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MacKenzie Elmer's biweekly environmental news roundup (Mondays)
State figures give a better sense of the natural gas employment landscape as cities begin making the switch to electricity in new buildings. Plus San Diego reconsiders its trash pickup policy and more in our biweekly roundup of environmental news.
I was publicly grumpy last month when city officials couldn’t tell me the difference between a job in natural gas versus one in renewable energy because they lumped the two under the same category. Nothing a little public records request can’t resolve!
Behold, a breakdown of total San Diego area energy jobs among 21 different sectors, including natural gas, solar, wind and nuclear energy. I tallied jobs in natural gas distribution, pipeline transportation and turbine generator manufacturing (which involves gas, according to the North American Industry Classification System) and found at least 30 percent of San Diego’s energy jobs in 2019 were natural gas related.
That’s 8,014 jobs out of 26,618. But that’s probably still a not the true representation of the natural gas employment landscape in San Diego.
Jobs in electrical work beat natural gas work in 2019 with over 12,000 in electrical contracting or wiring installation, which includes plumbing, heating and air conditioning.
Climate advocacy organizations and some environmentalists are hard-promoting “electrification,” or wiring society so everything can run on renewable energy alone instead of piping natural gas through our buildings.
But an electrical job doesn’t automatically mean you’re working in renewable energy.
Natural gas is still widely used by California power plants to make electricity, accounting for about 48 percent of the state’s power generation, according to the California Energy Commission. So it’s difficult to discern how many electrical jobs are also tied to the natural gas industry from the city’s dataset.
Why is this important? Dozens of California cities, including Encinitas, are starting to pass electrification policies, making it harder for natural gas to exist as an energy source, by banning gas infrastructure in new buildings and instead favoring electricity, which could theoretically be powered by renewables.
Local gas worker unions have said they’re worried natural gas bans will hurt their sector while helping others. But without more detailed data, it’s hard to picture how that might play out and where the potential political capital lies.
The city of San Diego hasn’t yet announced what it plans to do about the potent greenhouse gas that accounts for 20 percent of its emissions. We’re all still waiting on the results of a workforce study the city said will drop this fall, around the same time we expect its second edition of the Climate Action Plan — San Diego’s playbook for cutting its carbon footprint by half over the next 20 years.