For the last five years, we have fought together to bring Community Choice Energy to Orange County. After countless community presentations, hundreds of meetings, and thousands of emails and public comments at city council meetings, every OC city now has a path to 100% clean electricity through the OC Power Authority.
Now it’s time to focus on other essential pathways to slash climate pollution, advance environmental justice, and create jobs and savings for families. To do this, we will again need to work together, starting in Irvine. Our new fight is for all-electric homes and to #ElectrifyOC.
The Urgency of This Moment
Most people don’t know that more than 90% of the “natural” gas used in homes for cooking, heating and cooling rooms, drying clothes, and heating water is methane—a decidedly non-natural and dangerous greenhouse gas. These gas appliances warm the planet in two ways: generating carbon dioxide by burning methane gas as a fuel and leaking unburned methane into the air.
Although carbon dioxide is more abundant in the atmosphere, methane is much more potent and effective at trapping heat. Methane’s global warming potential, compared to carbon dioxide, is about 86 times as great over a 20-year period and at least 25 times as great a century after its release.
According to the 2021 IPCC report update, acting NOW to eliminate methane is key to a climate-safe future and clean air for everyone. Despite this urgent warning, the consumption of methane gas is on the rise in California homes and buildings. Instead of cutting methane emissions, they have jumped up 17.8 percent in homes since 2014 and increased by19.8 percent in the industrial sector since 2009. We are going in the wrong direction.
If we are going to stop the climate crisis, we cannot afford to build any more buildings or buy any new machines that use gas as fuel, and we must help existing homes replace gas appliances with electric appliances.
Gas Harms the Health of Families in Homes
New research from Stanford University finds that gas stoves constantly leak methane and other pollution into our most-used living spaces, exposing people to disease-triggering pollutants. One of the most disturbing facts is that even if your stove is off methane is still leaking into your household. Research has shown that more than ¾ of methane emissions occur while stoves are off because gas fittings, stove connections, and in-house gas lines leak.
When gas stoves are on, the combustion that heats your pots and pans also comes with dangerous levels of indoor air pollutants, “including formaldehyde, carbon monoxide and nitric oxides, which can trigger asthma, coughing, wheezing and difficulty breathing.”
Cooking with gas is closely linked with childhood asthma—a disease suffered by people of color and lower-income groups at much higher rates than the rest of the population. A wealth of research has shown that children living in homes with gas stoves had a 42 percent higher risk of experiencing asthma symptoms.
This is an environmental justice issue because people in communities of concern often live in smaller homes with less ventilation, more people, and many families have no alternative to gas appliances for heat. Exposure to indoor gas pollution is highest for families who are already disproportionately burdened with pollution from other sources.
In some cases, families actually experience more pollution from their stoves than the highways that they live next to. The pollution levels caused by gas stoves in many cases would be illegal if they occurred outside the home, but, unfortunately, EPA air quality rules don’t apply to indoor air.
The good news is that the technology and policy changes needed to fix this problem are available today. There are two key approaches:
Pass codes that require that all new construction is all-electric, called reach codes. 54 California cities and counties have adopted electric reach codes, but, so far, no OC city has taken this important step.
Pass plans to retrofit existing buildings, starting in communities of concern. Removing gas appliances can be subsidized and incentivized by Community Choice Energy programs—such as the OC Power Authority—and by investor-owned utilities. The California Public Utilities Commission has more than $1 billion in energy efficiency funding available, and we need to put those funds to work for OC families.
The City of San Jose is leading on retrofits with an ambitious plan that centers the needs of historically marginalized communities and eliminates fossil fuels in the city’s over 230,000 existing buildings by 2030. San Jose's plan prioritizes energy and housing cost reductions and tenant protections with programs that provide funding for those who cannot afford the transition.
Energy Savings and Jobs, Jobs, Jobs
Building electrification brings many more important benefits. Having to choose between good jobs and healthy communities is a false choice, perpetuated by the fossil fuel industry. Electrification will save money and create good-paying jobs.
UCLA’s Luskin Center did a comprehensive study on job impacts of electrification and found that electrification would bring a net increase of about 100,000 jobs in the state. Electrifying California’s households (including vehicles) will generate savings of $2,548 per household and $34 billion of state-wide savings every year.
This is a win-win-win.
Why Irvine? Why now?
According to the US Census, Irvine is on the top 10 list of the country’s fastest-growing cities–the only place in California on that list. Between 2020 and 2050, Irvine's population is expected to grow by 50,000, resulting in a lot more buildings and energy use.
According to Irvine’s 2020 Irvine Strategic Energy Plan, Irvine buildings cause 56% of all carbon emissions in the city- more than any other sector. Last year, Irvine adopted a resolution to reach zero carbon by 2030, but it will not get there without building electrification. The sooner it starts, the better the odds of reaching the goal.
Zooming out a bit, Orange County is the 6th-most populous county in the US. Because no OC city has yet adopted a building electrification policy, Irvine has an opportunity to act as a model for other OC cities, inspiring them to do the same.
Irvine and other OC cities have the power to eradicate a major source of pollution, protect vulnerable communities, and combat climate change at the same time through building decarbonization. Our leaders need to hear, loud and clear, that the community wants it. We can do this, let’s make it happen!
Join the OC Climate Coalition to become part of a community that is working to create an equitable and climate-safe future for everyone in Orange County.