CALIFORNIA

LA and natural gas: It's complicated

Los Angeles politicians yesterday acknowledged their near-term dependence on natural gas while exploring ways to get off of it.

The Los Angeles City Council voted unanimously to oppose a winter moratorium on natural gas hookups for new commercial and industrial buildings in the region. But they also directed the city's utility to explore ways to reduce natural gas demand in buildings through electrifying water heaters, stoves and other gas appliances.

State regulators had proposed the moratorium earlier this winter in response to a state analysis that warned natural gas imports into the LA region would be curtailed by unexpected pipeline outages, jeopardizing reliability during the winter months when demand for heating is high.

Regulators also cited local pressure to shut the Aliso Canyon natural gas storage facility north of Los Angeles, which leaked 100,000 metric tons of methane into the atmosphere over a four-month period in 2015.

"Los Angeles County has made it clear that it does not support the continued operation of Aliso Canyon," California Public Utilities Commission President Michael Picker and California Energy Commission Chairman Bob Weisenmiller wrote to the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors in December. "However, on the same note, the Los Angeles County has also failed to step up on behalf of its constituents and provide an alternative that would ensure they could still heat their homes in the winter and conduct other necessary household functions."

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The CPUC had the moratorium on its agenda for its board meeting tomorrow but removed it earlier this week. LA councilmembers acknowledged the nudge from state regulators.

"We should be focused on reducing natural gas," said Councilmember Bob Blumenfield. "The right thing for the environment is to focus on those issues, not to do this blind moratorium."

Environmentalists cheered an amendment to the resolution that directs the LA building department and its Department of Water and Power to report back within 90 days on ways to reduce natural gas usage in new buildings — particularly in heating, cooking and water heaters. It also requires the Department of Water and Power to set building electrification targets for 2028 and 2038 later this year that align with the city's greenhouse gas targets of 45 percent below 1990 levels by 2025 and 60 percent by 2035.

"Aligning buildings with the city of LA's aggressive climate goals is a huge win, and it's going to help to decrease gas use in the city and establish an important pathway towards electrification," said Rachel Golden, senior campaign representative with the Sierra Club.

On the state level, the Energy Commission is currently finalizing efficiency standards for all new and remodeled buildings, to take effect in 2020. The rules fall short of requiring new homes to achieve net-zero energy use, due in part to natural gas' role in heating and cooking (Climatewire, Jan. 22).

Golden said LA's move would help build momentum for state regulators to move away from gas.

"It definitely sends the Energy Commission a signal that the future is electrified buildings, and that's where big cities want to go," she said.

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