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Washington State News

Natural Gas Ban in New Washington Homes May Become a Reality

(The Center Square) – The Washington State Building Code Council’s Technical Advisory Group on Friday morning passed a motion disapproving of a code proposal that would require new residential buildings to be built all-electric.

But it was largely a moot point in that earlier this month the group passed two proposals that would translate into an effective ban on traditional HVAC systems and natural gas in residential buildings. One would require space heating to be all-electric, and the other would require water heating to be all-electric.

“We do think that electrification is a very important step for Washington, but based on previous actions of this TAG – and both discussion and testimony that we’ve already heard – we think that the TAG’s time would be better spent elsewhere, so we’d actually like to request disapproval, so that we can just move on to other topics,” said Sean Denniston, senior project manager at Portland, Oregon-based New Buildings Institute, who introduced all three proposals.

The motion to disapprove was passed unanimously via voice vote at the virtual meeting.

Todd Myers, director of the Center for the Environment at the Washington Policy Center, talked with The Center Square about what it all means.

“The effect over time is to make all-electric far more preferable, if not required,” he said.

Myers says requirements for all-electric home construction is based on outdated and inaccurate information that is likely to increase the cost of building homes.

According to the findings of his research, new estimates from all-electric proponents show construction costs for electrification make homes more expensive, updated utility cost projections turn savings into costs, CO2 emissions estimates are seriously flawed, and proposed restrictions would add nothing to total CO2 reductions.

The latter two points were brought up by Myers during TAG’s meeting last Friday that saw the group pass the requirement that water heating be all electric.

“So, what you have to ask yourself is not whether this reduces CO2 emissions, but whether the increased costs are worth it to smooth the transition, which I think is speculative,” Myers told the group.

All-electric proponents, Myers said, claim money will be saved over time on costs, but that does nothing in terms of helping people trying to rent or buy a place to live.

It was a point made by Andrea Smith, policy and research manager in government affairs for the Building Industry Association of Washington, during TAG’s Tuesday meeting at which the motion requiring space heating to be all-electric was passed.

“This means that a fully-electric home would price out 22,000 people in our state,” she said. “We have a housing and homeless crisis right now, and, you know, it’s great that heat pumps allow for cooling, but it’s not so great if you can’t afford to shelter yourself in the first place.”

She went on to say it would be a “sad day for housing affordability for our state,” adding, “This just signals to Washingtonians and our neighbors and our loved ones that lowering greenhouse gas emissions is more important than their right to be sheltered.”

The all-electric push is the result of a state law requiring the SBCC to update the energy code to reduce 70% of annual energy consumption from buildings by 2031 compared to a 2006 baseline.

In March, the SBCC voted to mandate that new commercial and multi-family construction be outfitted with all-electric space heating and hot water systems.

Some proponents of natural gas decried that ruling as an unelected body doing an end run around the state Legislature, which during its last two sessions has declined to pass bills banning natural gas.

These proposals will now go to the full SBCC later this year.