How would a natural gas ban actually work in Seattle?

Sep 7, 2019, 8:52 AM
Natural gas ban Seattle...
Seattle is currently mulling a ban on natural gas in new homes. (Photo by Vittorio Zunino Celotto/Getty Images)
(Photo by Vittorio Zunino Celotto/Getty Images)

A proposed ban on natural gas in new homes and buildings was discussed in a Seattle City Council committee Friday. And while it may seem like a relatively simple idea, there are also dozens of factors that could make it difficult to achieve.

“Who’s paying for all this?” Seattle-King County Building and Constructions Trade Council Executive Secretary Monty Anderson asked KIRO Radio’s Candy, Mike and Todd Show. “We’re talking about not millions, but billions of dollars of home equities and building permits.”

Seattle weighs ban on natural gas in homes and buildings

Legislation for the ban is being sponsored by Seattle City Councilmember Mike O’Brien, who cites data that says a quarter of the city’s greenhouse gas emissions comes from natural gas in single-family homes.

Just over half the city’s homes used natural gas in 2018, something that would make a complete ban incredibly complicated for all involved.

“There is not one mention [in the legislation] of the impact to the suppliers, the companies that (work in natural gas), or jobs,” noted Anderson. “And if it we’re looking at things through a lens where it doesn’t show any economic impacts to the people and businesses in Seattle, we’re using the wrong lamp. So, yeah, this is a little out of left field even for Seattle, to tell you the truth.”

This comes not long after San Francisco introduced it’s own legislation for a ban, and after Berkeley became the first U.S. city to actually pass one. San Francisco City Supervisor Vallie Brown estimates that natural gas in buildings generates 44 percent of the city’s emissions.

For Puget Sound Energy — the local authority that provides natural gas service to the region — there are a handful of factors to consider, outlined in a statement issued shortly after the legislation came to light.

Natural gas is what our customers use every day to heat their homes, to cook, and to do laundry. It’s an essential part of our energy mix– on the coldest days of the year, PSE’s natural gas system provides about 2/3 of the energy used by the city of Seattle.

Before deciding any new policy, there are several key questions to consider. How the decision would impact reliability, affordability and safety need to be well understood, as well as protecting customer energy choices. We look forward to working with policymakers on a thorough analysis.

That’s something Anderson acknowledges as well, pointing out that should a ban go into effect, logistical questions would remain.

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“If we stop [using natural gas] tomorrow, who’s gonna maintain what’s there?” he posited. “Where’s the work force coming from? If there’s no more pipe to fit in, companies will just leave. We’re talking about generational businesses here in Seattle that do that kind of work.”

In the days ahead, Anderson notes that many members of Seattle’s City Council share those concerns.

“Every City Council member I’ve talked to — including Kshama [Sawant] — have all heard my concerns about not rushing this through,” he described.

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How would a natural gas ban actually work in Seattle?