The City of Santa Monica is considering an electric future with a series of proposed code revisions that would eliminate natural gas from homes and encourage adoption of electric vehicles. 

Staff presented options to the Planning Commission last week recommending the city adopt and in some cases, surpass, the 2022 California Green Building Code. The proposed Zero Emission Building Code and EV Charger Reach Code were presented to Commissioners for feedback before City Council is expected to make final decisions in the near future.

The proposed changes to the building code would prohibit gas infrastructure in new construction projects and require projects that demolish more than 50 percent of the existing buildings to rebuild without natural gas to help to the City achieve the goals of implementing Carbon Neutral Construction Codes, 20% fuel gas reduction by 2030 and carbon neutrality by 2050 or sooner.

Staff said removing gas appliances from buildings has health, safety, environmental, monetary, comfort and amenity benefits. Homes would rely on electrically powered water heaters that can double as storage systems in an emergency, solar panels with batteries that integrate into an evolving electrical system and induction/radiant stoves that do not emit harmful gases. 

Some of the options are required already by the state and upcoming state codes either make electric options the standard or require construction decisions allow for electrification. Almost 60 cities adopted similar ordinances with others pursuing electrification rules.

Applicants may apply for several exemptions, including in commercial kitchens, medical buildings, laboratory equipment or clean-rooms and when there are no alternative technologies available or the impact of a switch would negatively impact the health/safety/welfare of the public. 

Proposed changes to EV charging requirements would mandate charging units be installed in all residential-multifamily projects (not just projects with more than 20 units) and to mandate an increase in the number of charging stations that make use of new, more efficient low power technology. 

Commissioners were supportive of both proposals with some caveats as the discussion occurred in the immediate aftermath of a significant power outage covering a large part of the city. 

“I am just going through and getting through this outage, and its aftermath,” said Sam Tolkin. “I’m concerned about Edison’s capability if we go all electric. I’m wanting that but I’m really concerned that they can service it and they are honest about what they’re telling us about their system. If it’s been upgraded, or they’re upgrading it.”

Senior Sustainability Analyst Drew Johnstone said the city has also experienced significant outages and leaks from its natural gas system in recent years and while utility providers are contractually obligated to provide the resources required by the city, problems do occur. However, he said the proposed revisions might help prevent future outages by reducing demand. 

“I think the benefit of new buildings being all electric or be highly efficient and grid interactive is to, I guess, relieve some of the strain on the grid during peak times,” he said. “And obviously, with solar and battery storage, as well.”

The proposals will return for official adoption by City Council at a future meeting. 

editor@smdp.com