Jan 28 • 1HR 22M

Volts podcast: Panama Bartholomy on decarbonizing America's buildings

The need, the challenges, and the opportunities.

David Roberts
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In this episode, Panama Bartholomy, head of the Building Decarbonization Coalition, discusses the need to decarbonize buildings, the many challenges facing the effort, and the cities and states that are making progress. You better believe we get way into heat pumps and induction stoves.

Full transcript of Volts podcast featuring Panama Bartholomy, January 28, 2022

(PDF version)

David Roberts:

Fossil-fuel combustion in buildings — mostly natural gas for space and water heating — is responsible for around 10 percent of US greenhouse gas emissions. Getting to net-zero will require heating, cooling, and powering all those buildings with carbon-free energy.

It’s an enormous challenge — or rather, a huge thicket of challenges. There are technical issues, political issues, public-opinion issues, and policy issues, all of which decompose into dozens of discrete issues of their own.

To help me wrap my head around all of it, I’m eager to talk to Panama Bartholomy, who is, I promise, a real person and not a Dr. Seuss character.

Panama Bartholomy

Bartholomy has been wrestling with building decarbonization for decades, at (in reverse chronological order): the Investor Confidence Project, the California legislature, the California Energy Commission, the California State Architect, and the California Conservation Corps. He’s served on a variety of boards, collaborated with various expert organizations, worked on climate issues in over 30 countries, and all kinds of other stuff, but if I tried to include it all I would never get to the conversation.

Bartholomy is currently running the Building Decarbonization Coalition, a multi-sector alliance of companies, nonprofits, and government agencies working on buildings, so he’s up to date on where progress is being made (think New York and California), the biggest political impediments (think the natural gas industry), and whether heat pumps really work in cold climates (think yes, they do).

Without further ado, Panama Bartholomy, welcome to Voltscast.

Panama Bartholomy:  

Thanks, Dave. Good to be here. Long-time listener, first-time caller.

David Roberts:   

Let's talk about buildings. There's so much to get into here, but I want to start with a few broad scene-setting questions. Just to orient us, tell us where buildings fall on the climate policy hierarchy of needs. What portion of the problem are our buildings?

Panama Bartholomy:  

Maslow's hierarchy of needs for buildings and climate, I love it. 

We — by which I mean the building sector — come in right about 25 to 30 percent of overall emissions nationally, and about the same globally. Depending on the state you're in and the grid mix of your electricity, it may be a little higher or lower, but we’re right about in that sweet spot of 20 to 30 percent. 

One of the challenges is that in this sector, unlike industry or the electricity sector or even the transportation sector, you have millions if not billions of little machines that have a lot of consumer choice. You can't just shut down a coal plant and all of a sudden get a lot of benefit. You have to involve a lot of players in this.

David Roberts:   

Yes, this seems like the decarbonization sector that involves the most logistics and the most high-touch human interaction. You have to think about sociology and psychology. It's a tangle.

Panama Bartholomy:  

It is, and that's why I appreciate you spending some time in our funny little corner of the climate world. We need a lot more attention to it. Every time somebody buys a new furnace or a gas water heater or stove, they're locking in 20 or 25 years of carbon emissions from there. So attention is one of the key things that we need on this issue.

David Roberts:   

In recent years there's been something of a consensus forming in carbon circles that electrification is the premier decarbonization strategy. When we look at buildings, is electrifying them the whole game? How far will electrification get us and how big is the remainder once you're done electrifying?

Panama Bartholomy:  

We haven't seen a lot of good alternatives at this point. When you think about electrifying buildings, you’re talking about space heating, water heating, cooking, and probably clothes drying. You do have some arguments with people about their gas fireplaces and their pool pumps, but that's a pretty small amount, all in all. 

When you look at the alternatives, are we going to pump incredibly expensive renewable natural gas through pipes to power those? Are we going to replace the entire gas system with a new hydrogen system to do that? I don't think so. These are pretty low-level technologies, when it comes down to it, in the use of energy, and using expensive fuels just doesn't make sense either from an economic perspective or a climate solutions perspective. 

So electricity is the path we need to go down on buildings. They're making cold-weather heat pumps that can operate well down to -15 degrees, so here in 2022, we have much if not all the technology we're going to need for electrification of buildings. It gets down to an issue of scale and deployment, and how are we going to do it fast enough to meet our climate goals.

David Roberts:   

Here’s a philosophical question: If we are going to electrify all the buildings and then we're going to supply that electricity with zero-carbon renewables or other clean energy, then why do we need efficiency? Why do we need to use less energy in buildings if the energy we're using is clean?

Panama Bartholomy:  

Because even if we're using clean electricity, we don't want to use a ton of it. I consistently look forward to a Star Trek future when we don't have to have conversations about appliances and energy and where it comes from. But the reality is that electricity does cost money here in our reality, and if you're running even a highly efficient heat pump off of a very clean grid in a very cold climate, you just want to use less energy to heat your house. In particular in the colder climates, it's to save money.

David Roberts:   

So we could imagine your Star Trek future where renewable energy has gotten so cheap that we no longer feel the need to ration it. In that theoretical future, will efficiency just fade out, or is there some intrinsic worth to efficiency beyond saving a scarce resource? 

Panama Bartholomy:  

I was raised in California and then Hawaii, so I have a primal fear of being even slightly cold. My wife did her undergraduate work in Minnesota, so whenever I complain about being cold, she mocks me, and I say, just because you were colder at one point in your life doesn't invalidate my feelings and discomfort right now. 

The benefit is going to be one of comfort moving forward. When you talk to the leaders in the energy efficiency community that actually sell efficiencies successfully — and there's only two — they'll say that that's usually what sells efficiency: it’s comfort, it’s air quality, it's a better quality of life, rather than the marginal savings you get from it. 

In the colder and the hotter climes, efficiency is always going to have a role to play, but increasingly people are recognizing that it's less important in the timeframes that we're talking about for addressing climate change than getting off of fossil fuels. We can't just be using less fossil fuels, we need to stop using fossil fuels.

David Roberts:   

I want to talk about the impediments to building decarbonization in three different areas. First, putting aside politics and regulation, what is the biggest technical barrier to building decarbonization? Are there still practical and engineering and technological problems to solve? Or is this all about policy and investment?

Panama Bartholomy:  

What you have is a situation of the technology itself and then market awareness or market familiarity with the technology. 

When you look at low-rise commercial buildings, low-rise multifamily residential buildings, the technology is there. As I mentioned, we have incredibly performing cold-climate heat pumps, and a heat pump is just an air conditioner that runs in reverse, so anybody that installs an air conditioner knows how to install a heat pump. Heat-pump water heater — it's not crazy Vulcan technology. The technology is there for that, and there's enough familiarity with it that if we can put in place the right market signals and the right policies, it'll be an easy shift for the industry. 

