Lawmakers from U.S most populous city, New York City on Wednesday voted to bar new buildings from using natural gas, as they voted a showcase for a climate-change-fighting policy that has been both embraced and blocked elsewhere.
The legislation if signed by Mayor Bill de Blasio would oblige most construction projects that have been submitted for approval after the year 2027 to make use of other alternatives aside gas for heating, hot water and cooking. They could use electricity, solar or other means except gas. Also, smaller buildings will have to comply as early as the year 2024, with the exception of Hospitals, commercial kitchens and some other facilities.
Analysts believe the move is necessary to effectively combat global warming as heating, cooling and powering buildings accounts for nearly 70% of the city’s emissions of carbon dioxide and other heat-trapping gases.
Electricity generated partly burning natural gas and other fossil fuels would be used by new buildings but supporters of the move opine that the change still would keep millions of tons of carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere over time. They premised their submission on the believe that it would boost momentum ahead of a state-wide requirement to use 70% renewable energy by 2030, up from about 30% now.
Alex Beauchamp of Food & Water Watch, an environmental group had asserted that the move is ‘a huge, huge step forward’, while calling the legislation “a real game-changer on the national scene.”
The idea was first brought to the public by Berkeley, California in 2019, where the idea of banning gas hookups came to the fore, with the measure having to face an ongoing court challenge from a restaurant association, but San Francisco, Seattle and some other U.S. cities have joined the fray.
According to the New York Independent System Operator, which oversees the state’s electricity supply , shifts toward electric vehicles, furnaces and appliances are “expected to create long-term upward pressure” on electricity use.
In a recent report, the organization posited that it’s still studying how those trends will affect the power system, but it forecasts that electricity demand in winter could surpass summer peaks by about 2040.
A significant increase in wind and solar power, with other approaches to meet its renewable energy targets and growing dream is being envisioned by authorities of the state, with some projects already in the works. But some building interests are not impressed with the new development as they expressed concern that banning new natural gas hook-ups could strain the electrical grid, having already having to struggle during heat waves in the city, sometimes resulting in sizeable neighbourhood outages.
James Whelan, who runs a landlords’ lobbying group called the Real Estate Board of New York, on Wednesday said that it gets the importance of moving away from fossil fuels, but “these policies must be implemented in a way that ensures that New Yorkers have reliable, affordable, carbon-free electricity.”
Real estate groups also pressed to push back the deadlines for nixing gas, saying that alternative technologies — such as electric heat pumps that transfer heat between indoors and outdoors — need more time to develop, particularly for skyscrapers.
There are however economic alarms from utilities, adding that they support and are working on greening the energy supply.
On that, a vice president of power provider National Grid, told council members last month, Bryan Grimaldi said:
“We have real concerns that, as envisioned, these (proposals) may result in increased energy costs for customers”.
On his part, Con Edison, who serves much of the city, encouraged them to help poorer renters with what it characterized as increased costs of electric heating.
Both Bryan Grimaldi and Con Edison utilities greeted Wednesday’s vote with measured statements, with Con Ed inferring that a “clear-cut path toward electrification of most new buildings is a sensible and necessary step.”
Environmental groups are of the opinion that electric doesn’t necessarily mean more expensive, adding that in fact it’s just the opposite in some new, energy-efficient buildings, while noting that natural gas prices fluctuate, having risen notably this year before recently dropping somewhat.