As you may know, Menlo Park is contemplating an ordinance "to prohibit the installation of new gas equipment in buildings throughout the city." The ordinance would mandate the "conversion of gas, water and space heating to electric." It does not include gas dryers and stoves (because they do not currently require inspection by the city when replaced).
But in a Sept. 17 Palo Alto Weekly guest opinion ("Opinion: What most environmentalists don't know can hurt us"), physicist Bill Zaumen asks, "Where is this additional electricity going to come from? That a problem exists should be obvious."
He continues: " ... switching from gas to electricity for heating is going to be less effective in reducing global warming than one would think, and in the worst case — if demand got ahead of production — it could be counterproductive. Basically, switching from natural gas to electricity can increase greenhouse gas emissions if done faster than so-called clean energy sources can be built ... We should be careful we do not inadvertently make the situation worse."
I hope that before going forward with the very consequential and costly Menlo Park ordinance, the City Council will gather some experts to publicly address Zaumen's key question: Where will the electricity come from?
•We know that the demand for electricity will increase many fold.
•We know that all new cars bought in 2035 must be electric.
•We know that the nuclear power plant, which now supplies 9.38% of California's power, is scheduled to be retired.
•We know that our hydroelectric plants have been shut down because of drought; that our water storage facilities need repair; and that our current electric infrastructure is inadequate. And we know that power outages are massively inconvenient and dangerous.
You may not know that Gov. Gavin Newsom declared a state of power emergency and in August the state authorized the building of five "temporary" gas-fueled generators to boost the state's grid, at a cost of $171.5 million each.
We all care about the climate threat, so let's be smart and cautious and certify that major and costly changes we introduce will benefit — not conflict with — our desire to do the right thing.
If you think, as I do, that we should get some academic electricity guidance before proceeding with the ordinance, you can let the City Council know at [email protected]
Mickie Winkler, former Menlo Park mayor
Change to all-electric homes, but also put a price on carbon
The Environmental Quality Commission in Menlo Park has suggested a city ordinance requiring a switch from gas appliances to electric appliances. Under consideration is to convert 95% of existing buildings to all-electric by 2030. As gas furnaces and hot water heaters wear out, they are replaced with electric appliances.
In her opinion piece published in the Oct. 1 issue of The Almanac ("Guest opinion: Examining myths about switching from gas to electric,") Josie Gaillard makes a compelling case that it is indeed feasible to replace gas appliances with electric equivalents as they wear out. Feasibility is enabled by the availability of space and water heaters using more efficient heat pump technology.
This proposal by Menlo Park is an aggressive policy to address climate change. By totally electrifying our homes while also demanding more clean electricity from renewables, we would be taking a bold step to reduce our carbon emissions. Of course, these actions would only be local and their effects on the global problem would be minuscule. Nevertheless, major transformations often start with the first steps done locally.
The urgency of climate change, however, also demands bigger steps done globally. The United States needs to put a price on carbon. The rest of the world will follow the innovative lead of the United States, like it always has done. Americans have an excellent opportunity now to include carbon pricing in the reconciliation package being discussed by Congress. Under carbon pricing policy, fossil fuel companies, not energy consumers or taxpayers, bear the cost of lowering carbon emissions. Revenues from a carbon fee on fossil fuel producers are returned to consumers as a dividend.
I urge all Almanac readers to ask their senators and congressional reps to add carbon pricing to the reconciliation bill.
Siskiyou Drive, Menlo Park
Stanford's lack of leadership on climate change
Last month, the president of Harvard University, Lawrence Bacow, announced that Harvard's endowment will end investments in fossil fuels. He called climate change "the most consequential threat facing humanity." What has been the response at Stanford University? As far as I can tell, deafening silence.
In June 2020 the Stanford Board of Trustees voted against divestment in fossil fuel companies. Should local reporters call the office of Marc Tessier-Lavigne, president of Stanford University, and ask him to comment? Are there perhaps conflicts of interests on Stanford's board? Is the university, perhaps, caving to its moneyed interests? Should these questions and others be explored by the press now that the United Nation's Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change has characterized global warming as a "widespread, rapid and intensifying" emergency? Yes. Local residents need to understand why Stanford University is continuing to support fossil fuel companies.