For the high-rise, we have a few more challenges. You have the “starchitects” and the good engineering firms that are familiar with doing central hot water heating systems with heat pumps. But by and large, that's one technology where — even though it exists, it's being deployed in countries all over the world — particularly here in America, there's less awareness and history of designers doing central heat-pump water heaters. So that's one area where we still have to come up to speed. 

Then the biggest barrier on the technical side right now is just home wiring and home electrical panels.

David Roberts:   

Upgrading to prepare for electrification, that kind of thing? 

Panama Bartholomy:  

Exactly: undersized electrical panels. If you're adding four new appliances and maybe an electric vehicle, you're going to have to upgrade your electrical panel. Which isn't bad in itself, and for a lot of homes there’s a safety benefit to it as well. The challenge is that in our world, what usually brings that about is a failed furnace or a failed water heater, so it’s an emergency.

David Roberts:   

So these decisions are made under duress, usually.

Panama Bartholomy:

Yeah, exactly. 

David Roberts:

What about the biggest political impediment? Is it consumer ignorance or consumer sentiment? Or is it, as I tend to suspect, opposition from the natural gas industry? 

Panama Bartholomy:  

The biggest political barrier right now is fear. It's the fear of politicians to set out agendas in line with their stated climate goals. Even leadership states like California and New York that have strong climate goals — you think of all the different sectors that are emitting, and well, pretty soon here, we’ve got to stop burning fossil fuels in buildings. 

Yet you see a hesitancy of leadership to set out that vision, and that results in market confusion. You have the manufacturers, the installers, the builders all saying, “well on one hand, it's pretty obvious what you're going to have to do to us through regulation if you're going to meet your climate goals, but on the other hand, you're still allowing new buildings to hook up to the gas system; you're still providing energy-efficiency incentives for gas appliances; you're still putting out billions of taxpayer dollars into affordable housing and school construction and you have no alignment of those policies with your climate policies.” So right now it's fear to step up and set bold policies for buildings that is holding it back. 

You mentioned where that fear may be coming from, and largely it is gas utilities, who don't see themselves in a low-carbon future; in particular, the unions that work within those companies and lay those pipes, or unions that lay pipe in buildings. What we are seeing in both New York and California right now is organized labor starting to come to the table. They use the same language every time we sit down at the table with them: they say, “we see the writing on the wall; we know where this is going, and so we're coming to the table to begin to negotiate what a just transition actually looks like beyond just a slogan.”

David Roberts:   

What is the biggest financial impediment? Is it just a lack of government money, or is there a lack of financing and funding models?

Panama Bartholomy:  

I've spent about 20 years in energy-efficiency policy; I'm a recovering bureaucrat, spent about 15 years in state government in California. Part of the beauty of working in our space is that we are working with technologies that are not a choice for consumers. A lot of people think about building electrification, they draw parallels with the solar industry or the electric vehicle industry or lessons learned from energy efficiency. And while there is stuff to learn from that, the reality is: you don't need to have solar panels in order to stay warm in your house. You don't need an electric vehicle in order to be able to provide hot water for your family. 

So we're dealing with technologies that people fundamentally have a lot of urgency around when they break. The beauty is, they break, and absent any of our electrification goals or our climate goals, that person was going to spend anywhere from $7,000 to $15,000 on a new furnace and air conditioning system.

They were already going to have to spend money, think through what financing options are available to them, etc. So what we need to do in this space is figure out how to add just enough money and just enough access to financing to be able to shift that decision around to the technologies we want. We don't need to pay for the entire water heater; what we need to do is pay a few hundred to a thousand-and-a-half for that water heater in order to help consumers choose a heat-pump water heater rather than going back to another gas water heater. 

We need some incentives, particularly over the next decade, to be able to make it so that the electric choice is the cheaper choice. For low-income and moderate households, we need to be focused on accessible financing models for communities that have historically been left out of capital markets. We've done a big report about what that could look like: how to use tariffed on-bill financing in an effective way to both protect consumers but allow far more people, lower-income and renters, to be able to take advantage of financing to make these upgrades.

David Roberts:   

When I talk about building decarbonization, one of the first questions that always comes up is about renters: unless my landlord has good intentions and is excited about this, there's not much I can do. Is there agency for renters? What should they do? How do you get to landlords?

Panama Bartholomy:  

There's water heating and space heating, and then there's cooking. Water heating and space heating, landlords are generally looking for the cheapest option; something breaks, they need to replace it. What I mentioned in the last answer about making the electric choice the cheapest choice and having good financing for high-efficiency electric appliances: that's what's going to help landlords make the better choice, that they're able to save money up front on these technologies. The same incentive programs and financing that help homeowners are also going to help landlords help renters with that. 

Now, key to that is that we also have in place policies that protect renters so that landlords don't install this technology and then try to raise the rent on them. It’s a key conversation happening right now. 

But I wanted to pull apart cooking, because cooking may be an area where there is more agency than what we've historically expressed, because of the air-quality impacts of cooking with gas. There's now a good 40 years of research showing that there are potentially significant air-quality impacts of burning gas in your home and around your family, and there are laws in this country around habitability that landlords have to follow. They need to provide good environments. 

So if a landlord is providing an environment that does not have good venting over a stove and/or has a stove that you can test and show is emitting dangerous levels of pollution, we are now starting to work with a number of groups across the country about, how do you then turn that into policy? How can you empower local governments to include that in their habitability requirements, which would compel landlords to then make the shift to either a different kind of stove and/or venting?

David Roberts:   

Is that about passing new policies upgrading the habitability standards? Or is there some way to interpret or use existing habitability standards to get at stoves? Are the tools there already?

Panama Bartholomy:  

We believe that the tools are already there, that the habitability standards cover this, and it's a matter of somebody stepping up and testing it. We're engaged with a number of groups doing air-quality testing over a period of time, working with tenant groups, and working with local governments to be able to say, look, this is the data right here. We're potentially having higher pollution coming from stoves in people's homes than the highways or ports next to them; as much as we need to address those, we also need to be addressing this. 

We haven't yet had the first city go ahead and adopt it, but we're in conversation with a number of them and I hope in the near future to be able to talk to you about that.

David Roberts:   

When we talk about building decarb, minds go to the operational emissions: you're running your furnace, you're heating your house, etc. But the other half of the equation is what's called embodied emissions — the emissions represented by the manufacture and transport of the materials used in the building. This seems like something that consumers have very little control over. Who needs to understand embodied emissions, and where's the right lever to take action on that?

