Southern California Mandates Electric Heaters for Pools and Hot Tubs

In a major move to cut air pollution, Southern California air regulators adopted a new rule on Friday requiring pool and hot tub owners to use electric heaters.

The South Coast Air Quality Management District’s board voted 9-1 to phase out certain natural gas water-heating equipment in homes and businesses across Los Angeles, Orange, Riverside, and part of San Bernardino counties.

This rule will replace over one million gas-burning appliances, including about 700,000 pool heaters and 300,000 tankless water heaters, with zero-emission technology over the next 30 years. It will also affect 70,000 commercial water heaters in businesses like dry cleaners, restaurants, hotels, and hospitals.

The rule does not apply to residential water heaters with tanks, which have been regulated separately for many years.

The regulation is expected to prevent the release of 5.6 tons of smog-forming nitrogen oxides per day by 2058, making it the largest pollution reduction from stationary sources since a 2021 rule on oil refineries.

It will also cut carbon emissions equivalent to taking 1.2 million cars off the road for one year.

Vanessa Delgado, the board chair, said, “This is a big step toward better air quality and public health benefits for our communities.” The rule is part of an ambitious plan to help the region meet federal air-quality standards by 2037, achieving nearly 10% of the needed emission reductions.

Environmental groups praised the decision. Adrian Martinez from Earthjustice said, “This rule will replace over a million gas-powered units with zero-emissions technology, helping to clean the air for over 17 million people.”

The rule aligns with existing building standards that prohibit most gas-powered appliances in new buildings. Starting in 2026, small gas units can’t be installed in new buildings, with bans on larger units and pool heaters beginning in 2027, and high-temperature units in 2029.

Gas water heaters in existing buildings will be banned as they reach a certain age, from 2029 to 2057. Homes and small businesses will have some flexibility to replace gas water heaters at the end of their useful life. There are exemptions for rarely used appliances and possible extensions for special cases like construction delays or emergencies.

The transition to zero-emission equipment will cost between $49 million and $79 million per year, creating about 1,000 jobs. To help with costs, the air district will offer rebates, focusing on the most polluted communities.

Business leaders expressed concerns about the financial impact, noting that electric water heaters and boilers are much more expensive than gas models. Jackie Romero from the California Restaurant Association said, “Many businesses are still struggling from the COVID pandemic and can’t afford these costs.”

Environmental advocates argued that strong regulations are necessary to boost the production of zero-emission equipment and lower prices. Martinez added, “I believe we will exceed expectations with zero emissions. Our region has a lot of innovation, and clean technology companies will meet this challenge.”

This policy is a heavy-handed government intervention that infringes on individual freedom and property rights. Homeowners and businesses should have the autonomy to choose their own appliances without government mandates.

The market, not regulators, should drive the transition to cleaner technologies. Additionally, the costs imposed by this rule are viewed as an unjust burden on individuals and businesses, particularly small businesses that may struggle to afford expensive electric heaters.

The policy for its economic implications, arguing that it places an undue financial strain on businesses already hit hard by the COVID pandemic. The higher costs of electric water heaters and the potential job losses in industries reliant on natural gas.

People also question the practicality and reliability of the electric grid to support a massive increase in electric water heaters, especially during peak usage times. The focus should be on making natural gas appliances cleaner and more efficient rather than banning them outright.

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