Santa Barbara City Council votes to prohibit natural gas infrastructure in new buildings

Jul 21, 2021

The Santa Barbara City Council voted unanimously July 20 to prohibit natural gas in all new construction in the city.

The ordinance takes effect for all building permits issued after January 1, 2022, unless a complete building permit application is submitted on or before December 31, 2021.

This ordinance only affects new buildings where an electric alternative is available. Buildings still must be constructed with the capability to be electrified when the technology becomes available. Cooking appliances in restaurants and institutional kitchens are exempt from the ordinance.

Alelia Parenteau is the city’s energy and climate manager. She said energy use accounts for about 39 percent of Santa Barbara’s greenhouse gas emissions. Of that, close to all of it is related to building energy use, split almost equally between electricity and natural gas.

Parenteau said this ordinance is meant to help achieve the city’s 2035 carbon neutrality goal. She said Santa Barbara needs to act defensively against the impacts of climate change because the city is especially vulnerable to sea level rise and wildfire, which are exacerbated by the climate crisis.

She said although the city is fairly built up without many new buildings being constructed locally, adopting this change will have major impacts.

“Every new building locks in future emissions for decades to come,” Parenteau said. “These are long term assets and we have an opportunity to avoid those emissions in the future which is a prudent approach when we’re trying to get to zero.”

Santa Barbara is also joining more than 46 other cities across the state that have already made similar commitments. Parenteau said this sends a signal to the electricity industry to invest in the necessary technologies for the market.

Members of the public expressed concern about whether the electric grid could handle this increase in electrification but Parenteau said the city’s phased approach over time will allow for the transition.

Council members Mike Jordan and Meagan Harmon expressed support for the ordinance, echoing the need to address a sustainable future.

“Philosophically, in the way we want to generate our heat, generate our energy, this is clearly the path we need to go,” Jordan said.

“I’ve often been asked lately, ‘How are we, as a city, going to effectuate our really aspirational climate goals?’ And this is one of those ways,” Harmon said.

Parenteau said existing buildings, including additions and remodels, are not required to comply with the change. But the city plans to create a series of incentives and educational programs to encourage owners of already existing buildings to move away from natural gas.