Historic Moment: Heads of California Energy Agencies Recognize Need to Halt New Gas Connections in Southern California

ABOVE IMAGE: An all-electric house medallion. The National Electric Manufacturers Association issued medallions like this one in the late 1950s - early 1970s to promote the all-electric home. Now that the grid is rapidly decarbonizing and electric appliances are super efficient, all-electric homes are cornerstone to a safe community, clean air, and stable climate.

Two years after the Aliso Canyon gas storage leak-- one of the worst gas leaks in the history or the U.S.-- California faces a key opportunity to learn from the past and pivot to a safe clean energy future.

This week, in an encouraging turn of events, President Michael Picker of the California Public Utilities Committee (CPUC) and Chair Robert Weisenmiller of the California Energy Commission (CEC) advised the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors to adopt a moratorium on new gas connections. Picker and Weisenmiller emphasized that existing gas efficiency programs like deploying thousands of smart thermostats will not sufficiently reduce gas demand to ensure reliable gas service in the event of a very cold winter. They recommended LA County stop expanding gas infrastructure in new homes and apartment buildings, and instead heat newly constructed homes with efficient electric heat pumps and geothermal.

This recommendation was triggered by an investigation by the CPUC, CEC, California Independent System Operator, and the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power that concluded that due to the limited gas reserves at Aliso Canyon and upstream pipeline outages, Southern California faces even greater uncertainty for reliable gas service compared to last winter.

Halting gas hookups in new construction is certainly a step in the right direction, and County Supervisors should prioritize swift action. Our dependence on polluting gas is not only threatening our climate and our health, but the Aliso Canyon fiasco also demonstrates that gas is unreliable, risky, and costly. While California needs a plan for phasing out gas across our economy, a natural first step is to stop digging a deeper hole. Building high-performance all-electric homes and apartment buildings is critical to prevent locking in decades of additional gas demand in gas-constrained Southern California.

To accelerate the area’s switch away from gas, state and county policymakers can also adopt smart policies that support fuel switching from gas to electric appliances in existing homes and buildings . For example, new electricity tariffs for all-electric homes can ensure bills stay manageable while rewarding electricity use when there are more renewable resources online, thereby extending the reach of wind and solar into our homes. Similarly, rebates for high efficiency electric appliances, like heat pump water and space heaters, will encourage Californians to invest in climate-friendly appliances that can save energy and lower utility bills.  

The consequence of our reliance on climate-disrupting fossil fuels like gas is on full display in California, as wildfires rage and drought projections grow worse. The call this week for a moratorium on new gas hookups is a great next step towards phasing out gas. LA County Supervisors should heed the advice of Picker and Weisenmiller. Super-efficient all-electric homes and buildings are crucial to not just reduce the need for Aliso Canyon in the short term, but to ultimately make our communities safer, improve air quality, and stabilize the climate.