Advocates Respond to San José Local Energy Code Vote

SAN JOSÉ (Dec. 2, 2020) — The San José City Council approved on Tuesday evening a ground-breaking expansion of the City’s local energy code that will make all-electric new construction the new normal in the nation’s 10th-largest city. With 40 cities and counties across California approving codes that require or encourage new buildings to be powered by clean electricity, San José stands out as the largest city in the United States with a clean energy new construction code.
“From the annual threat of wildfires to the monthly burden of high energy bills to the daily dangers of dirty air, the climate crisis is an ever-present reality in San José,” said Olivia Walker, a research associate at NRDC (Natural Resources Defense Council) who provides technical expertise to San José and other cities in the Bloomberg Philanthropies American Cities Climate Challenge that are looking to reduce emissions in the building sector. “If we want clean air, lower construction costs, savings on our energy bills, and a stable climate for decades to come, we’ve got to start building for that future.

“As the number of California cities and counties opting out of polluting, costly gas infrastructure in new buildings continues to grow, it’s time for the State to follow suit. In updating the State’s building code next year, the California Energy Commission and the Building Standards Commission have an opportunity to bring the benefits of healthier, more affordable, and climate-safe new construction to people across California by establishing a statewide standard to move new buildings off of gas,”said Walker.

The local energy code approved today includes new commercial buildings, high-rise residential buildings, and nearly all other types of new construction, representing a significant expansion from the new municipal, single-family, and low-rise multi-family buildings that were included in last year’s ordinance. Compared with buildings and appliances that burn fossil fuels such as gas, propane, and oil onsite, electric buildings can be powered by clean renewable electricity that protects indoor and outdoor air quality while also helping the City meet its ambitious climate protection goals. While the code represents a significant step in the right direction, it is weakened by an exemption for gas fuel cells—which generate electricity using mainly fossil (“natural”) gas that emits more than four times as much carbon dioxide as power from the local utility—that will allow some new industrial and commercial buildings to continue to rely on fossil fuels.

“As a mother and grandmother, I have very mixed feelings about this vote. On the one hand, I am happy that our city is moving forward to electrify virtually all new buildings,” said Susan Butler-Graham, a member of Mothers Out Front Silicon Valley, the local chapter of a national movement of mothers, grandmothers, and others mobilizing for a livable climate for all children. “The so-called ‘natural’ (fossil) gas burned in buildings is the second-largest contributor of greenhouse gas emissions in our region and harms human health. If we’re to have a hope of stabilizing our climate, we must transition off gas as quickly and as equitably as possible. Ensuring that new buildings are powered by clean, renewable energy rather than dirty, polluting gas will help protect our climate, health, safety, and pocketbooks. Unfortunately, the Council granted an unnecessary exemption for ‘natural’ gas-powered fuel cells which generate large amounts of greenhouse gases and threaten the ability of San José to reach its climate-smart goals. This is deeply disappointing and we urge them to remove this exemption ASAP. We deeply appreciate Councilmember Peralez, Carrasco, Jimenez, and Arenas for voting against this misguided exemption that allows four more years of continued buildout of dirty fossil fuel infrastructure. They are to be commended for prioritizing the livability of our planet for all children.”

“By adopting an all-electric local energy code and phasing out the use of natural gas, San José has shown bold leadership toward a clean, resilient energy future,” said William Leddy, FAIA, an architect and the vice president of Climate Action for the American Institute of Architects, California. “The electrification of new buildings in California is a key first step in reducing dangerous carbon dioxide emissions in our communities and avoiding the worst impacts of the climate emergency. San José and California are demonstrating historic climate action to the nation and the world.”

The local energy code will be up for a second reading in City Council on December 15 before it becomes part of the City's municipal code.


NRDC (Natural Resources Defense Council) is an international nonprofit environmental organization with more than 3 million members and online activists. Since 1970, our lawyers, scientists, and other environmental specialists have worked to protect the world's natural resources, public health, and the environment. NRDC has offices in New York City, Washington, D.C., Los Angeles, San Francisco, Chicago, Bozeman, MT, and Beijing. Visit us at and follow us on Twitter @NRDC.