A Texas Takedown of Natural Gas Bans
Thu, February 02, 2023
There has been a lot of talk recently about the federal government potentially banning gas stoves. For most, the threat came seemingly out of nowhere, but the reality is that the movement to “electrify everything” has been gaining traction in states and local municipalities across the country for several years. Yes, even here in Texas.
Texans for Natural Gas breaks down some of the common questions and misconceptions:
Is the federal government banning gas stoves?
The answer is a bit more complicated than a simple yes or no. While the Biden administration has clearly stated that “the president does not support banning gas stoves and the Consumer Product Safety Commission, which is independent, is not banning gas stoves,” CPSC has also said it will open up a comment period to investigate the safety of these appliances. That’s typically the first step for new federal regulation, which means further action could come in the future.
However, efforts to ban natural gas appliances or other uses in homes and businesses are more likely to play out – as they have been – at the state and local level. Energy Secretary Jennifer Granholm told state and local officials to “step up” at a Department of Energy conference in 2021, emphasizing that these officials “are the only ones who can adopt and implement smart and ambitious building codes.”
What is a natural gas ban?
Natural gas bans restrict natural gas access to residential, commercial, or industrial buildings within a certain jurisdiction. Most gas bans have been passed at the local level and are focused on residential and commercial restrictions, but have attracted interest from state leaders who support electrification projects or the removal of natural gas from the state’s building portfolio.
Common features of natural gas bans, include:
- Mandating all new buildings constructed after a certain year be all electric and prohibiting the building from connecting to existing natural gas pipelines.
- Requiring building managers and homeowners to replace old appliances with newer electric versions at the end of the appliance’s lifecycle. In some cases, the increased reliance on electricity may require additional and costly electrical rewiring to handle new levels of demand.
As of December 2022, more than 100 municipalities have banned natural gas in some form:
- Over 70 of those municipalities are located in California;
- New York Governor Katie Hochul has proposed a natural gas ban statewide;
- Massachusetts has passed a 10-city electrification pilot program that activists want expanded; and
- Washington state has mandated all new buildings after July 2023 must use electric heat pumps for space heating.
Doesn’t Texas have a consumer choice protection law to prevent natural gas bans?
Yes. Texas joined 18 other states to prevent local municipalities from discriminating against energy sources, a number that has only grown since the law was signed in May 2021. This legislation prevents counties and municipalities in the state from outright banning natural gas or other fuels.
Texas’ decision followed the 2021 February Freeze, Winter Storm Uri, that saw 99.95% of residential natural gas customers experience no interruption of their natural gas service. Natural gas gave residents heating and eating options and provided households the fuel needed to weather the storm despite rolling blackouts.
What happens if we turn away from natural gas heating?
A future without natural gas – an all-electric future – threatens the resilience of the electric grid and makes blackouts an increasing possibility during extreme weather.
The U.S. electric grid has increasingly struggled with reliability in recent years as demand for power increases and renewables, which are growing but can’t be turned on at will, are not supported with additional reliable power sources like natural gas.
Approximately 1.5 million Americans lost power during the severe winter weather in December 2022, threatening the 40% of American homes that use electricity as their primary heating source without any space heating options. Many organizations responsible for keeping the grid operating are ringing the alarm bells: if most American households use electric for heating, the grid simply cannot withstand the demand during severe winter storms.
Pat Wood, chief executive officer of Hunt Energy Networks and former chairman of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission explains:
“We have moved very quickly over the past two decades to electrify residential heating. When this is combined with poorly insulated housing and low-efficiency appliances, we end up taxing all our resources.”
Would a natural gas ban increase my energy bills?
Natural gas is more affordable than electricity, and an unmanaged transition will spike prices for lower income residents.
Across the United States, natural gas is one-third the price of electricity. Electrifying homes and businesses would only move natural gas consumption to power generation and result in higher prices to residents downstream.
Wealthy communities that can afford this “electrification surcharge” are the tip of the spear for gas bans. According to researcher and native Texan Robert Bryce, the median household income in places that had restricted natural gas use by July 2020 were 80% higher than the national average and 46% higher than the California median.
As these wealthy communities disconnect from the natural gas grid, the costs of a shared system is disproportionately shouldered by the lower and median income communities that can little afford the change in costs. Researchers at University of California Berkley calculated that a 40 percent reduction in natural gas customers would result in bill increases of $115 per year for those who maintain their gas grid connections.
How would a natural gas ban impact emissions?
States planning to make buildings all-electric risk increasing their emissions.
Case in point: Massachusetts and Vermont are considering statewide natural gas bans, but their regional Interstate Operator (ISO-NE) reported the region had to burn additional fuel oil to meet electricity demand to power through December 2022’s winter freeze, burning more fuel oil on a single day than they have in four years.
The region relied on fuel oil during the February 2021 winter storm, too. According to Reuters, fuel oil typically accounts for less than 1% of the region’s overall power production, but accounted for more than 10% over a six-week period:
“Burning that fuel oil produced about 3.55 billion pounds of the greenhouse gas carbon dioxide in January alone, up 4,800% from emissions from fuel oil in January 2021, according to emission rate estimates used by ISO-NE emission analysts.”
Our Conclusion: Natural gas bans do far more harm than good.
By raising demand on our country’s electric grids, policymakers around the country are reducing energy reliability and resiliency, increasing emissions, and creating an unnecessary financial burden on nearby consumers.
Natural gas is a clean, reliable and affordable fuel source, and we are proud of Texas for taking a stand against energy source bans, but the buck can’t stop there. To meet our nation’s climate targets and economic objectives, we must work together—all 50 states—to achieve these goals. Yet bans like these do not support a sustainable path forward. Our plan forward must include natural gas.