San Jose moves to ban natural gas in new residential buildings

(Reuters) - San Jose, the 10th most populous U.S. city and political center of Silicon Valley, on Tuesday moved to ban natural gas in most new residential buildings beginning next year.

With a unanimous vote by the 10-member city council and Mayor Sam Liccardo, San Jose became the largest U.S. city so far to seek to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by favoring appliances that run on renewable electricity sources over those powered by natural gas.

As expected, the city council adopted new building codes that favor electrification over natural gas during a meeting broadcast on San Jose’s official website.

But the vote also required the council to return next month with an ordinance that would go further by banning natural gas in most new homes. Mayor Liccardo had pushed for the stricter rules in recent days.

The move by San Jose and others comes amid rising local and state opposition to the use of natural gas in buildings because of the fossil fuel’s contribution to climate-warming emissions.

San Jose’s measure falls short of an outright ban on natural gas in new buildings such as the one passed by nearby Berkeley, California, earlier this year because it would not include high-rise buildings, but the council voted to study whether to include buildings up to seven stories in coming months.

San Jose, Berkeley and other cities adopting new building codes or natural gas bans want buildings switched to electricity from a grid that is powered by renewable energy. Residential and commercial buildings account for about 12% of U.S. greenhouse gas emissions, according to the Environmental Protection Agency.

The city’s ban would prohibit natural gas in new single-family and low-rise multi-family buildings beginning in 2020. Other buildings must adhere to strict energy efficiency requirements and install infrastructure to enable switching to electric appliances in the future.

San Jose, home to tech companies like eBay Inc and Cisco Systems Inc, last year adopted a goal of making all new residential buildings zero emissions by 2020, with the same target for commercial buildings by 2030.

Other large U.S. cities like Los Angeles and Seattle are also considering laws that could drastically reduce natural gas usage in buildings.

Oil and gas industry groups have argued that natural gas has helped cut U.S. carbon emissions and is an affordable option for heating and cooking.

Reporting by Nichola Groom; Editing by Muralikumar Anantharaman and Tom Hogue