Climate change is at the top of many of our minds. The IPCC (United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change) reports over the past few years have made clear the imperative that we reduce carbon emissions immediately. A key method for local communities to impact the climate crisis is to move away from gas infrastructure to electric.
If we shift from gas to electric, we are primed to support the move from fossil fuel energy to energy from solar panels and wind turbines, as electrical infrastructure can support these new green energy sources. Gas infrastructure locks us into the burning of fossil fuels for the foreseeable future. It is clear that if we want to reduce carbon emissions as a local community, we must move away from gas and toward electric systems.
Last year, the Oak Park Village Board commissioned a Climate Action Plan for the village of Oak Park, and this month they reviewed a draft of this plan. There is a lot to like about the plan, and one of the key components to like is its support for building electrification. The report recommends that the village “require all-electric equipment in all new buildings and set a goal to transition all natural gas units in existing buildings across the village to electric units.”
This transition would mean that, eventually, all residential and commercial buildings would run exclusively on electricity rather than gas. This is exactly what we need to do as a village as part of our moves to address climate change. But residents whose homes and businesses have run on gas in the past may understandably have some questions or concerns. They may worry that electric infrastructure will cost more or be less reliable than gas infrastructure.
In fact, an all-electric building costs less to operate than a building using both gas and electricity. Every building must have electricity, so adding gas infrastructure to a building will always increase new construction costs. Even for existing buildings, switching to all-electric makes financial sense.
Many electric appliances — stoves and water heaters, for example — cost the same as their gas counterparts. An electric heating system, such as a heat pump, can cost slightly more to install than a gas furnace, but the operating cost for the electric system is less, and so the overall cost is recouped over time.
Electric appliances are also extremely reliable. Electric stoves, dryers, and water heaters are as reliable as gas appliances. And electric heating systems such as heat pumps have drastically improved their function in cold weather, now heating buildings down to -10°F and below.
Gas appliances, in addition to contributing to carbon emissions and climate change, also emit pollutants in the local environment. Burning natural gas produces indoor and outdoor emissions of nitrogen dioxide, carbon monoxide, and fine particulate matter, in addition to other chemicals. These can cause and aggravate asthma, lung infections, and heart disease. Electrical appliances emit none of these pollutants in the local community and, as we transition to solar and wind power, will also cause fewer pollutants to be emitted in total.
We must act, immediately and collectively as a local community, a nation, and the world, to address climate change, with each level doing its part. Electrification of infrastructure — especially buildings and transportation — is a key component of the local transition away from fossil fuels.
The draft Climate Action Plan names this responsibility for us to electrify our buildings. It is vital that the Oak Park Village Board ratify this plan, and that we begin to enact it to move toward a sustainable and healthy future for us and our children.
Jim Schwartz is an Oak Park resident, an educator, and a blogger at Entwining.org.