Sacramento City Council passes ordinance to electrify new buildings, accelerate transition away from fossil fuels

Wednesday June 02, 2021

Ordinance will protect public health while ensuring continued small business growth in Sacramento

On Tuesday, June 1, the Sacramento City Council voted to approve a building electrification ordinance that requires all-electric construction for new low-rise developments beginning in 2023, and then encompassing mid- and high-rise developments starting in 2026. Environmental groups 350 Sacramento, Environmental Council of Sacramento, Sunrise Movement Sacramento, and Stand.earth’s SAFE Cities movement applauded the council’s vote to approve the ordinance. The vote is an essential first step in a robust process to create a broader policy that fully addresses indoor air quality and the climate-heating emissions created by buildings in Sacramento.

In Sacramento, energy usage in residential and commercial buildings created 37 percent of the total carbon emissions citywide, according to a 2016 inventory of greenhouse gas emissions. The City Council’s electrification ordinance moves in concert with the Sacramento Municipal Utility District’s new 2030 Zero Carbon plan, which will phase out all use of fossil fuels by 2030. With increasing supplies of zero-carbon electricity available from SMUD, the city’s building electrification ordinance will have an even greater climate impact. Further, the ordinance will prevent significant sources of indoor air pollution; a recent study found that children who live in homes with gas-powered stoves are 42 percent more likely to develop asthma. Last month, a Harvard University study found that California ranked fourth in the U.S. for the most premature deaths from air pollution resulting from natural gas burning.

Sacramento joins a growing trend of cities across the U.S. and Canada to take action that phase out the use of fossil fuels and accelerate the clean energy economy. With momentum building across these two countries, Sacramento became the 70th city to adopt a SAFE Cities-style policy. Called Stand Against Fossil Fuel Expansion, SAFE Cities empowers local community members and grassroots groups to work with their elected officials to enact these policies. For many communities, this has been through adoption of building electrification ordinances. Sacramento has powerful examples to follow that demonstrate how a city can expand and improve its ordinance to encompass additional building types and emissions sources. That includes San Francisco, which adopted an electrification ordinance for new development last November and is currently exploring options for requiring retrofits through an expanded ordinance. On Tuesday night, the City Council directed city staff to develop a work plan in the next 60 days that would help the city create a strategy for retrofitting existing buildings by 2045.

“The Sacramento City Council has taken the first step in an exciting journey,” said Kate Wilkins, an environmental scientist and the Building Electrification Team Lead for 350 Sacramento. “Combined with the Sacramento Municipal Utility District's new plans that will close two of its gas-fired power plants by 2025, the City Council’s building electrification ordinance represents a great initial step toward meeting the city’s carbon zero goal. However, our work is not done. Our next task is to work on a retrofit strategy to reduce carbon emissions from existing buildings, and we must ensure that this is accomplished through an equitable, inclusive, and just process. The City Council’s vote Tuesday night gives us hope and steels our resolve for the next leg of this journey.”

Sacramento’s electrification ordinance includes temporary and limited exemptions for restaurateurs, manufacturers, and affordable housing developers. The ordinance gives flexibility for restaurateurs by exempting cooking equipment in food establishments. For developers of affordable housing, the ordinance provides an exemption for water heating when virtual net energy metering is unavailable. These exemptions will sunset in 2025, unless extended by the council.

“The Sacramento City Council’s electrification ordinance recognizes the urgent public health and environmental crisis we face from the continued burning of fossil fuels,” said Wilder Zeiser, a Sacramento resident and the U.S. Oil and Gas Campaigner for Stand.earth’s SAFE Cities movement. “If we want a future that is climate-safe and supplies clean air for us to breathe, then we must take immediate action now to get fossil fuels out of our buildings, and to stop all expansion of fossil fuel infrastructure. The City Council’s vote means Sacramento will join a rapidly growing movement of 70 cities and counties in the U.S. and Canada that are taking these SAFE Cities-style actions to phase out fossil fuels and block the industry’s expansion. The ordinance enacts an important safeguard for public health, while providing essential, sunsetting exemptions that will accommodate the growth of small businesses, such as restaurants owned by Asian American Pacific Islanders, that sustain our economy in Sacramento.”

More about SAFE Cities:
SAFE Cities is a growing movement of neighbors, local groups, and elected officials phasing out fossil fuels and fast-tracking clean energy solutions to ensure a just transition. Already dozens of cities and counties across the US – and several more around the globe – have passed concrete policies to keep their communities SAFE from fossil fuels, build renewable energy infrastructure, and create good, long-term jobs.

The SAFE Cities movement’s focus diverges from other “sometimes fluff” policies like climate emergency declarations, pledges to support the Paris Agreement, or emissions reduction strategies that are too weak to accomplish targets. Instead, SAFE Cities empowers local governments to leverage their existing regulatory authority (like land-use codes) to stop the growth of the fossil fuel industry in their communities.

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Media contacts: 

Peter Jensen, SAFE Cities Communications Coordinator, safemedia@stand.earth, +1 415 532 3817 (Pacific Time)

Wilder Zeiser, U.S. Oil & Gas Campaigner, zeiser@stand.earth, +1 510 778 5670 (Pacific Time)

Kate Wilkins, Building Electrification Team Lead for 350 Sacramento, kate.wilkins@350Sacramento.org +1 916 833 0918