This is the fourth and final blog in the “Surging Forward” series. Check out previous blogs here.
With the high living costs in San Diego and Orange Counties, reducing the burden of skyrocketing utility bills is critical for communities to thrive. Electrification is the solution.
Protecting Communities in A Volatile Gas Industry
One reason Southern California energy bills are so high is that investor-owned utilities (IOUs) pass maintenance costs onto customers. By preserving and expanding expensive fossil-fuel infrastructure, San Diego Gas & Electric (SDG&E) and SoCalGas line their pockets at the expense of our communities.
In the United States, spending to maintain and expand gas distribution systems tripled from 2009 to 2017, totaling $14.9 billion annually. Spending on electricity infrastructure is understandably growing, as we need access to more renewable energy sources like wind and solar. However, tripling the money poured into gas systems is uneconomical since it is so costly to maintain, requiring massive safety upgrades and “leak mitigation investments.” Hydrogen, the greenwashed solution IOUs are pushing, is even more expensive for an untested technology with minimal climate and community payoffs.
The gas market is volatile—prone to sudden spikes in price—bringing further unpredictability to communities looking for stability. SDG&E uses this fact to justify raising rates. In an email sent to customers this month about winter pricing, they state that “natural gas prices in the worldwide market have reached a 14-year high.” Using ratepayer funds to maintain and expand fossil fuel infrastructure to grow profits is unacceptable, especially while customers struggle to pay rising utility bills.
Electric = Efficient = Affordable
Nearly a quarter of SDG&E’s residential ratepayers have missed payment deadlines. The costs of our skyrocketing energy bills hit low-income households the hardest. Something needs to change. Enter: electrification.
With efficient and scalable technology comes increased affordability. High-efficiency electric appliances such as heat pumps are three to five times more energy efficient than their gas counterparts. Because of this, “all new construction homes and the majority (84 percent) of existing single-family homes with A/C would save by going all-electric.” If a home fully electrifies, including transitioning their vehicles and adding solar, they can save $1800 annually.
In most cases, bill savings will outweigh the upfront costs, which will increasingly be the case as Federal and State dollars for electrification become available.
Not all electric appliances are made equal. Learn more.
A quick note: Induction cooktops outperform electric-coil stove tops, and heat pumps are more efficient than standard electric water heaters. As more Americans electrify their homes and businesses, policymakers must prioritize access to these high-efficiency, affordable appliances.
Hidden Fees and the Costs of Inaction
When communities electrify their homes, it saves money on energy bills, reduces harmful emissions, and ensures we all have cleaner air to breathe. Improving air quality through electrification lowers health risks and associated costs in a country like the U.S., with expensive and often inaccessible healthcare. Removing methane gas reduces asthma and other health risks. That means fewer trips to the doctor, spending less at the pharmacy, and needing less time away from work and life to address health needs.
If Californians switched their household gas appliances to zero-emission electric ones, it would save money and lives. The improved air quality and reduced health impacts would equal “approximately $3.5 billion in monetized health benefits” each year and save 354 Californian lives.
This is a high-stakes fight that calls for urgent action.
Choosing a Regionally Relevant Approach
Electrification will get San Diego and Orange Counties closer to their climate action goals. Electrifying homes and buildings will work with broader emissions reduction efforts - like decarbonizing the grid - rather than against them. For example, with community choice energy (CCE) programs offering 100% renewable energy, electrifying our buildings is a fast, proven path to zero emissions. Some industries, like aviation and cement-making, will be hard to electrify. Still, these industries are limited in San Diego and Orange Counties, so we don’t need to pursue uncompetitive, false solutions like hydrogen to heat buildings.
Electrification Will Create Tomorrow's Workforce
Electrification will bring good jobs to the region, too. A comprehensive study on job impacts in California found that electrification would bring a net increase of about 100,000 jobs in the state. It’s possible to have high-quality jobs and healthy communities. A Job Impact Analysis conducted for the City of San Diego identified minimal job loss for gas industry workers over the long term. It found that electrification upgrades, like existing building retrofits, will create new jobs annually.
A comprehensive study on job impacts in California found that electrification would bring a net increase of about 100,000 jobs in the state.
To mitigate possible job losses, elected officials and advocates must continue collaborating with labor partners on solutions protecting workers. Implementing other sustainability solutions—like finally upgrading our aging water and sewer infrastructure—will
minimize worker impacts as we shift away from methane gas. Improving working conditions and living conditions together is a win-win.
An Electric Bank Account for Everyone
The newly passed federal legislation, the Inflation Reduction Act (IRA), offers more than $50 billion of funding for a suite of rebates, grants, and tax credits supporting electrification. This is the largest investment in climate and energy in U.S. history. Adding to those funds is the California Climate Commitment, which allocates over $1 billion towards building decarbonization in the state to help families retrofit their homes. So what will this look like?
Though it will take time for the money from these investments to be available, their impact will be monumental. Leveraging the IRA’s benefits to achieve full electrification will create huge household savings and 43,746 new jobs in San Diego County.
Through the IRA, the federal government essentially opened a free “electric bank account” for every American household and filled them with over $10,000 in incentives to electrify, weatherize, and upgrade our homes. Keep reading to learn about what savings are available to your household.
What Savings Are Available For Me?
I'm a homeowner. What savings are available for me?
For homeowners, the money will help with electric wiring, energy efficiency measures like improved insulation and replacing gas appliances with electric ones. The IRA prioritizes funding for low-income families to switch, with many programs covering 100% of costs, including installation, for low-income households.
I'm a renter. What savings are available for me?
IRA funding can help households purchase portable heat pumps, like mobile window air conditioning units. These often have a heating setting that provides a safer alternative to old gas wall heaters. During a heat wave or cold snap, renters can now access efficient heating and cooling that helps them stay resilient in the face of severe weather events.
IRA funding didn’t happen overnight. Environmental justice communities, policymakers, and climate advocates have fought to ensure the government makes a significant investment in our future for decades. But this is nowhere close to the finish line.
Now, we need leadership at the local level to create programs that close the remaining gaps and ensure equitable, easy access to the funds. Our elected officials and city leaders must take advantage of this unparalleled opportunity to fund the climate solutions our communities desperately need, like electrification.
There are growing examples throughout the country, the state, and the region where policymakers have passed legislation to support electrification. To protect our health and safety, every city must:
ensure that all new construction is electric,
find equitable pathways to electrify existing buildings.
Electrification is proven, equitable, efficient, affordable, and regionally relevant. It will move San Diego and Orange Counties away from fossil fuel dependence and place us on a path to a healthy and sustainable future.