Gas will soon be a thing of the past in New York City, thanks to a bill passed on Wednesday by the City Council. It’s a historic bill, one that puts the weight of the largest city in the country behind a growing movement to ban gas and electrify everything.
Starting in 2023, new buildings in New York will no longer be allowed to hook up to gas infrastructure. That means heating, cooking, and hot water systems will be all-electric. The 2023 timeline is for smaller buildings. Structures over seven stories will have until 2027 before the ban takes effect, a concession that developers scored during the bill’s negotiations. There are also various exemptions within the bill, including for affordable housing, laundromats, and commercial kitchens.
Despite these delays, the bill will have a real effect on emissions. The ban on natural gas means that electric alternatives, like heat pumps, would replace gas boilers in city buildings. Developers would also be able to use fuels like hydrogen and biomethane for heating, but only after clearing several hurdles. Induction and other electric stoves as well as heat pump hot water heaters are also on the table.
An analysis from nonprofit the Rocky Mountain Institute found that the bill could save 2.1 million tons of carbon dioxide by 2040 — around the equivalent of taking 450,000 cars off the road — as well as saving ratepayers money that would have otherwise been spent on new gas hookups. More than 70% of the city’s carbon emissions are tied to buildings, which means electrification can pay real dividends and help the city meet its climate goals. In addition, electrification will help clean up indoor air quality from polluting gas stoves.
“It’s a historic step forward in our efforts to reach carbon neutrality by 2050 and reduce our reliance on fossil fuels,” Ben Furnas, the director of climate and sustainability for the mayor’s office, told the New York Times earlier this week. “If we can do it here, we can do it anywhere.”
New York, the largest city in the country, is now the heavyweight of the several dozen other cities across the U.S. that have banned natural gas hookups. In 2019, Berkeley, California, became the first place in the world to do so. Lawmakers in the New York statehouse have proposed a separate bill that would mandate new buildings across the state be free from fossil fuels by 2024, with an added requirement that buildings could no longer switch from electric sources to fossil fuels. In August, California passed new building codes that took a huge step towards electrifying all its buildings.
Unsurprisingly, the utility and fossil fuel lobby — which is in a panic as electrification efforts pick up around the country — threw its weight against the city measure. Not content to let local utilities like National Grid do all the heavy lifting, the American Petroleum Institute lobbied against the bill. And in October, Exxon ran Facebook ads targeting New Yorkers, with posts reading that households “forced to go full electric” could spend “more than $US25,600 ($35,940) to replace major appliances” — despite the fact that the proposed bill would only apply to new buildings and force no one with existing appliances to switch. (In an interesting switch of allegiances, ConEd, a huge supplier of natural gas in New York, has been quietly backing the bill.)
Despite the fossil fuel lobby’s claims that a ban on gas would increase utility bills, city analyses have found that electric heating systems in new buildings would be competitive cost-wise with gas systems, thanks in large part to increased energy efficiency. Several large housing projects in the city are already being constructed with electric systems. One outside analysis from Urban Green Council, a clean buildings nonprofit, found that New York’s peak electric load is much lower in the winter than it is in the summer, meaning that the grid should be able to accommodate electrifying home heating.
While they may not have met with success in New York, dirty interests have been able to work their way into state and city legislatures in other parts of the country to make sure gas stays king. States including Florida, Texas, Louisiana, Tennessee, Arizona, and Oklahoma have now banned new natural gas hookups in buildings, while at least eight other states considered similar bills this year. But the New York bill is a bulwark in the electrification race.
Of course, the bill still needs to be signed by Mayor Bill de Blasio for it to become law — but a representative from his office told the New York Times that he would sign the measure “enthusiastically.”