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California to phase out gas furnaces, water heaters by 2030

It'll reduce emissions a bunch, but stress the grid even more

First it came for internal combustion engines, and now the California Air Resources Board (CARB) is proposing a phase out of natural gas water heaters and furnaces – another first among US states.

The ban would require all new water and space heaters (furnaces – not portable electric units) sold after 2030 to meet zero-emissions standards. The rule includes new construction and replacement of aged/broken units, the board said in its State Implementation Plan [SIP – PDF], which was approved unanimously last week. Gas cooking stoves are not included in CARB's proposal.

According to the SIP, space and water heating accounts for nearly 90 percent of building-related greenhouse gas emissions (GHG) in California, while buildings in general account for approximately 25 percent of overall GHG emissions in the state.

If implemented, the SIP said that zero-emissions space and water heating could lead to a reduction of 13.55 tons per day (tpd) of nitrogen oxides (NOx) by 2037. If the ban was expanded to include cooking, clothes drying and other residential uses of natural gas, that reduction could increase to 19.96 tpd, CARB said. 

If fully implemented, CARB said its 2022 SIP could lead to a reduction of more than 200 tpd of NOx and 40 fewer tpd of reactive organic gasses statewide by 2027.

The SIP covers a lot more ground, and is the central planning document for the year's efforts to meet federal plans to meet the Environmental Protection Agency's ground-level ozone (smog) standards, which say that states need to meet a standard of 70 parts-per-million exposure over an eight-hour day. 

"We need to take every action we can to deliver on our commitments to protect public health from the adverse impacts of air pollution, and this strategy identifies how we can do just that," CARB chair Liane Randolph said.

Among the other GHG reduction plans covered in the SIP are plans to increase zero-emissions vehicle (ZEV) penetration by targeting ride-hailing services, zero-emissions requirements for commercial fleets and a requirement to replace commercial vehicles that age out with ZEVs, deployment of more stringent exhaust standards for off-road sources and plans to regulate any elements of federally or internationally-regulated GHG emissions source "within our authority." 

We can't go it alone, says CA

California, whose planned phase-out of internal-combustion vehicles was quickly shown to be unsupportable by its current power grid, is taking another bold step by adding more electric-consuming appliances to its power infrastructure over the same time frame. This time around it appears that the state is aware it can't necessarily meet its goals without federal assistance, with CARB admitting that the 70ppm/8-hour federal government goal will be hard for it to meet.

In discussing its plans to attempt to regulate interstate and international GHG sources, California said it plans to petition the EPA and call on the government to take its own actions to reduce emissions. 

"Actions needed at the federal and international levels include setting more stringent engine standards, requiring zero-emission technologies where feasible, and potential requirements to require that only the cleanest vessels and aircraft visit California, given the severity of our attainment challenges," CARB said in the SIP. 

The SIP isn't anything enforceable, though – it's a planning document that will help CARB actually build regulations that meet the goals it sets. In the case of the proposed rules for furnaces and water heaters, CARB researchers and regulators will have until 2025 to present the board with a set of rules it can vote on, or a comprehensive explanation of why no rules would be better. ®

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