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Graphic courtesy BDC, August 1, 2019. Gas stove top photo: Pxhere - Creative Commons CC0
Homeowner preference and higher initial costs for induction cookers appear to have been ignored in the subsequent reach codes outlined in the 2019 California building code, which went into effect January 1, 2020. Graphic courtesy BDC, August 1, 2019. Gas stove top Photo: PXHERE - Creative Commons CC0

Resistance is Futile! Or is It?

May 31, 2020

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OPEd: All-electric Mandate concerns Homeowners, Builders and Developers

By Rob Koslowsky

– NCBE’s Role and the BDC Survey

“Overall, emissions from the electric power sector are at their lowest level since 1987 and are down by a third … compared to 15 years ago.” – Tom Kuhn, EEI President, marking Earth Day’s 50th anniversary

NCBEThe  North Coast Builders Exchange  (NCBE)  is “a non-profit contractors association that provides services and representation to construction-related firms in Sonoma, Mendocino, Lake, and Napa Counties.” NCBE represents the construction industry’s interests in local and state regulatory and legislative issues [1].

The Building Decarbonization Coalition   (BDC) “unites building industry stakeholders with energy providers, environmental organizations, and local governments to power California's homes and workspaces with clean energy.” [2]

BDCTo be blunt, the BDC’s whole reason for existence is to remove every possible amount of carbon emitted from each and every building structure, no matter the obstacle or the cost. For now, people exhaling carbon dioxide inside these structures are exempt from the Coalition’s mission to eliminate sources of carbon from buildings.

BDC’s published efforts, to date, include the banning of fossil fuel usage in buildings (“market transformation”), promotion of all-electric construction and removal of all natural gas appliances (“consumer inspiration”), and pushing for new building codes that target homeowners, in particular (“public policy”). 

All-electric technologies, most mandated to replace natural gas appliances.

Click on image to view or download large zoomable graphic. Graphic courtesy BDC, August 1, 2019Neither the NCBE nor BDC directly represent homeowners. Their clients do not include property owners, yet it’s those clients that directly define the environment homeowners will experience going forward – developers and builders as well as behind the scenes influencers of government policy.

Homeowners have been kept out of the loop and most are oblivious to the changes coming that will cost them tens of thousands of dollars and remove their ability to operate and maintain their homestead in the way they’re accustomed to. 

The BDC Survey

A survey conducted by BDC in August 2019 included builders and energy consultants, the latter group already pre-disposed to promoting green energy in building construction.

Builders, however, are a malleable group. Strictly speaking, builders don’t care what structure they build, as long as the playing field for all construction companies is level, i.e., if one builder must build an all-electric home, then all other competing builders can’t build mixed-fuel residences. Every builder “suffers” by the new rules accordingly.

One developer said to those conducting the survey, “If we don’t provide [gas appliances], they can go down the street and buy a new home from my competitor with a gas stove.” That can no longer happen in California.

As 2020 unfolds, builders may cringe when homeowners expresses their preference for gas appliances, but if the municipal government, at the insistence of an unelected energy commission dictates “no more gas,” then the building industry can point to the building code and say, “Sorry, but we now have ‘all-electric’ for you.” All that’s left for the BDC, government, or building trades to do is produce talking points and sell sheets to address wary homebuyers. It sounds more like the tactics of a political campaign than a quest to build a safer and more secure residence with superior quality.

There will be many interesting conversations held with homeowners across California in the months and years to come, especially if the all-electric reach code is not amended and natural gas bans are not reversed

BDC Survey Responses

In reviewing the August 2019 survey, published by the BDC, I found the section, “Barriers to All-Electric Construction” the most interesting [3]. Builders and green consultants alike observed, “Homeowner preference for gas cooking clearly emerged as the most significant barrier to all-electric construction. Even among respondents who indicated construction of all-electric homes is practical today, homeowner preference for gas cooking was considered a barrier.”

The report added, “Gas-fired cooking appliances were the dominant choice for builders of high-end, production, and custom homes. Multifamily and affordable homebuilders reported regularly installing electric resistance cooking appliances but cited installing electromagnetic induction cooking as cost-prohibitive.”

Click image to see or download larger zoomable view. While natural gas prices are going down, electricity rates are going up.  Poster_RKK- photo of 3-sided gas stove heater-PXhereHomeowner preference and higher initial costs for induction cookers appear to have been ignored in the subsequent reach codes outlined in the 2019 California building code, which went into effect January 1, 2020.

