News

Seeking to curb emissions, Atherton is gradually phasing out gas, while Portola Valley takes a stricter approach

Atherton will limit use of the fossil fuel, but stopped short of banning all gas-powered appliances

Hala Alshahwany turns on her electric stove at her home in Mountain View on Oct. 22, 2019. Photo by Magali Gauthier

Atherton is taking a gradual approach to going all-electric with new construction to curb the use of natural gas, allowing exemptions for residents who don't want to give up their gas stoves. Meanwhile, Portola Valley recently passed similar reach codes, but with fewer exemptions than Atherton is permitting.

On Nov. 16, the Atherton City Council opted to provide exemptions in new construction for indoor and outdoor cooking appliances, fireplaces and outdoor fire pits that use the fossil fuel, the changes which take effect Jan. 1. It adopted stricter policies than other Peninsula cities for electric vehicle (EV) charging, requiring more level 2 chargers than most cities, including making EV chargers available to accessory dwelling units (ADUs), guest houses and pool houses.

"The most important thing is, we're setting a standard in the green building codes to support all-electric space heating and water heating for new houses and I think that's a very big deal," said Mayor Rick DeGolia at the Nov. 16 council meeting. "Gas is a fossil fuel and pollutant and that is a problem. I don't know that it's entirely our job to tell people what to do, because I do think that people can choose."

Exemptions in the town's rules also include the use of gas-powered emergency generators.

Council member Diana Hawkins-Manuelian said that it's important to move away from gas-powered appliances.

Help sustain the local news you depend on.

Your contribution matters. Become a member today.

Join

The City Council accepted $10,000 grant from Peninsula Clean Energy in 2021 to compensate for staff and consultant time to explore adopting reach codes to require new buildings in Atherton be all-electric. Atherton's recently completed civic center is all-electric. Reach codes are local regulations that go beyond what's required in state codes.

Nineteen of the 22 agencies in the area have adopted reach codes, said Rafael Reyes, director of energy programs at San Mateo County's electricity provider Peninsula Clean Energy. Although some cities have opted to include exemptions, which commonly involve using gas for cooking and fireplaces, in years' past, it's worth noting that a number of cities are reducing exceptions in the 2022 cycle, he said.

"PG&E has noted that exceptions increase complexity and can result in increased costs to maintain the gas system," he said in an email. "Cities are interested in improving the emissions reductions potential and PG&E has noted that continued small usage across the system will result in significantly increased gas costs over time."

Burlingame recently eliminated its exemptions for indoor and outdoor cooking appliances, and fireplaces. The city of San Mateo recently adopted a resolution requiring all-electric new construction and transitioning to electric in most remodels of existing homes, according to the San Mateo Daily Journal.

"Atherton is cutting edge compared to much of the state (and) nation, but it's fairly average regionally," said Stacy Miles Holland, chair of Atherton's Environmental Programs Committee, and an incoming Atherton City Council member, in a statement. "But being average is a big improvement!"

Stay informed

Get daily headlines sent straight to your inbox in our Express newsletter.

Stay informed

Get daily headlines sent straight to your inbox in our Express newsletter.

Switching from gas to electricity could reduce the annual emissions of a California household by 50–70% and 46–54% for water and space heating, respectively, according to a 2019 study published in The Electricity Journal.

State officials voted in September to ban the sale of new gas furnaces and water heaters beginning in 2030.

"As a mother worried about the impact of climate change for my toddler, it is immensely satisfying to see Atherton join the majority of the Peninsula in adopting a reach code," Miles Holland said. "There was no path for Atherton to hit its state-mandated emission reduction target while adding new methane gas infrastructure to the Town, so we've made a big first step in the right direction."

Miles Holland said she is in the midst of electrifying her home, and plans to replace her gas stove with an induction stove next month.

"I never thought I'd know so much about the amps/volts of my appliances," she said.

Portola Valley changes to green code met with some resistance

Portola Valley, on the other hand, is a town that opted to adopt a green building code that includes few exceptions. On Oct. 26, its Town Council gave the go-ahead to require all new construction to be all-electric. The all-electric requirements apply to all newly constructed buildings and gas-fired outdoor amenities (such as outdoor kitchens, grills, pools, spas, fireplaces, fire pits and outdoor heaters).

It also requires major remodels to be all electric, and adds some new requirements for the installation of a heat pump air conditioner on the replacement, upgrade or relocation of an air conditioner, as well as pre-electrification requirements when replacing or upgrading the main electrical panel.

