The Big Apple has just become the largest city to have yet said goodbye to gas connections in new construction. New York City Council today passed a bill banning the burning of fossil fuels fuels in new buildings, phasing out the use of gas for cooking and heating.
Tackling building emissions is essential for New York City to meet its climate goals; they are responsible for 70 percent of the city’s greenhouse gas emissions. The ban will apply to structures under seven stories from 2024 and taller buildings in 2027. The measure will significantly reduce the pollution that fuels climate change: a recent study by the clean energy think tank finds RMI, it will reduce 2.1 million tonnes of CO2 emissions by 2040, which has roughly the same impact as taking 450,000 cars off the road for a year.
For years, the so-called natural gas industry has sold itself as a cleaner alternative to other fossil fuels like oil. But scientists, and a growing number of cities, no longer accept the argument. Natural gas is primarily methane, a greenhouse gas that has more than 25 times the global warming effect of carbon dioxide over a 100-year period. Methane escapes along the natural supply chain, from wells to people’s homes. At a high-profile climate summit in November, the United States joined more than 100 other countries in pledging to reduce their methane emissions by 30% this decade.
Berkeley, Calif., Became the first city in the United States to ban gas connections in new construction in 2019. Since then, the gas industry has responded by pushing for policies that prevent local governments from enforcing implementing such prohibitions.
New York City’s new measure, which Mayor Bill de Blasio is expected to enact, is significant not only because of the city’s size, but also because of its colder climate. Proponents of gas have argued that it would be too difficult to remove gas heating in places with cold winters, as electric heaters could overwhelm the network and lead to blackouts. The bill provides for studies on the feasibility of using heat pump technology and on the impact of the measure on the city’s electricity grid.
But the measure already has the backing of Con Edison, a utility that provides both electricity and gas to New Yorkers. The network “is well placed to support the transition to electrification of heating,” he said in testimony in November to city council. That’s because the grid typically experiences peak demand during the summer when residents blow up their air conditioning, he says, and electricity consumption is typically lower in the winter.
“New York City is taking a giant leap in fossil fuels, leading the way for the rest of the state and country to follow,” Food & Water Northeast Regional Director said today. Watch, Alex Beauchamp, in a statement.
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