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Would you give up cooking on your gas stove to fight climate change? As more cities and states try to cut carbon emissions, they are focusing on natural gas. The city of Berkeley, Calif., voted last month to ban it in new homes. It's believed to be the first ban of its kind in the nation, and it may not be the last.
Lauren Sommer of member station KQED reports.
LAUREN SOMMER, BYLINE: Working at the Sierra Club, Bruce Nilles spent his day job trying to get the country to stop using fossil fuels.
BRUCE NILLES: Thinking a lot about coal and, how do we transition the United States off of coal? - and had missed the fact that right in my own home was this big source of fossil fuels.
SOMMER: Right in his two-story Oakland home - four appliances that ran on natural gas.
NILLES: I have a hot water heater, a furnace, a dryer and a gas stove. And it never occurred to me that they were a big piece of my carbon footprint.
SOMMER: So Nilles decided to switch to electric appliances. Electricity has a lower carbon footprint in California because a lot of it comes from solar and hydropower and almost none comes from coal.
NILLES: I called three different contractors, and all three of them tried to persuade me not to get rid of my gas.
SOMMER: Eventually, he found one who was game, who installed a new electric stove but not those old-school ones with the coils that heat up. It's an induction cooktop.
NILLES: This thing is so fast. You put the water on and, literally, 120 seconds later, it's boiling.
SOMMER: Appliance number two.
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SOMMER: Electric dryer.
NILLES: Turns out, actually, a lot of people have electric dryers.
SOMMER: For appliances three and four, we head to the basement, where there's an electric heat pump that makes hot air to heat the house. And next to it...
NILLES: It's a hot water heater - looks just like a hot water heater, right?
SOMMER: Except that it runs on electricity, which city building code isn't really written for.
NILLES: The inspector actually didn't sign off on our project because on a check box, it said there needed to be a gas shut-off valve on our hot water heater.
SOMMER: Nilles says it took a few more conversations to convince the inspector that a gas shut-off valve wasn't necessary.
Going all electric isn't common in California, but that could be changing.
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UNIDENTIFIED PERSON: Council is back in session.
SOMMER: In July, the city council in Berkeley, Calif., voted to ban natural gas in new buildings, starting with homes and small apartment buildings next year.
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UNIDENTIFIED PERSON: Motion carried.
SOMMER: The ban will include high-rises and restaurants later on, though they can apply for an exemption.
Council member Kate Harrison led the charge.
KATE HARRISON: We need to tackle climate change every way that we can. And by doing this, we're not asking people to change that much.
SOMMER: And Harrison says there are more reasons to do this. Berkeley sits on an earthquake fault, and natural gas lines can break and cause explosions. Cooking on gas stoves can also cause high levels of indoor air pollution.
HARRISON: We have health effects that have never been considered that come from burning natural gas.
SOMMER: But stoves are where Harrison is getting pushback. All you have to do is walk into an appliance store to see why.
BEN ELKIN: You know, you've got your Sub-Zero & Wolf here - extremely popular. We can look across the way. You see Viking over there.
SOMMER: Ben Elkin is showroom director at Monark Premium Appliance in San Francisco. He says customers want these heavy-duty gas stoves that look like they came from a restaurant kitchen.
Is there any electric around here?
ELKIN: Yeah. We've got - so let's see here.
SOMMER: We head to the back of the store, where there are a couple. But it's not what sells.
BOB RAYMER: People love their gas stoves.
SOMMER: Bob Raymer is technical director with the California Building Industry Association.
RAYMER: We don't want to force something onto the consumer that makes the consumer feel uncomfortable or that they just don't like. After all, it's their home.
SOMMER: Raymer says he'd rather see cities use incentives not outright bans. But he says some builders are already switching to all-electric homes because in new construction, they save thousands of dollars by not running gas lines.
Cities like Sacramento, Los Angeles and San Francisco are also considering zero-carbon building policies. And the state may not be far behind.
ANDREW MCALLISTER: Well, we know that we have to get away from fossil natural gas combustion.
SOMMER: Andrew McAllister is on the California Energy Commission, which is currently writing a plan to dramatically reduce emissions from buildings.
MCALLISTER: Electricity becomes cleaner and cleaner. And natural gas is, you know, methane, and it's just got carbon in it. There's no way around that.
SOMMER: California has a goal to become carbon-neutral by 2045. And about a quarter of the state's emissions come from energy used by buildings. So McAllister says, at some point, the state will have to tackle natural gas not just in new homes but in existing homes, too. That will take new rebates and incentives; something cities and utilities are just starting to offer.
MCALLISTER: It's a big lift, but we're in a powerful state with a big economy and a lot of creativity. So I think if anybody can do it, California can.
SOMMER: After all, McAllister says, a lot of the nation's energy efficiency rules, including for appliances, were passed by California first.
For NPR News, I'm Lauren Sommer in San Francisco.
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