Enlarge /. Power lines run through a national park in San Luis Obsispo, California.
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A battle is raging in California for the future of natural gas. Environmentalists want building regulations to be electrically heated in order to reduce CO2 emissions. Natural gas suppliers and unions representing their workers have agreed to oppose these laws.
In March, Eric Hoffman, president of a local utility union, used an unusual tactic to stop the adoption of a new clean energy code of conduct in San Luis Obispo, a city on the central California coast.
"If the city council intends to conduct another reading on a gas ban, I can assure you that there will be no social distancing," Hoffman wrote in an email to the Los Angeles Times on March 16. "Please don't force my hand to carry hundreds and hundreds of disgruntled people who may be contributing to this pandemic."
City officials say they were shocked by this obvious threat of possibly exposing innocent people to COVID-19. But Hoffman prevailed. Officials gave up plans to vote on the controversial new law at a meeting on April 7.
Michael Codron, the city's community development director, told the LA Times that Hoffman's apparent threat played a role in the decision to cancel the vote. "There's no way of knowing if it was a frenzy," Codron told The Times.
The struggle in San Luis Obispo is part of a broader debate about the future of energy in the Golden State, as the LA Times explains:
Climate activists and many energy experts see the switch to fully electric buildings as the best way to reduce emissions from households and businesses. Gas is a fossil fuel that contributes to climate change, while California's electricity is increasingly being supplied from climate-friendly sources such as solar and wind farms.
SoCalGas subsequently convinced nearly 120 cities and counties to approve similarly formulated resolutions that were originally drafted by the gas company and called for "balanced energy solutions". The company's climate change mitigation solution is renewable natural gas – a fuel that could replace some of the fossil gas that contributes to climate change but has serious limitations from experts.
San Louis Obispo's proposal would make fully electric construction standard in the city. Developers who wanted to offer natural gas in one house would either have to retrofit other houses or pay into a fund to reduce natural gas consumption in other parts of the city.
City officials say they haven't given up on the proposal, but they're not sure when the new vote will take place. The city hopes to organize a digital forum where the public can comment on the proposal remotely. But this idea is "fraught with engineering challenges," Coldron told the LA Times, so the city hasn't tried it yet.