FOLLOWUP: Mayor sends multifamily, commercial construction natural-gas ban to council

Last month, we reported on Mayor Jenny Durkan‘s announcement that she planned to pursue a ban on natural-gas usage in many types of new construction. On Wednesday, while we were focused on windstorm aftermath, her office announced that the proposal has been officially sent to the City Council. Note, this is for new multifamily/commercial construction and major remodeling of larger buildings, NOT existing gas usage. Here’s the announcement:

Following the State Environmental Policy Act process, Mayor Jenny A. Durkan announced that she has transmitted to City Council the proposed update to the energy code that would further electrify buildings using clean energy and restrict fossil fuels for most building use. By updating its energy code, the City will restrict 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.

“2020 and 2021 will be remembered as years of crises, and as we recover, Seattle can create a more equitable city with green buildings. It is up to Seattle and other cities to make the bold changes necessary to lower our greenhouse gas emissions,” said Mayor Durkan. “Business as usual will not get us to a future where all Seattle residents, especially our Black, Indigenous and people of color neighbors who are unfairly burdened by environmental inequities, enjoy a healthy and prosperous future. Electrifying our buildings is an important step in the many actions needed to curb climate pollution.”

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 that all new or substantially altered City of Seattle buildings operate without fossil fuels, City departments will 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 to achieve the goals of the Green New Deal.

The proposed energy code amendments will eliminate most direct carbon emissions from new commercial and multifamily buildings. Requiring these changes at construction is the most economical opportunity to transition to clean electricity. Without the proposed code changes, the City expects that greenhouse gas emissions from buildings to be at least 12% higher by 2050.

Since 2017, the City has also helped approximately 600 households convert from dirty, inefficient heating oil to clean, energy-efficient heat pumps. The City will convert more households to electric heat with the goal of eliminating heating oil use by 2028.

The City also requires Building Tune-Ups to help building owners identify ways to reduce energy and water costs. Through tune-ups, building owners find operational efficiencies and low- and no-cost fixes that improve building performance and can reduce building emissions 10-15% on average. Seattle’s largest buildings have completed 450 tune-ups to date, reducing greenhouse gas emissions across the city and saving money on their energy bills.

The Seattle Energy Code impacts new construction and substantial alterations of commercial and 4+ story tall multi-family buildings. The proposed code changes were recommended for approval late last year by Seattle’s Construction Codes Advisory Board (CCAB), an advisory body tasked with reviewing changes to technical codes for construction.

The City of Seattle is receiving technical support in developing the energy code from the Bloomberg Philanthropies American Cities Climate Challenge. Seattle is one of 25 cities participating in the Climate Challenge, a program to significantly deepen and accelerate their efforts to tackle climate change and promote a sustainable future for their residents.

With City Council approval, code updates will 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.

We’ll follow up when it appears on council agendas (which you can always preview here, once they are published).

37 Replies to "FOLLOWUP: Mayor sends multifamily, commercial construction natural-gas ban to council"

  • Alf January 14, 2021 (11:12 am)

    Just out of curiosity, electricity is provided within Seattle by Seattle city light, there is no other provider, correct?  No competition at all?  Instead of a ban perhaps incentives so folks still have choices and provides some level of competition,  I’m pretty progressive but getting tired of being told what to do versus giving me options 

    • John W January 14, 2021 (11:56 am)

      Really Alf?
      What world do yo live in that you expect  free market competition for electricity?  We have a grid that supplies our electricity.  How would any competitor enter the market without stringing electrical wires to new consumers?
      And fossil fuels into buildings do not obviate the electrical use.  Nearly all gas appliances require an electric hook up as well as gas.

      The Seattle City Light is not a for profit endeavor for Seattle and is governed by a committee of the Council.

      We enjoy the lowest electric rates for a city of our size and we can boast of being carbon neutral for the last 15 years. 

      With our abundance of hydroelectric power and the rapidly emerging solar, wind and other environmentally friendly options, Seattle can continue to be a more responsible city.

      • Kram January 14, 2021 (2:47 pm)

        SCL may be carbon neutral but the City of Seattle is very much not. Which is why these kinds of changes are happening.

      • WS Ken January 14, 2021 (2:49 pm)

        It’s not a crazy idea. Other states and cities have competition for electricity. In Texas, consumers can make the choice to pay for wind, solar, natural gas, etc. Why the visceral reaction?

