Camel’s Nose Under the Tent; the Local Attempts to Ban Natural Gas

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Across the U.S. there are moves afoot to ban natural gas from being used as a heating source in households and businesses.This unprecedented move to ban natural gas at the distribution (residential/commercial) level can only mean that a full-frontal assault on natural gas as not only a heating source, but an electricity source is next – thus putting into the question the availability of affordable and reliable energy.  

From Bellingham, Washington to Berkley, California to Brookline, Massachusetts opponents of the affordable and reliable aspects of natural gas have waged a steady campaign at the local level to ban its use as a heating and cooking fuel. Proponents of these measures – residing in communities that have already set ambitious emission reduction targets – argue more aggressive action needs to be taken to meet 0% emissions goals for their localities.These cities and towns have – in some cases like Bellingham – moved the goal to completely eradicate their carbon footprint from 2050 to early as 2035 — even hoping to meet a 2030 date. 

The debate on banning natural gas as a heating fuel at the residential/commercial level gets to heart of the origins of Energy Fairness’ (then Partnership for Affordable Clean Energy – PACE) creation more than a decade ago. As we mention in nearly every piece we author, our goal is to have an honest conversation with policymakers and consumers about what it takes to maintain an affordable and reliable supply of energy.   

The honest conversation that needs to take place here is a discussion about the high-cost associated with the enactment of some of these more aggressive proposals.  Bellingham has proposed not only banning natural gas in new home and business construction but also forcing conversions in existing structures as well.   

According to some estimates, the cost of converting from a natural gas-based heating system to high-efficient electric system for the average consumer could range from $6,000 to $10,000. That’s a lot of dough — especially in a city where the median household is $9,000 less than the rest of Washington state. It goes without saying that this potential ban could disproportionately affect the low-income and those on a fixed income – like seniors – the most. And, it might have been one of the root causes why Arizona’s Governor recently signed into law legislation putting the brakes on localities in the Grand Canyon State from adopting similar proposals.

As important as it is to discuss the short-term implications of municipalities enacting bans on an affordable and reliable fuel like natural gas, it’s more important to look at the long-term implications also. The prohibitions on natural gas at the local/distribution level are the proverbial “camel’s nose under the tent” at ultimately banning natural gas as a fuel for electric power generation at the wholesale level. 

Throughout our decade long tenure, we’ve addressed how the U.S. energy portfolio is changing and supported efforts to enhance the affordability and reliability of solar, wind and other renewables.Those efforts have included support for the Gardner-Heinrich legislation incentivizing development of more robust batteries to store energy and reduce intermittent nature of solar and wind —  as well as touting the benefits of pumped hydropower – which still accounts for 95% of all energy storage.

It’s important to look to the future with a foothold in the present. What the present tells us is that natural gas is, and will continue to be, an affordable and reliable source of energy for heating and electric power generation. And that is why we can only perceive the present attack on natural gas as a heating fuel as being nothing but a prelude to a larger wide-scale attack on natural gas as a source of electricity in the future.