Seattle City Council unanimously approved changes to energy regulations on Monday that will further limit the use of natural gas in new commercial and residential buildings higher than three stories.
The ordinance prohibits natural gas for space heating in new buildings or for use in replacement heating systems in older buildings. It would also ban the use of natural gas to heat water in new hotels and large apartment buildings, and take other steps to improve energy conservation, including making greater use of more efficient electrical heating and cooling systems.
The changes to the Energy Code are part of a wider effort to find ways to reduce the city’s greenhouse gas pollution from fossil fuels, which are driving climate change. Without the code changes, Seattle officials predicted that building emissions would have been 12% higher by 2050 than the city government’s goal to be carbon neutral.
In Seattle and elsewhere in the state, many politicians are gathering around a blueprint for a low-carbon future that includes more electrification of the construction and transportation industries and then find more ways to generate that electricity without generating greenhouse gases.
Councilor Dan Strauss, the main sponsor, said the changes give Seattle “one of the most forward-looking energy codes in the country.”
Seattle Mayor Jenny Duran, in a statement released in January detailing the code changes, described electrification of buildings as “an important step in a number of measures to curb climate pollution.”
The changes to the Energy Code will continue to allow commercial buildings and homes to be built using natural gas for cooking. However, sockets would be required near ovens so that electric stoves could be installed later.
The new codes also do not apply to the construction of new homes and townhouses whose energy codes have been set by the state and which now continue to allow natural gas heating.
Natural gas industry officials have warned against shifting too much energy to the power generation system, which is facing new pressures as coal burning declines in the face of a sharp expansion of more variable solar and wind power
“On such cold winter days, natural gas is an essential part of the energy system. For example, on peak days, it provides about two-thirds of the energy consumption of the city of Seattle, ”said Janet Kim, spokeswoman for Puget Sound Energy (PSE), who said the company was not taking a position on the changes to Seattle’s energy codes.
PSE, which supplies natural gas to around 150,000 customers in Seattle, has set itself the goal of reducing CO2 emissions from natural gas sales by 30% by 2030 by replacing alternatives such as landfill gas. According to Kim, no net CO2 emissions should be achieved by 2045.
Seattle has set a goal to be climate neutral by 2050, which would require a drastic reduction in greenhouse gas emissions, which totaled more than 3.1 million tons in 2018.
A study of greenhouse gas emissions in Seattle found that buildings accounted for nearly a quarter of that pollution as of 2018, up 8% compared to 2016. The study found that commercial buildings caused more than half of these emissions.
Jessica Finn Coven, director of the Seattle Office of Sustainability & Environment, called the report, when it was released in December, “a sobering wake-up call for us. We are still far from our goals and have started to trend in the wrong direction. “