Boulder council wants to see natural-gas ban option. Lafayette’s ban to effect 3,000 to 4,000 residential units. And in Golden, progress has stalled.
by Allen Best
In a straw poll, eight members of the Boulder City Council indicated support for banning natural gas in new buildings. The ninth member indicated only partial support.
The Boulder Reporting Lab reported that Mayor Aaron Brockett called for the straw poll about whether to request that the city staff bring to council an all-electric option as the city updates its energy and other building code elements. He said the city staff was unclear whether to proceed in the full-electrification direction, which is why he wanted to confirm the council’s intent.
Brockett said he believes that the Boulder community, for the most part, wants the council to push for electrification.
“People understand that the buildings we’re building now are going to be with us for decades,” he said. “And if we don’t get that energy efficiency and energy use right now, that’s a lost opportunity for the next generation.”
The city staff is scheduled to deliver its recommendations in November.
Emily Sandoval, a city spokeswoman, stressed that the straw vote occurred in a work session. She told Big Pivots that the city staff will now start reaching out to architects, developers, and the community at large.
Because Boulder is land-locked, with almost no remaining lots for development, it has only a handful of new builds each year. The much larger impact will be in cases where existing housing is scraped and rebuilding occurs.
The no-gas requirement, if adopted, would apply to less than 1% of Boulder’s housing stock. It has a limited-growth boundary, so nearly all of that is the result of demolition and rebuilding and a limited amount of infill.
Crested Butte was the first jurisdiction in Colorado to make that move, voting last July to make the ban in the town’s 60 remaining lots. It made an exception for restaurants.
See: A big step for a small mountain town,” Big Pivots, Aug. 12, 2022.
Mayor Ian Billick reports that Crested Butte has had few building permits pulled since the ban went into effect. The town plans an all-electric affordable housing project, but it is trying to make the numbers work as air-source heat pumps cost more. As for the efficiency of the technology, he sees no problems. The decline in efficiency of heat pumps in colder temperatures and higher elevation “has been manageable,” he said.
In June, the municipality of Lafayette banned natural gas in new construction, also with some exemptions, including large systems, hospitals, labs, and industrial. The code takes effect on Aug. 1. See details here.
Lafayette is notable because, unlike Boulder or Crested Butte, it has the land available to make this regulation apply to buildings at a much larger sale. It expects 3,000 to 4,000 new residential units in the next 20 years and has 205 acres zoned for commercial development.
Other Colorado jurisdictions have flirted with the idea of requiring all-electric construction. Aspen, for example, considered that option but decided to wait at least a year.
Golden’s elected officials in February gave a yellow light toward a more ambitious agenda. See: “Golden moves on path to all-electric in new buildings.” Big Pivots, Feb. 17, 2023.
Instead of a simple all-electric code, the proposal on the table is to also require on-site renewable generation.
Ken Jacobs, one of the community members at the table, reports stalled progress. “My sense is that it has slowed as a result of one part developer opposition but two parts bureaucratic inertia,” he says.
“There is still an ongoing conversation yet to be settled as to whether we fall back to simply saying all-electric and drop the net-zero/on-site renewable requirement, which really does go beyond what other communities are doing, or whether those more aggressive goals will remain part of the package.”
That added component might be part of a second phase, he suggests. He is dubious any code update will occur yet this year.
Other jurisdictions are still not quite sure exactly what direction they will take. One option is a code that does not ban natural gas but, through incentives, makes all-electric construction the easier path going forward.
Regardless of the code requirement, though, individual players are moving. Elevation Hotel at Snowmass Village, for example, is all-electric. Several affordable housing projects in Basalt preceded it.
In the Eagle Valley, several government buildings and at least one affordable housing project.
Other jurisdictions—including Northglenn and Erie–have adopted electric-preferred building codes for residential construction. Denver and Louisville have requirements for all-electric commercial new construction.
Denver has a ban on gas for space and water heating in commercial construction starting next year.
While Xcel Energy, Colorado’s largest gas-distribution utility, has raised questions about the adequacy of the heat-pump technology in Colorado’s most extreme weather, some jurisdictions question whether the workforce exists to implement all-electric building on a large scale.
Some elected officials think we need to move forward more rapidly despite these concerns.
As mayor of Louisville, Ashley Stolzmann pushed for a gas ban but couldn’t convince a majority of council members.
Now a Boulder County commissioner, Stolzmann told the Boulder Reporting Lab that even for Boulder County to reach its 2030 goal for emission reduction – a goal that is less aggressive than that of the city of Boulder—it can’t approve more buildings that burn natural gas.
“And we would need to do significant amounts of retrofitting by 2030. So this is going to take something different than business as usual,” she said.