However, residents will not be required to replace their failing gas-powered devices with electric ones under this reach code. Owners of new construction projects which have already received planning approvals may apply for exemption from new green building amendments.

A heat pump is used to heat and cool down the home in Mountain View on oct. 22, 2019. Photo by Magali Gauthier

The town had explored an all-electric reach code in 2020, but work on the ordinance was disrupted by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Some praised the town for taking action that will have an impact on climate change.

There was also resistance from residents who are worried about the costs of requiring electric appliances. Some even suggested the town code changes be put up for a resident vote or a referendum.

Resident Dale Kane called the code change Draconian and said it could compromise the character of a remodel or new build. He said he's wanted to install two natural gas fireplaces for their ambiance and safety. He also wants a backup option because of the common power outages in town. (Although gas fireplaces generally work during a power outage, gas stoves and ovens will generally not work because gas appliance ignition is electric, according to PCE and the Sacramento Bee)

Others asked the town to take a more gradual approach, with one resident calling it "too much, too fast" for the town.

"I do agree with eventual electrification," said Nan Shostak, a geologist and a member of the Geologic Safety Committee. "I do think it's going to be a drop in the bucket compared with coal-powered power plants in China for instance. We are much safer with the gas generator than without. New construction and remodeling projects deserve the option of having some gas. We are thinking of going all-electric too soon."

Council member John Richards said there is a misunderstanding of how this might affect costs. For example, in a new construction project, putting in an electrical system without having to put in gas is going to cost you less, he said. A Peninsula Clear Energy report said that, for example, building all-electric thermal systems in a home cost a little under $19,000, while building mixed fuel systems costs about $29,000 on average.

For single-family homes in general, operating costs are about the same with all-electric, said Reyes. If the home has solar power, operating costs are much lower, he said.

Courtesy Peninsula Clean Energy.

"It's time to pick some low-hanging fruit and move ahead," he said.

Council member Jeff Aalfs emphasized that burning natural gas inside homes actually results in "really unhealthy, and perhaps even dangerous, air."

Natural gas and propane stoves can release carbon monoxide, formaldehyde and other harmful pollutants into the air, which can be toxic to people and pets, according to the California Air Resources Board. Using a wood stove or a fireplace to cook can cause high levels of indoor air pollution from smoke.

Gas stoves in homes increase children's asthma risk by 42%, the PCE report states. Total electric living eliminates the risk of carbon monoxide poisoning and induction ranges automatically turn off when not in-use, eliminating a leading cause of house fires, according to the report.

Mayor Craig Hughes noted that the town is simply "doing what other towns in the area have already done."

Council member Maryann Derwin described it as a difficult, but necessary change.

Other local green building codes

A slew of local cities adopted reach codes to limit the use of gas in 2019.

Palo Alto adopted an ambitious building code amendment last month that requires every new building to be all-electric. It expands on the existing all-electric requirement, which the council adopted in 2019 and which only applies to low-rise residential buildings, with exceptions for ADUs.

The requirement applies to water heaters and space heaters, and heating, ventilating and air conditioning (HVAC) systems, as well as for major remodeling projects where 50% or more of the walls are being replaced or razed or where 50% or more of roof structural framing area is replaced.

In 2019, Mountain View's reach code process led to a bold, and rather controversial, ban on natural gas appliances in new homes, while this year's amendments mainly centered on bringing the city into compliance with new state requirements, and in a few cases, recommendations from local agencies like Silicon Valley Clean Energy, the community choice energy program that serves multiple Bay Area cities including Mountain View.

Menlo Park adopted reach codes in 2019 that required electricity as the only fuel source for new commercial buildings and low-rise residential buildings starting in 2020.

East Palo Alto adopted reach codes in 2019 to limit gas devices in buildings, including commercial and residential spaces. It exempts ADUs and 100% affordable housing.

Woodside officials declined to consider these building reach codes in October, said Town Manger Kevin Bryant in an email.

Craving a new voice in Peninsula dining?

Sign up for the Peninsula Foodist newsletter.

Sign up now
Angela Swartz
 
Angela Swartz joined The Almanac in 2018 and covers education and small towns. She has a background covering education, city politics and business. Read more >>

Follow AlmanacNews.com and The Almanac on Twitter @almanacnews, Facebook and on Instagram @almanacnews for breaking news, local events, photos, videos and more.

