Seattle Bans Gas Heating in New Large Buildings

by | Feb 2, 2021

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The Seattle City Council passed a new energy code that will significantly reduce fossil fuel use in new large buildings. The ordinance approved by the Seattle City Council bans natural gas for space and water heating in new commercial and apartment buildings taller than three stories.

Developers of such buildings will be required to rely on efficient, electric technologies rather than gas-powered versions. The ordinance also bans natural gas for space heating in replacement heating systems in older buildings.

The code has the potential to prevent an increase in building-sector climate pollution by 2050 while reducing utility bills. Without the code, Seattle city officials say the building emissions would have been 12% higher by that date. The 2013 Climate Action Plan has set a goal of achieving a 58% reduction in emissions by 2030 and being net-zero carbon by 2050.

A report released by the Seattle Office of Sustainability and Environment in December indicated that the city’s core GHG emissions increased 1.1% between 2016 and 2018 — and that emissions from the building sector increased by 8.1%. “It is urgent that we take action now to accelerate the pace of future emissions reduction,” says Jessica Finn Coven, director of the Office of Sustainability and Environment.

In a statement released in December, when she proposed the changes to the energy code, Major Jenny Durkan said that factors contributing to the increase in building emissions are new buildings with fossil gas space and water heating, colder winters, warmer summers, and a growing population and workforce.

Officials in the natural gas industry have warned about putting too much of the energy load on the electrical-generation system, which is facing challenges as coal-fired generation declines due to increases in solar and wind power, reports the Seattle Times.

A spokeswoman for Puget Sound Energy points out, for example, that on cold winter days, natural gas is an essential part of the energy system, providing “about two-thirds of the energy used by the city of Seattle on peak demand days.”

Seattle is one of 25 cities participating in the Climate Challenge, a program to significantly deepen and accelerate their efforts to tackle climate change.

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