FOLLOWUP: Natural gas, heating oil proposals go before City Council committee

That’s the video from Tuesday afternoon’s City Council Sustainability and Transportation Committee meeting. The committee – actually, just chair Mike O’Brien, as no other councilmembers showed up – took up two proposals we’ve reported on before, both involving energy. One would ban natural-gas piping in new construction (here’s our previous report); the other would tax heating oil (here’s our original report and followup).

In 45 minutes of public comment at the start of the meeting, the gas proposal was the main topic. Most of the speakers opposed it and/or asked O’Brien to at least “slow down” and launch a discussion of its potential effects. He promised to do that, and didn’t put the proposal up for a vote, so it will have to come back to the committee at an unspecified future date. He did discuss some research he had asked council staff to do; one point of interest that they reported – Seattle City Light felt it could generate enough electricity to cover the increased use, but would need to beef up transmission/distribution capacity.

As for the oil tax – announced by the mayor in early August – O’Brien voted to advance that to a full council vote, with some amendments. It would tax heating oil 23.6 cents a gallon starting on July 1, 2020, with much of the money going to help cover the costs of conversion to electric heat.

30 Replies to "FOLLOWUP: Natural gas, heating oil proposals go before City Council committee"

  • Bradley September 18, 2019 (2:10 am)

    I’m reading this with delight in front of our cozy gas fireplace. Good riddance, O’Brien.

    • westsea September 18, 2019 (1:23 pm)

      Agh, and the planet will be so warm and cozy too once you’ve melted all the ice caps.  

  • Mike September 18, 2019 (3:28 am)

    As for the oil tax – announced by the mayor in early August – O’Brien voted to advance that to a full council vote, with some amendments.”.How about the citizens of Seattle vote and decide on our own future instead of a soon to be lame duck council?  I’m feeling like we need to start suing each individual council member for their actions to wake them up to reality.

  • JT September 18, 2019 (6:54 am)

    Here’s something to consider re electricity and climate change:

  • ktrapp September 18, 2019 (8:04 am)

    I have to admit that I’m not up on city-level rules of procedure, but a committee doesn’t need a quorum to pass something out of committee?  All that’s needed is ONE member to show up, and they can advance a proposal to the full council for a vote?  That seems… odd.

    • Ryan Packer September 18, 2019 (9:40 am)

      There is no quorum requirement for committee meetings.    

  • S - in West Seattle September 18, 2019 (8:24 am)

    This is ridiculous this council needs to go. You have no right to tell me I can or cant use natural gas in my house and shame on you for trying to tax oil. You will price out older folks from there homes because they cant afford to pay for heating oil. 

    • CandrewB September 18, 2019 (2:13 pm)

      You do realize they make a lot of money forcing older folks from their homes through development churn, and they also get to reward their biggest contributors to boot.  Win/win as far as they are concerned.

    • Millicent Blocquer September 24, 2019 (11:29 am)

      My thoughts exactly.  I can barely afford to pay for oil now and this proposal scares me.  As far as converting to electric, I’m sure the city won’t be paying for it and that concerns me too.  

  • Michael Waldo September 18, 2019 (9:34 am)

    This is way to much big brother. I love my gas fireplace and gas hot water.No to electric mandate. Until corporations and governments do their part, Seattle getting rid of gas will be useless.

    • WSB September 18, 2019 (9:49 am)

      Just to be clear lest anyone get the wrong idea from reading comments:
      The proposal is to ban natural gas piping from new construction. No effect on current use/installation.

      • ACG September 18, 2019 (12:23 pm)

        No effect on current use… YET.  I see this legislation just being the entry point to attack structures currently using natural gas. Much like the proposed legislation to tax heating oil. Taxing natural gas users will be next on the way to outright banning it. 

  • Mj September 18, 2019 (10:40 am)

    No, no and no.  Oil heating is phasing out on its own, foisting added taxes on these users is unjust.  Natural gas needs to be maintained to keep SCL and the City Council from jacking up electric rates.  Gas heat provides competition.  Fossil fuel use is starting to phase out as viable alternatives become available.  City resident/business use as compared to the entire USA use is not significant!  The SCC needs to focus on resolving issues that directly affect the City.

  • westsideDAD September 18, 2019 (11:03 am)

    Electric heat comes from Coal.  Let people choose.  I’m totally happy with my 60 year old Oil Furnace thank-you!  and some hears it’s cheaper then Natural gas and heats FASTER!  CLEAN UP THE CITY !!! Stop making silly taxes.  Omg google the Biscuit gal’s letter to the council.   Our city is a MESS!MadDad

    • WSB September 18, 2019 (11:40 am)

      90+% of SCL power is hydro-generated, this was reiterated at the meeting.

      • WS Guy September 18, 2019 (11:58 am)

        The issue is not how much hydro power we get today.  The issue is how we generate the incremental load for higher usage – and the answer is that we reduce the amount of electricity that we export to California.  That, in turn, causes California to run coal-fired power plants to make up the difference.  The US continues to use CO2-producing systems for marginal increases in usage, so these shifts don’t help.  This legislation hits the poor/old and wastes their money on useless usage shifts.  The focus should instead be on taxing consumers fairly to accelerate new production systems that phase out the need for old CO2 systems.