      • WestJack January 14, 2021 (3:36 pm)

        John W. – Alf is not talking about competition among electrical providers, he is talking about competition between electrical and gas.

        • Alf January 14, 2021 (7:29 pm)

          So I wasn’t clear, completion among electric and gas or other resources is exactly wha I meant

      • Resident January 14, 2021 (5:13 pm)

        I think you missed the point of his comment. By providing gas there is competition. Take away gas there is no competition. So by virtue of you can use either gas or electrical there is competition. The gas company doesn’t need to string new lines they run into the house just like the electrical wires do.And just because Seattle city light is not for profit doesn’t mean that they have incentive to keep their cost down. There are so many examples of nonprofits that don’t control costs because they have no competition. They need competition because if they don’t have it costs will get out of control whether it’s salaries or other parts of the business.

        • Roms January 14, 2021 (8:52 pm)

          The initial point is very valid. Here, the city starts creating a monopoly for SCL. Remember about 2 years ago when SCL raised the prices because, as they explained, people were conserving energy and as such their income was impacted? Here, one could really say that the city is trying to work around those by lockibg everybody with SCL.Remember also, about 1 year and a half ago when there was an announcement that the garbage truck was being moved to natural gas because it was green?It seems the city is not fully transparent on all this.

      • Jason January 15, 2021 (2:59 am)

        enjoy the lowest electric rates for a city of our size”What are you talking about? I moved here a few years ago from a city that was a comparable size and lived in some before that were larger and smaller. My electric increased a lot when I moved here, and it’s only gotten worse. Seattle has been more expensive than most of the cities I’ve lived in. Have you actually lived outside of the state anytime recently?

        • rpo January 15, 2021 (2:23 pm)

          That means you are using more electricity here than wherever you lived before. The $/kWh is lower with SCL than any other utility in the country.

      • Eldorado January 16, 2021 (7:26 am)

        If you don’t think Seattle City Light is ‘for profit’ (despite what they tell us) you’re nuts. In addition to selling both power and water to other states, cities, counties, and towns, bills keep getting higher and higher because why exactly?

    • rpo January 14, 2021 (11:59 am)

      SCL has the cheapest electricity rates of any provider in the country. I doubt anyone else would want to compete, plus in places where competition has been allowed (California is one), the costs have not decreased because of the complexity of figuring out who is responsible for the transmission lines/poles/infrastructure if there are multiple utilities but only one owns the infrastructure.

      • Blbl January 14, 2021 (2:11 pm)

        What?  That’s not true. SCL’s are not the lowest rates in the country. 

        • rpo January 14, 2021 (3:49 pm)

          Yep, it is true. And Washington state’s are the cheapest of any state on average as well.

          • Blbl January 14, 2021 (6:37 pm)

            No, it’s not. Every utility in the Columbia basin has lower rates. Chelan and Douglas PUD consistently have the lowest rates in the country.

      • Resident January 14, 2021 (5:14 pm)

        Seattle city light low rates are not due to operational efficiencies that they’ve created in their headquarters. We have low rates because we have a low cost of electrical production. We produce most electricity through water. It is renewable and it’s cheap. So while we have a low cost of electricity it doesn’t mean there shouldn’t be competition.

      • Mike January 14, 2021 (6:58 pm)

        Uh, no.  Grant County PUD and Chelan County PUD are both cheaper rates.  There’s a reason crypto mining and the largest data centers are over there and not here.

      • Jason January 15, 2021 (3:04 am)

        Having come from California, I would disagree. My electric costs were actually less there.

      • Eldorado January 16, 2021 (7:26 am)

        200% not true. 

  • John W January 14, 2021 (11:21 am)

     Anticipating comments that don’t read, “ the City will restrict the use of fossil fuels in new commercial and large multi-family construction for space and most water heating.”

    We can hold onto whatever is our current gas appliance and even install new ones in our homes.  Even new construction of our fabled SFRs are allowing gas installations. 

    No one is taking away your right to barbeque with gas.

    The Mayor’s (and hopefully the Council’s) action is just the start of a long process to educate the public about the environmental consequences of fossil fuel use.

    And no, this does not apply to all of those portable propane tank heaters that are so the rage for outdoor dining, porches and fire pits, though they are all culprits of our environment abuse. 

