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The Future of Electrification In Irvine

Updated: Mar 23, 2023

Irvine Set to Go All-Electric, But Unnecessary Exceptions Must Be Removed.

On March 28, Irvine could become the first Orange County city to ban dangerous gas pipes and appliances in new buildings. If a strong policy is approved, it would mean the end of the gas industry’s growing power in California’s fastest-growing city. With Irvine slated to add 60,000 new homes in the next eight years, ensuring all those stoves, water heaters, furnaces, and dryers are all-electric instead of gas-powered would mark a major victory for climate, jobs, and justice.

The policy comes at a time when health concerns over gas appliances in homes are at an all-time high.

Researchers recently reported that gas stoves cause as much childhood asthma as secondhand smoke. Last year, research from Stanford University found that gas stoves constantly leak disease-causing pollution into our most-used living spaces, with ¾ of emissions occurring while stoves are off.

We all deserve homes and appliances that meet the safety needs of our families. With a strong building electrification ordinance, Irvine can make this a reality.

Unnecessary Exceptions Leave Room for Improvement

Irvine’s consideration of an all-electric policy is good news! But, in order for the policy to protect our communities and neighborhoods, it needs to remove exceptions that weaken the ordinance, including:

  • Gas in restaurants;

  • Gas water heaters in multifamily housing for one year after the policy is adopted;

  • Gas for developers that have “practical difficulties” complying;

  • Gas in hospitals and laboratories; and

  • Gas for pools, spas, BBQs, and fireplaces

Any exception to the policy prioritizes gas industry profits over our health and well-being and makes zero carbon by 2030 unattainable. Let's unpack:

Gas in restaurants and commercial kitchens = Health and Safety Risks for Workers

Food service workers are exposed daily to harmful air pollution, linked to respiratory illnesses and developmental issues. With frequent low wages and a lack of health insurance, many workers cannot afford the health risks that come along with gas appliances.

Every day, these workers also endure unbearable heat in kitchens over 100ºF from inefficient gas stoves in commercial kitchens that operate without fans or sufficient ventilation, only to return to homes burdened with the same fossil fuel-caused pollution. The connection between workplace injuries and high temperatures is well established. Research from the Institute of Labor Economics found that hotter temperatures increase workplace injuries, causing 20,000 injuries per year in California, with major implications for labor market inequality.

50 to 80 percent of the energy used for gas cooking goes into the air, heating the kitchen instead of cooking food. With all-electric induction cooking, there is almost no waste heat transferred into the kitchen, making the space much cooler. Cutting out gas-powered equipment also reduces the demand for ventilation hoods and cooling equipment, saving costs and energy use. Most modern commercial kitchen hoods are controlled by heat and smoke sensors that save energy in an all-electric kitchen.

Food service workers deserve healthy, safe workplaces, and excluding them from the many health benefits of all-electric cooking is a grave injustice.

Gas water heaters in multifamily housing for one year = Families Locked Into Years of Unnecessary, Expensive Pollution

This exemption would lock in gas pollution for at least 2,157 Irvine homes built in the next year, many of them low-income, affordable housing units. If approved, Irvine would be the ONLY California city to allow an exception for multifamily water heaters.

Gas water heaters use more gas than any other home appliance and can have a lifespan of 15 years, locking in years of unnecessary climate pollution.

In February, Sean Armstrong, a leading expert in building electrification presented to the Irvine City Council on the savings electrification will bring to builders and residents, including case studies demonstrating savings from all-electric water heating for multifamily.

Gas for developers with “practical difficulties” = A Huge Loophole for Gas Development

This proposed blanket exemption would provide a huge loophole enabling any developer to sidestep the ordinance. High-efficiency electric appliances such as heat pumps are three to five times more energy efficient than their gas counterparts. This means that any new home with air conditioning will save money by being all-electric. Full home electrification, including transitioning vehicles and adding solar can save families $1,800 per year.

$13,000 gas bills have pushed small restaurants to the brink of closure, demonstrating the urgency of transitioning everyone off the gas system, which tripled annual costs from 2009 to 2017 to $14.9 billion.

Switching gas appliances to zero-emission electric ones would save money and lives. State-wide, the improved air quality and reduced health impacts of building electrification would equal $3.5 billion in monetized health benefits each year and save 354 Californian lives.

Gas in hospitals and laboratories = A Major Step Backward for High-Tech Irvine

Irvine is home to the world’s first all-electric hospital and an excellent example of why these exceptions are unnecessary and financially beneficial. The city of Palo Alto, which is home to Stanford University and many innovative laboratories, saw no need to exempt these facilities when it created its all-electric ordinance four years ago in 2019.

UC Irvine Medical Center, the first all-electric hospital in the nation, will save money through electrification, demonstrating the clear feasibility of electrifying hospitals and laboratories in Irvine and the region.

Gas for pools, BBQs and fireplaces = A Frivolous and Dangerous Expansion of the Gas Industry

Now that the health and climate dangers and impacts of gas are well understood, and electric substitutes are available, especially for BBQs and pool water heaters, this exception is frivolous.

When communities electrify, it saves money on energy bills, reduces harmful emissions, and ensures we all have cleaner air to breathe. Less gas exposure means reduced asthma and other diseases, fewer trips to the doctor, less money spent at the pharmacy, and less time away from work and life to address health needs.

The stakes for Irvine and every Southern California city could not be higher. Click here to ask the Irvine council to approve a strong all-electric ordinance with no exceptions.

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