City plans to require most new commercial buildings to be all-electric | News | Almanac Online |


City plans to require most new commercial buildings to be all-electric


Every three years, California updates its building codes. While those codes have become increasingly stringent and focused on environmental sustainability, the state permits cities to adopt their own amendments to them, so long as those policies exceed the state's sustainability standards.

The Menlo Park City Council on Aug. 27 decided to adopt several such amendments, called "reach codes," that will make the city one of the state's most pioneering jurisdictions in promoting greener buildings, requiring the vast majority of new nonresidential buildings to be all-electric. The decision is set to be finalized with a formal vote and first reading of the ordinance scheduled for the council's Sept. 10 meeting.

While the council initially recommended an exception for for-profit restaurants, it ultimately agreed to eliminate the exception.

Staff members reported that they had conducted market research and argued that using electric induction stoves is an increasing trend in the food service industry; they are safer, two to three times more efficient, and offer higher performance than gas and traditional electric cooktops.

Switching to all-electric systems can offer major construction and operational savings, staff reported. The switch could save a hotel up to $1.3 million in construction costs and $1.24 million in operational costs, staff said.

The council agreed to offer an appeal process for businesses that can demonstrate that using induction stoves instead of gas-powered ones would be a hardship.

Exceptions will be offered to life sciences buildings for space heating purposes only, due to their reliance on precise temperature-controlled environments for lab work. However, following the recommendation of commenter Scott Shell, an architect, the council agreed to require life sciences buildings to install wiring that will make the building ready to convert to all-electric when better electric heating technology comes along.

Emergency operation centers, such as fire stations and police and community centers, would also be exempt from the all-electric rule, since it is critical that those facilities be able to access natural gas during an emergency or disaster when electricity is not available.

In addition, the council agreed to require new nonresidential buildings and high-rise residential buildings to have solar panels that generate a minimum of 3 kilowatts for buildings under 10,000 square feet and 5 kilowatts for buildings greater than or equal to 10,000 square feet.

These steps are expected to help the city keep its commitment to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 27% from 2005 levels by 2020. Building energy usage made up about 55% of the city's overall greenhouse gas emissions in 2013, according to staff.

Adam Stern, former executive director of local environmental nonprofit Acterra, noted while speaking in public comment that as the Amazon rainforest burns, "It's very easy to think that climate change is a problem we can't get our hands around. ... The new reach code, reviewed by many stakeholders, is an ideal opportunity to put a stake in the ground and say Menlo Park is going to lead on the path toward carbon neutrality and (advance) our policies to reduce greenhouse gases."

If passed as expected, the new building codes will be effective Jan. 1, 2020.


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11 people like this
Posted by Joseph E. Davis
a resident of Woodside: Emerald Hills
on Sep 3, 2019 at 3:44 pm

I can't get over the seemingly unbounded arrogance of Menlo Park's city council as they seek to manage how the residents of Menlo Park should live and work. Disturbing.

25 people like this
Posted by Birdnscrap
a resident of Portola Valley: Central Portola Valley
on Sep 3, 2019 at 5:11 pm

Birdnscrap is a registered user.

Excellent leadership by Menlo Park.
Great to see that forward thinking by the town.

11 people like this
Posted by Peter Carpenter
a resident of Atherton: Lindenwood
on Sep 3, 2019 at 7:24 pm

Peter Carpenter is a registered user.

I presume that the City will be providing emergency power to any resident who requires it for medical reasons when PG&E utilizes their new policy of unsupervised and prolonged service interruptions.

9 people like this
Posted by Menlo Voter.
a resident of Menlo Park: other
on Sep 4, 2019 at 8:04 am

Menlo Voter. is a registered user.

So the city requires all commercial buildings to be all electric. Then what?

Unintended consequence number 1: the owners DO NOT install solar and use power from the grid. 45% of power in this state is generated by burning natural gas. It's more efficient to burn natural gas to heat water on site than it is to heat it with electricity. So, we actually end up with MORE CO2 in the air than if all electric wasn't required.

Unintended consequence number 2: Building owners install back up generators to deal with likely power outages. What do those generators run on? Natural gas or diesel. So every time the power goes out we have commercial buildings spewing CO2 into the air.

Way to go council. Do you people actually think these things through when you propose them or do you just put them forward so you can be seen as "doing something"?

Never mind. I already know the answer.

How about this. STICK TO DEALING WITH THE ACTUAL PROBLEMS OF THIS CITY INSTEAD OF THIS KIND OF BS. This kind of garbage is NOT what I voted for you for.

11 people like this
Posted by Thank you!
a resident of Atherton: Lindenwood
on Sep 4, 2019 at 1:19 pm

You'll get my vote again!

