NYC to Require All-Electric Cooking and Heating, But Gas Isn’t Going Anywhere Soon

The bill, which would apply to all new construction, is a necessary first step towards a sustainable city.

Dec 15 2021, 5:21pm

New York City will soon ban gas hookups in new buildings, according to the New York Times. It is a major achievement for climate activists and a boost to any reasonable hope for the city becoming zero emissions in any of our lifetimes. It also has a number of loopholes and caveats that mean gas isn’t going anywhere any time soon.

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Like most everywhere else in the country, New York City buildings are primarily heated by burning gas at a centralized source to generate either steam that is distributed through pipes or heat spread through ducts. Also like most everywhere else in the country, most New York City kitchens, both residential and commercial, have gas stoves and ovens. The bill that is expected to become law would ban gas hookups for new buildings, requiring cooking and heating to be done electrically.

Some people have very strong feelings about the benefits and aesthetic pleasures of cooking with gas, even though it is bad for our health—due to indoor air pollutants—and for the environment, because gas is a fossil fuel and burning fossil fuels is pretty much the whole climate change deal. Switching both cooking and heating to electricity is a necessary step towards a greener future, because electricity can be generated from renewable energies like solar and wind. Personally, I would love to switch my gas range for an electric one because they are much easier to clean, and I would positively jump at getting an induction range, which is basically magic. Alas, I live in one of the city’s approximately 2.1 million rental units, so I can’t undertake expensive electrical work to add a high-voltage outlet to the kitchen in an apartment I don’t own.  

But the “good” news for gas cooking enthusiasts is, thanks to the structure of this bill, they will likely be able to cook for gas for decades to come if they wish to do so. 

First, there is the obvious caveat that the bill only covers new construction, starting for new permits in 2024 for buildings with fewer than seven stories and in July 2027 for buildings with seven stories or more. There are more than 1 million buildings in New York City. Since 2010 the city has issued between 5,000 and 8,000 new building permits per year. At that pace, it would take a minimum of 125 years to convert the city’s building stock to electric. 

Even then, not all new buildings are covered by the bill. Laboratories, laundromats, hospitals, crematoriums, and commercial kitchens are exempt from the new law. So are buildings used by utilities “for the generation of electric power or steam.” 

Should the bill become law, it is a necessary first step towards reducing the city’s emissions. Not building more of the bad thing is good policy. It is also the easy part. What to do about the million buildings reliant on gas will be a much tougher retrofit.

Tagged:

climate change, NEW YORK CITY, natural gas

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