San Francisco, San Jose, and Oakland Bring Electrification This Holiday Season

By Matt Gough 

Before 2019, not a single city in the United States had laws prohibiting the use of fossil gas in new buildings. Now, at the end of 2020, 40 cities have passed electrification ordinances across California, with many more looking to do the same in 2021. 

In the last month, major population centers in the Bay Area such as San Francisco, San Jose, and Oakland passed ordinances requiring that new construction be built without gas pipelines. Between these three cities, two million additional people now live in communities free from the burden of new gas pipelines. That's more than the population of Alaska and Hawaii combined! 

To say that we're in the middle of an electrification revolution might be an understatement. This transformation is due in large part to city leadership and Community Choice Energy providers, which have defined California’s electrification movement through bold and visionary policies championed by grassroots advocates and local elected leadership. 

Cities pave the way for all-electric homes and businesses

San Francisco recently set the standard for large cities looking to protect their residents and businesses from the environmental, public health, and safety threats (as well as the rising costs) of gas. On November 10, a unanimous 11-0 vote by the San Francisco Board of Supervisors ushered in an all-electric reach code for new construction. The ordinance requires that all new construction in San Francisco be built using all-electric appliances and technology starting June 1, 2021. Restaurants get an extra year to comply, and builders can request an exemption, though it requires proof of technological infeasibility. 

San Francisco, home to almost 900,000 people, is the cultural capital of Northern California, and a notoriously expensive place to live. The good news is that all-electric homes and buildings are cheaper to build on average, and result in lower annual utility bills. San Francisco is, for now, the most prominent city to adopt a building electrification policy. However, the city’s neighbors to the east and south have also recently adopted strong building electrification policies.

San Jose passed a gas prohibition ordinance on December 1. San Jose and San Francisco’s ordinances are similar in their effect, but the pathways they use to achieve an all-electric new construction standard vary slightly. San Jose’s ordinance, like Berkeley’s, uses the city's police powers to stop the use of gas in new construction on the grounds of health and safety, whereas San Francisco and Oakland go through the California Energy Commission to achieve the same outcome. While San Jose's ordinance has more exemptions than San Francisco's or Oakland's, San Jose is distinguished by being the largest city in the nation to pass an ordinance prohibiting gas use in new buildings. 

Oakland’s ordinance incorporates the best of San Jose’s and San Francisco’s, using an all-electric standard for all building types, without any of the exemptions. A 6-0 unanimous vote by the city council on December 1 means that starting immediately, all buildings built in Oakland will be required to be all-electric

Building electrification is good for public health

All three of these policies are designed to protect public health. Studies have shown that gas in homes increases the risk of childhood asthma and exposes residents to increased levels of harmful pollutants like nitrogen dioxide, carbon monoxide, and chemicals like formaldehyde. Gas pipelines pose additional risks during disasters: They are more likely to cause catastrophic damage in the event of an earthquake, flood, or infrastructure failure, and it takes longer for gas service to be restored after an outage than electric service. These public health protections were key considerations for elected officials in San Jose, San Francisco, and Oakland.  

An all-electric standard is also a win for climate change. Buildings account for a large portion of California’s greenhouse gas emissions, and as our state continues to develop and build, that share of emissions will increase without decisive policy action. As our electricity is rapidly getting cleaner as we transition to less-expensive, clean energy sources like wind and solar, building electrification will help dramatically lower greenhouse gas emissions. Building electrification can also make our homes more resilient in the face of climate change. California is experiencing warmer and warmer temperatures during the summer months. Building electrification, coupled with home battery backup power, will help us be prepared for the impacts of power outages, earthquakes, and other unpredictable events.

Every new gas pipeline threatens community health, safety, and climate. Cities across California have done their part to craft, pilot, and demonstrate the viability of building all-electric. There is also widespread support from a diverse array of stakeholders -- including businesses, the California Air Resources Board, and decision-makers across the state -- to stop burning gas in our buildings. Now it’s time for the California Energy Commission and Governor Newsom to step up and show real climate leadership by requiring an all-electric building standard in California, starting with the 2022 update to the statewide building code.

To urge your city council members to be climate leaders and to create a gas-free future for our homes and buildings, please sign this petition. To get more involved in the campaign, please sign up here for updates on what is happening in your city.


Matt Gough is a senior campaign representative for the Sierra Club's My Generation campaign.