What is “electrification”?
A: Electrification is the process of replacing technologies that use fossil fuels (coal, oil, and “natural” gas) with technologies that use electricity as a source of energy. Depending on how the electricity, is generated, electrification can potentially reduce carbon dioxide (CO₂) emissions from transportation, building, and industry which account for 63 percent of all US greenhouse gas emissions. Addressing emissions from these sectors is critical to decarbonizing the economy and, ultimately, mitigating the impacts of climate change. Source: Resources for the Future.
What’s wrong with “natural” gas?
A: “Natural” gas is primarily methane, a highly potent greenhouse gas. The term “natural” gas is a marketing term that makes about as much sense as saying “natural coal”. Over 20 years, methane has 86 times the global warming potential of carbon dioxide. This means that over the coming decades, “natural” gas is contributing mightily to global warming. Studies over the past decade show that when “natural “gas is drilled, piped, and processed, a significant amount of methane leaks into the atmostphere. Climate models have shown that reducing greenhouse gas emissions now and over the next few years is critically important for addressing climate change. We can only do that if we dramatically reduce our use of methane as soon as possible.
“Cutting methane is the strongest lever we have to slow climate change over the next 25 years.”
— U.N. Environment Programme Director Inger Anderson (May 2021)
Doesn’t Ashland’s electricity come from coal, like many other communities?
A: No. Electric power for the City of Ashland is generated from hydropower distributed by the Bonneville Power Administration (BPA). BPA power is very clean now but since we are part of the western electric grid there is some electricity coming to our homes from power plants owned by other utilizies that are still utilizing coal and natural gas. Our power will get cleaner every year as these coal and gas plants shut down. The greenhouse gas emissions for Ashland Electric customers will continue to diminish after we’ve electrified without any additional effort or expense on our part.
What are other cities doing to reduce their usage of “natural” gas?
A: As of February 2022, 54 U.S. cities and counties have already passed ordinances to limit new natural gas infrastructure. Cities that have taken action include Bellingham, New York City, Fairfax (VA), Berkeley, Sacramento, Oakland, and more. We can do it too.
How much will it cost me to electrify my home?
If I replace my gas furnace with a heat pump will I save money?
For a central heat pump with ducts the operating cost will usually be lower. For a ductless mini split heat pump the operating cost will be a lot lower. Your gas bill will go down. Your electric bill will go up. Your overall heating bill will be the same or less.
Also, your installation will qualify for a generous Ashland city subsidy. Your heat pump will serve double duty as an efficient air conditioner. And you will reduce the social cost of your carbon footprint by at least $150 per year based on current estimates.
Please see our cost analysis using Ashland’s electricity and gas rates here.
The good news is that Ashlanders can dramatically reduce their personal contribution to global warming with little or no increase in operating cost.
What is renewable “natural” gas?
A: As efforts gain momentum to switch our buildings off “natural” gas, gas companies are promoting increased use of renewable “natural” gas as a clean alternative to fossil fuel energy and a means to remain viable in our clean energy future. In a May 2022 blog, “What is Renewable Natural Gas?” the Oregon Citizens Utility Board says that “It is unlikely that alternatives to fossil natural gas can meet future demand for households, much less do so affordably.” Electrification is a much better strategy for meeting our future energy needs.
What kind of water heater does EAN recommend?
Our preferred solution is an electric heat pump water heater (HPWH). if you are looking to get rid of a gas fueled hot water heater this should be your first choice. These products are reasonably priced, carry good warranties, produce virtually no carbon pollution and are significantly less expensive to operate than any other solution. In addition Ashland Electric pays a generous rebate if you choose a HPWH from their list of approved products.
On the down side these products do make a modest amount of noise (like your refrigerator) and they are hard to fit into tight spaces. They generally need about 100 Square feet of surrounding space from which they can extract heat from the air. The ideal location is an unheated basement or garage close to your living space. Be aware that the space surrounding the HPWH will usually become a bit cooler as a result of the heat extraction.
If your only option is a small indoor utility closet you may be able to install ducts to bring air in from outside and exhaust it back out. In some cases it may be even possible to remove an old gas flue pipe and replace it with HPHW ventilation ducting.
