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All About All Electric Building Rules

The City of Petaluma is exploring all-electric building requirements for new building projects. These requirements, called reach codes, are intended to help the City reach a key climate action goal of reducing our community's greenhouse gas emissions.

City staff will be presenting a report about all-electric codes at the City Council meeting on March 16, 2020. Please check the Meetings page to learn more.

What is an All-Electric Building Code?

An all-electric code requires that all appliances and systems in a building be powered by electricity, rather than by natural gas.

In a home, the systems and appliances that would be affected include:

  • Water heaters
  • Heating and air conditioning systems
  • Ovens/stove tops
  • Clothes dryers
  • Fireplaces

In a business, the systems and appliances that would be affected would include all of the above plus:

  • Manufacturing systems
  • Commercial cooking (e.g., restaurants)

Who Would be Affected by these Rules?

The all-electric building codes being considered would apply to NEW building projects only. City staff will make their presentation and look for Council direction on whether the codes will apply to new residential and commercial projects, or just new residential projects.

At this time, it is not known whether tenant improvements and renovations would be subject to the codes as well. There is no move to require existing residences

The focus on NEW construction--rather than renovations, tenant improvements or other existing buildings--is because it is easiest to choose energy infrastructure at the time of planning and construction, and more challenging and costly to retrofit existing buildings.

easiest to choose energy infrastructure at the time of planning and construction, and more challenging and costly to retrofit existing buildings.

The people and industries who would be most affected by the codes include:

  • Buyers and renters of homes
  • Builders/Developers
  • Plumbers and pipefitters

Businesses looking at newly constructed commercial spaces (such as offices, warehouses, manufacturing buildings, restaurants, etc.)

Why are these rules being proposed?

All-electric buildings can help us cut greenhouse gas emissions, both locally and at the state level.

Why? Buildings powered by natural gas are a leading cause of greenhouse gas emissions, second only to transportation. That's because natural gas is a carbon-based fossil fuel, and as such, creates emissions even if we don't see them.

All electric buildings create fewer emissions because electricity is increasingly being generated by non-carbon renewable sources such as wind, solar, and water. In fact, electricity from Sonoma Clean Power is currently 91% carbon-free.

Will there be exemptions?

It is up to the City Council to decide if there will be exemptions to the all-electric rule. Other cities have reach codes that exempt restaurants, life-science buildings that require narrow interior temperature ranges, or cooking and fireplaces in residences.

When would these rules take effect?

Adopting all electric building codes is a multi-step process and would likely take six months to a year from beginning to implementation.

  1. First, City staff need to present information about the reach codes, and several options, to the City Council. At that meeting, the Council will give direction to staff as to whether they are interested in pursuing reach codes, and if so, what the reach codes would include.
  2. Next, City staff will present an ordinance to Council for consideration and a vote. This is called the "first reading."  It usually takes four to six weeks from the first presentation to first reading.
  3. Third, if the ordinance passes the first reading, it is brought before Council four to six weeks later for a second reading.
  4. If the ordinance is passed by the Council, the reach codes must then go to the California Energy Commission (CEC) for approval. The CEC recently approved reach codes from the town of Windsor and the City of Santa Rosa. The CEC approval process took about six months.

How can I learn more about these rules?

In addition to the information being presented on this page, we recommend that community members:

  1. Read the pros and cons from sources that reflect both sides of the issue. Doing a internet search for "Reach Codes" will provide links to websites, articles, and other information.
  2. Read the materials submitted to the City Council in advance of the meetings. The Staff Report will present both sides of the issue, the potential effects to our community, and input from community members. The ordinance being proposed will be included in the Council Packet for the first and second readings.

How can I provide input about the rules?

Community input is an important part of this process. You can provide your input in the following ways:

  1. Public Comment at City Council Meetings
    Members of the public are allowed to speak during Public Comment sections at Council meetings. If the Reach Codes item is not on the Council Meeting agenda, you would speak during the Public Comment period at the beginning of the Council Meeting. If the Reach Codes is on the agenda, you must wait until the presentation is made and the Mayor calls for Public Comment on that issue.
  2. In Writing (Written Letter or E-Mail)
    You can write a letter or email to Council Members. Letters can be sent or dropped off at City Hall, 11 English Street, City Clerk's office. Emails can be sent to individual Council members' email addresses and/or to the City Clerk's email address. Submitting your input the week before the item is on the agenda will give Council members time to read your input before the meeting.
  3. By Phone or In person
    You can call the Council Members and leave a message and/or schedule a time to speak with the Council Member by phone or in person. Council members can meet with groups of constituents (for example, the Chamber of Commerce) as well, depending on their availability.

Is it more costly to build an all-electric building? 

It depends on who you ask.

A state study approved by the California Energy Commission concludes that an all-electric home would save an average of $6,171 per home and $3,361 for a multifamily unit compared with a mixed-fuel building. This study also finds that the savings in energy costs for all-electric buildings far outweigh any higher initial costs for heat pump units.

On the other hand, the North Coast Builders’ Exchange has estimated that not installing gas piping from the meter and in the house would save $3,300 in a new house, but the increase in electrical wiring would be $1,800, for a net savings of $1,500.  However, they estimate the increased cost of heat pump space heating compared to a gas furnace would exceed $6,000. Then again...the heat pump unit has the added benefit of providing air conditioning in summer, so while you might be paying more, you also would likely be getting more.

Bottom line: Because the additional one-time costs would be included in the purchase price of a new home, and at current rates represent around 1% of current median home prices, the increase is not expected to have a significant impact on home affordability.

What about Public Safety Power Shutoffs and other power outages?

It's true that most older gas appliances will work during a PSPS. But most newer ones will not work since electricity is needed for ignition and controls.

As far as disasters go: Both gas lines and electric utilities are susceptible during California’s primary natural disaster events – wildfires and earthquakes. The question then becomes resiliency: how long will it take to get these systems back up. A study by the City/County of San Francisco estimates that electricity could be back up in five to seven days, while gas lines would take six months.

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