Story at a glance
- A ban on natural gas in new publicly and privately owned buildings passed the San Francisco City Council.
- Some fear this will make it more costly to start and maintain a business.
A major new infrastructure provision is expected to make waves in San Francisco as city Supervisor Rafael Mandelman’s proposal to ban natural gas in all new building construction passes.
The San Francisco Chronicle reports that on Tuesday, the San Francisco Board of Supervisors voted unanimously to ban natural gas in new buildings, opting for more sustainable alternatives like electric-run heating and cooling appliances.
The new ordinance will affect more than 54,000 homes and 32 million square feet of commercial real estate in San Francisco. This applies to buildings both publicly and privately owned.
“This is ahead of its time, but not by much,” Residential Builders Association President Sean Keighran said of the legislation. “Very soon the whole world will be following this path.”
So far, Keighran’s prediction is accurate; other cities like San Jose, Calif., are also mulling making commercial buildings gas free after already banning residential structures from running on natural gas.
The United Nations estimates that cooling and heating systems in buildings consume more than 50 percent of overall building energy and run on fossil fuels like natural gas, making them a leading greenhouse gas emitter.
Similarly, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency reports that electricity used in commercial and residential structures composes 12 percent of all U.S. greenhouse gas emissions as of 2018 data.
Under Mandelman’s law, all-electric buildings will reduce emissions, improve indoor air quality and increase building safety. In San Francisco alone, natural gas composes 40 percent of the city’s overall greenhouse gas emissions, and 80 percent of building emissions. If these figures were reduced, it could have a positive influence on sustainability.
The law will apply to buildings that request a construction permit after June 30. Planned buildings with retail spaces will be exempt until Jan. 1, 2022.
Existing restaurants running on natural gas are not required to turn off their sources, but some groups expressed concern for smaller, minority-owned restaurants and businesses.
The Golden Gate Restaurant Association commented that while it understands and supports environmentally sustainable policies, expensive plans like Mandelman’s legislation hits small business owners the hardest.
“We are all for clean air and everything, but small business gets hit hard with bills like this, especially Chinese and other ethnic restaurants,” Steven Lee, an entertainment commissioner who works with the Sam Wo Chinese restaurant, told reporters. “There are not a lot of opportunities for mom-and-pop entrepreneurs. What if they want to go into a new building at the Chase Center or Pier 70 or Candlestick when they build that? They won’t be able to — no way in hell you are going to put a wok on an electric stove.”
A provision in the law states that there is an exemption if the plan is not financially feasible; for people who apply for a building permit after the Jan. 1, 2022 deadline, a mixed-use fuel exemption can be issued upon application.
Construction stemming from the law may actually be more affordable than classically fueled buildings, supporters say. A report from the San Francisco Department of the Environment found that all-electric construction is 13 cents per square foot less that its natural gas-powered counterpart.
Mandelman also noted that while natural gas pipelines would not need to be installed as often under the law, he agreed to introduce a counterpart water-recycling legislation that will keep union workers employed.
“Whatever reservations people had as developers or human beings,” said Mandelman, “they are living on a planet that appears to be changing in frightening ways.”