FRESNO – This summer has seen unseasonably inexpensive utility rates thanks to mild temperatures but every Valley resident knows that higher electric bills are inevitable. That isn’t true for the winter months, when heaters are fueled by natural gas, a less expensive power source that has become renewable through new technology, some of which is being utilized right here in the Valley. The price difference for temperature control between winter and summer could become a thing of the past unless Valley leaders can prevent the State from turning off access to non-electrical power such as natural gas.
On June 27, Tulare County Supervisor Kuyler Crocker and former supervisor Steve Worthley joined supervisors from Fresno and Kings counties as well as BizFed Central Valley Business Federation, and Californians for Balanced Energy Solutions, and leaders from SoCalGas to advocate for more inclusive state energy policies. In response to state regulators’ efforts to eliminate natural gas use in homes and businesses in favor of electricity only, Kings, Tulare and Kern counties all recently passed resolutions supporting a more balanced approach that preserves local control, promotes consumer choice, and keeps utility bills affordable.
“When so many in our state are struggling to find affordable housing and the number of homeless continues to increase, it is shocking that the state of California to impose billions of dollars in what amounts to new taxes without legislative approval, and without the input of local governments,” said Steve Worthley, a current board member at Californians for Balanced Energy Solutions. “Clean, safe, affordable and reliable natural gas and renewable natural gas can help us reach our environmental goals without the unnecessary burdens associated with new mandates.”
A longtime proponent of private property rights and community choice, Worthley retired from the Tulare County Supervisors in December after not seeking a sixth term but the board took up the mantle by unanimously passing a resolution in support of balanced energy solutions. The May 7 resolution acknowledged that affordable and reliable energy is crucial for its businesses and residents and that climate change must be addressed but that “its residents and businesses value local control and the right to choose the policies and investments that most affordably and efficiently enable them to comply with state requirements.”
Fresno County is also considering a resolution in support of more balanced, inclusive energy policies.
More than 90% of homes in Central and Southern California use natural gas for home space and water heating or cooking. Poll data show consumers favor natural gas for those uses because it is more affordable than electricity. State policymakers at the California Energy Commission and California Public Utilities Commission are considering the adoption of new regulations that would eliminate natural gas use in new and existing homes and replace it with more expensive electric-only energy.
“I was shocked to learn of the CPUC’s decision to potentially electrify all homes and buildings and eliminate natural gas” said Nathan Magsig, Chairman of the Fresno County Board of Supervisors. “The cost of living in California is going up by the day, and so are electricity rates, which in California are the 6th most expensive in the nation. We need to seriously consider and pursue other cost-effective energy alternatives in conjunction with RNG.”
If natural gas is eliminated as an affordable fuel option, homeowners could see major increases in utility bills, according to the California Building Industry Association (CBIA). A 2018 CBIA study found that in homes with natural gas appliances, swapping those appliances for all-electric alternatives could cost the average homeowner:
• $7,200 to upgrade wiring and electrical panels and to purchase new appliances.
• $877 per household each year in increased energy costs.
• Across Southern California’s 7 million single-family homes, the total cost increase is $4.3 to $6.1 billion per year.
A separate, poll conducted by CBIA last year found that only one in ten would choose electric-only appliances, two-thirds of voters oppose eliminating the use of natural gas, and 82% oppose eliminating the use of natural gas if consumers’ monthly energy bills would increase.
“We need balance. A one-size-fits-all solution to the complex issue of emissions reductions is not realistic for anyone. Many business owners who rely on natural gas on a daily basis will not be able to afford switching their operations to all-electric and the same goes for homeowners with natural gas appliances,” said Tara Lynn Gray, CEO of the Fresno Metro Black Chamber of Commerce and Ambassador for BizFed Central Valley business federation.
Recent research shows there are less expensive and disruptive alternatives to electrifying buildings in California. A 2018 study by Navigant consulting showed that replacing just 20% of California’s natural gas supply with renewable natural gas (RNG) produced from the methane emissions at landfills, farms, and wastewater treatment plants would reduce emissions equal to converting 100% of buildings in California to run on more expensive electric only energy by 2030.
“RNG has changed the game for our local dairymen. What had been a liability in a challenging industry, has now become an asset,” said Kuyler Crocker,Chairman of the Tulare County Board of Supervisors. “Not only are greenhouse gases reduced by using RNG, but we also have the economic benefits of additional investments coming to our region.”
Using RNG to reduce emissions in buildings is also up to three times less expensive than any all-electric solution and it allows families to keep enjoying natural gas cooktops, fireplaces, and their other gas appliances, all while helping California meet its ambitious environmental goals.
In addition, a 2016 law already requires 40% of methane from California’s landfills and farms to be captured, with provisions to deliver that energy to customers. This will bolster the supply of RNG that is already growing rapidly as cities and towns across the country look to divert organic waste from landfills.
“People are going to want to continue to use natural gas, and RNG allows folks to keep their gas but have more of it come from renewable sources,” said Joe Neves, Chair of the County Board of Supervisors for Kings County. “This clean energy solution works with people’s preferences rather than against them. We should have that right to decide.”
SoCalGas recently committed to replace 20% of its traditional natural gas supply with renewable natural gas (RNG) by 2030.
“Achieving California’s ambitious climate goals will require business leaders, non-governmental organizations, and policymakers to work together to re-imagine how California’s energy infrastructure can operate as one, integrated system that maximizes emissions reductions and minimizes waste,” said Sharon Tomkins, SoCalGas vice president for strategy and engagement. “Implementing a balanced approach that promotes advanced energy technologies will allow California to keep energy affordable and reliable and preserve consumer choice.”