By David M. Greenwald
Davis, CA – Community pushback forced the city to scrap a plan to require gas appliances be replaced by electric ones at the point of sale. I’m troubled by not only the course of action that the staff chose as an alternative but also the pushback itself.
Davis prides itself not only on its progressive values but in its proactive response, specifically on issues of the environment.
I have often pointed out during the last 16 years that there is a gap between Davis’ self-image as a progressive bastion and reality.
Back in 2006, I referred to this as the “Dark Underbelly”—that if you scratch off the surface veneer of progressivism, you find a very reactionary core of voters.
The flap arose over the city’s Climate Action and Adaptation Plan. There was serious pushback from segments of the community over a requirement that gas appliances would have to be replaced at the point of sale with electric appliances.
After the pushback, the city staff changed the proposal to voluntary.
“When the Draft CAAP’s public comment period closed on October 10, it was clear that only voluntary implementation of electric appliances within households and businesses received widespread support,” the city said in a statement on Friday.
As any social scientist knows, voluntary guidelines are useless. About as useful as voluntary taxation. We have laws to overcome collective action problems and the notion of free riding.
A free rider problem is a notion from economics whereby the market allows some individuals to shirk their responsibilities because incentives favor them not paying for a public good—in this case the cost of electrification to support climate change policies.
The bottom line is this: we have a climate emergency. That’s what our council and many activists have been pushing for several years. And the climate data supports it.
We are going to have to at this point make very painful and probably expensive changes in order to head off catastrophic climate change.
But the community is only willing to do these things, it would appear, that don’t directly impact their lives or their pocketbook. That’s not exactly progressive—is it?
Communities across the state are moving away from fossil fuels and toward electricity, which California is pushing quickly to make far more renewable than it already is.
There are legitimate concerns over cost here that have been raised—it could take tens of thousands of dollars to update people’s appliances. Many communities and the state are looking into subsidy programs for assistance.
But there is another point that everyone appears to be missing—many people purchased their homes for relatively cheap and will get to sell them for far more. In other words, people are looking to cash in on their home equity that will increase the value of their purchase price manyfold, but they are not willing to spend a small amount of that to help do their part to forestall climate catastrophe.
At a recent candidate forum hosted by the League of Women Voters, Davis City Council candidates uniformly did not back the mandate.
Adam Morrill noted the cost of remodeling would run in the tens of thousands.
He explained that “to do all this electrification would require people to upgrade their panels. And for most people, that’s cost prohibitive. People won’t then sell their homes, they’ll sit on them, they’ll rent them, and we’ll lose more housing stock that way.”
Bapu Vaitla explained, “With respect to individual costs, there’s been a lot of community concern around the electrification point of sale requirement. For me, what makes more sense is electrification at the end of useful life. So even from an environmental perspective, it doesn’t make sense to trash appliances that are in good working order and have them be in the landfill and impose those transition costs onto individuals.”
He added, “Even when we do this electrification at the end of useful life, low-income families, middle-income families should, be assisted in that transition with tax rebates and subsidies.”
Dan Carson would add that “there is this proposal for electrification at point of sale. I oppose it. I will not go along with the idea that we’re going to make people rip all their gas fired appliances out of their home at a cost of tens of thousands of dollars, potentially making it impossible for young families to buy homes. What I could see as being possible is that at the end of their useful life…”
Kelsey Fortune said, “This specific policy was pointed out by the public now and the NRC months ago as poor policy, as problematic. The council chose to keep it in there anyway. The fact that it made it this far is because of a lack of communication with the community during this process. This 2025 mandate is poor policy because it’s going to decrease the housing stock turnover in our market, which is already very low.”
Gloria Partida said, “I think that we have all heard loud and clear that electrification at point of sale is something that is not acceptable.”
That means on this issue, the city is likely going to follow the state of California.
The state of California has already dealt with one aspect of the issue going forward. By 2026, new homes in California are required to have all electric appliances.
Moreover, for existing homes, the state requires 80 percent of new appliances to be electric by 2030—once the life cycle of a current appliance ends—with that increasing to 100 percent by 2035.
Already there are subsidy programs in place, and more coming. In April the California Public Utilities Commission announced it was going to subsidize electric heat pump systems to shift away from natural gas.
They note, “Approximately 800,000 water heaters are replaced annually in California, and rapidly transforming the market to increase the use of heat pump technology is critical to the State’s goal of decarbonizing buildings.”
Moreover, the building sector “is responsible for 25 percent of the State’s greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions.”
The release noted, “Half of the incentive funds are reserved for low-income utility customers. The incentive amount for single-family residential customers is capped at $4,885 for low-income customers and $3,800 for other customers. Incentives are also authorized if an electric panel upgrade is needed to install the HPWH.”
Modifying the requirements to match or exceed state law makes sense. Looking into ways to subsidize for lower-income residents also makes sense. But to me the furor over this requirement is emblematic of the approach of many residents—let’s address climate emergency but not on my dime or at my inconvenience.