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New California rules move state away from natural gas in new buildings

3 minute read

The exterior shot of the State Capitol in Sacramento, California. REUTERS/Max Whittaker (UNITED STATES)

Aug 11 (Reuters) - California energy regulators on Wednesday approved energy efficiency standards aimed at vastly expanding the use of electric appliances for space and water heating in new homes and businesses, in a shift away from using fossil fuels to heat and cool buildings.

The California Energy Commission said the revised building code would support the state's efforts to combat global warming by slashing greenhouse gases over the next 30 years equivalent to taking nearly 2.2 million cars off the road for a year.

California has been at the forefront of efforts to address the impact of natural gas, a fossil fuel, on climate change. In the last two years, more than two dozen Golden State cities have passed measures to reduce the use of natural gas in buildings.

The state's update falls short of an all-out ban on natural gas in new construction proposed by environmental groups. However, it includes a requirement to install solar and energy storage systems in most new commercial buildings, demands that single-family homes be built "electric ready" to support electric vehicles and appliances and strengthens ventilation standards to improve indoor air quality.

Homes and businesses in California, which updates its building code every three years, account for a quarter of the state's greenhouse gas emissions. If approved by the state's Building Standards Commission in December, the new code would take effect in January 2023.

Heat pumps, an alternative to gas-fueled water and space heating, are currently used in less than 6% of new home construction in California. The new building code will establish heat pumps as the baseline technology when builders are designing homes to meet state efficiency standards.

Homes may still be built with gas heating systems, but builders in those cases will have to find efficiency gains in other parts of the building such as windows or walls.

"This code is really going to juice the market for heat pumps," Commissioner Andrew McAllister said in an online press conference following the vote.

Reporting by Nichola Groom; editing by Richard Pullin
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