I'd like to thank our City Council for adopting an all-electric building code for new construction. I'm proud of our city's leadership, not just for their dedication to climate protection, but for protecting the health, safety, and economic well-being of our residents. Like the leaders of Palo Alto, Morgan Hill, and San Jose, they realize that fossil fuels are an anachronism of another time, and are taking measures to protect our cities by embracing the future.
Let me emphasize that the code applies only to brand-new buildings that receive their building permit after the new code goes into effect. It does not apply when an existing building is being remodeled, or to new buildings that have already received a building permit.
Climate change is undeniable here in the Bay Area, with a record number of 100 degree days and wildfire smoke filling our skies every fall. This is not the world we want to be living in, nor should it be. Because 97% of Mountain View residents are served by Silicon Valley Clean Energy, which provides 100% carbon-free electricity, all-electric buildings in Mountain View will be inherently carbon-free, a big win for the climate.
Natural gas is not the answer to lowering our carbon footprint. In California, most natural gas comes from fracking, which has widespread negative impacts on ecosystems. Once considered a better option than oil and coal, natural gas, aka methane, is now understood to be an environmental disaster because of leakage. Leaked natural gas harms the climate more than the carbon dioxide created by burning it. A recent NASA survey shows that oil and gas facilities cause 26% of the methane emissions in our state.
Environmental protection is not the only reason why it's time to start moving away from fossil fuels. For example:
•The cost of natural gas is skyrocketing, with PG&E asking for a 24% rate increase by 2021.
•Natural gas in the home is a leading cause of fires, burns, carbon monoxide poisoning, and most post-earthquake fires. Natural gas pipeline explosions, like the one in San Bruno a few years ago, cause $300 million a year in property damage in the U.S.
•Indoor combustion is hazardous. Gas cooktops release dangerous levels of fine particulate matter, smog precursors, and formaldehyde. These are known to exacerbate, and even cause, asthma and other lung ailments, according to the California Air Resources Board.
•All-electric homes are at least $3,300 cheaper to construct. New electric appliances are remarkably efficient, and generally cheaper to operate. For example, my new heat pump water heater costs me 25% of what my relatively new gas water heater costs to operate. A heat pump furnace is typically over 400% more efficient than a new gas furnace, and operating costs are the same if not less for the heat pump — definitely less if you have solar.
People have argued we need gas as a backup, despite the damage it does to the climate, particularly in light of PG&E's recent shutoffs. However, new gas appliances require electricity to work. And gas goes out in earthquakes and other emergencies, either by shutoff or explosion. When PG&E shut off electricity and gas in Sonoma County due to the fires, electric service was restored several days before gas service. Why? Because each home's gas service had to be restored by a technician making a house call, while electricity could be restored by PG&E flipping a switch for a large area after checking the lines.
With the adoption of the new building code, Mountain View's City Council is making our homes cleaner, safer, and more efficient, while protecting our climate today and for generations to come.
IdaRose Sylvester is a Carbon Free Mountain View board member and resident of Mountain View.