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Berkeley became first US city to ban natural gas. Here’s what that may mean for the future

Susie Cagle, THE GUARDIAN

Berkeley this week became the first city in the United States to ban natural, fossil gas hook-ups in new buildings.

The landmark ordinance was passed into law on Tuesday, after being approved unanimously by the city council the previous week amid resounding public support.

Although Berkeley may be pushing the vanguard, the city is hardly alone. Governments across the US and Europe are looking at strategies to phase out gas. In California alone, dozens of cities and counties are considering eliminating fossil fuel hook-ups to power stoves and heat homes in new buildings, while California state agencies pencil out new rules and regulations that would slash emissions.

Natural gas, it seems, has become the new climate crisis frontline.

Berkeley’s ordinance, which goes into effect on 1 January, will ban gas hook-ups in new multi-family construction, with some allowances for first-floor retail and certain types of large structures.

The reasons behind the decision are multifold. Energy use in buildings accounts for about 25% of greenhouse gas emissions in California. If the state is to meet its goal of 100% zero-carbon energy by 2045, the gas will have to go.

Read more at https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2019/jul/23/berkeley-natural-gas-ban-environment

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US judge halts hundreds of drilling projects in groundbreaking climate change ruling

Cassidy Randall, THE GUARDIAN

In the first significant check on the Trump administration’s “energy-first” agenda, a US judge has temporarily halted hundreds of drilling projects for failing to take climate change into account.

Drilling had been stalled on more than 300,000 acres of public land in Wyoming after it was ruled the Trump administration violated environmental laws by failing to consider greenhouse gas emissions. The federal judge has ordered the Bureau of Land Management (BLM), which manages US public lands and issues leases to the energy industry, to redo its analysis.

The decision stems from an environmental lawsuit. WildEarth Guardians, Physicians for Social Responsibility, and the Western Environmental Law Center sued the BLM in 2016 for failing to calculate and limit the amount of greenhouse gas emissions from future oil and gas projects.

The agency “did not adequately quantify the climate change impacts of oil and gas leasing”, said Rudolph Contreras, a US district judge in Washington DC, in a ruling late on Tuesday. He added that the agency “must consider the cumulative impact of GHG [greenhouse gas] emissions” generated by past, present and future BLM leases across the country.

Read more at: https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2019/mar/20/judge-halts-drilling-climate-change-trump-administration

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Santa Rosa City Council moves toward innovative “electric-ready” building ordinance

Mike Turgeon, CENTER FOR CLIMATE PROTECTION

In a marathon study session on Tuesday, October 23rd, the Santa Rosa City Council, at the urging of the Friends of the Climate Action Plan (FoCAP), received a long-overdue update on the progress of the 2012 Municipal and Community Climate Action Plans. The Climate Action Plan implementation team (CAP-IT) has not met since the Santa Rosa fires and accomplishing its goal to reduce greenhouse gas emissions now is crucial.

After the session, the Council moved to put a discussion for an “electric-ready” building ordinance on a future agenda. Electric ready means having 220/240 volt outlets and the appropriate size wiring to accommodate electric appliances such as heat pump water heaters, heat pumps for heating/cooling, induction stoves and so on.

The infrastructure for natural gas would still be in place, but electric ready homes will be ‘future-proof,’ thus avoiding costly electrical upgrades when California begins to require a fuel switch from natural gas to “electrifying everything.” Homeowners can simply swap out gas appliances for the new, efficient electric appliances. The additional costs to make a home electric ready is roughly 0.1 percent of a home’s cost for labor and materials if done as part of the original build. It would be much more expensive for a homeowner to have to retrofit these electrical features.

The minimal cost of electric-ready will not affect the price of a new home since new home prices are based on what the market will bear, not how much wires, cables and assorted materials cost.

A Santa Rosa electric-ready ordinance would be a first in the state of California and perhaps the rest of the country. This ordinance would be a good first step toward getting away from natural gas entirely.

Read more at https://climateprotection.org/santa-rosa-city-council-moves-toward-innovative-electric-ready-building-ordinance/

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The natural gas industry has a leak problem

John Schwartz and Brad Plumer, THE NEW YORK TIMES

The American oil and gas industry is leaking more methane than the government thinks — much more, a new study says. Since methane is a powerful greenhouse gas, that is bad news for climate change.

