To assist the city in reaching its climate change objectives, San Francisco may require converting gas appliances to electric when a building is sold or appliances age out, with regulations coming soon.
Financial incentives are also being considered by officials as a way to offset the hefty expenses.
Officials and environmentalists say the need is urgent and apparent as California burns and its water sources run low.
Buildings account for 41% of San Francisco’s total greenhouse gas emissions, second only to transportation.
Supervisors established a new target to achieve net-zero carbon gas emissions by 2040 last week: To achieve this, almost all structures will need to be all-electric, which means no gas-powered stoves, water heaters, or dryers.
However, converting to electric is both expensive and contentious, triggering lawsuits from businesses impacted.
Unfazed, Supervisors Gordon Mar and Rafael Mandelman convened a meeting this week with municipal agencies and activists to discuss how to make it a reality.
Mar said during a board committee hearing on Monday that we are in the midst of a climate emergency that will only worsen, explaining there is no way to achieve our climate objectives without electrifying our buildings.
To achieve the city’s climate change objectives, Charles Sheehan of the Department of the Environment informed supervisors that by 2023, property owners would be required to develop an electrification plan when selling a building, and by 2028, all new appliances would be required to be efficient and electric.
Who would pay the multibillion-dollar cost is still an open issue.
Retrofitting gas appliances to electric appliances costs between $14,300 to almost $34,800 per dwelling unit, according to city experts.
Electricity is now more expensive per unit than gas, but this may change in the future years, and electrical equipment are already more energy efficient.
The city could mandate retrofitting, potentially requiring building owners who can afford to foot the bill to cover costs for those who can’t, offer financial incentives to encourage voluntarily going electric, fine property owners for energy usage and emissions, or a combination of all three.
The city may issue bonds and go on debt to pay expenses.
The San Francisco Public Utilities Commission already provides certain incentives to switch to electric, including a new program that would educate and reward contractors who install electric water heaters with $1,000.
However, it is insufficient to fund complete retrofits, according to Mar, who finds the minimal investment “extremely aggravating” since he sees “no way ahead” without incentives.
Increased strain on the electric grid is another issue.
The utilities commission generates its own electricity but depends on PG&E for distribution, and Deputy Manager Catherine Spaulding told supervisors that she doesn’t know whether the utility could manage a spike in demand.
Mayor London Breed petitioned the California Public Utilities Commission this week to evaluate the worth of PG&E’s local electric assets so that the city may set a price.
According to Mar, the projected expenses of switching electric should be evaluated against the exceptional cost of doing nothing, which would result in costly catastrophe responses and increased energy bills as temperatures rise.
According to Avni Jamdar, regional director of charity Emerald Cities San Francisco Bay Area, the city is particularly concerned about fairness, ensuring that financial constraints do not fall on low-income property owners and that gas sector employees may be retrained for other employment.
Supervisor Myrna Melgar stated that outreach to areas where cooking over an open flame is the cultural norm would be necessary.