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Dec. 17, 2021, 9:06 a.m. EST

New York will restrict gas for cooking and heating, paving the way for more cities to follow

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By Rachel Koning Beals

The Big Apple made a big move this week to phase out gas stoves and range tops that so many of the city’s renowned chefs and home cooks say they rely on to control the temperature of their dishes.

The move may just be part of a nationwide swap that more people will have to swallow.

The New York City Council passed a  bill , which Mayor Bill de Blasio is expected to sign into law, that prohibits the combustion of fossil fuels, namely gas, for cooking and heating in select new buildings. The ban will apply to new structures under seven stories tall starting in 2024 and to larger buildings in 2027.

New York is not alone. Berkeley, Calif., became the first city in the U.S. to ban gas hookups in new construction in 2019, and now at least  42 cities  in California, including San Francisco and San Jose, have acted to limit gas in new buildings. Salt Lake City and Denver have also made plans to move toward electrification. And notably, Ithaca, N.Y., recently took the step to convert all of its buildings , not just new construction, to heat pumps and electric ranges over gas.

But New York City’s measure is significant not only because of its population size, but also because of its colder climate. Gas proponents have argued that cutting this heating option in a place where winter temperatures average in the 30s and 40s and can plunge even lower, means that electric heaters and kitchen appliances might overwhelm the grid and lead to power outages.

New York’s city council and the mayor have required studies on the feasibility of using heat pump technology and on how the measure will impact the city’s electricity grid.

Utility Con Edison said in testimony to a November meeting of the city council that the grid “is well-poised to support the transition to heating electrification.” Peak grid strain in the city tends to come with air conditioning use in the summer, it said.

“With a gas-free NYC, we can deliver better public health outcomes and make real strides to cut climate-warming emissions. Next up, New York state and the nation must follow suit,” said environmental group Food & Water Watch Northeast region Director Alex Beauchamp.

The Biden administration has pushed for heat pump rebates for homeowners in its Build Back Better spending bill that remains snarled in Congress.

Addressing building emissions is critical to New York City meeting its  climate-change goals ; buildings are responsible for 70% of the city’s greenhouse gas emissions , city government says.

study  by clean energy think tank RMI predicts the ban will slash 2.1 million tons of CO2 emissions by 2040, which has about the same impact as taking 450,000 cars off the road for a year.

“We banned fracking of natural gas but we are still creating a demand for gas and we are here to say that the time to grow the amount of gas we use has long passed,” New York state lawmaker Sen. Brian Kavanagh, a Democrat who is working on a state-level gas-banning bill , said a recent rally.

If it passes, New York would become the first state to ban natural gas in new buildings at a statewide level.

Natural gas /zigman2/quotes/210189548/delayed NG00 -2.68% , which has seen its cost drop historically, has been a primary substitute for dirtier coal in powering the nation’s electric utilities. Plus, its domestic generation helped the U.S. attain energy dominance among global powerhouses, the Middle East and Russia, which can factor into other diplomacy and trade tactics.

Methane  leaks  along the natural gas supply chain, from wells to people’s homes, and while the oil-and-gas industry has taken steps to reduce such leaks, the continued use of natural gas remains a key sticking point in Washington and elsewhere as the U.S. moves to a cleaner-energy future.

During a high-profile U.N. climate summit in November, the U.S. joined over 100 other countries in pledging to cut methane emissions by 30% this decade. Methane is a more potent greenhouse gas than carbon, but lasts for a shorter time in the atmosphere.

Exxon-Mobil Corp. /zigman2/quotes/204455864/composite XOM -1.59% executives told lawmakers seeking more transparency around leaks that the company plans to cut its own methane emissions 40% to 50% by 2026 compared with a decade earlier, while “developing, testing and deploying new methane detection and mitigation technologies.”

Oil and gas interests spent $82 million dollars lobbying U.S. lawmakers this year alone, according to Open Secrets , while the total for alternative energy production and services was $23 million .

One major question is what kind of energy will be needed to power the added load on utilities from more heat pumps, and will it be as “green” as city gas banning programs tend to promise?

Increasingly, wind and solar /zigman2/quotes/205740995/composite ICLN -0.44% is becoming more cost-competitive relative to natural gas, industry data shows , and more conversions are expected to speed up as net-zero emissions pledges are pushed by governments and companies alike. But the alluring price of natural gas  means that change won’t happen overnight, says Steven Nadel, executive director at the American Council for an Energy Efficient Economy.

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