Valley Voices

Phasing out natural gas yields dubious benefits, but much economic pain

Gov. Jerry Brown holds up four bills he signed related to climate change on Wednesday, Sept. 14, 2016, in downtown Fresno. One of the bills, AB1613, directed $900 million in cap-and-trade funds to greenhouse gas reducing programs that benefit disadvantaged communities, support clean transportation and protect natural ecosystems.
Gov. Jerry Brown holds up four bills he signed related to climate change on Wednesday, Sept. 14, 2016, in downtown Fresno. One of the bills, AB1613, directed $900 million in cap-and-trade funds to greenhouse gas reducing programs that benefit disadvantaged communities, support clean transportation and protect natural ecosystems. Fresno Bee file

California is in turmoil. Despite the fact our state accounts for the fifth-largest economy in the world, blackouts and other problems with the electrical grid are posing existential challenges to the high quality of life millions of Californians have come to expect. That’s not to mention the devastating fires. One would think political leaders and regulators would look for ways to diversify access to safe and reliable energy sources, but incredibly, that’s not the case.

On Thursday, Nov. 7th, the Public Utilities Commission will discuss placing a ban on natural gas in new homes, in an attempt to phase gas out completely in favor of universal electrification. It’s safe to say a natural gas ban for businesses and existing homes won’t be far behind.

Estimates are that such a ban would increase annual energy costs by nearly $400 for every single-family homeowner in the state. The cost of replacing natural gas appliances would be $7,200 per household. Total estimated statewide cost to residents is between $4 billion and $6 billion, according to a study by Navigant Research.

Then there’s the need for a much more robust transmission and storage system. No one knows how much that will cost.

Why is the PUC headed down this expensive road to force Californians into an electric-only world? To reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

That sounds like a laudable goal until you realize natural gas from California’s buildings makes up only 9 percent of total GHG. Residential is only 2 percent of that 9 percent, according to the California Air Resources Board.

That’s a lot of bucks for very little “bang” in terms of greenhouse gas reductions.

In fact, the cost/benefit analysis of this proposed ban is so bad — so clearly upside down — that the PUC voted in early August to do away with cost-effectiveness as one of its tests for a fuel replacement rule.

Please take a moment to absorb that. The PUC is willfully ignoring how much this ban would cost, regardless of how little benefit it may bring. Translation: you will pay more.

Here in the Central Valley, where the poverty rate is consistently between 20 and 25 percent, adding $400 a year to a family’s budget just so they can cook and have hot water is simply unthinkable.

And increased power costs would be one more hurdle for disadvantaged business owners.

Imagine how much this will cost your local school district to retrofit systems from gas to electric. Or city facilities. Hospitals. Jails. Who will pay for all that? You.

All of which is even more confounding when you understand that natural gas is the single largest factor in California’s CO2 reductions over the past 10 to 15 years.

That’s right, using much cleaner-burning natural gas has helped reduce our GHG emissions significantly. As more methane and other gases from garbage dumps and dairy waste are converted to useable natural gas, this is a cheap, reliable and, yes, renewable source of energy that California should embrace.

We fully support the use of electric vehicles and the necessary supply infrastructure, as well as the increased use of solar and wind to help keep California running with fewer emissions.

But it would be foolhardy to pin all our energy needs on a single source — electricity. Especially when utilities are already shutting off power during high fire risk events. Basic safety dictates we have redundant power sources.

Those are just some of the reasons more than 100 cities across the state, representing nearly 20 percent of our state’s population, as well as many Valley county boards of supervisors, have passed resolutions denouncing this proposed ban.

Sure, we need to reduce emissions. But we need to work with all available tools.

Let the PUC know you want to keep California safe and affordable. You want to keep natural gas.

Write them at public.adviser@cpuc.ca.gov and reference Proceeding R.19-01-011. Be sure to copy your local Assembly member and senator and Gov. Newsom as well. Learn more at c4bes.org.

Tara Lynn Gray is chief executive officer of the Fresno Metro Black Chamber and ambassador for BizFed Central Valley. She runs numerous programs to help disadvantaged business owners succeed. She can be reached at taralynngray@fmbcc.com

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