6 people like this
Posted by Brian
a resident of Menlo Park: Felton Gables
on Sep 4, 2019 at 1:54 pm

Why doesn't the city do something useful --- like undergrounding utilities like Palo Alto did?

instead of unsightly utility poles?

2 people like this
Posted by Menlo Voter.
a resident of Menlo Park: other
on Sep 5, 2019 at 8:26 am

Menlo Voter. is a registered user.

Thank you! How did you vote for Menlo Park council members? You live in Atherton.

7 people like this
Posted by randyw
a resident of another community
on Sep 5, 2019 at 10:13 am

Menlo Voter - You are factually wrong on several points. Over 85 percent of PG&E’s power in come from greenhouse-gas free resources, this number will continue to grow. New projects with electric heat use heat pumps. Heat pumps are more efficient than gas - it moves heat rather than generates it. In commercial situations the heat can be moved to the office space(which always need to be cooled)so provide even more efficiency. Further most commercial building have substantial roof and parking areas available for solar.

4 people like this
Posted by snowflakes
a resident of Menlo Park: The Willows
on Sep 5, 2019 at 11:58 am

po' peeps who object so strenuously to fighting a global problem - not in my backyard!!

4 people like this
Posted by Menlo Voter.
a resident of Menlo Park: other
on Sep 5, 2019 at 12:13 pm

Menlo Voter. is a registered user.


The power mix has changed then as it used to be about 45% gas fired power plants. Solar panels are very expensive. While commercial buildings may have very large roofs for panels, if you fill a roof with panels you're looking at a very large cost. A system to power a large residence of around 4000sf runs around $150,000 to $175,000. for a house. That's about 2000sf or a little less of panels. Heating water with heat pump water heaters is a lousy way to heat water. I've installed them. The recovery rate is awful compared to gas. Heat pumps are good at cooling. Not so good at heating. That's why most split systems using heat pumps in commercial situations end up having heat strips added to the system to provide additional heat. Believe it or not, commercial buildings actually require heat during the winter, not cooling.

15 people like this
Posted by San Mateo County
a resident of Menlo Park: Downtown
on Sep 5, 2019 at 12:45 pm

Actually in San Mateo County the energy mix coming from the San Mateo PCE is 50 percent renewable
and 80% carbon free. And it's cheaper than PGE. For a little more cost, 1cent more per kilowatt hour than PG&E, you can upgrade to 100% carbon free.

10 people like this
Posted by West Menlo
a resident of Menlo Park: Sharon Heights
on Sep 5, 2019 at 1:00 pm

@Randy and @Menlo Voter: you are both kind of correct. 15% of PG&E electricity comes from coal and gas. 34% comes from nuclear. The remainder comes from other sources (wind, solar, hydro,etc). My problem is that a local government dictates what we do from an energy standpoint. I believe it’s none of their business. What’s next? Telling us what kind of car to drive? What kind of food to eat? Where does the insanity and intrusion into our lives stop? Also, we pay the highest rates in the country for electricity. That will likely be going up as well in the near term. Why doesn’t council start working on things like dealing with the homeless problem in MP, balancing the mix of housing versus new business permits, getting our fair share of transit dollars to help with our traffic issues caused in part (you guessed it) by our inept city council allowing for too much business development versus housing developments. Yes, I agree that City Council kind of sucks, but we voted them in. Let’s vote this group out and get some folks in who will concentrate on fixing some local issues.

8 people like this
Posted by San Mateo County
a resident of Menlo Park: Downtown
on Sep 5, 2019 at 1:31 pm

The City Council largely responsible for development was voted out in the last election. This Council actually is working to address development issues in their subcommittees.

Web Link

Web Link

Web Link

This City Council also is working on homeless issues:

Web Link

14 people like this
Posted by San Mateo County
a resident of Menlo Park: Downtown
on Sep 5, 2019 at 1:38 pm

@westmenlo: the Council is addressing zoning for new construction that is going to be built in the City of Menlo Park, most immediately much of which is slated near Facebook. The developers of those projects appeared at the hearing and spoke in favor of the zoning in Reach Codes. These Reach Codes were created by the State of California to be adopted by local cities. It's not like the council created them out of thin air. They came from the State. The only way they can be adopted is through local municipality adoption. Your summary of the Council doing work somehow out of their job, or without stakeholder support, is just inaccurate.

18 people like this
Posted by randyw
a resident of another community
on Sep 5, 2019 at 3:13 pm

Menlo Voter --
What the power mix used to be seems irrelevant. Same with your accounting of the first cost of solar system. I just installed solar, and the pay off is less than 7 years, if the commercial building lasts more than that they can simply get a loan and they will save money.