If a heat pump water heater doesn’t work for you then we suggest a traditional electric water heater with a tank. These are reliable and effective products that are also free of carbon pollution. The standard hot water tank size is 50 gallons. This is generally considered adequate for a household of four people. However, if your household is only 1-2 people you should consider a smaller tank to lower your operating costs. A 30 gallon tank will work fine for 1-2 people. On those occasions when you have visitors just plan to wait an hour or so between taking showers to let your tank catch up.
Electric tank water heaters can be relatively expensive to operate. According to EPA Energy Guide benchmarks they are four times as expensive to operate as a HPWH. But for small households with only 1-2 people who use less hot water this penalty may not be as severe as it appears. The EPA benchmarks are based on hot water needs for a family of four. If your household uses less hot water (fewer showers) you may decide that a modest increase in operating cost is acceptable.
In either case these hot water heaters typically need a 30 amp, 240 volt electrical service to operate. If you have an elderly gas water heater and plan to electrify please do not wait for it to fail before making a decision. Make an appointment soon to have a qualified electrician bring power to your water heater’s location. Then when you are ready to take the next step a plumber can quickly and easily hook up your new water heater. Be sure to chose a plumber that is qualified to install and hook up an electric heater without requiring your electrician to visit a second time.
Why doesn’t Electrify Ashland Now recommend tankless electric hot water heaters?
For Ashland households we don’t see any compelling reason to use a tankless electric water heater under most circumstances. A small electric tank heater is usually a better choice. These tankless heaters require more electric current than tank heaters (50 Amps or more vs 30 Amps) which reduces the overall service capacity available for other appliances. They have relatively short warranty periods (5 years). Also, they have usability quirks that potentially add to water waste. When hand washing dishes, for example, flow rates for rinsing must be greater than 0.3 gallons per minute in order to switch the heat on. So you may wind up running more water from the tap than is necessary with a tank heater.
On the plus side these heaters do not cause any carbon pollution and are extremely compact. They are reasonably efficient with operating costs somewhat below tank heaters but above heat pump water heaters. They may well be appropriate for niche situations like in-law units with low and/or intermittent hot water needs.
Can I recycle my old gas equipment or does it just go to the landfill?
The most responsible action is to recycle the metals in the old equipment. That avoids the extra environmental cost of mining new metals for another appliance and does not perpetuate the use of unhealthy gas. Fortunately the metals in old equipment are valuable so it is easy to avoid sending them to landfill.
You can recycle gas ranges and stoves at the Valley View Transfer Station for $18.75. Ashland residents may contact Recology to schedule a Wednesday curbside pickup of an old stove/range for $35.12. In either case, Recology transports them and all the other scrap metal collected from the transfer station to Schnitzer Steel in White City for recycling of the metals.
Won’t the grid get overloaded if everyone electrifies houses and buys an EV?
A: This is a complicated question. We have a local Ashland city grid, an Oregon statewide grid and a Pacific Northwest regional grid which both imports power from far away Wyoming and exports power to California. It’s all connected. This makes it very reliable but also hard, even for technical experts, to predict exactly how it will change and grow.
Fortunately, new electrical devices (e.g. heat pumps, led lights) are often much more efficient than what they replace. Improved device efficiency and conservation adds capacity for expansion. Ongoing adoption of solar and wind power also adds carbon free capacity. Local solar is especially promising as it can add reliability to our local grid. In general wind and solar energy production is now so inexpensive that planners are challenged by the number of applicants who want to supply it.
Ashland Electric’s most recent ten year plan for our city grid was carried out in 2014. At that time peak summer and winter electrical loads were similar at about 40MW. But in 2014 we actually had transformer capacity of 70MW. So we had room for a sudden increase in demand of 30MW if necessary. The adopted 10 year plan envisioned growth of 1.06% annually in concert with population growth.
Resources were allocated to increase capacity by about 2.5MW over 10 years. Given these facts we are confident that our local grid can handle electrification and phasing out of “natural gas” aka methane.
In addition to reducing our individual carbon footprints, the electrification movement is sending a powerful message to the institutions and individuals who are responsible for the electric grid. As analysts, managers and investors see demand for electric power ramping up, we believe that they will move faster to increase the capacity of the system.
In Oregon and other states, electric power providers are required to eliminate fossil fuels from their systems over the next few decades, so new capacity must come from carbon-free technologies like solar, wind and geothermal generation. By converting your home to electric power, you can push them to move faster.