New building standards being considered by the San Mateo County Board of Supervisors could mandate that all new buildings use electric fuel sources for space and water heating and clothes drying. The proposed standards, dubbed “reach codes,” would provide exceptions for appliances such as stoves and fireplaces in single-family homes. 

While the plan is for the new codes to go into effect early next year, the board also directed staff to research a gas ban, which could require all-electric appliances in new construction. This wouldn’t be brought before the Board of Supervisors until after the reach codes are approved, county officials said. 

The California Energy Commission permits local governments to enact energy requirements that go beyond the state’s standards with an extensive application. The technical nature of the application has dissuaded the county from pursuing this application before.

“It’s challenging for local governments,” said Rachael Londer, resource conservation specialist with the San Mateo County Office of Sustainability. “We have to demonstrate it is cost-effective.” 

Peninsula Clean Energy, however, is helping make the process easier. The local electricity provider has created a model for the county to use for its reach codes. The city of Half Moon Bay is also looking at Peninsula Clean Energy’s resources and plans to give an update to City Council members on Nov. 5, said Public Works Program Manager Jennifer Chong.

“We appreciate the desire to remain consistent with our neighboring jurisdictions and want to ensure we are considering the best interests for our community, especially given our unique location on the coast,” Chong said in an email. 

The reach codes wouldn’t apply to existing structures, meaning homeowners wouldn’t need to switch to electric-fueled appliances. But the Office of Sustainability plans to conduct more outreach and host informational events to encourage people to consider retrofitting. Residents can sign up to be notified of these events through peninsulareachcodes.org.

Londer said the Office of Sustainability tweaked Peninsula Clean Energy’s model, inspired by what Menlo Park has done. 

Menlo Park doesn’t have a full gas ban like the one Berkeley has or the one San Jose is going to implement. However, it does require new multifamily units with four stories or more and nonresidential buildings to be all-electric. Single-family and multifamily units under three stories are all-electric but can have natural gas stoves and fireplaces. 

The county is proposing to follow Menlo Park’s example. Additionally, the new reach codes would require more electric vehicle spaces in all types of buildings. 

Building this way saves money. A single-family, all-electric home can save more than $5,000 in construction costs and nearly $4,500 in operational costs.

It’s also a way to reach the state’s goal to reach carbon neutrality by 2045. It’s also better in the event of power outages, Londer said. 

“The best way to be resilient is to have rooftop solar and batteries,” she said.

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