Electrifying our homes and buildings is crucial to address climate change

The 2021 Utah Legislative session is now about seven weeks away and we here at Utah Clean Energy are working on our priority legislation and appropriations. One piece of legislation that has caught our eye and is quite concerning is “Utility Permitting Amendments” by Representative Steve Handy. This bill seeks to prohibit local governments from enacting any policy that “prohibits, or has the effect of prohibiting, the connection…of a utility service to a customer based upon the type or source of energy to be delivered to a customer.” To translate, the intent is to prevent local governments from enacting policies that would help move away from new natural gas connections to homes and businesses.

While natural gas is often recognized as a cleaner fossil fuel for heating homes and buildings, there is a growing consensus – that Utah Clean Energy agrees with –  that to meet our climate goals we need to move to the cleanest electric technologies to heat homes and buildings, e.g., heat pumps. While a number of municipalities around the country have adopted policies to prohibit new natural gas connections in order to promote building electrification, no Utah municipality has a proposal to do so. The Salt Lake Tribune recently noted that a number of states, including Arizona, Louisiana, Tennessee, and Oklahoma have enacted similar bans, often with the support of gas utility providers and the gas industry association. Gas utility providers are concerned about the increasingly favorable economics of building electrification and what it may mean for the future of their industry.

We have the following concerns with the “Utility Permitting Amendments” legislation:

  • Undermines Local Autonomy: No Utah community is currently considering banning or preventing new gas connections, so this legislation is unnecessary. What’s more, the bill includes very broad language about policies that “may have the effect or prohibiting” new gas connections that may have unintended consequences for Utah communities beyond what’s written. There is no compelling reason to prevent Utah communities from making their own decisions about how to heat, cool, and power their communities in order to protect public health and advance their clean energy goals.
  • Addressing the Risks of Climate Change: Electrifying our homes and buildings is crucial to addressing the risks of climate change and lowering greenhouse gas emissions at the least cost. A recent study by the group Rewiring America shows that we must “electrify everything,” meaning our homes, buildings, and vehicles, in order to avoid the worsts impacts of climate change. That means moving from gas appliances and space and water heating and cooling equipment to air source heat pumps and heat pump water heaters over time. This legislation threatens to delay actions by local governments to accelerate building electrification in order to meet the demands of the climate crisis.
  • All Electric and Net-Zero Energy Buildings are Good for Health: There is increasing evidence that the use of gas stoves and furnaces has adverse impacts on residents’ health and indoor air quality. A recent report from Rocky Mountain Institute finds that gas stoves can contribute to very high levels of nitrogen dioxide and carbon monoxide, often in excess of levels that would violate EPA standards for outdoor air pollutants. In contrast, homes and business with electric heating systems and appliances often have much lower or zero emissions. That also helps to reduce overall emissions from area sources like buildings, an important contribution to air pollution in Utah. Given the air quality benefits, public policy should encourage super-efficient and all-electric homes, not slow their adoption.
  • All-Electric and Net-Zero Energy Buildings Will Benefit Utah Customers: All-electric and net-zero energy buildings are increasingly cost-competitive to build. This will become truer as the costs of renewable energy and battery storage continue to fall. Building electrification should not be costly to Utah customers. We also note that electrifying our homes and buildings can avoid the unnecessary costs to customers of expanding new gas delivery infrastructure, which risks becoming a long-term “stranded asset” as we decarbonize our energy systems.

We look forward to a more in-depth look at upcoming legislation next month as we get closer to the legislative session.


Josh Craft

Josh Craft

Director of Government Relations and Public Affairs

kevin emerson

Kevin Emerson, MSc

Director of Building Efficiency and Decarbonization

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