California Forum

To clean up climate pollution, get California’s buildings off of fossil fuels

Brackets for rooftop solar are installed on a roof in Loomis. Beginning in 2020, new California homes will be built with solar panels.
Brackets for rooftop solar are installed on a roof in Loomis. Beginning in 2020, new California homes will be built with solar panels. pkitagaki@sacbee.com

What’s the number one source of climate pollution in the world? Based on what grabs the most headlines, you might answer coal or cars. Yet the answer is: buildings.

Buildings are also the second largest source of greenhouse gas emissions in California, but we have no clear path forward to address these emissions.

More than half of our building pollution comes from gas- and propane-powered appliances. Californians know from experience how dangerous gas infrastructure can be. The lesser-known fact is that keeping households tied to fossil fuels also drives up housing costs, creates air pollution hazards in people’s homes and threatens our state’s climate goals.

Upon winning the election, Governor-elect Gavin Newsom praised California as a diverse community of problem solvers. Now, as he prepares to take the oath of office as governor, a coalition of local governments, utilities, industry groups and environmental organizations is calling on him to eliminate fossil fuel use in homes and buildings.

Our power is getting cleaner. Our vehicles are getting cleaner. It’s time for our homes and workplaces to get cleaner, too. With visionary leadership, Gov. Newsom can establish clear targets for reducing building emissions. He can also deploy incentive and finance programs for clean appliances. By doing so, he can spur our innovation economy to develop, produce – and even export – clean electrical appliances and policies to kickstart a global revolution in zero-emission buildings.

Opinion

This investment will pay off by allowing California to corner the market on healthy homes and buildings. It will also empower Gov. Newsom deliver on other priorities, like combating the housing crisis, poverty and air pollution, as well as fixing our state’s infrastructure.

The transition to zero-emission homes through the adoption of clean electrical appliances will lower the cost of new housing, allowing tens of thousands more families to realize the California dream.

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Panama Bartholomy

Connecting a new home to gas lines and meters can cost between $6,000 and $20,000. The National Association of Home Builders estimates that for every $1,000 increase in the price of a home, more than 15,000 families are priced out of the market in California. By tying homes and businesses to fossil fuels, we’re driving up housing costs and hurting struggling families.

Instead, homes and businesses in California can be powered by clean energy and supported by electric heat pumps providing space and water heating, electric induction ranges providing superior and safe cooking technology, and convenient electric clothes dryers. Each of these solutions can improve living conditions and save the state, building owners and occupants money.

Investment in homes and apartments that reduce energy costs will be especially helpful for low-income communities. Utility bills are the number one reason why people resort to payday loans. People living below 50 percent of the poverty line often spend 35 percent of their monthly income or more on lighting, heating and cooling. Moving homes beyond fossil fuels will allow these families to spend their money on other household needs.

Expanding consumer appliance choices will also improve public health and safety by eliminating a critical driver of indoor air pollution. Gas appliances produce harmful pollutants, leading to air pollution levels in some homes that would be illegal if measured outside. And by moving off of gas appliances altogether, we can help ensure that our leaky gas infrastructure isn’t contributing to local or global health disasters.

California’s 100 percent clean buildings will be healthy, safe and affordable. And they could be our most successful climate solutions export yet. With Gov. Newsom’s leadership, we can provide the technologies and industries that transition the world’s building stock off of fossil fuels — as we’ve done for clean power and clean transportation.

For California to meet its climate goals, we must transition our homes and buildings to clean energy appliances. With our buildings, our transportation systems and our economy powered by 100 percent clean energy, California can lead the way to a healthier and more prosperous future.

Panama Bartholomy has worked on energy and climate issues within and outside of government for over 15 years and currently directs the Building Decarbonization Coalition, which represents utilities, local governments, businesses and environmental organizations.
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