By Pete Danko – Staff Reporter, Portland Business Journal – Jul 28, 2022
The Eugene City Council on Wednesday voted to draft an ordinance banning natural gas in most new residential construction.
A ban would follow a growing national trend but be a first in Oregon and a blow to investor-owned NW Natural (NYSE: NWN), the state’s largest gas distribution utility.
Councilor Mike Clark, who opposed the move, said it amounted to the city telling NW Natural “it’s time to go to war.”
A 5-3 majority on the council backed the action, which had been floated, contemplated and debated for more than two years as one means to reach fossil-fuel reduction goals set out in a 2014 climate ordinance.
The ban would apply to residential buildings up to three stories tall for which permits are submitted after June 2023. The motion calls for a public hearing on the ordinance “in the fall.”
The council also adopted a separate motion to study limiting gas in new commercial and industrial buildings and another to discuss how to eventually eliminate fossil fuels from all buildings.
“This is something we can do right now, tackle a certain portion of new construction that’s going to happen in the future,” Claire Syrett, the councilor who brought the motion, said before the vote on the new-residential ban. “Our Climate Recovery Ordinance was subject to much public input, and we have been talking about how to actually put it into action for about a decade now. … I think it’s time for us to bite the bullet.”
NW Natural has argued strenuously against a ban, in discussions with city leaders, and in advertisements directed at the public.
NW Natural emailed this statement in response to the council action:
The Eugene City Council is proposing a forced electrification policy for new homes when the city’s own analysis estimates it will only save 0.1% of emissions by 2037.
Over the last several years, NW Natural has provided the city with five different emission reduction proposals that would address that gap — and more. These proposals were rejected. So, we are left to wonder, is the real goal of the Eugene City Council to reduce emissions or is it to ban natural gas in new homes, no matter what?
Polling shows 75% of Eugene voters — the Council’s constituents — do not support policies that remove energy choice.
NW Natural agrees. We believe there is better path to a lower-carbon future, one that takes advantage of both energy systems and maintains reliability and affordability for the residents of Eugene.
A coalition of activists, including the Sierra Club, called the move “a major step toward a clean energy future.”
While Eugene is a focus of anti-gas activity in Oregon, activists are also waging a broader effort with state utility regulators to stem gas infrastructure growth. They are calling for aggressive electrification of space and water heating.
The state’s residential ratepayer advocate, the Citizens’ Utility Board, has joined in calling for an end to incentives for new gas hookups.
NW Natural has outlined a decarbonization strategy that includes energy efficiency, renewable natural gas and hydrogen to reduce climate emissions, while emphasizing the benefits the gas system brings.
Just hours after the Eugene council meeting, the company announced an upcoming pilot project with a Bill Gates-backed startup that would produce “clean hydrogen” through a process that removes carbon from natural gas.