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California announces major rule change that will affect new buildings — here’s what to know

The rule change is intended to disincentivize developers.

The rule change is intended to disincentivize developers.

Photo Credit: iStock

The California Public Utilities Commission has just made a big rule change that should change the way new buildings are developed going forward, in a win for clean energy in the Golden State.

Starting on July 1, new buildings that use natural gas (which is mostly methane) or propane in addition to electricity will no longer qualify for subsidies from utilities for electric line extensions, as reported by Smart Cities Dive. 

The rule change is intended to disincentivize developers from creating new construction that expands the gas system, in the hopes that they will instead switch to buildings that avoid burning dirty fuels on-site.

“Ending indirect incentives for natural gas system expansion helps us align state climate goals with our subsidies and financial incentives,” CPUC Commissioner Darcie L. Houck said in a statement. “This is a critical step that provides an additional benefit of saving ratepayers money as we decarbonize our buildings.”

Although it is branded as “natural gas,” its main ingredient, methane, is a highly polluting energy source with heat-trapping properties up to 86 times those of carbon dioxide over a 20-year period, per the United Nations. As such, it is a major contributor to the overheating of our planet.

California has an ambitious stated goal of cutting planet-overheating emissions to 40% below 1990s levels by 2030 and relying on 100% renewable energy by 2045. The state is putting $3 billion per year toward solar and wind infrastructure that will eventually power the buildings that eschew natural gas, according to its Climate and Clean Energy section of its website.

Other eco-friendly steps the state has taken recently include banning all plastic bags in grocery stores and suing dirty energy companies for misleading the public about the dangers of their products.

“California is drastically cutting our dependence on [dirty energy] and cleaning our air — this plan is a comprehensive roadmap to achieve a pollution-free future,” California Gov. Gavin Newsom said in a statement in 2022. “While big polluters focus on increasing their profits at our expense, California is protecting communities, creating jobs and accelerating our transition to clean energy.”

Stopping developers from relying on methane should go a long way toward achieving those goals.

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