Sonoma County town backs off natural gas ban

The Windsor Town Council on Wednesday evening rescinded an ordinance banning natural gas in new residential construction rather than fight a lawsuit brought by two developers.

“I think the council was being proactive on an important issue like climate change. It was difficult to come to this. At some point we will be looking at an alternative ordinance,” Town Manager Ken MacNab told the Business Journal

Backers won council approval for the ban in 2019, citing the need to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Carbon dioxide — a factor identified as accelerating climate change — is released during natural gas combustion. California’s goal is by 2045 to not use fossil fuels.

The Sonoma County town found itself in a debate over whether natural gas is a significant contributor to climate change over other factors, such as internal combustion engines. Some in the building industry have argued banning gas in new construction will drive up home costs while backers say it will save the costs of installation natural gas hookups.

How soon the council will work on a revised version and how it will differ from the discarded ordinance remains to be seen.

“Transportation is the biggest use of greenhouse gases, but buildings are second,” Councilwoman Debora Fudge said during the meeting.

She has been the most vocal on the council in support of going all electric, having helped with writing the ordinance and trying to raise money to fight the lawsuit. “We were trying in Windsor to electrify. It wasn’t that big of a step, but it was necessary.”

All four councilmembers said were somber in their remarks, noting the decision to rescind was difficult but in the best interest of the town. Fudge and Vice Mayor Sam Salmon were critical of what they called “rich developers.”

Bill Gallaher of Gallaher Homes and Oakmont Senior Living in the North Bay, and Windsor-Jensen Land Co. filed separate lawsuits saying the ordinance violated California environmental law. Gallaher as well as attorneys for both companies could not be reached for comment.

Part of the settlement agreement, which has not been made public yet, stipulates Windsor must repeal the electric gas ban on new home construction. However, the agreement does not stop Windsor from coming up with another law banning electric.

The neighboring town of Santa Rosa faces similar litigation from Gallaher, but that council has decided to fight in Sonoma County Superior Court. While Healdsburg has also passed an electric ordinance, it is less restrictive as it allows for gas fireplaces and stovetops.

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