NYC to Prohibit New Buildings From Using Natural Gas in Fight Against Climate Change

Most New York City construction projects will have to use power sources other than gas or oil in a few years after the City Council passed new legislation Wednesday restricting the use of natural gas, pending Mayor Bill de Blasio's expected signature, CNBC reported. Once signed, the measure will enact for the country's most populous city a climate-change policy that is both encouraged and decried across the U.S.

The legislation will require most construction projects submitted for approval after 2027 to forgo natural gas in favor of electricity or other more climate-friendly sources for heating, hot water and cooking. Some smaller buildings may be subject to the restriction as early as 2024.

Hospitals, commercial kitchens and some other types of facilities will not be required to follow the rule.

The heating, cooling and powering of buildings in the sizable city accounts for almost 70 percent of carbon dioxide and other heat-trapping gas emissions. A transition from majority natural gas power to something more sustainable would support a statewide requirement for utilities to get 70 percent of electricity from renewable sources by 2030, compared to about 30 percent now.

Former Governor Andrew Cuomo signed the Climate Leadership and Community Protection Act into law in 2019, a measure that also requires the state to whittle down greenhouse gas emissions to 85 percent below 1990 levels by 2050.

NYC Natural Gas Measure
Most New York City construction projects will have to use power sources other than gas or oil in a few years after the City Council passed new legislation Wednesday restricting the use of natural gas, pending Mayor Bill de Blasio's expected signature. Above, a view of the New York City skyline, with the Empire State Building in the center, is seen from One World Trade, in New York, Tuesday, June 15, 2021. Seth Wenig/AP Photo

Although stoves and furnaces would use electricity generated partly from burning natural gas and other fossil fuels, backers say the change would boost momentum ahead of the legislation's deadline.

"We can't keep expanding gas if we have any prayer of hitting the state's climate goals," said Alex Beauchamp of Food & Water Watch, an environmental group.

"This is a huge, huge step forward," he said, calling the legislation "a real game-changer on the national scene."

Proponents also say they're fighting air pollution, particularly on behalf of communities of color. Researchers have found that non-white people are exposed to more air pollution than whites across the country.

"We must take steps towards climate justice—which is inextricably tied to racial justice," and the gas legislation "provides an actionable and meaningful answer," Council sponsor Alicka Ampry-Samuel tweeted in September. The Democrat represents an overwhelmingly Black Brooklyn district.

A few dozen other cities, including San Francisco and Seattle, have moved to end gas hookups for heat, hot water and sometimes cooking in at least some new buildings.

At the same time, states including Arizona, Oklahoma and Texas have barred cities from doing so, saying that consumers should have their choice of energy sources. In Texas, the effort began before, but gained all the more steam after, a February storm spawned massive power outages that left many households shivering without electricity, heat or drinkable water for days.

In New York, shifts toward electric vehicles, furnaces and appliances are "expected to create long-term upward pressure" on electricity use, according to the New York Independent System Operator, which oversees the state's electricity supply.

The organization said in a recent report that it's still studying how those trends will affect the power system, but it forecasts that electricity demand could start peaking in winter, instead of summer, by about 2040.

The state envisions big increases in wind and solar power, among other approaches to meet its renewable energy targets and growing demand. Some projects are in the works.

Still, some building interests, including a big landlords' lobbying group called the Real Estate Board of New York, raised concerns at a City Council hearing last month about whether banning new natural gas hookups would strain the electrical grid. It already struggles during heat waves in the city, sometimes resulting in sizeable neighborhood outages.

Real estate groups also pressed to push back the deadlines for nixing gas, saying that alternative technologies—such as electric heat pumps that transfer heat between indoors and outdoors—need more time to develop, particularly for skyscrapers.

Utilities, meanwhile, said they supported the goal but sounded economic alarms.

"We have real concerns that, as envisioned, these [proposals] may result in increased energy costs for customers," said Bryan Grimaldi, a vice president of National Grid, which provides power in some parts of the city. Con Edison, which serves much of it, called for making provisions to help poorer renters with what it characterized as increased costs of electric heating.

Environmental groups say electric doesn't necessarily mean more expensive. In fact, they say it's just the opposite in some new, energy-efficient buildings. They also note that natural gas prices fluctuate, having risen notably this year before recently dropping somewhat.

NYC Mayor to Sign Natural Gas Proposal
The NYC City Council passed a natural gas measure Wednesday, and Mayor Bill de Blasio, a frequent supporter of environment-friendly policies and measures, is expected to offer his signature. Above, the mayor attends the 2021 American Museum of Natural History Gala on November 18, 2021, in New York City. Jason Mendez/Getty Images

Updated 12/15/2021 at 6:36 p.m. ET: This article and headline have been updated to reflect the passing of new legislation Wednesday restricting the use of natural gas in New York City.