Panama Bartholomy:  

The Carbon Leadership Forum, out of your area of Washington, has been the leading voice on the issue of embodied emissions. They've done a ton of good work on this. It's a combination of factors, and it gets down to individual theories of change about how we're going to address climate change. For me, I think we need to be doing as much as we can in the 2020s to invest and incentivize and educate. Then we're looking at a series of regulations in the 2030s that bring along everybody that wasn't incentivized or didn't fall to our education. 

On embodied carbon, it's going to be the same thing. Right now, a lot of the focus on embodied carbon is on the design and construction community: how do we get the specifiers in all these firms, largely on the commercial and multifamily and institutional side, to start to specify different materials? You have leadership systems like LEED and the Living Building Challenge incorporating greater transparency to product design and product development.

David Roberts:   

If you're a big builder, I'm guessing your primary sentiment about this is that you just don't want to waste a bunch of time on it. You don't want to have to do the research on the materials yourself. Is there an easy way for a builder to say to suppliers, “you must meet X standard?” Is there a standard out there yet that they can pin their supply on?

Panama Bartholomy:  

Absolutely. LEED and the Institute for Living Futures have been the two leading groups on this, enforcing through their rating systems a system for manufacturers to be able to report on the environmental impacts of their products. We're getting beyond just recycled content or emissions, we're now getting into a lifecycle analysis of the product. They're providing the model right now for products to be measured against. 

The other place we're seeing it is at the local and state level, but they haven't been able to get much beyond cement, to be honest with you. 

David Roberts:   

Well, that's a big one.

Panama Bartholomy:  

It is. But we need to be getting into steel. There are a number of different large systems. California a couple years ago passed a Buy Clean California bill that required state government to start to reduce the embodied carbon of steel, glass, and a couple other products that they purchase for their own buildings. At the local level, we're seeing local governments pass embodied carbon ordinances that are mostly focused on cement and using low-carbon cement in both public and private buildings.

But it is nascent and we haven't seen anywhere near the attention on embodied carbon that we've seen on operational emissions of buildings. Folks like Ed Mazria out of Architecture 2030 make a compelling point that the bigger carbon problem is the embodied carbon than the operational.

David Roberts:   

Looking down the road at our imaginary future: if you reduce your operational greenhouse gases to nothing through clean electrification and sealing and all that, and then you secure low-carbon materials, you can imagine buildings not just zeroing out their emissions — you can imagine buildings becoming carbon sinks, carbon stores, negative carbon. Is that something people are thinking about, or is it a 2050 type of thing?

Panama Bartholomy:  

No, people are talking about it. It sounds like you are hanging out with some of those starchitects I mentioned earlier. It's not enough to be net-zero anymore, you need to be a carbon-positive community. 

The science is there. You sequester carbon in certain materials that you use in a project, and if you use enough of it, and you zero out your operational, you should be able to do it. 

Again, we need to get it beyond the starchitect buildings to the mainstream, and that's where I fundamentally feel that government has to play a role. The most important thing they can do in 2022 is say to the market, where are we going? How are we going to help create the market to allow the regulations to work when they come into effect?

David Roberts:   

The pandemic has brought a lot of attention to the fact that air quality and ventilation are fairly abysmal in many existing buildings. Now this is becoming a public health issue. Are good ventilation and filtering and air quality in tension with efficiency? Are those necessarily going to mean more energy? How do you see those fitting together?

Panama Bartholomy:  

They're necessary. For 40 years out here in California we've tightened up the building envelope; I say that the folks over at the California Energy Commission belong to the the church of the envelope because of their dedication to it. When you do that, you necessarily start to trap any emissions in your home: all your aerosols, all the furniture you bring into your house, and then microplastics — I think I'm probably one-quarter microplastic at this point because I have two young kids. 

For our world, it's really the pollution that comes from the stove, so potentially dangerous levels of nitrogen oxides, carbon monoxide, and formaldehyde coming out. If you don't have venting, and you have a tight envelope, and you're cooking in winterm and you don't want to open the windows, you have a potentially dangerous situation there for your lung health, and, with carbon monoxide, for your overall life. 

So it's a critical piece of energy efficiency, and we're starting to have a pretty brutal conversation in the energy-efficiency community particularly around some of our low-income weatherization programs. What is the morality behind tightening up some of these homes and providing comfort and saving money without addressing some of the pollutants inside those very homes?

It's absolutely critical that we deal with ventilation and removing sources of pollution. We know that stoves are a critical source of pollution, and we know that we have much better technology that just blows the doors off of gas stoves to replace it with.

David Roberts:   

Does this just come down to building in ventilation and airflow standards into our regulations? Is that the long and short of it?

Panama Bartholomy:  

On new construction, yes. Last year, the Energy Commission in California adopted its new building code that'll go into effect in two years, and it's the first time in the world we've seen a building code that's differentiating the ventilation standard it requires based on the type of fuel you're using to cook food. They're saying if you have a gas stove and you’re new construction, under this code you're going to have to have a higher ventilation standard, and therefore a more expensive ventilation system, than an electric one. It's the first time we've recognized in a code the inherent health benefits of cooking without gas. 

For existing buildings, whether you're talking about waste or water treatment, source control is always your best bet, the most affordable way. You just want to find a way to get the gas stove out of the kitchen and get an electric one in there. You're still going to have some emissions from just cooking and, depending on how good a cook you are, from burning. So you do want some ventilation for that, but at least you don't have what are known criteria pollutants from the EPA being emitted into your kitchen in that case. 

I say that because in some situations, these homes are just built in a way that is going to make ventilation systems very hard to retrofit in, and landlords unwilling to do something about it.

David Roberts:   

So you create an incentive for builders or retrofitters: get rid of the gas stove and thereby save money on ventilation spending.

Panama Bartholomy:  

Exactly. The Energy Commission's done that small step; they didn't say “no more gas stoves,” but they said “we recognize gas stoves are dangerous, and therefore you're going to have to deal with it.” So yes, it is a regulatory incentive.

David Roberts:   

I think we can agree that nothing like the scale of action we'd like to see is happening, but there are places that are taking big steps. In New York, the governor laid out some big talk; I'm curious what she said and what authority it carries. What else needs to happen to make it move forward?

Panama Bartholomy:  

Yeah, very impressive first State of the State from Governor Hochul on the environment. I think Politico called her a political juggernaut. 

Unfortunately, her hometown bills couldn't quite get over the hump last weekend. But she put out some big goals for buildings, and it matches well with what's happening in the state right now, which is the beginning of a public process for their big climate scoping plan that's been under development for years, about how they're going to meet their climate leadership legislation. 