Builders are nervous. They don’t want to limit their market by only building all-electric homes. Costs to operate an all-electric home are often cited. Respondents offered two primary reasons not to go this route:

“Cost of utilities to the occupants and more expensive to construct.”

“Almost 100 percent of the resistance is due to the cost of electricity. Until you can convince the consumer that all-electric homes are cheaper, they won't buy them.

Homeowner resistance to buying an all-electric residence and homeowner reluctance to giving up gas cooking is obliterated with the revised building code. Even if homeowners were willing to tolerate much higher monthly electric bills, which most are not, the government mandate in California will force the change, in spite of survey results: "Homeowners generally don’t care how homes are heated and how their water gets hot, but they do care about how they cook. Clients overwhelmingly want gas stoves . . . Gas cooking is so imbedded in culture.”

The elephant in the room? The typical cost of a new, all-electric home will rise by at least $50,000 and the soon-to-come mandate to upgrade existing homes will cost more than $100,000 [4].

Nervous Builders Too

Builders’ reluctance to an all-electric reach code is rooted, in part, in the lack of familiarity with heat pump technology. Heat pumps in an all-electric home are required for both space heating and producing hot water. The survey reports:

“Not enough people are installing electric heat pumps, which is keeping cost high.”

“Heat pump water heaters are not in use long enough to see if they will work out.”

“Addressing concerns that induction cooking is not suitable for woks or high-temperature cooking.”

Developers are also nervous over the electric infrastructure and its ability to handle the electric load of an all-electric subdivision.

Survey respondents said:

“My concern is the reliability of power sources and the amount of energy required to produce the electrical power that we will need for all-electric homes.”

“We are having to take on the cost of upgrading transformers in the neighborhood, as they don't have enough power to the transformers.”

Oh, And Solar Panels Have Become Mandatory for All-electric Homes

Solar’s effects on electric infrastructure continues to be a concern for builders, according to BDC, including the need for new incentives to make natural gas prices more expensive and electricity rates cheaper. Builders offer similar suggestions:

”Incentives are weighted to gas and gas credits from solar thermal. Change solar thermal incentives for an easy win.”

“Include battery storage in incentive programs to make nice with utilities to help them tackle supplying at peak-demand times. Process has been hostile with utilities.”

Solar’s effects on electric infrastructure continues to be a concern for builders, according to BDC, including the need for new incentives to make natural gas prices more expensive and electricity rates cheaper. Image by Reijo Telaranta-Pixabay-license

Although not in the building code, in-home battery backup to store excess solar energy is required for avoiding anticipated utility blackouts during increased electric demand and for power shut-offs during red flag or high-wind events when the electric grid fails to produce.

Costs, which will be passed on to property owners will be baked into the cost of new homes and added to more increases in electric utility rates. The survey only touched on some of these costs tied to over-regulation and its impacts:

“Provide training for architects, designers, and energy consultants to correctly size solar systems and optimize the use of electricity generated on-site.”

“Support upgrades to Pacific Gas and Electric Company infrastructure so builders do not have to pay for the upgrades.”

“Need financing for photovoltaic and storage systems [and for the] training for architects and energy consultants and contractors.”

“There needs to be a lot of education on energy storage. Instead of having zero net energy homes, we should be doing grid-optimized homes [5].”

Summary

Homeowners concerns are not taken into account. The all-electric mandate comes across as the teacher scolding the student, “Shut up, sit down, and do your homework!”

Developers and builders concerns are ignored. The 2019 building code has been mandated. The all-electric mandate is condescending, “We know better. We’re from the government and we’re here to help!”

As the Borg oppressors in the fictional Star Trek universe intone, “Resistance is futile!” However, homeowners continue to resist as they learn about these backroom deals cooked up in Sacramento.

[1] https://ncbeonline.com 

[2] http://www.buildingdecarb.org 

[3] Stakeholder Assessment of All-Electric Residential New Construction, BDC, August 1, 2019.

[4] Over-reaching Reach Codes – A Summary Defending Natural Gas Appliances, R.K. Koslowsky, March 2020.

[5] https://www.solarpowerworldonline.com/2020/02/cec-approve 

 

 

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