Breaking News! Oakland & Seattle Ban Natural Gas as Cities Continue to Lead on Electrification

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The announcements are coming so fast it’s hard to keep up. In mid November, San Francisco’s Board of Supervisors voted to ban natural gas in new buildings. On December 2, Oakland’s city council did the same. And yesterday, Seattle Mayor Jenny Durkan announced a proposal to update the city’s energy code to ban the use of fossil fuels, aka natural gas, in new commercial and large multi-family construction for space and most water heating. These are all major milestones in the city-led effort that began last year to fight climate change by banning fossil methane and mandating that buildings instead use clean, efficient electricity.

Soon, Seattle will be completely powered by wires. Photo by Joe Wachunas.

Seattle, the first major city outside California to try to enact a ban, needs to cut down on the significant CO2 emissions coming from its buildings, which have actually increased across the city in the last several years by 8.3%.

“Business as usual will not get us to a future where all Seattle residents, especially our Black, Indigenous and people of color neighbors who are unfairly burdened by environmental inequities, enjoy a healthy and prosperous future,” said Seattle Mayor Durkan. “Electrifying our buildings is an important step in the many actions needed to curb climate pollution.”

The entire West Coast is facing annual, apocalyptic fires that are spurring communities to action. Seattle city council president Lorena Gonzalez cited these fires in her support of the proposal, saying:

“This summer, wildfire smoke was an unequivocal alarm to act with urgency for climate resiliency. ‘Smoke season’ has become part of our new climate reality in Seattle and it creates conditions where it is unsafe to be outside.”

One of the most unique and fascinating parts of this all-electric movement is that it is being led by cities who are proving themselves to be nimble leaders, able to quickly enact changes that would be impossible at higher levels of government. And with climate change being what activist Bill McKibben describes a “timed test,” this speed is a crucial tool that many nations and states seem to currently lack. 17 short months ago natural gas bans didn’t exist, and today over 40 cities in California have banned this fossil fuel and committed to an all-electric future.

California cities banning natural gas. Image courtesy of PAE Engineers.

This adds a touch of hopeful news to the end of this deeply challenging year. It makes me want to push my city to do the same.

Related story: Fires As A Call To Action — Thoughts From A City Under Siege.

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Joe Wachunas

Joe lives in Portland, Oregon, and works for the nonprofit New Buildings Institute, which promotes electric and decarbonized buildings. He also volunteers with Electrify Now because he believes that electrifying everything, from transportation to homes, is the quickest path to an equitable, clean energy future. And of course, Joe and his family live in an all-electric home and drive an EV.

Joe Wachunas has 62 posts and counting. See all posts by Joe Wachunas