Natural Gas Bans in California

Olivia Brown
April 17, 2021

Submitted as coursework for PH240, Stanford University, Fall 2020


Fig. 1: An example of an electric stove. (Source: Wikimedia Commons)

Natural gas bans are an increasingly common political action item in California. In late 2019, the regulators from the California Energy Commission approved local governments prohibiting or increasing restrictions on natural gas in new buildings. [1] While cities have taken different approaches, the popularity is clear: over 20 cities in California have passed bills targeting natural gas, including major metropolitans such as San Francisco, San Jose, and Berkeley. [1-3] All of these cities have passed legislation in an attempt to reduce dependence on fossil fuels by limiting natural gas, hoping to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. However, there is an ongoing debate between environmental advocates who praise the legislation and obvious opponents in the gas and restaurant businesses on the laws cost and impacts on power stability.

Environmental Considerations

All of the cities that have passed gas bans have the ultimate goal of reducing their respective negative impacts on the environment. For the state of California, about 25% of total greenhouse gas emissions come from residential and commercial buildings. [4] Thus, eliminating or reducing natural gas within new buildings could substantially reduce overall greenhouse gas emissions. On a smaller scale, natural gas bans can have a more substantial impact on some of the cities that have already passed the bans; for example, in San Francisco, about 44% of total greenhouse gas emissions come from residential and commercial buildings, and natural gas accounts for about 80% of building emissions. [2,5] Further, one study funded by several cities in California found that switching homes in California from natural gas to electricity would reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 33-56% in 2020 and estimated to reduce emissions by 76-88% in 2050. The variation in greenhouse gas reduction comes from different types of residences and different regions in the state. The increase in reduction from 2020 to 2050 is projected because of an estimated decrease in reliance on natural gases for the generation of electricity over time. In terms of quantity, the study showed that the net reduction of annual CO2 released in 2020 would be 1.0-2.6 tonnes for switching to all-electric single family homes. [6]

Cost Considerations

Opponents of natural gas bans commonly point out that electricity can be more expensive than natural gas, so they believe that the natural gas bans will result in increased costs on residents and business owners. [1] However, the increased costs are not guaranteed. One study by the San Francisco Department of the Environment found that construction costs for all-electric buildings are less expensive than for buildings that have natural gas. Specifically, the study found that construction on all-electric mid-rise buildings was 13 cents less expensive per square foot and construction on three-story multifamily buildings was $1.18 less expensive per square foot. [2] A different study, by the California Codes and Standards program, also reported lower expected initial costs on constructing an all-electric single-family home, averaging about $6,000 less. [3] The reduced initial costs can be attributed to not having to install and connect natural gas infrastructure to get the gas to the home. [3] Additionally, a study commissioned by the California Building Association found similar or lower initial costs for electric appliances in comparison to natural gas appliances. [7] An image of one electric appliance, an electric stove, is shown in Fig.1.

In contrast to the studies reporting a reduced cost, representatives of the building industry, who are opponents of the natural gas bans, claimed that there are similar initial costs between all-electric homes and homes with natural gas. [8] However, this estimate does not include a detailed explanation of costs and the estimates do not consider all costs, such as the impact on plumbing costs, leaving their estimate incomplete and less valuable. [8] At a minimum, there is agreement that all-electric buildings do not increase initial construction costs, and many studies show that all-electric buildings can be less expensive to build.

However, the utility costs can be higher for all-electric buildings. Natural gas is cheaper than electricity throughout California, though rates change regionally. For example, in Southern California, natural gas can vary from four to six times less expensive than electricity. [9] Further, it is difficult to project a lifetime comparison in costs of electricity to natural gas as costs change regularly and vary regionally. Additionally, many electric appliances use energy more efficiently than gas appliances, which can result in using less energy and thus a reduced cost for electric appliances. [9] However, these efficiencies range and can be impacted by a myriad of factors that contribute to the difficulty in projecting lifetime costs.

Reliability Considerations

Opponents of natural gas bans have claimed in a lawsuit that there is no evidence that Californias power grid is able to support an increase in demand for electricity, though they are unable to offer any evidence to the contrary. [7] Additionally, these opponents point to power outages due to wildfires fires in California as a risk of reliance on electricity, suggesting that residents will face more inconvenient power outages with all-electric buildings. [7] There have been an increasing number of wildfires in California and long power outages have affected many residents. While such power outages would affect all-electric buildings, those power outages would also affect the homes with natural gas. Many gas appliances still utilize electricity for ignition, so those appliances would still face the outages. [7]


Bans on natural gas are spreading throughout California with the goal of limiting greenhouse gas emissions. Because buildings account for a large portion of the states greenhouse gas emissions, these bans can have a substantial impact to reduce negative effects on the environment. Opponents of natural gas bans commonly claim that the bans will result in increased costs and decreased reliability of energy. However, the initial costs for all-electric buildings are similar or lesser, though the lifetime costs may be higher as utilities may increase. It is difficult to project the lifetime costs of utilities as the prices change regularly. The argument for decreased reliability has little evidence beyond power outages, which can also affect homes with natural gas. Many cities have already passed natural gas bans, believing that the environmental benefits outweigh the possible increased costs and decreased reliability.

© Olivia Brown. The author warrants that the work is the author's own and that Stanford University provided no input other than typesetting and referencing guidelines. The author grants permission to copy, distribute and display this work in unaltered form, with attribution to the author, for noncommercial purposes only. All other rights, including commercial rights, are reserved to the author.


[1] M. Moench, "California Regulators Clear Way For Natural Gas Bans to Take Effect," San Francisco Chronicle, 11 Dec 19.

[2] J. K. Dineen, "No More Natural Gas in New San Francisco Buildings Starting Next Year," San Francisco Chronicle, 12 Nov 20.

[3] E. Shao, "Bay Area Cities Poised to Follow Berkeley's Natural Gas Ban," San Francisco Chronicle, 19 Aug 19.

[4] M. Moench, "California Approves Natural Gas Limits on New Buildings in Nine Bay Area Cities," San Francisco Chronicle, 20 Feb 20.

[5] D. Fracassa, "SF's Big Buildings to Take Big Step in Reducing City's Emissions," San Francisco Chronicle, 22 Apr 19.

[6] A. Mahone et al., "Residential Building Electrification in California: Consumer Economics, Greenhouse Gases, and Grid Impacts," Energy and Environmental Economics, Inc., April 2019.

[7] M. Moench, "As Bay Area Natural Gas Bans Spread, Lawsuits Mount," San Francisco Chronicle, 3 Dec 19.

[8] S. Roth, "Should California Ban Gas in New Homes? A Climate Battle Ueats Up," Los Angeles Times, 7 Dec 20.

[9] E. D. Fournier et al., "Implications of the Timing of Residential Natural Gas Use For Appliance Electrification efforts," Environ. Res. Lett. 15, 124008 (2020).