DEVELOPMENT: Mayor wants to ban most gas use in multifamily, commercial construction

Just announced by the mayor’s office:

Seattle Mayor Jenny A. Durkan announced new steps to further electrify buildings using clean energy and ban fossil fuels for most building use. By updating its energy code, the City will ban the use of fossil fuels in new commercial and large multi-family construction for space and most water heating in order to cut down on the significant emissions contributed by the building sector. Space and water heating account for most building gas use according to City and national data. These actions come as new City data show building emissions have been steadily increasing in past years. …

After years of notable progress in reducing climate pollution, Seattle’s most recent greenhouse gas inventory shows that Seattle’s overall core greenhouse gas emissions – emissions from our waste, transportation, and building energy sectors – increased 1.1% since the last report. The largest greenhouse gas emissions increase was the buildings sector, which increased 8.3% between 2016 and 2018, a significant jump. Major factors contributing to the increase in building emissions are new buildings with fossil gas space and water heating, colder winters, warmer summers, and a growing population and workforce. Residents and businesses will be able to view additional data and visualizations by visiting the Office of Sustainability and Environment site. ….

The proposed Seattle Energy Code update includes the following key changes for commercial and large multifamily buildings:

-Eliminates all gas and most electric resistance space heating systems
-Eliminates gas water heating in large multifamily buildings and hotels
-Improves building exteriors to improve energy efficiency and comfort
-Creates more opportunities for solar power
-Requires electrical infrastructure necessary for future conversion of any gas appliances in multifamily buildings …

In 2019, Mayor Durkan issued an Executive Order committing the City to new actions that will support the goals of Seattle’s Green New Deal. In addition to requiring all new or substantially altered City of Seattle buildings operate without fossil fuels, City departments work with the Office of Sustainability & Environment to develop a strategy to eliminate fossil fuel use in existing City buildings, improve data collection and sharing on Seattle’s climate emissions and engage stakeholders like the philanthropic community, business community, labor community, non-governmental organizations, health care community, county and state agencies, state legislators, and tribes achieve the goals of the Green New Deal. …

The Mayor will transmit legislation to City Council at the end of the year. City Council will discuss the legislation, and with their vote of approval, would allow code updates to become effective in the spring of 2021, along with the full suite of Seattle building code changes in line with the statewide building code updates. For more information about the proposed energy code updates, including the proposed code language, visit the Seattle Department of Construction and Inspections energy code web page.

You can read the full announcement here.

54 Replies to "DEVELOPMENT: Mayor wants to ban most gas use in multifamily, commercial construction"

  • Joe Z December 3, 2020 (1:35 pm)

    It’s a step in the right direction but seems too limited. I would prefer to see a plan for a complete phaseout of natural gas in all residential and commercial buildings. 

    • John December 3, 2020 (2:28 pm)

      Say goodbye to the salmon.

      • BBILL December 3, 2020 (3:22 pm)

        Yes, that’s right, once gas is not used, all the salmon will die of windmill cancer!

        • WSB December 3, 2020 (3:50 pm)

          Actually more people without cars are good news for salmon. Runoff is a major threat to them, and vehicles are a major generator of toxic runoff. The newest discovery:

          • BBILL December 3, 2020 (4:31 pm)

            The number one cause of windmill cancer will be removed on January 20.

          • BBILL December 3, 2020 (4:42 pm)

            On a more serious note, Washington lost at SCOTUS regarding the bridge barriers, so the salmon habitat continues to be restored (United States of America et al. v. State of Washington, decided 4-4, leaving Washington’s loss at the 9th circuit stand). The identified barriers are mapped here:

          • Blbl December 3, 2020 (6:10 pm)

            What has the mayor’s announcement got to do with cars? I know since I bought my electric car, I drive much more than I used to. 

          • WSB December 3, 2020 (6:13 pm)

            Sorry, wrong comment thread! That was meant for the no-parking development story before it.

        • John December 3, 2020 (4:00 pm)

          As in, can’t spawn for lack of water levels from increased use of hydroelectric power.

