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As gas bans proliferate, 114 Calif. governments pass energy choice resolutions

Southern California Gas Co.'s efforts to combat a rising movement among cities to ban gas in new buildings has found support from a number of California communities.

The company said in a Dec. 11 news release that 114 local and county governments have passed resolutions urging policymakers to preserve Californians' ability to use natural gas and propane in their homes and businesses. The resolutions are a response to concerns that state agencies are facing pressure to prohibit natural gas in buildings as California seeks to slash planet-warming greenhouse gas emissions.

"To meet its ambitious environmental goals, California needs clean gas working together with clean electricity, and most importantly we cannot lose sight of affordability," Sharon Tomkins, vice president of strategy and engagement and chief environmental officer at SoCalGas, said in the release.

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About 50 California municipalities are considering or have passed measures to prevent or dissuade developers from installing natural gas hookups in buildings. Several Boston-area lawmakers and Seattle have followed suit with measures modeled after a pioneering ordinance in Berkeley, Calif.

The resolutions to preserve energy choice in California suggest gas bans will face headwinds in parts of the state.

"Switching to electricity-only would mean higher utility bills that people just can't afford. Maintaining a balanced approach is important for my community," South Gate, Calif., Mayor Belen Bernal said in the news release.

Counties and municipalities have passed the resolutions following outreach by SoCalGas regarding the gas ban movement and the fuel's role in combating climate change.

"SoCalGas has a long history of engaging local officials in the municipalities we serve, work and live on issues that affect their constituents and our customers," SoCalGas spokesperson Chris Gilbride told S&P Global Market Intelligence in October.

"Part of our engagement includes briefing leaders on SoCalGas' inclusive strategy to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by delivering more renewable natural gas to our customers and supporting the growing market for zero-emissions hydrogen in California," Gilbride said.

SoCalGas and other natural gas supporters also see threats at the state level, where the California Public Utilities Commission, or CPUC, is exploring pathways to building decarbonization. They point to comments from utility commissioners that raise concerns the state will seek to sideline gas in the building sector.

"Modeling tells us that 100% renewable electricity alone isn't enough to help us meet our 2030 greenhouse gas reduction goals; we also need to electrify our homes and buildings to reduce the use of fossil fuels in California," CPUC President Michael Picker said earlier this year.

Shoring up support for energy choice among local lawmakers is just one strategy the industry is pursuing in its bid to hold the line against further gas bans. The American Gas Association recently said it intends to build alliances with stakeholders beyond the energy industry, including restaurants and real estate developers. Also taking up the fight against gas bans is industry-backed group Californians for Balanced Energy Solutions, whose nearly three dozen board members include a representative from SoCalGas.