New York City edged closer Wednesday to becoming the largest U.S. city to ban natural gas hookups in new construction, seeking to set a national net-zero example despite concerns about the impact on energy prices and the electricity grid.
City Council approved a measure that would require new buildings with fewer than seven stories to use power sources other than oil or natural gas — presumably electricity — for heating, water and cooking by the end of 2023. Buildings seven stories or higher would have until July 1, 2027.
“The New York City Council just voted to ban gas usage in new buildings, capping off our historic climate forward agenda for New York City,” Council Speaker Corey Johnson said in a Facebook post. “I’m so proud of our work this term confronting crises with sound action and I look forward to the next Council picking up where we left off.”
Mayor Bill de Blasio, who is term-limited and did not run for reelection, left no doubt Wednesday that he would sign the bill before leaving office on Jan. 1.
“NYC just made history by banning gas usage in new buildings! THIS is how you invest in a sustainable future, protect public health, create good paying jobs and END the era of fossil fuels,” Mr. de Blasio said in a Twitter post.
The bill, Intro 2317, makes New York the latest and most populous metropolis to jump onto the “green buildings” trend started two years ago in far-left Berkeley, California. City Council described it as a step toward achieving carbon neutrality by 2050.
The measure, sponsored by council member Alicka Ampry-Samuel, includes “some exceptions where electrification might not yet be a feasible substitute,” among them laboratories, laundromats, hospitals, crematoriums and commercial kitchens.
Pushing for the measure was the #GasFreeNYC coalition, which hailed Wednesday’s vote as a significant defeat for the oil and gas industry and a beacon for the rest of the nation on reducing carbon dioxide emissions.
“Today New York City takes a historic step in moving off fossil fuels, one that will inspire and motivate the rest of the nation because unlike Las Vegas, what happens in New York doesn’t stay in New York,” Food & Water Watch senior organizer Eric Weltman said at a rally. “Next up, New York state and the rest of the world.”
The bill was passed over the objections of the American Petroleum Institute, Exxon Mobil, the Real Estate Board of New York, the Plumbing Foundation and a host of trade unions, which raised the alarm over the speed and feasibility of the transition to all-electric buildings.
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“This bill was rushed through the legislative process without adequate review, analysis or debate,” said a statement by American Petroleum Institute Northeast regional director Michael Giaimo. “With additional time and study, we believe the Council will better appreciate the impact of enhanced electrification as well as the importance of a diverse energy mix.”
Nearly 40% of global carbon dioxide emissions come from the buildings sector, including construction, heating and power, according to the International Energy Agency. The Associated Press reported that the share in New York is closer to 70%.
Critics of the push to transition to electricity in new buildings argued that U.S. emissions reductions since 2005 are largely from replacing coal with natural gas.
“Hydrogen and renewable natural gas can play a critical role in furthering the city’s emission reduction goals while maintaining affordability and preserving consumer choice,” Mr. Giaimo said.
James Whelan, Real Estate Board of New York president, warned in May that the measure would “upend the lives of millions of residents across New York City and significantly increase costs for homeowners and renters.”
He said Wednesday that the “real estate industry is committed to working with policymakers to develop proven policies that meaningfully reduce carbon emissions from the built environment.”
“While we appreciate that the efficient electrification of buildings is an important component of realizing these goals, these policies must be implemented in a way that ensures that New Yorkers have reliable, affordable, carbon-free electricity to heat, cool and power their homes and businesses,” Mr. Whelan said.
Even before the New York City Council vote, the move in liberal burgs to replace natural gas with electricity via heat pumps and water heaters was well underway.
Last year, San Francisco and neighboring Oakland agreed to phase out natural gas in the name of meeting their climate change goals. In February, Seattle banned natural gas in new high rises, hotels and commercial buildings.
Pushing back with preemptive strikes against such municipal ordinances are red states, including Arizona, Texas, Oklahoma, Tennessee, Kansas, Utah, Mississippi and Louisiana, according to S&P Global Market Intelligence, earning the nickname “fossil fuel sanctuary states.”
In Massachusetts, the town of Brookline agreed two years ago to nix natural gas in new buildings, only to be overruled by Attorney General Maura Healey, who said the measure overrode state authority. The town voted again in June to go gas-free with two reworded measures, WBUR reported.
A study released Dec. 3 by the New York Independent Systems Operator warned of risks to the grid’s reliability as the state moves to achieve net-zero emissions, saying that “our reliability margins are thinning to concerning levels beginning in 2023.”
“We have to move carefully with the grid in transition in order to maintain reliability and avoid the kind of problems we’ve seen in other parts of the U.S.,” Zach G. Smith, NYISO vice president of system & resource planning, said in a statement.
In 2019, New York ranked sixth among the states in natural gas consumption for power generation. Most of its electricity was produced by gas, followed by hydro and nuclear, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration.
• This article is based in part on wire service reports.