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Issues of the Environment: Ann Arbor moves toward ban on gas stoves in new construction

Lisa Sauve
Synedoche Design
Lisa Sauve


  • In November 2022, the Ann Arbor planning commission made waves by proposing a ban on gas stove hookupsin new construction. The commission sees this move as a necessary step in meeting Ann Arbor’s sustainability goal to go carbon neutral by 2030. Missy Stults, Ann Arbor’s sustainability director, says that over 25% of the community’s greenhouse gas emissions come from burning gas in buildings.
  • In addition to the potential environmental benefits, switching to all-electric eliminates the health hazards from indoor air pollution attributed to burning gas. A 2023 peer-reviewed study in the International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health found that nearly 13% of childhood asthma is likely attributable to gas stoves.  (Source: https://www.mdpi.com/1660-4601/20/1/75)
  • Beyond impacts on indoor air quality, natural gas is primarily made of methane, a powerful greenhouse gas that has caused about 30 percent of global temperature rise since the industrial revolution. Though methane dissipates from the air far faster than carbon dioxide, it is 80 times more effective at trapping heat. The U.S. and dozens of other world governments have pledged to slash methane emission 30 percent by the end of this decade, amid a deepening climate crisis marked by floods, heat waves, famine, glacier loss and sea level rise. (Source: *directly quoted* https://www.bridgemi.com/michigan-environment-watch/gas-stove-debate-latest-political-culture-war-here-are-facts)
  • Not unexpectedly, the proposed ban ignited immediate controversy. Arguments for the ban include: 
    • reducing dependency on fossil fuels by lowering natural gas use
    • greater use of renewable energy sources like solar, wind, and geothermal
    • reducing methane, fighting climate change
    • improving indoor air quality
    • a cost savings from not having to retrofit as many buildings for a future that relies nearly exclusively on renewable energy, and a potential cost savings to consumers if renewable energy becomes less expensive in the future. 
  • Immediately after the ban was proposed, several Republican bills that would block such bans were introduced. (Twenty-one states have passed bills to preempt local gas bans.) Arguments against such bans include:
    • lack of infrastructure to support the bulk switch away from gas
    • infringement on personal freedom, eroding of local control
    • concerns that the switch will push developers outside the city and exacerbate sprawl.
    • cost to retrofit buildings is substantial, and it is more expensive to build electric-only into new construction. In addition, square footage is needed in larger building to accommodate transformers, which means less housing area.
  • Ann Arbor is the only city in Michigan considering such a ban, and 21 states have successfully blocked similar bans at the state level.
  • Lisa Sauve is an Ann Arbor city planning commissioner, and she is also an architect who has submitted plans for an eight-story, solar-powered, all-electric apartment complexon State Street. She said the current substation for the area does not have enough capacity for the project, so it would need to borrow from another one. She points out that there will need to be upgrades to the substations if many buildings switch. In addition, the electric infrastructure within the buildings is more costly than traditional gas and takes up a lot more square footage, reducing the number of units for housing. (Source: *not quoted* https://www.mlive.com/news/ann-arbor/2022/12/ann-arbor-gas-ban-proposal-draws-mixed-reactions-from-builders-climate-activists.html)


David Fair: This is 89 one WEMU. And today, we're going to spend some time talking about gas stoves. I'm David Fair, and I'd like to welcome you to this week's edition of Issues of the Environment. Gas stoves, you may have noticed, have become a hot button issue nationally and locally in Ann Arbor. The City Planning Commission put forth a proposal back in November to ban gas stoves in any new construction. The plan was put forth as part of the effort to achieve citywide carbon neutrality. Our guest today is Lisa Sauve. Lisa is an architect and co-founder of Synedoche Design. And she is serving as a member of the Ann Arbor Planning Commission. Lisa, thank you for making time today. I'm grateful.

Lisa Sauve: Thank you for having me.

David Fair: As I understand it, Ann Arbor, so far, is the only community in Michigan to even propose a ban on gas stoves in new construction. What evaluation process did the Planning Commission use to determine it was vital to the success of the A2Zero carbon neutrality plan?

Lisa Sauve: Yeah, gas stoves and gas connections themselves. It's an interesting intersection between land use and building use policy. And so, looking at the land use policies and goals of Ann Arbor and the A2Zero plan, of course, we want to reduce our emissions on dirty fuel, which includes moving towards electrical services, which can be supplied by renewable sources. And so, understanding that utilities are part of connections for land use, that was more of the logic of understanding how the Planning Commission could play a role in helping support the A2Zero goals towards carbon neutrality.

David Fair: On a national scale, and there have been similar calls to action and proposed legislation, but the backlash has been vocal and widespread, and, Lisa, it didn't take long for some Republican state lawmakers to take aim at the Ann Arbor ban, did it?

Lisa Sauve: Yeah. I mean, it was pretty quick. We've been having this discussion, and, of course, there's pros and cons to the whole thing, but I think what we're seeing is more fears about what we'd be losing instead of a perspective of what could be gained.

David Fair: What are the fears of what could be lost?

Lisa Sauve: I think, similar, in my experience working on a planning commission when we talk about increasing density by allowing things, like duplexes and single-family zones, the conversation quickly turns to banning single-family housing, when in fact we're just allowing more things. And I think with the gas stove, the idea that we're banning feels like we're taking them away. And what we're really doing is trying to move forward with this new project by both incentivizing and prescribing alternatives to that gas connection. And so, what we'd be losing is future opportunities to use against gas stoves, but we're not actually losing the ability to use our appliances that we have right now.

David Fair: Has the Planning Commission heard directly from any energy companies, utilities, or natural gas advocates?