Seeking to curb emissions, Atherton is gradually phasing out gas, while Portola Valley takes a stricter approach

Atherton will limit use of the fossil fuel, but stopped short of banning all gas-powered appliances

by / Almanac

Uploaded: Thu, Nov 24, 2022, 8:47 am
Updated: Thu, Dec 1, 2022, 11:24 am

Atherton is taking a gradual approach to going all-electric with new construction to curb the use of natural gas, allowing exemptions for residents who don't want to give up their gas stoves. Meanwhile, Portola Valley recently passed similar reach codes, but with fewer exemptions than Atherton is permitting.

On Nov. 16, the Atherton City Council opted to provide exemptions in new construction for indoor and outdoor cooking appliances, fireplaces and outdoor fire pits that use the fossil fuel, the changes which take effect Jan. 1. It adopted stricter policies than other Peninsula cities for electric vehicle (EV) charging, requiring more level 2 chargers than most cities, including making EV chargers available to accessory dwelling units (ADUs), guest houses and pool houses.

"The most important thing is, we're setting a standard in the green building codes to support all-electric space heating and water heating for new houses and I think that's a very big deal," said Mayor Rick DeGolia at the Nov. 16 council meeting. "Gas is a fossil fuel and pollutant and that is a problem. I don't know that it's entirely our job to tell people what to do, because I do think that people can choose."

Exemptions in the town's rules also include the use of gas-powered emergency generators.

Council member Diana Hawkins-Manuelian said that it's important to move away from gas-powered appliances.

The City Council accepted $10,000 grant from Peninsula Clean Energy in 2021 to compensate for staff and consultant time to explore adopting reach codes to require new buildings in Atherton be all-electric. Atherton's recently completed civic center is all-electric. Reach codes are local regulations that go beyond what's required in state codes.

Nineteen of the 22 agencies in the area have adopted reach codes, said Rafael Reyes, director of energy programs at San Mateo County's electricity provider Peninsula Clean Energy. Although some cities have opted to include exemptions, which commonly involve using gas for cooking and fireplaces, in years' past, it's worth noting that a number of cities are reducing exceptions in the 2022 cycle, he said.

"PG&E has noted that exceptions increase complexity and can result in increased costs to maintain the gas system," he said in an email. "Cities are interested in improving the emissions reductions potential and PG&E has noted that continued small usage across the system will result in significantly increased gas costs over time."

Burlingame recently eliminated its exemptions for indoor and outdoor cooking appliances, and fireplaces. The city of San Mateo recently adopted a resolution requiring all-electric new construction and transitioning to electric in most remodels of existing homes, according to the San Mateo Daily Journal.

"Atherton is cutting edge compared to much of the state (and) nation, but it's fairly average regionally," said Stacy Miles Holland, chair of Atherton's Environmental Programs Committee, and an incoming Atherton City Council member, in a statement. "But being average is a big improvement!"

Switching from gas to electricity could reduce the annual emissions of a California household by 50–70% and 46–54% for water and space heating, respectively, according to a 2019 study published in The Electricity Journal.

State officials voted in September to ban the sale of new gas furnaces and water heaters beginning in 2030.

"As a mother worried about the impact of climate change for my toddler, it is immensely satisfying to see Atherton join the majority of the Peninsula in adopting a reach code," Miles Holland said. "There was no path for Atherton to hit its state-mandated emission reduction target while adding new methane gas infrastructure to the Town, so we've made a big first step in the right direction."

Miles Holland said she is in the midst of electrifying her home, and plans to replace her gas stove with an induction stove next month.

"I never thought I'd know so much about the amps/volts of my appliances," she said.

Portola Valley changes to green code met with some resistance

Portola Valley, on the other hand, is a town that opted to adopt a green building code that includes few exceptions. On Oct. 26, its Town Council gave the go-ahead to require all new construction to be all-electric. The all-electric requirements apply to all newly constructed buildings and gas-fired outdoor amenities (such as outdoor kitchens, grills, pools, spas, fireplaces, fire pits and outdoor heaters).

It also requires major remodels to be all electric, and adds some new requirements for the installation of a heat pump air conditioner on the replacement, upgrade or relocation of an air conditioner, as well as pre-electrification requirements when replacing or upgrading the main electrical panel.

However, residents will not be required to replace their failing gas-powered devices with electric ones under this reach code. Owners of new construction projects which have already received planning approvals may apply for exemption from new green building amendments.

The town had explored an all-electric reach code in 2020, but work on the ordinance was disrupted by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Some praised the town for taking action that will have an impact on climate change.

