Natural gas bans
Last year the city of Berkeley took a dramatic step and became the first city to place an outright ban on natural gas. Last summer, Berkeley’s city council voted unanimously to ban natural gas for new multi-family construction. There are multiple reasons for this action. Berkeley is in an earthquake fault zone and has first-hand experience with post-earthquake fires started by natural gas lines after the 1989 Loma Prieta earthquake. In addition, there is new information about gas leaks during transmission and distribution, which release methane directly into the atmosphere, a potent greenhouse gas. Other recent studies have demonstrated the adverse effects of cooking with natural gas, such as the combustion byproducts from basic cooking, which easily exceed the acceptable outdoor levels set by the EPA. And like most cities, roughly 25% of the greenhouse gas emissions in Berkeley are related to the use of natural gas. The Berkeley ban has been in effect since Jan. 1, 2020.
Other cities are following suit, with six cities petitioning the CPUC to allow new local “reach codes,” codes that go beyond the state building codes, banning or restricting natural gas. At this time, over 50 cities and counties in California are considering similar actions, and the trend is gaining traction nationwide.
Community solar gets a green light
As of Jan. 1,2020, California building code now requires that all new construction have solar photovoltaics (PV) as part of their electricity source. The new building code requirement applies to both single-family and multi-family projects that are up to three stories high. While the obvious solution is solar panels on the roof of every building, there was some grey area to whether multiple buildings could share the same solar source, a situation referred to as “Community Solar.”
Sacramento’s local utility, SMUD, submitted a proposal which it calls the Neighborhood SolarShares program, which supports community solar as means of meeting the new building codes solar production requirements. At first, the California Energy Commission (CEC) paused on the question, pushing the decision out for a few months. Eventually, they realized they needed to address the situation and establish new guidelines concerning the use of community solar.
SMUD’s proposal is the first community solar proposal submitted under the new 2019 Building Code Energy Efficiency Standards. In response, the CEC staff outlined six defining criteria that must be met by community solar proposals. Upon review, the CEC determined thatSMUD’s proposal met each of the six criteria. On Feb. 20, 2020, the CEC approved SMUD’s request by a unanimous vote. The decision is an important milestone as it allows designers and builders to consider an alternative to individual rooftop solar systems while still meeting the state’s energy efficiency and building codes.