New York City lawmakers are set to vote on Wednesday on whether to prohibit the use of natural gas in most new buildings, a move that would turn the nation’s most populous city into a showcase for a climate-change-fighting policy that has been both embraced and opposed across the country.
The bill is expected to pass the City Council and then be signed by Mayor Bill de Blasio. If all of this occurs, most construction projects submitted for approval after 2027 will be required to use a fuel other than gas or oil for heating, hot water, and cooking, such as electricity. Some smaller structures would be required to comply as early as 2024, while hospitals, commercial kitchens, and certain other facilities would be exempt.
Supporters see the proposal as a significant and necessary step in a city where heating, cooling, and powering buildings accounts for nearly 70% of carbon dioxide and other heat-trapping gas emissions.
Although the stoves and furnaces would use electricity generated in part by the combustion of natural gas and other fossil fuels, supporters say the change would help build momentum ahead of a statewide requirement to use 70% renewable energy by 2030, up from about 30% now.
“We can’t keep expanding gas if we want to meet the state’s climate goals,” said Alex Beauchamp of the environmental group Food & Water Watch.
“This is a huge, huge step forward,” he said, describing the legislation as a “true game-changer on the national scene.”
Proponents also claim to be fighting air pollution, particularly on behalf of minority communities. Researchers discovered that non-white people in the United States are exposed to more air pollution than whites.
“We must take steps toward climate justice — which is inextricably linked to racial justice,” said Council sponsor Alicka Ampry-Samuel in September, and the gas legislation “provides an actionable and meaningful answer.” The Democrat represents an overwhelmingly Black Brooklyn district.
Several dozen other cities, including San Francisco and Seattle, have moved to eliminate gas hookups for heat, hot water, and sometimes cooking in new buildings.
At the same time, states such as Arizona, Oklahoma, and Texas have prohibited cities from doing so, arguing that consumers should be able to choose their energy sources. In Texas, the effort began before, but gained traction after, a February storm caused massive power outages, leaving many homes without electricity, heat, or drinkable water for days.
According to the New York Independent System Operator, which oversees the state’s electricity supply, shifts toward electric vehicles, furnaces, and appliances are “expected to create long-term upward pressure” on electricity use.
In a recent report, the organization stated that it is still researching how these trends will affect the power system, but it predicts that by around 2040, electricity demand may begin peaking in the winter rather than the summer.
To meet its renewable energy targets and growing demand, the state plans significant increases in wind and solar power, among other approaches. Some projects are currently in the works.
Nonetheless, some building interests, including the Real Estate Board of New York, expressed concerns at a City Council hearing last month about whether prohibiting new natural gas hookups would strain the electrical grid. It already struggles in the city during heat waves, resulting in significant neighborhood outages.
Real estate groups also lobbied for a postponement of the gas phase-out deadlines, claiming that alternative technologies, such as electric heat pumps that transfer heat between indoors and outdoors— need more time to develop, particularly for skyscrapers.
Utilities, meanwhile, said they supported the goal but sounded economic alarms.
“We have real concerns that, if implemented as planned, these (proposals) may result in increased energy costs for customers,” said Bryan Grimaldi, vice president of National Grid, which provides power in some parts of the city. Con Edison, which serves much of it, has called for provisions to assist poorer renters with what it has described as increased electric heating costs.
According to environmental groups, going electric does not have to be more expensive. In fact, they claim that in some new, energy-efficient buildings, the opposite is true. They also point out that natural gas prices fluctuate, having risen significantly this year before recently falling slightly.