San Francisco Bay Area declares war on gas appliances

San Francisco Bay Area declares war on gas appliances

San Francisco Bay Area regulators on Wednesday approved a de facto ban on new household stoves and water heaters that burn natural gas — but not gas-fired stoves — as states, cities and political parties bicker over the fuel’s future.

The region’s air pollution control authorities have overwhelmingly approved the ban, which is to come into effect in several stages from 2027 to 2031, depending on the size and type of devices. In particular, the measure does not target gas stoves, which have become a cultural hotspot in the debate about phasing out fossil fuel use at home.

The gas industry and many Republicans say gas bans increase costs for homeowners while violating their right to heat and cook their homes however they choose. Climate activists believe replacing gas appliances with electric appliances is a necessary step to combat climate change, and they see the Bay Area’s new rules as a way to do it.

Bay Area Air Quality Management District regulations focus on stoves and water heaters and the air pollution they produce, particularly nitrogen oxides (NOx). NOx is produced when gas is burned, is a component of smog and can aggravate asthma and cardiovascular problems. The district estimates that gas-fired stoves and water heaters produce more NOx than all of the area’s cars each year. Water heaters and furnaces sold in the Bay Area are not required to emit NOx by implementation dates, effectively forcing homeowners to purchase electric heaters or heat pumps.

The requirement has raised concerns among some residents that should their water heaters or stoves suddenly fail, they will be forced to pay more for an electrical replacement – if they can find one readily available. District board member Ray Mueller said that while he supports the idea, the requirement could put a strain on homeowners, especially if the switch to electrical appliances is forcing them to upgrade their home’s electrical panel and wiring.

“Honestly, what I think is missing from this discussion is that there’s a middle class out there that’s really being hurt,” said Mueller, a San Mateo County overseer who is involved in voting on the measure voice contained.

However, most board members said that by setting the requirement years into the future, the district would send a clear signal to the market to offer more heat pump and electric water heater models, which would bring the price down. The measure also requires board members to take another look at market conditions two years before the first implementation deadline, which they can then adjust if necessary.

“Necessity is the mother of invention, so we create necessity and the market will respond,” said Board Member Juan Gonzalez, Mayor of the City of San Leandro.

Even with the measure in place, many gas furnaces and water heaters in the Bay Area will still be running decades into the future, said Leah Louis-Prescott of RMI’s climate and energy think tank. Homeowners can still fix their old gas appliances after 2031.

“It ensures the consumer buys a cleaner device and avoids decades of pollution,” said Louis-Prescott, a member of RMI’s zero-carbon building team. “It’s not so much a ban — it’s a phasing out as your devices break.”

The gas debate has raged for years in the Bay Area, home to more than 7 million people. Berkeley officials in 2019 passed the country’s first regulation banning gas hookups in new buildings. San Francisco and other cities across the country followed suit, with New York City passing its own ban in 2021 and Gov. Kathy Hochul calling for a statewide version this year. The gas industry and its political allies have pushed back, and at least 20 states have passed legislation preventing their cities from blocking use of the fuel.