What the governor announced is a laundry list; I could take up the rest of the podcast to go through it, so I'll just be brief. She released a comprehensive package of proposals in the State of the State: some that can be carried out through her Public Service Commission, some that will need legislation, and some that will be addressed in the budget.

David Roberts:   

And she has a supportive legislature?

Panama Bartholomy:  

She does. She hasn't really had to test it yet. But what we've seen from the last governor, whose name shall not be spoken, is that he was able to “work well” or bully legislature into carrying out the agenda. We'll see if this governor has a similar success rate with the legislature. But it seems like it. There's been three great pieces of legislation immediately introduced around building electrification, so I think there's a lot of action on it. 

But to your original question, the governor proposed how to bring about 2 million climate-friendly homes by 2030, with at least 1 million of those being all-electric and 1 million being electric-ready, pre-wired so next time any of your gas appliances break, you're ready to go with electric appliances.

David Roberts:   

Does “climate-friendly” have a concrete definition?

Panama Bartholomy:  

I've never seen “climate-friendly” in law yet. I think it was a turn of phrase that her media folks developed for this one.

David Roberts:   

It can mean a lot of different things in practice. 

Panama Bartholomy:  

Yes, indeed. I'm sure the gas companies have a lot to say about “climate-friendly.” 

She called for all new construction in the state to be zero emission no later than 2027, which is in line with what New York City just adopted for all buildings being built in New York City at the end of last year.

David Roberts:   

That's operational, not embodied, emissions?

Panama Bartholomy:

Correct, that's operational emissions. 

David Roberts:

So does that mean the resulting building will not produce carbon on an ongoing basis, or the construction process itself is somehow zero carbon?

Panama Bartholomy:  

The resulting building. We'll see how it all gets played out. It's a lot of platitudes and speeches for the State of the State address. There's a piece of legislation currently working through the legislature that actually sets 2024 as a zero-emission date for construction. If that one passes, there's a series of definitions in there, but that is from operational emissions rather than embodied or construction emissions. 

She also put up a green electrification fund to electrify low-income homes, about $25 billion for a five-year plan, which is far more visionary than we've seen from anybody else. 

There's a certain law called “obligation to serve”: utilities that provide gas, usually monopolies, are obliged to provide that gas or electricity to ratepayers if requested. If you're far out in the country, you may need to pay for some of that infrastructure, but the utility is obliged to provide it to you. It's a real barrier when you're looking about starting to trim the gas network. So the governor in her address actually proposed to end the “obligation to serve” for existing customers.

David Roberts:   

Just to be clear about this, say you are trying to eliminate part of your gas network and electrify everything in that area; all it would take is one citizen to say to the natural gas company, “I would like to be served by gas” and then basically you can't get rid of it? Is that the legal situation right now?

Panama Bartholomy:  

Yeah. We're seeing it out here in California. Pacific Gas & Electric, largest utility in the country, fourth-largest distributor of natural gas, they are trying to go through figuring out how you can operationalize electrification. They've been doing some pilot programs around going to whole neighborhoods where they have old pipe that's coming up for replacement. It’s going to be millions of dollars in replacement, they've done the analysis, and they said, “okay, if instead we just electrify all the homes on this pipe extension, it's going to be cheaper for us and for ratepayers.” So they go to every single one of those homes and they ask each homeowner, “hey, would you like a free all-electric home?”

We've seen two case studies they've done on this. One of them, it worked. They saved $400,000 on the project compared to the gas pipeline replacement, and it was great. On the other one, out of 150 homes, two people didn't want to give up their gas stoves. PG&E had to go ahead and spend millions to replace pipes that are going to have a 60- to 80-year lifespan, that if we're going to meet our climate goals, we're going to have to early retire, and who's going to pay for that? It's going to be ratepayers paying for that early retirement.

David Roberts:   

So this would be a law to get rid of that obligation.

Panama Bartholomy:  

This would be a law. A piece of legislation has now been introduced in New York legislature to remove that obligation to serve. 

She also has called on the PSC to take a look at the whole approach to pipeline maintenance in New York: how we grade it, how we decide whether or not to replace pipe or look for non-pipe alternatives to it, such as electrification — completely changing our approach to just assuming that we're going to replace old pipe with new pipe. 

I could go on and on. She has a bunch of stuff for training programs for New Yorkers to get a lot more people in. One of the two exciting areas I'll bring up is, she's talked about needing to convene private capital markets. No better place than New York to be doing some of that convening, to be able to bring them in to figure out how they can support this. 

Lastly, she's proposed 1,000 clean, green schools. This is an opportunity to clearly be able to get organized labor more to the table, to be supporting building electrification as well as providing better ventilation and air quality in schools.

David Roberts:   

I always thought that was political gold, just waiting for someone to pick it up. The respiratory health of kids, what's more on people's minds right now?

Panama Bartholomy:  

Exactly. I live in fire country out here in California — we used to call it wine country — and increasingly, our schools and our public facilities are being used as resilience centers in heat waves and firestorms. Getting these schools with solar, batteries, all electric, with great ventilation systems, is unfortunately going to be a critical need as we deal with and potentially adapt to climate change.

David Roberts:   

We could stay on New York forever; it's amazing what's going on there. But what about California? That's the other big state that's come up recently. California is going to just spend a bunch of money on it?

Panama Bartholomy:  

Yep, that's the proposal at this point. Sadly, probably nowhere near as much as we need to, but it's a good start. 

What I would say about the difference between what we're seeing in New York and in California is that in New York, you're seeing some high-level leadership coming directly out of the governor's office. In California, the leadership is bottom-up. 

We have 54 cities across the state that have adopted local gas bans or local building codes that discourage gas. We have agencies like the Air Board and the Energy Commission and the Public Utilities Commission adopting piecemeal policies that are all building toward the direction of requiring electrification and incentivizing it and building the market. But until January 10 of this year, we didn't see anything coming from the governor's office about, “we need to start electrifying, we need to start getting off of fossil fuels.”

On January 10, the governor released his proposed budget for the year and he proposed just over a billion dollars for building electrification, with two-thirds of that going toward existing building low-income housing retrofits. We're starting to see some significant investment, more so than we've seen in the past.

But at this point, I’ve got to say, I think if you put a UFC championship belt on any governor right now, it's Governor Hochul. 

David Roberts:   

New York and California are the leaders on so much carbon and climate stuff. Are they the leaders in this respect too, on buildings? Or is there anyone else that's taking comparable action?

Panama Bartholomy:  

There are. I mentioned local governments, and that's a theme we've seen in addressing climate change for decades now: the locals are the ones that are the most exposed to voters, and yet across the world they have been taking the biggest swings on climate change. They see both the benefits and the risks of climate change more directly than state or federal levels. 

