No gas means no gas! Remove dirty gas exemption from San Jose's all-electric ordinance

Mayor Liccardo and the San José City Council

We've got good news and bad news and we need your help.

The good news: In December, 2020, the San José City Council took a very significant step to protect our air and climate by extending its all-electric building code to virtually all new buildings, becoming the nation's largest city to do so. Hooray!

The bad news: Due to last-minute pressure from local company Bloom Energy, with a lot of insider influence, an exemption was hastily added that would allow new buildings to use "Distributed Energy Resources" even if that involves expanding fossil gas infrastructure or using polluting combustion. This was rushed through without analyzing the impact on our greenhouse gas reduction goals and air quality, and potentially undermines the entire ordinance.

How you can help? Please sign our petition below, and then ask your friends to sign, too!

Sponsored by
San Jose, CA

To: Mayor Liccardo and the San José City Council
From: [Your Name]

Dear Mayor Liccardo, Vice Mayor Jones, and Councilmembers Jimenez, Peralez, Diep, Carrasco, Davis, Esparza, Arenas, Foley, and Khamis,

We commend and thank you for extending San Jose’s landmark all-electric code to virtually all new buildings! If not watered down by loopholes, this will be a significant step towards achieving our Climate Smart goals, since the gas burned in buildings causes at least a third of our city’s greenhouse gas emissions. We are disappointed that the majority approved a last-minute exemption for “Distributed Energy Resources” (DER) after heavy lobbying by local company Bloom Energy, even though their fuel cells will be hooked up to new fossil gas infrastructure 24/7, 365.

After the vote on 12/1/20, alarming new information has come to light. A letter sent to you from Stet Sanborn (a LEED-certified architect from the Smith Group) explains that the exemption for DER is actually “a CO2-wolf in fuel cell clothing” that will open the door to power generation much dirtier than even gas-powered fuel cells. This is because DER:
“encompasses far more technology than natural gas powered fuel cells. That exemption also includes all combined heat and power [CHP] systems, including co-gen and tri-gen systems, [which use fossil fuels and generate large amounts of greenhouse gas emissions and] which are far more widespread and far cheaper than Bloom fuel cells...They also have a much longer lifespan, typically lasting from 12-20 years.”

Staff’s analysis, upon which Council relied for guidance, did not explain that the ordinance would allow for even dirtier energy than gas-powered fuel cells, about which we’d already raised alarms. And that these other technologies could be used for up to two decades!

Clearly, this is a very complicated, technical and consequential issue, and we’re now seeing the wisdom of those who requested a Study Session before granting an exemption whose consequences are not fully understood. We are confident that you did not mean to undermine the intent of the expanded gas ban ordinance. However, with the exemption for DER, a Pandora’s box has now been opened that could potentially offset all of the GHG reductions from your all-electric ordinance (threatening our ability to reach our climate-smart goals) as well as lower air quality and harm public health.

Therefore, we request that you take the following corrective actions:
Remove the fourth exemption (for DER) entirely. Any project seeking to use fuel cells would still have the hardship pathway available.
Request a thorough Staff analysis of and Study Session on DER and CHP system emissions and the potential impact on our climate-smart goals, as well as a comprehensive list of clean, renewable alternatives to provide reliable backup power.

Thank you in advance for taking action to protect our climate and health. We’re counting on you to ensure that the updated ordinance does what it’s intended to do: reduce GHG emissions from San Jose’s buildings, so we can improve public health and achieve our climate-smart goals.