  • Ryan Packer September 18, 2019 (11:20 am)

    Natural gas and its harmful impacts on the health of the residents does directly affects every citizen in the City. How many people know that in addition to emitting Nitrogen Dioxide, Carbon Monoxide, they also emit Formaldehyde?If you aren’t concerned about only your own heath, you also can factor in the direct impacts of natural gas fracking on the environment, and the massive amount of methane leakage that occurs when that occurs. No one’s coming for your gas stove right now but it makes sense to phase this out.

    • Olafur September 18, 2019 (12:57 pm)

      I’m sure it probably does somehow make sense to you, but that doesn’t mean you’re right.  We’ll have to source additional electric power to replace future needs that would otherwise have been fulfilled by natural gas and, since we’re not building new dams, that additional power isn’t going to be hydro-generated.  Natural gas extraction has issues, but so does electrical power generation – even our so-called “clean” hydro-generated power has had disastrous environmental impacts, but the impacts of other electric power generation methods are even worse.  Our City Council isn’t conducting scientific research and weighing all of the known consequences for our best interests – they’re just making a self-serving political statement and they don’t care how short-sighted, ineffective or harmful it is, as long as they can get some political mileage from it with emotional, uneducated trend-followers.  There are definitely things we can do to reduce environmental impacts, such as reducing our overall power usage, but trading one nasty habit for another equally nasty one doesn’t make you virtuous.

    • Bradley September 18, 2019 (9:26 pm)

      55% of Seattle residences use natural gas, not to mention the GIANT commercial use of NG. The percentage of residences using electricity for heating is only 16%. 84% use gas, oil, wood, propane, or someting besides electricity. The sky isn’t falling. 

  • Jon Wright September 18, 2019 (12:56 pm)

    I’m sure it wasn’t a coincidence that Councilmember O’Brien was the only one in attendance. Regardless what one thinks of the Council as a whole, it seems pretty clear that Councilmember O’Brien is the only person on the Council interested in this issue.I think it is good to create awareness of the issue and the details that Ryan Packer shared. The challenge faced by any effort by government to get out in front of an issue like this is that it comes across as overreach to many voters and just ends up creating backlash.I hope that a fact-based discussion continues and we continue to work on things like vehicle emissions in the meantime.

    • chemist September 18, 2019 (5:03 pm)

      The other councilmembers who would have been expected to show for the committee member are also largely immune to voter backlash.  The interim Abel Pacheco, seeking re-election Kshama Sawant (who is renown for skipping committee meetings), and outgoing Bruce Harrell was an alternate (maybe that means he should show up when other members don’t?).  There’s a lot of ways the city could flex its permit muscle to reduce emissions. 1) Charge a different rate for TNC permits for electric vs hybrid/ICE vehicles permitted in the city.  2) Require carshare vehicles in the city to be electric.  3) Require bike/scooter share service vehicles to also be electric vehicles and hybrids rather than ICE rental vans.

  • WS Guy September 18, 2019 (2:41 pm)

    I would also point out that the promise that the cost of conversion will be fully covered for low income families is false.  The cost estimation in their spreadsheet tables is that a conversion to heat pump and tank decommissioning is $5,000 per family.  A grant of $5,000 would not even begin to cover their costs.  Even their own central staff memo says $15,000.  So it’s either massively underfunded or else the poor and old will pick up the difference. 

    • Reality Bites September 18, 2019 (5:00 pm)

      I got four estimates that include the $1,500 rebate. They range from $15,000 – $18,000 for a ducted Mitsubishi Hyper Heat system that will replace an oil furnace for a 1000 sq ft home. That doesn’t include the cost of decommissioning the oil tank which runs another $900 – $1200 if abandoned in place.Finding a reputable company to install the Mitsubishi system in a Seattle home is quite difficult. I had a hard time finding any with better than average ratings. There are so many complaints online. Also, all the quotes were very different proposals, making it difficult to compare. And keep in mind that the rebate is only for particular Mitsubishi systems.I think people will switch to Natural Gas. Installing NG is much cheaper and rates are low.

    • Charlie September 20, 2019 (7:00 am)

      The $5,000 is leveraging another $15,000 in State, Fedetal and utility weatherization grants. 

  • Mj September 18, 2019 (5:29 pm)

    What’s next my BBQ Propane Tank gas?

  • flimflam September 18, 2019 (6:13 pm)

    would this apply to businesses as well (restaurants, in particular)?  sorry if this has been mentioned.

  • 1994 September 18, 2019 (8:17 pm)

    If no new construction can use natural gas, eventually the gas customer base will get smaller. Will the costs increase for those remaining gas customers as there would be fewer users contributing to maintaining and buying gas? Seems like a lose/lose situation for people. Electricity generation is not totally free from causing environmental harm. Is there enough current electricity production to match the current needs if natural gas & oil disappeared tomorrow from WA state?

  • Wseattleite September 18, 2019 (9:28 pm)

    I find it ironic that the same “tool” that is used to elevate taxes and cost to reduce use (soda, oil heat, Etc) is the same “tool” being promoted to save trees in the new tree proposal. Higher cost of ownership.  Actually, it’s not ironic, it’s logic gone completely idiotic. 

  • Rick September 18, 2019 (10:13 pm)

    Apparently a committee of one is the only answer. Long live king O’Brien!

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