Other states, I would say that Massachusetts, Illinois, and Colorado are stepping up. I'll throw Washington in there as well. Massachusetts is just about to vote on the next three years of their energy-efficiency program, and they have nearly completely shifted the focus of the energy-efficiency program to make it much more electrification-focused.

David Roberts:   

This is a big thing, right? Because efficiency conventionally conceived is not necessarily aligned with electrification or cleaning up sources. Often in tension. I feel like this is something not a lot of people are aware of outside the space.

Panama Bartholomy:  

It very much is, and I think a lot of it is because the energy-efficiency mindset came out of the oil crisis of the 70s — it's just about saving more energy, it's not about ending emissions. The shift to climate-is-existential, I think it's been hard for folks that have been working in this space for 30 years or so. So that'll be great in Massachusetts. 

Colorado and Illinois both passed overall climate legislation last year that had buildings as a specific part of it, and in implementation they're going to be developing comprehensive roadmaps for how to deal with buildings. In Washington they're actually adopting a new building code, and for commercial and multifamily buildings they're proposing electrification mandates within that building code. So your home state up there is one of the leaders. The odd thing is, they're backing off on single-family homes, where it's the easiest to do it, and it's largely because of stoves.

David Roberts:   

It's easier to electrify residential. Big buildings and commercial buildings, industrial buildings, that's doable, it's just more expensive? Or the incentives are wrong? What's the status of bigger buildings? Is this something we know how to do?

Panama Bartholomy:  

It's very much doable, it's being done. I can point you to buildings in Seattle that are all-electric tall towers. One of the leading consulting firms, Ecotope, is out of the Seattle area. It is very possible and being done all over the world. 

The key thing there, though, is awareness. We haven't asked our bread-and-butter design and construction community to care this deeply about climate change before, so they've been focused on efficiency and not on these central heat-pump water heating systems. The HVAC systems — again, heat pumps are basically air conditioners that can run in reverse, so it's not complicated to design that, but there are some differences in a boiler-based water heating system versus a central heat-pump water heating system. It's nothing crazy; it's not Star Wars technology. It's just familiarity with it and being able to design around it. Unfortunately, I think we're going to do a ton of education and incentivizing in the 2020s and then have to require it in the 2030s. 

It's very doable. It's being done. For the folks that know how to do this, we're not seeing a price premium for building all-electric versus building with gas. In fact, Point Energy out of San Francisco did a big study for the University of California system, which has adopted a carbon neutrality by 2025 target, about what it costs to build and operate a building with gas and electric versus just electric. They looked at residential towers, office buildings, and labs, and found that the electric buildings cost the same or cheaper to build and operate than the gas buildings across all three of those building types.

David Roberts:   

Is this one of those things where it's more capital-intensive up front but then you save on operations over the long term? I used to be very taken by that story, but then I realized that, as nice as that thought is, it’s not really what motivates a lot of behavior in markets. People overweight those upfront capital costs. Is that still the situation?

Panama Bartholomy:  

Not in this space. You never want to make generalizations about construction. Every project is different; every time you interact with a supply chain is different than another time interacting with the supply chain. But by and large, our members, who are design and construction folks in this space, that know how to do this, say they don't see a cost premium for the construction of these projects for large, commercial, institutional.

David Roberts:   

There are a lot of states now that are, let's say, pushing the other direction. One of the ways they're doing that is by passing laws that preempt cities from passing gas bans; it's popped up in a lot of red states. Is there anything to say about that other than, “they should stop doing that, that's bad, we should elect somebody who won't do that”? If you're a city who's in one of those states, are there ways around it? Are there other things you can do? How should they deal with that?

Panama Bartholomy:  

That's a great question. What it fundamentally comes down to is taking away local governments’ choice about how to address climate change.

David Roberts:   

By the party that champions local government. Weird.

Panama Bartholomy:  

Yes, weird times, almost like it's disingenuous. 

When you look at what cities can do on climate change, usually transportation and buildings are the largest emissions; it just depends how much infrastructure or industry they have in their boundaries. Transportation emissions are tough; a lot of it is consumer choice. Your land-use choices take a long time to have a big impact. Public transportation is tough and expensive. 

So buildings are one of the key areas where local governments can actually do anything. When you take that tool away, you're really crippling local government's ability to do anything on climate change. 

What we're seeing right now is some creative ways to look around it. Some of the states that have adopted this have focused in on building codes, so you have some cities looking at planning law, health and safety law, instead of our building code law, which has now been preempted by state government. You are seeing some cities trying to look for creative ways around this. 

Ultimately, you know, I love all of our 50 states equally. But when you look at the top 10 states by gas demand, only Texas and Ohio have adopted these bans. The other eight states are climate leaders. They all have climate laws, they have climate targets, and they collectively represent over half the gas demand in the United States in buildings. I think what you're going to see is a coalition of those states changing the marketplace. Smaller states with smaller gas demand are just going to have to deal with the implications of those market changes.

David Roberts:   

A little bit like fuel economy, right? You get enough big states going in the right direction, they end up dragging the market with them. 

Panama Bartholomy:

Very much so.

David Roberts:

I know Biden has done an executive order on federal buildings, and I know there's some money in the infrastructure bill. Are you excited by what's happened so far federally on buildings? Are there particular pieces we should be aware of?

Panama Bartholomy:  

There's more than we've ever seen. And that's great.

David Roberts:   

That's always such a low bar in these conversations.

Panama Bartholomy:  

When you work in climate, you have to be an optimist. Maybe not if you report on climate, but if you work in climate, you have to be an optimist. The numbers are just too stark. 

The fact that we appointed somebody in the White House, Mark Chambers, formerly from New York City, to be the lead on building emissions for the Council on Environmental Quality is amazing. The fact that you have Secretary Granholm going around giving big press events around cold-climate heat pumps and people yelling from behind her, “heat pump nation!” is absolutely incredible. DOE is moving forward on regulations that manufacturers of heating equipment say are going to be pushing the market to electrification. We're seeing a lot of what we need to see. 

It's our fundamental belief that you don't see significant federal action until you see a lot of state action. Federal is the bank, and then the caboose on regulations. We need significant investment from the federal government, and then that investment will help locals and states be able to adopt regulations that will transform the market enough that actors of all colors will come back to Washington and say, “listen, this is too haphazard and patchwork, we need some level of consistency across the country.”

David Roberts:   

If any of us need to feel additional anxiety about Build Back Better, is there anything big on buildings in Build Back Better that you are hoping makes it through this twisted process?

Panama Bartholomy:  

There is, much of it thanks to former guests on this podcast who have done great work in this area, particularly Saul and the folks over at Rewiring America. 