        • Jon December 3, 2020 (4:58 pm)

          @BBILL – John is correct. Wind farms have priority over hydroelectric plants. If the hydro reservoir is too high and they can’t run the water through the turbines because the wind farms are running, then they have to spill water over the dam. This dramatically increases nitrogen in the water and to John’s point – goodbye Salmon. 

          • BBILL December 3, 2020 (6:30 pm)

            Recently dams are being eliminated, and there have been a few in Washington, including the Nooksack and Elwha (Glines Canyon Dam). The Glines Canyon Dam was one of the largest removal projects in the US. There are efforts to removal all dams on the Columbia and Snake, but that’s not happening with the current administration, but there is a new administration in under 50 days.

  • Susie December 3, 2020 (2:21 pm)

    You’ll have to pry my gas fireplace from my cold dead hands. And yes, I’ve had an electric “fireplace” – they don’t work. While I agree with the move in general terms, my entire home runs (quite efficiently) on gas. And after having lived in an electric-only home can attest to how ridiculously expensive and inefficient that is. How about we focus on how to design newer, better, cleaner options for gas instead of forcing people to spend thousands of dollars on new appliances and bigger electricity bills.

    • John December 3, 2020 (2:42 pm)


      “We’re from the government, and we’re here to help you.”

    • OneTimeCharley December 3, 2020 (3:12 pm)

      I believe any of these changes would only impact new construction, therefore no one with gas now will need to “spend thousands of dollars on new appliances”. I have an electric heat pump/mini split system, and it is amazingly cheap compared to the electric resistance heat I used to use. Not all change is bad.

    • MrsB December 3, 2020 (5:05 pm)

      Agree with Susie 100000%

    • Joe Z December 3, 2020 (6:05 pm)

      Susie, did you even read the article? Is your fireplace in a NEW multifamily or commercial building?

      • Susie December 4, 2020 (10:04 pm)

        How naive of you to think they won’t go after existing infrastructure. You give them an inch, they’ll take a mile. When the power went out for days recently our gas stove meant we could make warm food and our fireplace meant we didn’t freeze. Winter is just getting started. It’s ridiculous to think electric power will sustain our community. 

    • Blbl December 3, 2020 (6:14 pm)

      Totally agree, Susie. 

  • KWest December 3, 2020 (2:51 pm)

    I just feel like Seattle has SO many other things we need the mayor to be working on…

    • Just wondering December 3, 2020 (3:56 pm)

      Like fixing the bridge!

    • Joe Z December 3, 2020 (6:06 pm)

      Is climate change not a top priority? 

  • Jim December 3, 2020 (3:55 pm)

    We are fortunate in Washington to be one of the few places to generate the majority of our electricity with  hydro. There are limits though, and the demand increase that will follow this push to electrification (along with EVs) will result in the utilities burning more natural gas at best, coal at worst.

    • BBILL December 3, 2020 (4:43 pm)

      “We are fortunate in Washington to be one of the few places to generate the majority of our electricity with  hydro.” See above for discussion about salmon habitat.

    • Sam Kothe December 3, 2020 (5:43 pm)

      Seattle City Light purchases carbon offsets for any coal or natural gas power they buy (about 6% of their power), it’s very unlikely that they’ll deviate from this policy in the future. They achieved carbon-neutrality (including non-co2 greenhouse gasses and all company transportation) in 2005!

      • Kram December 4, 2020 (2:08 pm)

        Great for SCL but the city of Seattle is not carbon-neutral and removing gas from new construction is another step in that direction.

  • TJ December 3, 2020 (4:01 pm)

    This is for new construction for commercial and apartments. For now. They will come after new construction houses as well soon. There are vast reserves of natural gas and quality furnaces run at 97% effeciency so this is a feel good measure only that will end up cost us more. Inslee won’t stop his push for a carbon tax, even though he keeps getting shot down in his attempts, and that will make electricity more expensive. Also understand that with the added demand on the electricity grid the only production sources capable of handling it are hydro, coal plants, or nuclear. Coal is of course a non starter along with nuclear. Wind or other alternative sources flat out can’t handle it, so dams are the answer. At least the push to remove the Snake River dams has been stopped. I know of no restaurants that use electricity solely in their kitchens. All the thai restaurants that I love have high btu gas burners for their woks to cook hot and fast. Really hard and expensive to replicate that with electricity. 

