building emissions, which have increased as the city's population has grown by 18% since 2000.

In addition to unanimous support from the City Council, the ban was supported by a broad swath of stakeholders, including utilities, according to a blog post by NRDC's Pierre Delforge. "The proposal... was also supported by dozens of members of the public, including residents, business owners, building designers and architects, a representative from the University of California, the local community choice energy provider East Bay Community Energy, and even a representative of Pacific Gas & Electric, who said that PG&E has no interest in investing in new gas infrastructure that would get stranded before the end of its life."

Berkeley's ban is a model for other cities to follow, and will help to jumpstart the market for electric technologies. Delforge notes, however, that tackling emissions from existing buildings is the critical next step: "But new construction represents less than one percent of all buildings each year -- the elephant in the room is the existing building stock. Berkeley city staff indicated during the hearing that they’re also working on a plan to equitably decarbonize existing buildings, aiming to ensure that low-income residents who can least afford to move away from fossil fuel heating have access to clean energy and are not left behind in higher-bill and more-polluted buildings."

Read more about the ban in articles from the San Francisco Chronicle and Berkeleyside.