Almost all commercial buildings are cooling load dominant. Go into an office building after closing and they get warm even without the main source of heat (people) just from the equipment. Pumping that heat into water doubles efficiency. Residential Hybrid hot water heaters (heat-pump plus electric strip boosters) are typically more than 50% more efficient than direct elec. heating (which are close to 100%.)

Low recover rates are not a problem since there is even loading through the day(few bathtubs to fill.)

West Menlo --
This is exactly where regulation makes most sense. First costs are higher but life cycle costs are dramatically lower. Additionally the impact of inaction are borne by society broadly, so regulation prevents the developer and tenant from shifting costs to others. This requirement lowers total cost for the building and society.

Even if you are a libertarian - the cost impacts of global warming are real, and so if you drive an inefficient car or use an incandescent light bulb, your $ costs are not the full costs of your choice. In this case, the regulation saves everyone money.

4 people like this
Posted by West Menlo
a resident of Menlo Park: Sharon Heights
on Sep 5, 2019 at 5:00 pm

If the costs are less, as you say, then the market will adjust to the more efficient solution over time. The government should not be forcing these issues, choosing winners and losers, and forcing people to buy what they dictate. What’s next? Telling me I have to buy an electric car? I will do that if and when I want, and when I choose. Otherwise, we are getting dangerously close to living in a totalitarian state—and California is getting way too close to that for my liking.

7 people like this
Posted by Menlo Boomer
a resident of Menlo Park: Linfield Oaks
on Sep 5, 2019 at 8:02 pm

Why should I have to ~adjust my behavior and preferences in an inconsequential way~ just because it would "contribute to solving an existential crisis"??!?


6 people like this
Posted by randyw
a resident of another community
on Sep 5, 2019 at 8:06 pm

West Menlo -- Even if your bogus rational choice economic theory was true - which a thousand examples prove it is not. If the decision is made by the developer doesn't pay the utilities and who doesn't pay to rebuild the burnt down town of Paradise.

Yes California has lots of regulations. We also have one of the most successful economy's in the country AND lowest pollution per capita. Co2 per capita is less than 60% the national average.

4 people like this
Posted by West Menlo
a resident of Menlo Park: Sharon Heights
on Sep 5, 2019 at 8:22 pm

@menlo Boomer
This is why. If it’s an existential crisis (very debatable, by the way), then you HAVE to buy an electric car, you CAN’T eat any meat, you can’t build any more wind turbines (the manufacture of the concrete pylons and plastics and mining of ores for metals are net positive carbon producing), you can’t manufacture any more batteries for electric cars (check out WSJ article on what it takes to generate the 1000 pounds of rare earth metals for the batteries, from China which produces HUGE amounts of carbon in the manufacturing process). CAN’T fly anymore airplanes (not even Al Gore and his private jet—especially Al Gore and his private jet). No more trucks because they are all diesel. So, no food deliveries...

And you’re telling me that the people in Menlo Park can’t use gas for cooking and heat when the impact on Mother Gaia is absolutely NOT MEASURABLE. Yes, I agree that the decision to force people in MP off of gas is ridiculous, and verging on totalitarian.

7 people like this
Posted by Force?
a resident of Menlo Park: Downtown
on Sep 5, 2019 at 8:51 pm

The zoning rules only apply to new construction. Not remodels. No one currently on gas is being forced off of it.

4 people like this
Posted by Alan
a resident of Menlo Park: Belle Haven
on Sep 6, 2019 at 11:06 am

We put in a heat pump into our new in-law unit in the back yard (used as an office); the cost of power used is trivial. In a mild climate like ours, heat pumps that just have an exterior unit work very well. If we had bitter cold winters, that would be another matter, but in Menlo Park, it's ideal, competitive with gas.

4 people like this
Posted by Alan Brown
a resident of Menlo Park: Belle Haven
on Sep 6, 2019 at 11:21 am

When I used to live in apartments and a condo, almost all have electric heat (some heat pump, others baseboard - not particularly efficient). The concern about outages ... well, if it's for a few hours, in our mild climate, it's bearable for most people; keep the doors closed. If it's for multiple days - such as after an earthquake - I'm not sure natural gas won't be cut off also.

3 people like this
Posted by Joan
a resident of Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
on Sep 6, 2019 at 12:55 pm

When I moved into this house, the water heater was electric and I couldn't believe the utility bill. I switched to a gas water heater and my bill dropped by half. Electric rates have increased dramatically since then and I would not want to go back.

I agree with West Menlo. This is far too much intrusion into our lives. It may be commercial buildings today but down the road it will likely apply to private homes as well.

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