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Sustainability and Mobility

Building Decarbonization

City Heights Hollywood Palms aerial viewOne critical strategy of San Diego’s Climate Action Plan to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and improve the air quality and public health for our residents is to decarbonize buildings, or to achieve zero emissions buildings.

Currently, buildings throughout San Diego use natural gas and electricity to power, heat, and operate homes and businesses. However, 20% of San Diego’s total greenhouse gas emissions come from people burning natural gas in buildings. Meeting our climate goals will only be possible if we take immediate steps toward decarbonizing our built environment.

In line with the City’s Climate Action Plan and state law, San Diego’s electricity is increasingly supplied by clean and renewable sources. The City has committed to 100% renewable electricity in all municipal facilities with the Power100 program from San Diego Community Power. San Diego residents and businesses can do the same. However, natural gas can never be made entirely clean, as it produces greenhouse gases when burned. It creates indoor and outdoor air pollution that harms not only our planet but significantly impacts the health of our residents.

San Diego must transition away from burning natural gas and fossil fuels throughout its built environment. Our approach to this transition must be strategic and thoughtful to ensure that no residents or workers are left behind. This transition will not occur overnight. It will take a process of ongoing collaboration with residents and stakeholders to develop appropriate policies, programs and partnerships.

Electric Car ChargerWhat is the City proposing?

The San Diego Reach Code has two categories, all-electric requirement and EV readiness. Electric refers to no new natural gas in buildings and that an all-electric equipment should be the required standard for new development including single-family and multi-family residential as well as non-residential development.  

Jobs Impact Analysis 

Recently, the City PDF icon commissioned a Jobs Impact Analysis for San Diego's Building Decarbonization Policies. Review the PDF icon presentation and PDF icon technical appendix prepared by Inclusive Economics and the Building Electrification Institute. 

What is Building Decarbonization?

Building decarbonization means creating opportunities to move new development toward a zero emissions energy system. Currently, electrification, combined with the provision of clean and renewable energy by San Diego Community Power, provides an immediate path to zero emissions buildings. All available technologies and strategies to accelerate decarbonization will be considered. For existing residential and non-residential buildings, this may include a number of programs and building systems changes, such as energy retrofits, new high-efficiency electrical appliance and systems replacement programs, water reuse, and other emerging technologies for future commercial and industrial applications. Some of these new high-efficiency electric appliances include air-source, water-source or ground-source heat pumps to provide buildings with space heating, cooling and water heating, as well as induction cooktops and electric ovens for cooking.

Why Building Decarbonization?

Building decarbonization offers many health, financial and environmental benefits:

  • Removing natural gas from homes improves indoor air quality, leading to better health for our residents and families. This impact is especially acute for San Diegans in smaller or older homes. A recent study found that children growing up in homes with gas stoves have a 42% increased risk of developing asthma. Switching to electric stoves will eliminate invisible toxic pollutants that are released when burning natural gas in the home.
  • Removing natural gas combustion from all San Diego buildings will require targeted investments in a skilled workforce. While the transition will create new jobs in certain fields, it will also have an impact on our skilled gas and pipe workers unless we deliberately commit to a just transition for all workers. Building decarbonization paired with strong partnerships with our local workforce, strategic infrastructure investments and thoughtful labor policies will create high quality, good-paying jobs and leave no workers behind.
  • High efficiency electric appliances, such as heat pumps, are three to five times more energy efficient than their gas counterparts, which can save money on energy bills. Multiple studies have showed that newly constructed or retrofitted all-electric homes can significantly lower total utility bills. For new construction, the lifetime savings (upfront costs plus operating costs) can be between $130 and $540 per year.
  • Electric appliances can immediately be powered by clean energy such as rooftop solar or other on-site renewable energy generation, or San Diego Community Power’s 100% renewable electricity rate option.

How will San Diego move forward with Building Decarbonization?

Wakeland corner viewIn 2018, the state of California adopted an ambitious goal of achieving carbon neutrality throughout the whole economy by 2045. This goal would eliminate all emissions from direct fossil fuel combustion. To support this transition, in August 2021, the California Energy Commission unanimously passed amendments to the state building code which take a significant step toward removing natural gas in new construction. Additionally, more than 45 cities across California have adopted amendments to their local building codes to significantly reduce greenhouse gas emissions, while simultaneously improving public health. The City of San Diego is evaluating a suite of policies, including amendments to the building code, that take into consideration local context and priorities. The City of San Diego is currently meeting with our skilled worker unions and building industry to explore the right path for our City to realize the benefits of building decarbonization. The City will also be engaging in the coming months with San Diego businesses and residents, especially those in communities of concern, to ensure building decarbonization policies directly address their needs.

Reach Code

The City’s Climate Action Plan calls for reducing greenhouse gas emissions in order to achieve net zero by 2035.  Strategy one of the City of San Diego's Climate Action Plan aims to dramatically avoid greenhouse gas emissions from buildings across the City and to improve air quality. This strategy includes three measures to address emissions in new buildings and one of these is a Reach Code which will phase out natural gas from new residential and commercial development. Reach codes must be cost-effective, meaning that in order to adopt a reach code, the local government must make findings of the cost-effectiveness of the proposed energy standards.

What is a reach code?

A reach code is a local building code that goes beyond the minimum requirements set by the state for energy efficiency and energy performance of buildings. 

Reach codes can also support the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions through requirements related to electric vehicle (EV) readiness.

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