There's $17 billion in there for federal buildings, which I have a hard time getting too excited about when I think about taxpayers looking at it. “Great, so you're going to do a bunch of stuff that you should have been doing the whole time, and now we're supposed to get excited about this? What about the $17 billion to help me with my water heater?”

But there's $12 billion for residential electrification, and that'll be split: about $6 billion coming out of the Department of Energy to provide direct rebates for the whole suite of electrification technologies (water heating, space heating, cooking, and clothes drying); then there's $6 billion that'll be implemented through state energy offices. That'll be focused on what is one of the biggest movements in energy efficiency right now: performance-based energy-efficiency measures.

David Roberts:   

Can you give the capsule summary of what that means?

Panama Bartholomy:  

Historically, we've had widget-based or “deemed” savings for energy efficiency.

David Roberts:   

You just incentivize them to buy the equipment. 

Panama Bartholomy:  

Exactly. And even worse, we give installers money just because they installed the equipment — not necessarily the quality of the installation, the performance of it. How does it perform on the grid when we have grids that have very different greenhouse gas profiles depending on the time of day that the power is being drawn? 

A performance-based energy-efficiency program gives some money up front for an incentive, but the majority of the incentive is paid out based on the actual operations and performance of those systems. How efficient? How much energy did it save? How much carbon did it displace? How many emissions did it avoid? 

There's $6 billion currently in the Build Back Better bill that would go toward supporting states to set up those programs, and that would be run out of the state energy offices in each of the states.

David Roberts:   

And technologically we have what we need to be able to track performance in a way that you can bank on it?

Panama Bartholomy:  

We do. It's amazing some of the technologies out there. Leading firms like Recurve are providing fantastic tools for utilities to be able to pull apart the dynamics around a kilowatt hour saved, and why that kilowatt hour, normalizing for weather, normalizing for occupancy. It's incredible what computers can do nowadays. 

David Roberts:   

I want to take a minute just to talk about heat pumps. They have gone from nowhere to people chanting, “heat pump nation!” It's a thrill. But when I bring them up and talk about them, immediately I hear, “I installed one 10 years ago and my house is always cold,” or “I can't afford to install one because I'd have to get fossil-fuel backup with it.” 

This actually happened to me. Seven or eight years ago, we were going to replace our original oil furnace in our house, which had been there since 1954: big, giant, peach-colored. We wanted to get rid of it. I would have loved to get a heat pump, but the contractors were baffled and resistant, and assured us, if you get a heat pump, you have to get a natural gas furnace to back up the heat pump, and all told it would have been an additional $8,000. So I ended up, to my great and ongoing regret, installing a natural gas furnace. 

I feel like that's a pretty representative experience in terms of a) people not knowing b) contractors not knowing what the hell they're doing, and c) this question of whether heat pumps can do the job, and in what climates. Can we get some clarity on that? How good are heat pumps these days?

Panama Bartholomy:  

Heat pumps are great these days! We have, through the leadership of the Northeast Energy Efficiency Partnership, or NEEP, a whole database of cold-climate heat pumps. They pioneered a cold-climate heat pump specification years ago and have been working with manufacturers since then to make sure there's a suite of different cold-climate heat pumps available.

These are heat pumps where the heat pump part of the heat pump can operate down to 14 degrees below zero before electric resistance kicks in, or if you have a gas backup, before that gas backup kicks in. 

The technology is there. What you're talking about is your interaction with the contractor, and that's going to be one of the hardest things about this transition. Try to call up a plumber or an HVAC installer right now: people are just flat busy. They were flat busy before the pandemic, and now we're in the pandemic, everybody wants to renovate their home, which is now their home office, and they're busier than ever. There's no reason contractors should change what they're doing if they're selling and they're booked months out in advance. 

It's going to be up to us who are concerned about climate to give them a reason. It's not going to work to require it right now, because of the shock to the system that'll create for this workforce. It's going to have to be incentives, and then regulation.

David Roberts:   

Let me pause on the shock. Are there just not enough people trained to do it? Or is it about heat-pump manufacturers not being ready to ramp up quickly? Or logistics? What would be the shock if you tried to push it too fast right now?

Panama Bartholomy:  

It's a great question, because there's this fallacy out there that we don't have enough trained workers. The reality is, again, we're not installing crazy alien technology here. A heat pump is an air conditioner that can run in reverse. A heat-pump water heater is a tank of water with a heat pump on top. This is not complicated stuff. Electricians know how to electrician; they know how to run wires. 

It's not an issue of a lack of workforce, it's an issue of incentivizing the workforce in the right way. Right now, the major thing that installers want to avoid is callbacks. They want to be able to go in, put in something, and then not be called back out, which will prevent them from doing another job. If you historically have not cared about the performance of the HVAC system or water heating system that you're installing, it can be a change to all of a sudden now have to care about that performance. 

What we're seeing is a gradual transition of this workforce over to electric installations, but until we send some clear market signals, there's no reason for them to make that shift. You have all the myths that you ran into, like “they can't operate in even Seattle's mildly cold climate; you need gas backup; these things just don't work.” 

One of the other things is, we're just going to have to accept the difficulty of living in the first wave of addressing climate change, and that things are going to be better next decade. Things are going to have a lot of friction and be pretty hard this decade as we help to transition this industry.

David Roberts:   

When I hear pushback against electrification, this is the main thing I hear in terms of substantive objections: If you go to cold climates like the Upper Midwest, and you replace all their oil and natural gas furnaces with electric heat pumps, then in the winter you’re going to get enormous electricity demand that's brand new. You have these electricity systems built for summer peaks suddenly having enormous winter peaks, three times bigger than their historic peaks. 

Some people argue we're simply not going to be able to radically upgrade the entire electricity infrastructure in all these places fast enough; we're going to need, in some places, some alternative to electrification, which usually amounts to some zero-carbon liquid fuel, some hydrogen variant or biomethane, whatever it is.

Basically, we are going to need to keep combustion in some areas because we just don't have the capacity to handle that much winter electricity demand. What do you make of that?

Panama Bartholomy:  

God, I wish that was a real problem. If we were installing so many electric appliances that we were actually causing grid disruption anywhere in the next decade — man, I could go home, that's it, retire, done, we succeeded. 

The reality is, we're not going to stop maintaining the distribution and transmission grids. We're not going to stop building generation in any part of this country. We're not going to have mass-scale electrification at the speed we need in the near-term. We're going to have some time to adjust. 

The people who think electrification is going to happen in a silo have not seen how electricity systems have worked for the whole history of electricity systems. It is an integrated planning effort, and demand is forecasted and then supplied. Now, at some point we can talk about rolling blackouts and weather events, but on the normal, this should be something that grid managers can absolutely handle with the rate of electrification that we could see, even if we had significantly more electrification.