There was also resistance from residents who are worried about the costs of requiring electric appliances. Some even suggested the town code changes be put up for a resident vote or a referendum.

Resident Dale Kane called the code change Draconian and said it could compromise the character of a remodel or new build. He said he's wanted to install two natural gas fireplaces for their ambiance and safety. He also wants a backup option because of the common power outages in town. (Although gas fireplaces generally work during a power outage, gas stoves and ovens will generally not work because gas appliance ignition is electric, according to PCE and the Sacramento Bee)

Others asked the town to take a more gradual approach, with one resident calling it "too much, too fast" for the town.

"I do agree with eventual electrification," said Nan Shostak, a geologist and a member of the Geologic Safety Committee. "I do think it's going to be a drop in the bucket compared with coal-powered power plants in China for instance. We are much safer with the gas generator than without. New construction and remodeling projects deserve the option of having some gas. We are thinking of going all-electric too soon."

Council member John Richards said there is a misunderstanding of how this might affect costs. For example, in a new construction project, putting in an electrical system without having to put in gas is going to cost you less, he said. A Peninsula Clear Energy report said that, for example, building all-electric thermal systems in a home cost a little under $19,000, while building mixed fuel systems costs about $29,000 on average.

For single-family homes in general, operating costs are about the same with all-electric, said Reyes. If the home has solar power, operating costs are much lower, he said.

"It's time to pick some low-hanging fruit and move ahead," he said.

Council member Jeff Aalfs emphasized that burning natural gas inside homes actually results in "really unhealthy, and perhaps even dangerous, air."

Natural gas and propane stoves can release carbon monoxide, formaldehyde and other harmful pollutants into the air, which can be toxic to people and pets, according to the California Air Resources Board. Using a wood stove or a fireplace to cook can cause high levels of indoor air pollution from smoke.

Gas stoves in homes increase children's asthma risk by 42%, the PCE report states. Total electric living eliminates the risk of carbon monoxide poisoning and induction ranges automatically turn off when not in-use, eliminating a leading cause of house fires, according to the report.

Mayor Craig Hughes noted that the town is simply "doing what other towns in the area have already done."

Council member Maryann Derwin described it as a difficult, but necessary change.

Other local green building codes

A slew of local cities adopted reach codes to limit the use of gas in 2019.

Palo Alto adopted an ambitious building code amendment last month that requires every new building to be all-electric. It expands on the existing all-electric requirement, which the council adopted in 2019 and which only applies to low-rise residential buildings, with exceptions for ADUs.

The requirement applies to water heaters and space heaters, and heating, ventilating and air conditioning (HVAC) systems, as well as for major remodeling projects where 50% or more of the walls are being replaced or razed or where 50% or more of roof structural framing area is replaced.

In 2019, Mountain View's reach code process led to a bold, and rather controversial, ban on natural gas appliances in new homes, while this year's amendments mainly centered on bringing the city into compliance with new state requirements, and in a few cases, recommendations from local agencies like Silicon Valley Clean Energy, the community choice energy program that serves multiple Bay Area cities including Mountain View.

Menlo Park adopted reach codes in 2019 that required electricity as the only fuel source for new commercial buildings and low-rise residential buildings starting in 2020.

East Palo Alto adopted reach codes in 2019 to limit gas devices in buildings, including commercial and residential spaces. It exempts ADUs and 100% affordable housing.

Woodside officials declined to consider these building reach codes in October, said Town Manger Kevin Bryant in an email.

Comments

Eddie O
Registered user
Portola Valley: Portola Valley Ranch
on Dec 1, 2022 at 12:52 pm
Eddie O, Portola Valley: Portola Valley Ranch
Registered user
on Dec 1, 2022 at 12:52 pm

While the move to all electric will occur over time (remember the Ready Kilowatt promotions of the 60s?), it is simply not true that gas and electric costs for heating and water heating are the same if one cannot have solar on the home due to trees, siting, roof structures, etc. Electricity rates are increasing, and though natural gas spiked after the Ukraine invasion and the shortages caused by that tragedy, it's still considerably cheaper to use natural gas. The most recent comparison I did on line was that gas was about 50% cheaper than electricity for those purposes. And electric continue to rise significantly over time while natural gas is plentiful in the US (pending various regulations), and in fact will become cheaper as demand falls due to regulations such as those proposed and being implemented by various Bay Area governments, and indeed, state wide.

