Add Milpitas to the growing list of Silicon Valley cities fed up with climate change.

Milpitas City Council unanimously moved Tuesday to significantly reduce natural gas in new developments and mandate more electric vehicle chargers. In the latest effort to raise the area’s green standards, it joined multiple South Bay cities — including neighboring San Jose — in adopting new “reach codes.” 

State law mandates certain clean-energy measures for new developments, but cities can enact stricter regulations that “reach” beyond the state’s requirements, known as reach codes. The strictest of these codes demand new buildings be all electric. That means new tenants and homeowners will have to cook on an electric range — or the more popular induction range — instead of gas, among other adjustments.

Natural gas, a fossil fuel, account for 33 percent of carbon dioxide emissions in the United States. Carbon dioxide is the primary greenhouse gas causing climate change, according to a recent study.

Milpitas’s proposal aims to cut greenhouse gasses significantly, which can translate into utility savings for homeowners, tenants, and landlords.

The plan was lauded by environmentalists in the audience, including resident Rob Means, who urged the council to act more quickly on climate change.

“Do you folks really believe we’re in a climate emergency or not?” asked Means during Public Comment. “If you do, you know that any carbon we put into the air is going to be there for the next hundred years? We need to stop that immediately.”

But it also can serve as the death knell for the area’s natural gas companies — like energy giant PG&E — that already provide low-cost gas lines that can serve us well in an electricity emergency.

In a letter to the city council, the Western Propane Gas Association (WPGA) claimed the new policy to be “fundamentally misguided,” saying it would disincentivize companies that provide alternative fuel such as propane.

That, WPGA claimed, would make other clean energy sources like solar more expensive, and would make it more difficult for communities to find alternate sources of power should electricity emergencies like PG&E’s mass shutoffs happen again.

“Our industry is investing in renewable propane, derived from sustainable sources like beef tallow or vegetable oil,” the letter said. “We hope that regulators take a more holistic view of the complementary role propane plays alongside decarbonization efforts.”

Milpitas’s new reach codes stop short of an outright ban on natural gas, offering developers the choice between constructing all-electric homes or homes that use less natural gas than what the state’s energy code calls for.

But there were concerns — including some from Councilmembers Carmen Montano and Bob Nuñez — that such a drastic change in the city’s electric infrastructure would result in more out-of-pocket costs for low-income residents.

“We have to look at all the impacts that can happen, and not just blindly go,” Nuñez said.

Those concerns were assuaged by city staff, which promised a decrease in residents’ utility bills.

The council’s decision will also require vast changes to the city’s electric vehicle (EV) charging infrastructure. New single-family homes will be required to have at least two EV-ready outlets, with a circuit output equivalent to a home appliance. Multiple-family homes and office buildings will have to follow similar standards for EV charging access, according to a city memo.

The new green efforts are part of a broader program under Silicon Valley Clean Energy (SVCE), the electricity collaborative between multiple South Bay cities. SVCE offers a $10,000 grant for cities that opt into its amended reach code program.

Councilmember Carmen Montano also suggested looking into other means of greener infrastructure, such as expanding the city’s solar footprint, although no additional decisions on solar panels were officially made by the body.

Before Milpitas can start implementing its new natural gas policies, city officials will have to receive a green light from the California Energy Commission. The city aimed for a February or March 2020 implementation date, according to a memo. The EV program, which needs no CEC approval, will begin on January 1.

 

 

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Lloyd Alaban
Lloyd Alaban is a reporter who has lived in Milpitas his entire life. He has a BA in Sociology from UC Santa Cruz and a MS in Journalism & Mass Communications from San Jose State University. He has written for publications such as AsianWeek, realtor.com, Work+Money, SpareFoot, Uni Watch and San Jose Inside. He’s also worked at tech companies like Yahoo! and Google, and has subbed at every public school in Milpitas — except Pomeroy. In his spare time, he likes playing anything that has to do with trivia (especially watching Jeopardy!), running, drinking beer, reading, and playing with his Siberian Husky.

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