David Roberts:   

Do you think it's fair to say, though, that if you're in one of those cold-weather climates and you see electrification on the horizon, you need to start bulking up your electricity system now? Those things are not fast to accomplish.

Panama Bartholomy:  

Yeah, if you are committing to electrification, you should be incorporating that into your demand models and looking at generation. And, getting back to the beginning of our conversation, you should be thinking about how to incorporate energy efficiency into those projects as well, to limit some of that new demand and ease building electrification into this high winter peak. 

To be honest with you, I think our bigger challenge is going to be electric vehicles — the doubling and tripling.

David Roberts:   

They're additive, right? You get a bunch of electric vehicles in a cold-weather climate alongside a bunch of electrification of heat and cooling, then you're talking about a lot of electricity.

Panama Bartholomy:  

It is. But with cars, average car ownership is about seven years, water heaters about 15 years, furnaces about 20 years. We're going to have quicker turnover of the vehicle fleet than we are of the water heater and furnace fleet.

David Roberts:   

Do you feel confident saying that, in the end, nowhere in the United States will need liquid fuels for heat? You think electrification is going to do it everywhere?

Panama Bartholomy:  

I'd say that for buildings, not necessarily for industrial, or transport. That is a hard decision that we need to make immediately: if you look at trash gas, or cow-crap gas, the rainbow of hydrogens — these are all precious, and they're all expensive. Is the highest and best use of that gas in my moderately efficient water heater in my basement? Or should we be spending it in those areas where it is going to be hard to electrify for the foreseeable future, such as industrial purposes, freight, aviation? That's just a better use for it.

David Roberts:   

So you wouldn't even be into some blending or mixing as an interim measure, to reduce emissions while we wait for electrification?

Panama Bartholomy:  

The challenge there is the expense to ratepayers. You're maintaining two infrastructure systems moving forward, and ratepayers are paying for it. Instead of making some of these decisions and clipping off the branches of the gas system and relieving ratepayers of that, you are just paying and upgrading it — and these upgrades to gas systems, as I said, 60- to 80-year lives for the materials that are used. These are long-term investments, and even if the whole neighborhood is only using gas for cooking, you still have to maintain that gas system to a high level of safety. 

David Roberts:   

It’s interesting to think about the gas system as binary: you either have it or you don't. And if you have a single gas appliance, you have the whole gas infrastructure. It's a sticky dilemma. 

Speaking of that, let's talk for a minute about stoves. Where are we on education? I'm seeing it talked about more. I'm seeing a lot of concerted pushback — natural gas utilities and natural gas businesses out propagandizing all over the place, hiring advertising agencies and Instagram influencers to cook on gas stoves. Where do you see the battle for hearts and minds on stoves?

Panama Bartholomy:  

It's no accident that the gas company is choosing stoves. What's interesting is, it's probably their area of greatest vulnerability.

David Roberts:   

In the grand scheme of things, stoves are not a huge source of demand for natural gas, are they?

Panama Bartholomy:  

Nope — 3 to 5 percent of the average home’s natural gas demand. It's not big, but every mixed-fuel utility that provides both electricity and gas will tell us that their nightmare is that they have to run a gas system just because people aren't willing to give up their gas stove, and charge everybody $180 a month just to cook with gas. 

It's no accident that they're focusing on this. We've been part of a number of studies that have looked at people's attachment to different appliances, and unsurprisingly, those appliances that you interact with the most are the ones you have the greatest attachment to. Water heaters: pretty low level of emotional response. Stoves: really high. And people have had some bad experiences with electric resistance, the coil stoves of the past.

Generally, the two things home or professional cooks care about the most are power and control, which are usually at the heart of all bad relationships. The good news is that we have an alternative that beats gas on both of those things. But we have this impression that gas is better, and you have these things coming from consumers, saying things like, “I deserve a gas stove. I finally saved up enough money, I can finally get a gas stove.”

David Roberts:   

It's definitely seen as a luxury, as an achievement, still.

Panama Bartholomy:  

Very much so. Part of this movement is going to have to be exposing some of the inherent dangers of gas stoves: the air-quality dangers, the safety dangers, whether you have a small child or older relatives in the house, and then just the dangers of piping gas around all of our communities. 

Like electric vehicles, the good news is that we have the high-powered electric vehicles of the kitchen as an alternative. It'd be a bummer if we were like, “no, come back to this coil stove.” That's not going to work. I can’t wait to see the marketing campaign around that.

But gas stoves, because of the air-quality impacts, are also one of the gas company's greatest vulnerabilities. As you start to see more and more attention paid to that, more groups speak out about it, governments begin to address it, their last gasp from a marketing perspective could turn into the final dagger. 

With induction stoves, it's fantastic that we have a product that, once you test drive it, people's hair gets blown back. It's incredible. It's three times as powerful as the best-in-class gas stove, twice as good a control on it, incredibly easy to clean.

David Roberts:   

When I talk to people, that's the first thing I mention. I'm lazy, and I’m the person who cleans the kitchen. We were in a rental for a few months recently and it had a gas stove — god it was a pain in the ass. I was like, how do people live with this? There's so many nooks and crannies; it gets gross so quickly. Induction is this perfectly smooth surface. It really made me appreciate my stove.

Panama Bartholomy:  

Yeah, you just wipe it. We have all these pictures of my two-year-old cooking on the induction stove, putting his hand right next to the pan and cooking eggs. It's fantastic technology.

So the good news is that we have a technology that's better. It's a matter of getting people out there to test drive these things, and getting it in the Home Depots and appliance stores, getting little pop-ups at farmers markets to begin this transition.

David Roberts:   

It doesn't quite carry the air of fanciness of a gas stove, though. We bought a commodity-level, relatively cheap induction stove; there's no fanciness to it. I don't know what you can do about that. You can't really make a high-end one, either, because magnets are magnets; they're all doing the same thing. Even the lowest-end induction stove basically has exactly the power and control. There's a lot of consumer psychology at work here that's difficult to puzzle through.

Panama Bartholomy:  

We need the Ford F-150 commercials for induction stoves. Big man turning big dials! Big power, lightning bolts shooting into the pan!

David Roberts:   

But you don't get any flame. Flame is so darn manly, magnets don't quite do it. 

Where's the industry on this? Do they have a preference what kind of stoves they make?

Panama Bartholomy:  

At this point, they don't. At this point, they have been happy to sell whatever stove a consumer wants to get. They are standing up and taking notice when you have 54 cities in California, most of the Bay Area, basically say, “you're not allowed to build with gas anymore.” Denver, Seattle, for certain building types in New York City now. That's making them take notice. 