  • Alex December 3, 2020 (4:15 pm)

     Wouldn’t be surprised to hear the next thing is a ban on gas in new single family construction and then a  special tax on homeowners with gas.   The Council tried some of this a couple years ago and remember Mike O’Brien schooling us how bad gas stoves were for families (not that he said he was replacing his for electric?  I grew up hearing hydroelectric power was bad for salmon and we needed to limit dams.  Is that no longer the case?   Now electricity is all the rage and in California, the demand is so great they schedule  rolling black outs and have to buy from the spot market.    

  • Flo B December 3, 2020 (4:38 pm)

    City want’s to ban heating oil also. Question. If EVERYONE goes electric is the infrastructure there to provide and distribute electricity? What about rates??

    • BBILL December 4, 2020 (12:49 am)

      Along with being dirty and expensive, as a liquid, heating oil has a much different issue: leaking tanks, which results in soil and groundwater contamination.

  • wetone December 3, 2020 (4:56 pm)

      We don’t have the grid system or the power resources today or near future to go away from natural gas. Especially with timeline going to electric powered cars/trucks city is pushing. Grid might handle one but not both.  Hummmm  get rid of dams and cover the earth with windmills and solar…..Maybe the mayor should focus on having affordable solution/technology first ? just because she can afford it doesn’t mean most others can also.  I’d have no problem changing my gas heat if there was something just as cost effective and easy maintenance. Time for nuclear power again,  cost effective and less impact in many ways……   Pick your poison ;)

    • Jon Wright December 3, 2020 (9:28 pm)

      Historically, the electrical network had high-voltage transmission lines bringing power from big generating stations to cities where the distribution brought power to individual customers. As more folks install solar panels (or wind turbines, like that house by the Fauntleroy ferry), the power network is becoming distributed. This makes for more robust electrical network because more generation is local and not at the other end of a transmission line and it also saves us money if it reduces the need to build more big transmission lines. So the trends are favorable towards being able to rely more on electricity. Of course all infrastructure is in of upgrades and maintenance these days. As Wakeflood mentions down thread, that includes the natural gas infrastructure.

      • wetone December 4, 2020 (11:30 am)

        I agree and believe this city’s poorly maintained infrastructure is in dire need of updating.  Gas leaks, waterline and power line issues have certainly increased over last couple years.  I like that wind turbine, I thought it sat unused for a time.

  • Kram December 3, 2020 (5:07 pm)

    The goal Seattle has is to become carbon neutral. They have a 2030 challenge. This can’t happen in the future if new buildings and homes use fossil fuels. It has to start now as in reality this will be a slow ‘die off’ for gas in my opinion. The biggest issue I think is restaurants as gas is uniquely useful in that environment and electric or magnetic alternatives have large down sides. Otherwise I’m for this.

  • WestJack December 3, 2020 (5:27 pm)

    It doesn’t matter what we do to lessen pollution so long as there are too many people in the world, as there are now. Each person is a walking pollution device and nothing we do will make any difference until the population lessens.. It’s just whistling past the graveyard otherwise.

    • Will S. December 4, 2020 (10:00 am)

      don’t blame me–I voted for Thanos

  • Luke December 3, 2020 (5:41 pm)

    As a building trades installer I find this very disturbing. Also, I have to believe that gas isn’t going anywhere with the amount we’re still installing in new construction buildings. 

    • KBear December 3, 2020 (7:34 pm)

      Do you not get paid for electric installations, or does the gas industry just offer larger kickbacks?

      • Luke December 4, 2020 (4:50 am)

        I’m a Steamfitter, not an electrician. There’s a real division of labor in commercial construction. Kickbacks? Maybe you know something I don’t. 

      • Luke December 4, 2020 (11:33 am)

        I’m a Steamfitter, not an electrician. There’s a division of labor on commercial projects. Kickbacks? You must have more information than I do. 

        • Rick December 4, 2020 (12:33 pm)

          No, just anonymous judgementalism without actual facts. Lots of that on the internet. ‘Cuz you know, if someone says it or even implies it on the internet, it’s true.