The new study, published Thursday in the journal Science, puts the rate of methane emissions from domestic oil and gas operations at 2.3 percent of total production per year, which is 60 percent higher than the current estimate from the Environmental Protection Agency. That might seem like a small fraction of the total, but it represents an estimated 13 million metric tons lost each year, or enough natural gas to fuel 10 million homes.

Thanks to a boom in hydraulic fracturing in states like Texas and Pennsylvania, natural gas has quickly replaced coal as the leading fuel used by America’s power plants. It has also helped, to some extent, in the fight against climate change: When burned for electricity, natural gas produces about half the carbon dioxide that coal does. The shift from coal to gas has helped lower CO₂ emissions from America’s power plants by 27 percent since 2005.

But methane, the main component of natural gas, can warm the planet more than 80 times as much as the same amount of carbon dioxide over a 20-year period if it escapes into the atmosphere before being burned. A recent study found that natural gas power plants could actually be worse for climate change than coal plants if their leakage rate rose above 4 percent.

Read more at https://www.nytimes.com/2018/06/21/climate/methane-leaks.html

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California clamps down on natural gas leaks from pipelines 

David R. Baker, SFGATE
California utility regulators on Thursday approved new rules designed to prevent, find and fix leaks at natural gas facilities ranging from storage sites to pipelines.
California regulators have approved rules designed to cut natural gas leaks from pipelines and pumping stations by 40 percent, as part of the state’s far-ranging fight against global warming.
The California Public Utilities Commission voted unanimously Thursday to adopt the rules, which will require utility companies to conduct frequent inspections and fix even minor leaks within three years.
Methane, the main component of natural gas, is a potent greenhouse gas, 25 times more powerful than carbon dioxide at trapping atmospheric heat.
“This certainly is an approach other states can take, and we think the data will show that it’s the right thing to do,” said Tim O’Connor, director of California oil and gas policy for the Environmental Defense Fund, which has made cutting gas leaks nationwide one of its top priorities. The group called the package of natural gas regulations the nation’s toughest.
Once fully implemented, the regulations approved Thursday could save $8 million worth of gas each year, enough to supply 72,000 homes, O’Connor said. Although the Trump Administration is delaying the implementation of Obama-era federal rules to rein in methane emissions, other states including New York and Massachusetts are moving forward with their own regulations, O’Connor said.
Source: California clamps down on natural gas leaks from pipelines – SFGate

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Gas surges ahead of coal in US power generation

Karl Mathiesen, THE GUARDIAN
For the first time ever, gas has usurped coal as the biggest producer of electricity in the US. Analysts say Obama administration’s proposed climate change rules are likely to establish gas as the predominant source of electricity as early as 2020.
Figures released by the US government’s Energy Information Administration (EIA) show that in April, natural gas produced 31.5 per cent of the country’s electricity and coal 30.2 per cent.
The interregnum will not last, with coal expected to average around 35.6 per cent of generation across 2015. But a decade ago, such an inversion was unthinkable. Americans got half their electricity from coal and just a fifth from natural gas. Now the two are neck and neck.
In April a glut of fracked gas from new shale regions drove the price of gas down to just $2.50/million Btu (British thermal unit, a widely-used measure of energy), a 35 per cent drop since February. This oversupply, combined with a routine seasonal shut down of coal plants, caused gas production to creep above coal for the first time.
“Power generators often use the spring months to take their plants offline for maintenance, especially coal plants. This maintenance period happened to coincide with a period of very low natural gas [prices],” said Tyler Hodge who works on the EIA’s Short-Term Energy Outlook.
Hodge said gas prices were expected to rise again in the coming months, and coal would reassert itself at the top of the production table when plants fire up again for the winter.
In 2012, gas prices fell even lower and production almost overtook coal, but coal returned to dominance. “So this [gas surge] is by no means irreversible,” said Michael Obeiter, a senior associate in the World Resources Institute’s climate programme. But he said the short term fluctuations in gas price were compounding an overall drift away from coal and the trend favoured “natural gas becoming the dominant source for electricity generation in the US in the coming years.”
Read more at: Gas surges ahead of coal in US power generation – 15 Jul 2015 – News from BusinessGreen