“This is about going where we didn’t go before,” Councillor Michael Lilliquist told the New York Times. “We’ve grabbed the less controversial and low-hanging fruit. This fruit is higher on the tree.”
Owners of all homes and commercial buildings would be compelled to convert heating appliances from gas to electric heat-pump technology or another alternative by 2040 or possibly 2035. Cooking on gas would be allowed.
The city near the Canadian border has a plentiful supply of hydropower.
Bellingham is a destination for outdoor sports enthusiasts, offering the northern Cascade Mountains and kayaking among the San Juan Islands.
The proposed measures have prompted the energy industry to spend US$1 million promoting the reliability of gas and warning of the costs of switching heating sources.
Cascade Natural Gas, the provider in Bellingham, and other firms claim a full conversion to electricity would cost homeowners as much as US$82,750.
Lilliquist dismissed the figure as propaganda but conceded that the barriers to implementation were formidable. “The real number would be one-10th that cost. But that’s still a lot of money for most households,” the councillor said.
Bellingham resident Ronald Colson said he spent approximately US$28,000 installing a forced-air heat pump system in 2018. He said he was planning to spend about US$8,000 changing his hot water supply to heat pump technology.
“You’ve got to have a place where people step up and say, ‘Let’s show the world we can do it’,” Colson said.
But he asked if the change was affordable for all families without subsidies and wondered if the proposed legislation might have negative impacts.
The city between the Cascade Mountains and the Pacific has cut more than two-thirds of the administration’s greenhouse gas emissions since 2000 by halting the burning of sewage solids, providing bikes for city staff and converting street lights to LEDs.
The city said the average cost of installing an electric heat pump system was between US$6,200 and US$13,100.
In 2019, the Californian city of Berkeley became the first US city to outlaw the use of natural gas in newly built low-rise homes. Similar bans have since been imposed elsewhere.
Seattle, 200km to the south of Bellingham, is also beginning discussions about its reliance on gas.