  • Chris December 3, 2020 (5:44 pm)

    Why bother with a plan to fix the roads, improve public safety, and make the city a good place for business when she and the Politburo can get kudos for this?

  • John December 3, 2020 (5:48 pm)

    Sure let’s go ahead and give Seattle City light a Monopoly that’ll work out well

    • 1994 December 3, 2020 (8:21 pm)

      These people also want us to buy their green electricity – not just Seattle City Light Northwest is a joint operating agency formed by the Washington state legislature in 1957, representing the convergence of small and big public power. Our consortium of 27 public utility districts and municipalities across Washington takes advantage of economies of scale and shared services to boost efficiency and effectiveness, all to the greater cost benefit of more than 1.5 million public power customers.The agency further improves quality of life throughout the Northwest through the generation of clean, reliable electricity from nuclear, wind, hydro and solar projects.

  • Mj December 3, 2020 (5:48 pm)

    What was it a month or two ago we had a major power outage, cooking dinner with a gas stove worked.  Anyone with electric cooking were out of luck.

    • BBILL December 3, 2020 (7:29 pm)

      Sure your gas stove worked, but most new gas appliances require electricity to operate.

  • vee December 3, 2020 (5:53 pm)

    Start with banning those awful gas  leaf blowers  loud and smellyThat would probably reduce emissions  a lot

  • Joe December 3, 2020 (7:06 pm)

    This sounds great on the surface, but when you eliminate an energy source like natural gas, you have to understand what’s replacing it. In the case of residential, it’s mostly electricity. In the US, 83% of electricity is generated by either natural gas, coal, or nuclear. Even though there is a lot of hydropower around here, we’re on a national electrical grid so you have to look at it holistically. So, the we are replacing a relatively clean fossil fuel with a mix of energy; and much of it is actually much dirtier than natural gas. The dirtiest of all is coal which accounts for ~23% of our electrical energy!

  • rpo December 3, 2020 (7:39 pm)

    The percentage of electricity derived from coal is dropping every year. Down 50% in the last decade of data and will eventually go to zero. Also, a natural gas power plant is far more efficient at converting energy than millions of gas burning furnaces in homes and buildings.

  • dsa December 3, 2020 (8:14 pm)

    “Eliminates all gas and most electric resistance space heating systems”  Diesel is back!

  • West Side Native December 3, 2020 (8:25 pm)

    Careful what you wish for. A good mix of the power for a majority of the homes in the city of Seattle  comes from BOTH natural gas and electricity.  Take away one of those sources and the city has control of the power. A monopoly  There are no checks and balances if the comrades at the city council want to raise city light rates.   They can move forward and do that during any council meeting.  Meanwhile PSE needs to submit rate increases two years in advance.  If there is no competition for power and the city holds all the cards, what do you think your power bill will look like in a couple years. It has gone up through the roof over the past seven years…..

  • Wakeflood December 3, 2020 (8:26 pm)

    Fracking which gets cheap volumes of natural gas, is releasing millions of tons of methane into the atmosphere. Methane is 25X more powerful than CO2 at trapping heat. It’s killing us and everything else on the planet…quickly. The volumes of it released in the atmosphere have grown exponentially in the last decade. It is also the case that the infrastructure that all this new gas usage is being pumped through is over 50 yrs old in the mains and we will be having random explosions as frequent news items going forward.  They’re already happening and it’s getting worse.  Nobody’s planning on upgrading those main lines as it will cost many hundreds of millions of $ with no ROI.

    • hydrogeologist December 4, 2020 (6:20 am)

      Another significant determent from fracking that it never discussed; water usage and its permanent removal from the water cycle. A single well in the Marcellus shale (WV, PA, NY) can require the use of 16 million gallons of water, which is then injected into deep disposal wells, permanently removing it from the water cycle. What do all of you “but the fish” people up above have to say about that?

      • BBILL December 4, 2020 (9:56 pm)

        Much like the millions of gallons of high level radio active waste in the aging (leaking) tanks at Hanford, it’s “cheap and easy” to let someone else clean the mess up, often years later.

  • Alkimark December 4, 2020 (9:55 pm)

    Increasing Nuclear power is inevitable if we pursue an all electric housing solution.  Renewables will never meet the full requirements needed.

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