    • Kram January 14, 2021 (11:55 am)

      I agree with you John but wanted to add that a residential ban (for new construction only!) will come at come point. Overall the city has a goal to be carbon neutral by 2050. You can’t do that if we are still installing gas today. The fact is heat pump systems are much more efficient. The push back is that the upfront cost is about 3-4 times more than gas. Regardless this is a positive thing and of course nobody is going to take away your gas fire place or whatever. This just means that apartment buildings will have heat pump systems for hot water production (electric) and some sort of mini split or VRF system for heat/ac (electric). Many of the new code changes include more solar requirements as well. Existing systems will not be forced to change but I would anticipate gas to skyrocket in cost in the coming decades…

  • WSResident January 14, 2021 (1:15 pm)

    Heat pumps work great and all but when the temp drops below 45 they don’t (excluding mini split inverter systems).  A lot of heat pumps in central air location have some sort of gas or eclectic coil backup.  So when the temp hits 30 degrees the backup gas furnace or electric coil kicks in.  How is that going to work in this new scenario?

    • zark00` January 14, 2021 (2:02 pm)

      I think you answered it yourself – back up electric coil when the temp drops too low for the heatpump to heat. 

      • WSResident January 14, 2021 (4:32 pm)

        The ban also includes ‘most electric resistance space heating systems’. I wonder if electric resistance in a backup heat pump applies.  

    • cbiscuit January 14, 2021 (2:12 pm)

      Newer heat pumps are more efficient and work in these lower temperatures. Combined with modern insulation, windows and air sealing – the warm air is held in better as, so the heat pumps don’t need to storm as hard during the colder days. 

      • Elton January 15, 2021 (8:36 am)

        Our Bosch heat pump works in temps as low as 4 degrees (or maybe it’s – 4? One of the two) 

  • Michael Waldo January 14, 2021 (3:03 pm)

    I am thankful for my natural gas connection. When the power went out and the furnace could not run, our gas fireplace kept us warm and our gas hot water allowed us to take showers. I feel sorry for restaurants as gas is the preferred method for cooking in a large scale restaurant.Also, our cheap hydro electricity will not be so cheap in the future. Between climate change that is going to reduce our snow pack and the need to save our salmon, I expect changes will have to be made. And they won’t be cheap.

    • WGA January 14, 2021 (4:25 pm)

      Michael, restaurants use gas (primarily) for cooking which is still allowed, not heating.

      • kram January 14, 2021 (6:31 pm)

        But it won’t be allowed with new construction. A restaurant moving intolerant a new building will not have the option. All gas is banned with the 2018 energy code.

    • ME January 14, 2021 (5:36 pm)

      Agree on the gas fireplace and water heater. Really helped on Tuesday and Thursday. 

  • Bradley January 14, 2021 (3:32 pm)

    “Demand was higher than normal so rates will be increased to cover excess purchases.””Demand was lower than expected so rate will be increased to cover the shortfall in revenues,”“Demand was normal and rates will be increased to cover admin costs.”Sound familiar?  Check out SCL’s payroll and you’ll get a new idea or what should be defunded. 

  • Graciano January 14, 2021 (5:41 pm)

    Another bad idea brought to you from the failed management team.

  • Brad January 14, 2021 (6:35 pm)

    Ask California how the electric grid is working, regardless of how cheap it costs. Is Washington really prepared?

  • Louise January 14, 2021 (9:42 pm)

    @bradley…that…is always how it goes.

  • Pessoa January 14, 2021 (10:07 pm)

    Washington State’s – let alone Seattle’s – contribution to global warming is statistically meaningless.  To put it in context:  If the Paris Accords were followed diligently by all participating nations the effect would be somewhere in the range of a puny .08 of a degree (F) reduction by 2100.  You can make other arguments for moving away from gas, but the global warming argument isn’t one of them. 

  • WSNeighbor January 15, 2021 (6:58 am)

    And once again the elite Council that wisely guides us peons takes action that will raise the cost of new housing in the City, which will increase the trajectory to a City owned energy monopoly, and set people in their shiny new units up to have no heat when the power goes out. Yay.

  • Joel January 15, 2021 (8:34 am)

    Seattle City Light being ‘non profit’ doesn’t mean they don’t make a profit or pay bonuses and highly competitive/excesses wages/benefits.

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