In addition, as we add electric demand over time for heating, water heating, cooking, and electric vehicles, unless CA and the US in general can implement a significant increase in generation and storage capacity, we will have shortage. And not also, the currently, electicity pricing is based on time of day. So during the day before 4PM, it's lower. Then workers return home and turn on the heat or AC, do chores like laundry, and cook meals, the price escalates dramatically before 9PM. All electricity is a hidden tax on working families who cannot shift their usage to day time or late at night for their households. Wealthier people won't feel the pain; working people will.

Just my two cents.


CyberVoter
Registered user
Atherton: other
on Dec 1, 2022 at 4:47 pm
CyberVoter, Atherton: other
Registered user
on Dec 1, 2022 at 4:47 pm

Eddie O is correct! These "Virtue Signaling" local politicians have made an error in judgement that will cost residents extra $ and is a threat to their safety. You should NEVER "put all your eggs in one basket" such as having only access to electricity or heating, cooking & even back-up electricity generation. Our energy generation is at its limit & our grid is as well. These politicians are naive and not educated in the reality of energy creation & distribution.
A visionary leader would ensure that a fully functional electricity hook-up is made in all homes & then allow the homeowner to spend their $$ adding a natural gas connection if they wish.
But, they people that are making these short-sighted regulations will never be held accountable


Joseph E. Davis
Registered user
Woodside: Emerald Hills
on Dec 2, 2022 at 10:21 am
Joseph E. Davis, Woodside: Emerald Hills
Registered user
on Dec 2, 2022 at 10:21 am

It was very cold this morning. I shudder to think how much electricity it would require to heat my house and all the neighborhood houses, given that a space heater takes over a kilowatt to effectively heat one room. Doubtless our wise city council members have factored all this into their rulemaking (rueful chuckle).


CyberVoter
Registered user
Atherton: other
on Dec 2, 2022 at 3:53 pm
CyberVoter, Atherton: other
Registered user
on Dec 2, 2022 at 3:53 pm

Joe:

Don't be confused. None of these Town Council's have done any research & are only showing their "Virtue" by following the herd! This will turn out badly in the future!


Eddie O
Registered user
Portola Valley: Portola Valley Ranch
on Dec 3, 2022 at 3:20 pm
Eddie O, Portola Valley: Portola Valley Ranch
Registered user
on Dec 3, 2022 at 3:20 pm

Just to add some additional controversy…

The ONLY currently viable solution to massively increase electric generation, especially during those peak hours in the evening when the sun is low in the sky or below the horizon, but which the same people who eschew natural gas are equally against, is … nuclear. Diablo Canyon supplies 8% of the state’s electricity: one single plant! (According the the Wikipedia article). And newer tech nuclear plants are even safer than those in existence now. We dismantled San Onofre and Rancho Seco otherwise, we would have significantly greater electric generation reserves when wind and solar are not generating do to weather and time conditions.


Menlo Voter.
Registered user
Menlo Park: other
on Dec 3, 2022 at 7:45 pm
Menlo Voter., Menlo Park: other
Registered user
on Dec 3, 2022 at 7:45 pm

Eddie O:

for the save the world folks nuclear power is taboo. Of course they can't tell you how they'll provided all the power required by their demand we all go to all electric power, but hey, they get to congratulate themselves on their virtue signaling.


DriveBikeRun
Registered user
Portola Valley: Central Portola Valley
on Dec 7, 2022 at 12:48 pm
DriveBikeRun, Portola Valley: Central Portola Valley
Registered user
on Dec 7, 2022 at 12:48 pm

Converting from gas to electricity only makes sense if that electricity is reliable, clean, and cost-effective. Right now electricity fails on being cost-effective and on being clean when gas-fired plants must be started up during times of high demand. Regarding reliability, in my three decades in Portola Valley, the power has never been that reliable, and it has only worsened since PG&E installed switches that trip for no real reason. I don’t know where the people that voted for this live, but where I am the power is now out about once per month. Every time I am thankful that I at least have hot water heated by gas, and can run my furnace blower using electricity from a dirty portable generator.


Don't miss out on the discussion!
Sign up to be notified of new comments on this topic.

Post a comment

In order to encourage respectful and thoughtful discussion, commenting on stories is available to those who are registered users. If you are already a registered user and the commenting form is not below, you need to log in. If you are not registered, you can do so here.

Please make sure your comments are truthful, on-topic and do not disrespect another poster. Don't be snarky or belittling. All postings are subject to our TERMS OF USE, and may be deleted if deemed inappropriate by our staff.

See our announcement about requiring registration for commenting.