It's been interesting to watch, because this is an appliance area that hasn't had to deal with efficiency and energy and environmental regulations a lot. The HVAC and water heater folks, this has been bread and butter for them for 40 years. But the stove folks, they're just like, “whoa, we're a target? Where did this come from?” Just out of nowhere.

David Roberts:   

One of the most outrageous things about this — and I don't know if a lot of people appreciate this — is that in a lot of cases, it is natural gas utilities running these propaganda campaigns, and they are paying for those propaganda campaigns with ratepayer money. In a lot of cases, if you have natural gas, you're paying for that anti-electrification propaganda. Are there legal remedies for that, or what's the right way to deal with that?

Panama Bartholomy:  

There are if your local PUC, PSC, BPU has a spine. The area where we've seen that be expressed the farthest is out here in California, where you've had groups like Earthjustice bring forward motions against companies like Southern California Gas Company around using ratepayer dollars to both lobby against electrification as well as run consumer campaigns against electrification. And you've had, after months and months of delay, mealy-mouthed responses from the Public Utilities Commission that at worst, slap them with a small “don't do it again” penalty, or at best say, “well, technically, under current law, there's nothing that we can do about this.” 

The good news is that you're starting to see a change in leadership at the gas companies. In October, Southern California Gas Company, the largest distributor of gas in the country, released a new report called their Clean Fuels report, and it said that widespread electrification of buildings is the future of California. It's the first time we've seen a gas utility anywhere make these sorts of statements. They think that by 2040, up to 90 percent of all of the space and water heating will be electric in California. 

Then, at the end of the year, they joined PG&E in a filing to the Public Utilities Commission that is on a proceeding that would take away incentives to extend gas lines from gas mains to buildings. They’re called line extension allowances; basically, we use ratepayer dollars to give money to builders to pay for some of the costs of extending gas from the gas main in the middle of the street to a house or a new commercial building. It's a perverse incentive from a climate perspective; we're using ratepayer dollars to put into place infrastructure that’ll make it harder for us to meet our climate goals. 

So the PUC in California has opened up a proceeding to recommend doing away with those, and PG&E and Southern California Gas Company came in and said, for residential buildings, we agree that we should stop incentivizing this. First time in the country.

David Roberts:   

I can understand how an electric and gas utility could come around to the light on this. But if you're a natural gas utility, it's pretty much existential, isn't it? If there's no natural gas, there's no reason for you to exist. Is there a big political difference on those kinds of utilities?

Panama Bartholomy:  

What is the answer to every question in energy right now, before it's asked? Hydrogen! 

If you read through the Clean Fuels report, and you read through most any clean fuels report from a gas company in America right now, they're betting big on hydrogen. It's very much a “don't look behind the curtain” type of scenario, because you don't want to talk about the fact that you're going to have to replace the entire gas system to be able to pipe hydrogen, or how expensive the hydrogen is going to be to produce and use. But what Southern California Gas Company has said is, we need to start refocusing on supplying industrial and commercial clients with cleaner gaseous fuels. 

David Roberts:  

Interesting. That's not crazy.  

Panama Bartholomy:  

Not crazy. Residential makes up 30 percent of their revenue, so it'll be a big cut.

David Roberts:

They're inevitably going to be smaller, if they survive at all.

Panama Bartholomy:  

Yeah, but hydrogen is the hope. It’s the hopium of our time.

David Roberts:   

The most common question I hear about all this is: I'm a homeowner, I'm confused and overwhelmed, what's my priority list? If I'm making an electrification checklist, what do I do first? 

Panama Bartholomy:  

It's going to depend on the age of your appliances. You're looking at your four major appliances: water heater, furnace, stove, and dryer. If you use gas, you want to look at how old those systems are, and you want to replace the oldest one first, if you're looking at it purely from a climate perspective. 

If you're looking at it from a health and safety perspective, you probably want to go with your stove first, because your stove is likely emitting levels of nitrogen oxides, formaldehyde, and carbon monoxide that would be considered illegal if they were found outdoors.

David Roberts:   

What if I'm weighing appliance replacement against efficiency upgrades on my envelope, or solar panels on my roof? Are the appliances job one?

Panama Bartholomy:  

It's going to depend a lot on your climate zone. If you're living up in Upper Minnesota, I highly recommend you do some envelope work along with your heat pump. But it's just going to depend on the life expectancy, how much longer you think that furnace or water heater is going to be kicking.

This stuff can be confusing for people. The good news is that we've recognized that consumer education is a critical part of this, and with about 15 other sponsors, we’ve partnered on a campaign. It’s called The Switch Is On campaign. It's just in California as of now. It provides all the basic information you as a consumer need, like, what is a heat pump? What would it cost to put it in? It has all of the rebates available to you based on your zip code, utility, government, etc. We pre-screened hundreds of contractors that know what they're doing on electrification and won't talk the Daves of the world out of putting in a heat pump.

There's about seven other states that are standing up campaigns like this. We also are talking to folks in British Columbia and Australia with similar campaigns. It's a recognized need, and we're trying to provide some of the early resources that consumers need. So yeah, visit the website if you want to see what version one of the electrification consumer education looks like.

David Roberts:   

If you're a city policymaker, mayor or town council, same thing. What's your priority list? What are you going after first? What's the big fish?

Panama Bartholomy:  

There's three things, and in order, but they're interrelated. 

Number one, we need to stop digging the hole. We should not be building any new buildings with gas connections. Every new one you're building is just creating a problem for your community down the road.

We need to deal with existing buildings. So the second thing is, you need to set a date for when you're no longer going to allow gas appliances to be sold in your jurisdiction or in your state.

David Roberts:   

You're going after the supply side.

Panama Bartholomy:  

Exactly. And there are lots of arguments: is it building performance standards, is it time-of-sale requirement. We believe that with a set of complementary policies around it, to build the market and protect people, that appliance bans are the solution we need across the board. 

The key thing is the third thing: we need to build the market so that you can support a ban. We've built up enough of an educated workforce, we've switched electricity rates around, and we’ve brought the cost down so it's comparable or cheaper than gas, etc., to be able to make a mandate work when it goes into effect. 

Those are the three for us: stopping new construction with gas, setting a date for the phaseout of sales of appliances that use gas, and then building the marketplace for electrification. They're all interrelated to each other.

David Roberts:   

Awesome. Well, this is fascinating, I'm sure we could go on for another hour, but I don't want to test my listeners’ already legendary patience. Thanks so much for coming on, and thanks for all your work on this.

Panama Bartholomy:  

Absolutely. Thanks for coming to our funny little corner of the clean energy world, Dave.