August at-a-glance … environment 

Debate amplifies over natural gas bans

Since Berkley, California’s 2019 ordinance banning natural gas hook-ups in new buildings, 49 of the state’s cities have adopted similar building codes to reduce their reliance on natural gas. In addition, cities across the U.S., including Seattle, Denver, New York, Burlington, Vt. and more than 160 Massachusetts’ municipalities have either enacted or proposed similar measures to lower greenhouse gas emissions as they work toward carbon neutrality goals. Conversely, and concurrently, states are enacting laws that make these natural gas hook-up bans illegal. Such laws are on the books in Arizona, Arkansas, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Minnesota, Mississippi, Missouri, Oklahoma, Tennessee, Utah, West Virginia and Wyoming. To date, California has not taken a stand.

In the ongoing Berkeley situation, the California Restaurant Association (CRA) appealed a federal court ruling that the Energy Policy and Conservation Act (EPCA) does not preempt Berkley’s ordinance and that the issue must be decided in state court. According to CRA President and CEO Jot Condie, “The loss of flame cooking in restaurant settings would dramatically impact restaurant kitchens, where chefs rely on gas stoves to grill vegetables, sear meats and create meals of all kinds.”

The move from natural gas to electric brings with it higher costs. According to Frank Johnson, assistant director, residential/commercial appliances, Gas Technology Institute (GTI), “The change could result in at least a 10 to 30 percent increase in menu costs, depending on location.”

“This is a big movement that is now being driven by codes and standards, because voluntary energy efficiency/carbon reduction is moving too slowly,” said Richard Young, director, Frontier Energy Food Service Technology Center. “Since the all-electric codes are aimed at new construction and the existing building stock is enormous, this coming decade should be a golden age for high-efficiency gas equipment. This equipment can cost-effectively reduce carbon today in existing facilities. Bottom line – every piece of gas equipment that gets replaced should be high-efficiency,” Young added.

To help, the new California Foodservice Instant Rebates program provides direct discounts of up to $4,000 on qualifying high-efficiency natural gas or electric commercial foodservice equipment for customers of SoCalGas, Pacific Gas and Electric Company, Southern California Edison Company and San Diego Gas & Electric Company customers.

Young’s presentation to the Midwest Energy Efficiency Alliance (MEEA) on Decarbonizing the Commercial Kitchen with Energy-Efficient Equipment provides more information on how to best address decarbonization challenges.

EPA may tighten use of HFC alternatives in foam sector

The White House is currently reviewing an Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) proposal that could further reduce or ban the use of HFC 134-a, currently used in heat pumps, air conditioners, commercial refrigeration and foam. Although 134-a originally had a place in EPA’s hydrofluorocarbon (HFC) 15-year phasedown plan, some companies and environmentalists raised concerns about its climate effects. National Resources Defense Council’s (NRDC) HFC expert Alex Hillbrand faulted the agency for “allowing HFCs that are more powerful global warming gases than alternatives.” Additionally, the EPA Alliance of manufacturers of a specific type of rigid foam said, “Further delay of de-listing HFC 134-a not only harms the environment for years to come, but harms manufacturers who invested in product development based upon the clearly stated intentions of EPA.” According to the Spring Unified Agenda, EPA intends to release the supplemental proposal in August.

Last month, in comments to the EPA, NAFEM urged the agency to fully consider the impact and timing associated with its hydrofluorocarbon (HFC) phasedown on regulatory authorities outside of the EPA, including U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) regulations. NAFEM also communicated that some HFC alternatives include flammable refrigerants prohibited by state and local building codes.