Environment Report: About Those Natural Gas Jobs | Voice of San Diego

Science/Environment

Environment Report: About Those Natural Gas Jobs

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.

Image via Shutterstock
Image via Shutterstock

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.

Tick tock…

In Other News

  • Speaking of natural gas, a global supply shortage is why local gas costs 20 percent more than last year. (Union-Tribune)
  • P.S.S. on natural gas news: California outlawed the sale of new gas-powered lawn mowers, leaf blowers and chainsaws as early as 2024. Be still, my pounding ear drums. (Los Angeles Times)
  • Imperial Irrigation District (from which San Diego buys a big chunk of its Colorado River water) settled a massive legal dispute with the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California over sharing water during dangerous droughts. (Los Angeles Times)
  • For more than 100 years, many single-family homes in San Diego have gotten free trash pickup at the expense of everyone else. Lisa Halverstadt spoke with the city councilman who’s taking a stand. (Voice of San Diego)
  • San Diego Gas and Electric warned customers of a growing phone scam where imposter salespersons are offering free generators. Hang up. (Alpine Sun)
  • After that mammoth rain event on Oct. 4, an estimated 563 million gallons of untreated water from the sewage-plagued Tijuana River crossed into San Diego, according to a flow report from the International Boundary and Water Commission.
  • As I’m sure you’re all aware, there was a big oil spill in Orange County and tar balls washed up on local San Diego beaches, but county public health officials are not certain if the two events are related because there is natural oil seepage along the Southern California coast. Don’t touch them. (NBC7)
  • Want to learn more about how scientists identify the source of oil in the ocean? Check out this oil detective story I wrote back in July.
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