Southern California Focus: Appliance electrification
Jun 13, 2023
There’s been copious news coverage of attempts by state government to force dense new housing construction on cities around California. Much less is said about attempts to compel Californians to switch almost every type of domestic appliance or machine from natural gas fuel to electricity.
At the same time, little note was taken of power blackouts – sometimes lasting a week or more – that accompanied the myriad storms of last winter, which set records for snowpack in the Sierra Nevada and other California mountain ranges.
Despite those events, much more in-home electrification likely be forced on homeowners in the near future.
It’s just possible that after the huge natural gas bills handed to most Californians early this year, some home and condominium owners feel full electrification can’t come soon enough.
Seemingly getting set for this, a movement among cities and counties over the last three years now sees builders installing electric appliances in most new housing throughout the state. At the same time, pressure will soon start building on owners of existing homes to electrify almost everything whenever they create significant additions or remodels.
Some cities are even adopting ordinances to force such conversions as part of all home sales after 2028 or 2030, although there may be delays in that requirement because a federal appeals court ruled this spring that Berkeley cannot enforce its new law requiring conversions in short order.
These coming policies stem from conventional wisdom among officials that says fossil fuel natural gas furthers climate change. People holding this view often also insist California must lead in mitigating that as much as possible. Many local government staffers are also convinced gas appliances emit toxic fumes like oxides of nitrogen, a major component of smog. They urge anyone using gas stoves to run every available ventilator while cooking.
So water heaters (even tankless ones), stoves and stovetops, ovens, clothes dryers, central heaters – virtually any appliance a homeowner might use – might become electric, rather than gas-fired, within a decade or so.
This would be much like the 1970s-era conversions to low-flow for most water-using devices, from bathroom and kitchen faucets to washing machines and shower heads.
As with those changes and the thousands of switches from green lawns to drought-resistant plants, many cities and counties will likely subsidize folks who get on board.
This movement is strongest now in Northern California, where cities like San Mateo and Piedmont require homeowners to install new outlets for electric appliances during all kitchen and laundry room renovations. They also require installing high-capacity electric circuit panels whenever existing panels are altered or upgraded.
Some cities encourage these changes when construction is happening anyway, making the changeovers cheaper than if they were separate projects.
Other cities have also begun mandating heat pumps when heaters are replaced, but are not yet forcing homeowners to dump natural gas space heaters.
That will likely come within the next 10 to 20 years, but probably not until the state’s electric grid grows considerably, as must happen anyhow for the state to reach its stated goal of ending sales of strictly gasoline-powered cars by 2035.
But the real shock will come when and if cities adopt and enforce almost complete electrification at time of sale. That could cut home sellers’ profits by thousands of dollars on almost every transaction.
This putative requirement will surely meet heavy resistance among homeowners, who have lived with gas appliances for many decades without apparent harm, at the same time enjoying more reliability than electricity offers in an era of frequent blackouts.
Their likely resistance is bound to produce a series of local ballot measures seeking to maintain the status quo, where homeowners and apartment landlords can freely choose whatever appliances they like.
Of course, just as with housing policy, state government lurks in the background. If the Legislature passes new laws mandating mass electrification no matter the cost, some local governments will surely mount legal challenges, egged on by change-resistant homeowners.
Then, as with today’s housing issues, it will be up to the courts to decide whether charter cities, normally free to make local laws that diverge from state rules, can also decide this issue on their own.
Elias is author of the current book “The Burzynski Breakthrough: The Most Promising Cancer Treatment and the Government's Campaign to Squelch It,” now available in an updated third edition. His email address is [email protected].