How Now, De-carbonization?

(Will California rules be used to keep on burning gas in homes?)

CaliforniaGeo 4-8–19

This week, two California state agencies will begin workshops whose purpose is to achieve de-carbonization in buildings.  The Public Utility Commission is the lead agency and will collaborate with the Energy Commission to enact provisions of SB 1477, the Low-emissions buildings and sources of heat energy, passed and signed in 2018.

California has a mission that was recognized by 2006’s AB 32, the California Global Warming Solutions Act; legislation that has been criticized ever since and challenged (unsuccessfully) by fossil interests in 2010 with the failed Prop. 23.  Legal challenges to its Cap and Trade mechanism was recently turned away by the courts.


Sixty years of sampling at the top of a 13,000-foot Hawaiian volcano show that the upward march of carbon dioxide in the world’s troposphere continues to climb steeply.  But, there are still some who express doubts.  Those doubts are composed of disbelief that human-caused CO2 is to blame for this increase and they deny the increase will cause any significant difficulty.  If those doubters and deniers are wrong, their place in human history will be ridiculed far beyond their heads were buried in the sand.



There is high congruence between the reduction/removal of carbon and provisions within AB 1477, but getting there could still be a fight.


“…This bill would require the commission to develop and supervise the administration of the Building Initiative for Low-Emissions Development (BUILD) Program to require gas corporations to provide incentives to eligible applicants, as defined, for the deployment of near-zero-emission building technologies to significantly reduce the emissions of greenhouse gases from buildings, as specified.

This bill would authorize the commission to determine whether each gas corporation or a third party, including the Energy Commission, shall administer the TECH Initiative or BUILD Program…”


In last week’s LA Times article by Sammy Roth, California’s next frontier in fighting climate change: your kitchen stove we see the most recent expansion of electrical appliances, powered by electric induction, as opposed to electric resistance.

 The decades-long rap against electric ranges in kitchens has been the complaint that cooks can instantaneously adjust gas stove flame height while the thermal momentum of resistance stoves causes a lag from one’s desire to reduce a rolling boil to a simmer, preventing the cook from moving on to another necessary task.  A professional chef (Curtis Stone) is featured in the article.  His multi-years’ experience with induction belies the above complaint associated with electric resistance cooking.  After a short bit of getting to know the induction range, he claims the result is more precise and controllable.

I’ll add that getting rid of flame is an improvement in safety around the kitchen, and it potentially eliminates emissions in two ways.  Cooks and other building occupants will not be ingesting combustion byproducts and if the house is all-electric, it does not contribute to the average 7% methane leakage associated with gas between the wellhead to the residential meter.  [Question: Why did my new house NOT require a carbon monoxide detector? Answer: Because there is no combustion inside my house!]

Roth’s article also reveals some disturbing news about the intent of gas companies that will attend this week’s workshop.  They want to develop more renewable biogas supplies, injecting them into existing gas lines.  It’s true that biogas is methane and that we live with a number of sources such as feedlots, dairies, and landfills.  If this methane is burned and converted to carbon dioxide, it is magnitudes less climate damaging than methane itself.  But it still produces CO2 and other pollutants, and it perpetuates the gas grid and the increased costs of maintaining it with fewer customers or with lesser consumption.

In contrast, electricity is already past 33% renewable in California right now, with an increase to 50% by 2030.  That’s only commercial generation.  It doesn’t count the thousands of residents who have added solar PV already, and the on-going requirement that all new residences be built with solar on their rooftops by 2020.  Electricity is the only “fuel” with the potential to become 100% renewable (and free).  The grid already carries it to every habitable building with enough amperage to power them as carbonless, all-electric buildings.

California, our nation, and the world have a choice to make.  We either get busy to remove carbon everywhere and every way that we can in order to minimize the damage of climate change, or we accept and accommodate the financial self-interest of those whose business models don’t serve (but threaten) societies.  Not getting this right will cost us, big time.

—Bill Martin