eLab Accelerator 2020

Berkeley Electrification and Natural Gas Decommissioning Pilot

Project Description

This project team came to Accelerator to explore how to electrify California's buildings and decommission the legacy natural gas infrastructure in a strategic and equitable manner.

The team, championed by Berkeley city staff, gathered a broad range of perspectives including utility, regulatory agencies, and affordable housing and electrification advocates. The team developed draft criteria and methodology for identifying and prioritizing pilot locations with equity, emissions, safety, health, and economic considerations in mind. With these criteria, the team will evaluate potential demonstration sites to further identify the social, regulatory, financial, and technical constraints to gas system decommissioning and eventually generate solution proposals.

What The Team Achieved By Participating in Accelerator

This team represents one of the nation’s first efforts to figure out how best to demonstrate gas infrastructure pruning and multibuilding electrification while serving the diverse needs of the community. Critical topics the team addressed included:

- Having a pilot focus on low-income neighborhoods versus a neighborhood with the highest potential avoided costs to the gas distribution system: The group agreed on the imperative to include at least one low-income neighborhood in the sites being evaluated, raising additional questions to investigate: Which low-income neighborhood will best serve to identify financial and nonfinancial costs, benefits, and barriers? What would be best practice in community buy-in processes, creating transparency around regulatory financial barriers, and identifying funding mechanisms to scale?

- Addressing the utility’s obligation to serve (OTS): The obligation to provide gas service to all customers (obligation to serve) limits investments in gas pruning, since discontinuance of service is not guaranteed. A two-stage solution generated by the team for Berkley to consider is to adopt a “No Reconnect Ordinance” for buildings that have removed gas service, and then, to work with the CPUC to modernize the OTS concept in prioritizing the provision of adequate service over a focus on serving both electricity and natural gas commodities using the ordinance as a catalyst.

- Financial barriers created by regulatory constraints: Regulations prevent utilities from paying for electrification projects with gas capital investment funds and limit the ability to use future avoided gas costs to subsidize electrification. Admittedly, these regulatory issues will take time to resolve. Meanwhile, as the team develops the demonstration site pro forma, doing so will help the group identify precisely where resources and funding streams are misaligned.

The next step in this team’s project is to use their co-created site selection criteria to analyze prospective pilot locations, estimate financial costs and available funding streams, and secure gap funding sources for the pilot.

Team Members

- Billi Romain, City of Berkeley, Office of Energy & Sustainable Development (OESD) Sustainability Program Manager

- Beckie Menten, East Bay Community Energy, Building Electrification and Energy Efficiency, Program Manager

- Bryon Winget, PG&E, Senior Manager of Integrity Management

- Caytie Campbell-Orrock, Building Electrification Initiative, Assistant Director

- Hannah Kaye, PG&E, Product Manager & Specialist

- Jenna Tatum, Building Electrification Initiative, Director

- Jonah Steinbuck, California Energy Commission, Energy Generation Research Office, Manager

- Kenneth Rider, California Energy Commission, Chief Policy Advisor

- Merrian Borgeson, NRDC, Senior Scientist, Climate and Clean Energy Program

- Nate Kinsey, CPUC, Regulatory Analyst, Building Decarbonization

- Srinidhi Sampath Jumar, California Housing Partnership, Sustainable Housing Policy and Program Manager