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Ashland City Council moves forward with three options for natural gas ban

A crowd of people inside, some sitting down in the front and standing in the back. Some of the people are holding green paper signs that say "I support Ashland Youth for Electrification"
Roman Battaglia
Jefferson Public Radio
Members of the Rogue Climate Action Team hold signs in support of a proposed electrification ordinance in Ashland, March 21, 2023

Ashland is moving forward with three proposals to restrict natural gas use in the city. They are part of a student-led effort to reduce the city’s carbon emissions.

The city council voted unanimously Tuesday night to bring forward a number of ordinances designed to discourage or ban the use of natural gas in new home construction.

City staff have been looking at the legal pathways for banning natural gas, which studies have shown can lead to negative health impacts, including an increased risk of childhood asthma. Natural gas is also composed primarily of methane, which contributes to global warming at a rate 82 times higher than carbon dioxide over a 20-year time frame, according to the Environmental Protection Agency.

Bryan Sohl from the city’s Climate and Environment Advisory committee spoke at Tuesday's city council meeting. He said one ordinance is a first for Oregon, and would ban two appliances that emit certain types of pollutants.

“For new houses, new residents, which is what this ordinance is about, it will be significantly cheaper to electrify now, as opposed to a retrofit down the road when perhaps climate change is much worse and mandates come down from the government," Sohl said.

Sohl said it's based on one in the Bay Area Air Quality Management District that would phase out the installation of new natural gas furnaces and water heaters by 2031.

The second ordinance would be a novel “carbon charge,” a fee imposed on those who choose to install natural gas pipelines in their home during construction.

“One option is they could go the more cost effective route and electrify their home," said Chad Woodward, Ashland's climate and energy analyst. "Or if they choose, and they really want to go natural gas in their home, they're just helping to pay for the work that will later have to be done to mitigate it.”

The specific rules behind the a carbon charge have now been worked out yet. Woodward says he doesn't know of anywhere else that's implemented this idea before.

The city is also looking at modifying their franchise agreement with the natural gas utility Avista next year. That could include increasing the city’s fees, banning new natural gas hookups and requiring that Avista share data on natural gas usage.

"The lack of data makes it difficult," said Woodward. "Since 2020, we haven't been provided with natural gas data [from Avista] to understand the number of meters or the number of therms that have been brought into the city."

Increasing this city's franchise fees would also have an effect on current residents who use natural gas, not just new home construction. Woodward said the goal would be to raise more revenue for the city that could be used for low income programs, affordable housing and climate projects.

Nearly all members of the public who spoke at the meeting were in support of the electrification ordinances. They hope the rules can be finalized next month.

Roman Battaglia is a regional reporter for Jefferson Public Radio. After graduating from Oregon State University, Roman came to JPR as part of the Charles Snowden Program for Excellence in Journalism in 2019. He then joined Delaware Public Media as a Report For America fellow before returning to the JPR newsroom.