New Report: Path Is Clear for D.C. to Electrify Its Homes and Buildings

District of Columbia can embrace non-polluting buildings to meet its climate commitments, according to study


Sarah Lazarovic, Rewiring America,

Miranda Fox, Earthjustice,

A new study by Rewiring America shows that electrification has the potential to eliminate 100% of direct emissions from the building and transportation sectors and is the only viable approach to meeting the District of Columbia’s climate commitments. Electrification solutions are ready to be installed today for the vast majority of the District’s building and transportation needs. By employing an aggressive strategy that prioritizes easy wins and equitable outcomes, the District can meet its commitment to reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions 50% below 2006 levels by 2032 and achieve carbon neutrality by 2050.

“Electrification is the only way to eliminate the negative impacts that come from the burning of fossil fuels in our homes and vehicles. Electrification improves public health, reduces energy burdens, and delivers lasting progress in the fight against climate change. This report provides a first-of-its-kind look at how a mid-sized city like D.C. can make these benefits affordable, accessible, and equitable for its nearly 700,000 residents. By starting with the city blocks and multifamily and municipal buildings most in need, and by making use of funding that would otherwise be used to maintain miles of gas pipes in the ground, the District can make steady progress and ably meet its climate goals,” said Stephen Pantano, Head of Research at Rewiring America.

In D.C., the buildings and transportation sectors are major drivers of energy consumption and climate-warming emissions. Buildings make up around 75% of energy consumed by utilities’ power generation (site energy use) and 75% of GHG emissions, while transportation contributes about 25% of site energy use and 21% of GHG emissions. Electrification has the potential to virtually eliminate all of the emissions from these sectors.

The report emphasizes that D.C.’s climate mitigation efforts will be undermined by the fossil fuel industry’s continued push to prolong reliance on its leaking gas distribution grid. Instead, by employing a ‘managed decommissioning’ approach to the existing gas grid, the District will free up substantial funding to cover the costs of the electrification transition. Projected gas line replacements will cost up to $4.5 billion.

This money is better spent investing in necessary electrification upgrades. The same $4.5 billion price tag for gas distribution upgrades could provide $27,400 worth of electrification upgrades to each of the approximately 164,000 housing units currently using gas in the District. Such an investment would be transformational for D.C. and its residents, as well as the climate. This approach will provide lower and more stable energy bills, more comfortable and healthy homes, and improved air quality, all of which will deliver compounding social and economic benefits for decades to come.

“Electrification is capable of delivering immediate wins in the District’s fight against climate change, and it is the best path to achieving a cleaner and healthier future. The reality is that there is no empirically plausible role for methane gas in a decarbonized future. Continued gas consumption will subject D.C. residents to direct health harms from its use, as well as the associated negative health outcomes due to climate change,” said Tim Oberleiton, senior attorney with Earthjustice’s Right to Zero campaign.

Last year, the Department of Energy and Environment (DOEE) released its 2021 Fugitive Methane Emission Survey of the District of Columbia. The report found that despite millions of dollars charged to D.C. residents for maintaining D.C.’s gas infrastructure, the rate of gas leaks in D.C. is getting worse. Just last month, Beyond Gas DC released a report showing hundreds of leaks across the city. A group of volunteers from Sierra Club, Washington Interfaith Network, Interfaith Power & Light, and other groups tested air from vents in utility access caps, finding that over a dozen of the 389 leaks, 14 of which were at or above methane concentration with explosive potential.

As noted in Rewiring America’s study, these direct system leaks, as well as those from gas appliances, coupled with combustion emissions from gas stoves, and gas and oil heating appliances, all contribute to local indoor and outdoor air pollution. The health impacts from these local pollution sources are known to disproportionately affect vulnerable communities in D.C. and raise dire environmental justice issues.

DOEE’s Carbon Free DC roadmap has found that moving away from fossil fuel systems and appliances in buildings, including fracked gas, is necessary to meet the District’s climate commitments. The DOEE survey of leaks from the gas system in the District showcases the scope of the problem of leaking methane, a pollutant 86 times more potent at warming the planet than carbon dioxide.

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