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By Diana Diamond

Gas use or gas ban? Consider all the good -- and bad -- effects

Uploaded: Sep 1, 2021

We make community decisions all the time. Sometimes we vote "yes" because it seems like the PC way to act. But oftentimes in our patriotic environmental communities, we lend our support to, say, an environmental project, without considering cost or future problems.

Case in point: Menlo Park and Palo Alto are considering banning the use of natural gas in new construction -- homes and businesses, which, in concept, sounds like a good idea, depending on cost, etc. But cities are also saying if a gas appliance you now own breaks, you must get an electric replacement. And some officials, especially in Menlo Park, want legislation that would require home and apartment owners to get rid of all gas appliances within five or ten years. A council decision on a proposed gas ban was deferred Tuesday night, pending additional information.

Let's see: The proposed bans would include beloved gas ranges, gas ovens, gas water heaters, gas fireplaces, gas home heatings -- to name a few. Maybe even a ban on propane for our grills.

I've heard cost estimates ranging from $5,000 to $90,0000 per house to convert some or all appliances to electric.

The trouble is. at least in Palo Alto, the city electricity cost is expensive and the charges are tiered, so many of us, by conversion, would jump to the highest or near highest rates Then add an electric car daily charge to that bill and a higher utilities monthly tax payments and we are beginning to talk about real money. This applies to all households; no discounts for seniors and if you plan to sell, you must first convert your home. (These are only ideas at this point.)

Dare I mention here that all the revenue from utilities in Palo Alto goes directly to the city's Utilities Department, who then has to turn over about $20 million or so to the city's general fund, to use as the council and city manager wish. The transfer is because the city was the "finder" of the department, so it's sort-of like an annual finder's fee.

Yet cities around the state are plunging forward with proposed bans because it's politically correct and environmentally good.

But is this really an environmental benefit or are we just kidding ourselves so that we can feel virtuous and gain country-wide recognition for Palo Alto's no-gas ban -- thus setting a wonderful example that other cities will emulate. "We can be a leader," one council member declared.

But a ban incurs problems. For starters, where will the additional energy come from? That is one of the things Menlo Park is going to look at more thoroughly, which is needed. Palo Alto owns its own utilities system, which purchases some of its energy from PG&E, but have any studies been done on whether their Utilities Department could meet the new electrical needs of the 65,000 or so living here -- plus all those large and small businesses that that will be required to be no-gas-use buildings?

Sure seems like this city will have to look for an additional supplier. But that has an irony of its own. More electricity will have to come from the power plants. And how do these plants get powered? By using natural gas to produce electricity. So, that means using more natural gas so we use less natural gas. It all sounds a bit illogical.

One other ironic thought comes from a column I read recently in the Daily Post. John Kerry, former Secretary of State under Obama, and now Biden's climate policy ambassador, said that even if the U.S. could reduce its CO2 emissions to zero, it wouldn't make much of a global difference. “Not when almost 90% of all of the planet’s global emissions come from outside the U.S. borders. We could go to zero tomorrow and the problem isn’t solved,” Kerry said.

Kerry's statement is worthy of great consideration, but it certainly can't be used as an excuse to do nothing, particularly as a nation. I am not saying that we shouldn't try our best to reduce our emissions -- but do so locally, nationally and globally, acknowledging local efforts won't alter the globe's problem. We must try to get all nations to control their emissions. Many are unwilling because their economy and their people would be affected, and I understand that. But we all have to try together. The problem is too big, the crisis too great, to solve it alone. We need all of us working together.


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