Lisa Sauve: Yes, we've been working, I'd say both professionally in my office and for the Planning Commission, understanding that the cities and talking to DTE, our service provider for both electricity and gas, to understand what services are currently in the ground in terms of infrastructures to connect to, and that there have been a lot of gas updates and investments to be able to support the needs where electricity is a little slower to update. And so, there's a lot of priority, I would say, to utilize the infrastructure that we have to provide effective service to people.

David Fair: WEMU's Issues of the Environment and our conversation on a proposed ban of gas stoves in Ann Arbor continues with City Planning Commission member Lisa Sauve. As I mentioned, Lisa, you're an architect, and design is obviously your bread and butter. Do you only design with electric appliances in mind now? No gas stoves. No gas dryers. No gas hookups.

Lisa Sauve: We try. A lot of what we do is also adaptive reuse or renovations. And so, while we might be updating appliances and things, updating service to the project, it may see either technically infeasible or practically infeasible from a cost perspective to all those things and minor renovations. We also do a lot of commercial kitchen work, and that's an industry that has an even more difficult time converting from gas to electric in all of the equipment and appliances they utilize. So, generally, yes. We absolutely advise our clients to look to the opportunities of electrification, but we also know that we are in a transition point in that every project is perfectly suited to meet all the criteria to move forward with it.

David Fair: I don't know about you, but there's a lot of foodies around town. And I certainly have some as friends of mine, and they insist that if you're not cooking over flame, you're not cooking. How do you address the concerns of those folks?

Lisa Sauve: It's hard to relate. I've been cooking up off of an electric stove for most of my life.

David Fair: Yeah, me too. Me too.

Lisa Sauve: So, I think the food's great. I understand, right? So, gas, from a power perspective, you can definitely get a lot more, you know, fuel and heat. And that's for commercial level cooking. Being able to do it in larger quantities is pretty critical. But, from a residential level, there's sufficient technology updates, including convection, that you can get that rapid and even heat from electrical, and the cost of those types of appliances are going down. So, again, I think that there's a fear in the losing without seeing the opportunities in the change.

David Fair: As you just alluded to, renewable energy is becoming much more affordable and, in some cases, is already less expensive than fossil fuels. If you design absent any access to gas, have you found in your business that it's more expensive to the developer right now, which then obviously becomes more expensive to the consumer?

Lisa Sauve: It can. It comes in different scales. So, right now, we're actually working on a larger scale development and have opted to do no gas connection.

David Fair: Are we talking Veridian at County Farm?

Lisa Sauve: No, we're actually talking Southtown by 4M.

David Fair: Okay.

Lisa Sauve: So, it's a 250-unit development, about 270,000 square feet, including amenity and general use utility space. But what happens at that scale is that we're using diesel backup generators. And those backup generators are required for emergency requirements. This is running elevators, emergency lighting, and things in case of a fire.

David Fair: And diesel's awful.

Lisa Sauve: Correct. But doing a natural gas hookup, the amount of power natural gas can actually deliver to a building that size is insufficient. What happens with diesel is that diesel is stored onsite to be used for that one-hour requirement for emergency backup, but it's not used until that point, which could typically be never. And so, storing that fuel source but not burning it versus having the natural gas connection, which could lead to, you know, ideals that maybe we'll just use the gas connection for one other thing. We'd actually burn less diesel to power that building in an emergency than we would natural gas. The emissions are actually down because it's a more efficient fuel source at that scale, and it's actually more cost effective. And in a mid-sized project, natural gas connections are more effective than diesel. But, in all cases right now, there is not sufficient electrical power supply in the grid or certainty by emergency and building code expectations that electrical could be contained in batteries or service from private utilities to meet the emergency qualification. So, a fuel source is required.

David Fair: Obviously, a lot of work still to be done and considered. We're talking with Ann Arbor City Planning Commission member and architect Lisa Sauve on WEMU's Issues of the Environment. Let's talk a little bit more about the politics of a potential ban on gas stoves and new development. As I mentioned, some state lawmakers are proposing a measure in Lansing that would forbid any local ban on gas appliances. There are already 21 states across the country that have adopted such measures. There's also federal proposals that would take the Planning Commission's proposal right off the table. Are you waiting at this point to see how that all plays out before advancing further?

Lisa Sauve: I mean, yeah, we are in early discussions, and part of that is because our building code is adopted statewide as well. And so, the gas connection is at this juncture somewhere between land use that I operate on from the Planning Commission side and building code. And so, local municipalities aren't allowed to modify our building code. And so, right now what we are doing is starting that conversation to really understand what side of the line this gas connection may or may not be on. And so, those conversations are proceeding in tandem with this, so that we're having a holistic conversation, understanding at different scales, both urban scale and in project scale, what really is the policy intent and then what are actually community goals.

David Fair: In the grand scheme of things, Lisa, and in your evaluation, can Ann Arbor reach its carbon neutrality goals--can the state of Michigan reach its carbon neutrality goals--without a ban on natural gas in future development?

Lisa Sauve: I think all of it is going to take time--I think even with electrification. Electricity is fueled by dirty fuel sources right now. And so, we do have to work at multiple scales and collectively to meet this goal. And Ann Arbor can't do it alone. We need to work with our service providers and find renewable sources at scale for urban centers and be able to transition. So, I believe we can. It'll take time and a lot of intention to proceed with this fully.

David Fair: Well, thank you so much for the time today and sharing the information. I appreciate it.

Lisa Sauve: Thanks so much for having me.

David Fair: That is Lisa Sauve. She is an architect and co-founder of Synecdoche Design, and she serves as a member of the Ann Arbor Planning Commission. For more information on today's topic and conversation, visit our website at WEMU dot org. Issues of the Environment is produced in partnership with the office of the Washtenaw County Water Resources Commissioner, and you hear it every Wednesday. I'm David Fair, and this is your community NPR station, 89 one WEMU FM, Ypsilanti.

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