By Kera Abraham
Campus life may be on the verge of something electric. In an innovative pilot project, Pacific Gas & Electric (PG&E) is proposing to remove a gas pipeline – which now powers approximately 1,200 student, employee and faculty housing on East Campus – and electrify the neighborhood.
Electrification involves replacing infrastructure that uses fossil fuels with alternatives that use electricity. If this electricity is produced from renewable sources such as solar, wind or hydropower, electrification can significantly reduce carbon dioxide emissions that drive climate change. According to PG&E, the East Campus project would be the first and largest neighborhood-scale electrification initiative in California.
PG&E estimates the East Campus electrification project would reduce more than 5 million pounds of emissions, the equivalent of taking nearly 500 gas-powered cars off the road for a year.
This project is an important step towards achieving carbon neutrality by 2030, a goal of the CSUMB Inclusive sustainability plan. A key strategy on campus Master plan is to replace natural gas with electricity in new and existing buildings. In addition to reducing emissions, the change would improve indoor air quality and improve community safety. A 2022 study suggests electrification can also address environmental injustice, as dangerous gas leaks occur more often in lower-income neighborhoods and communities of color than in whiter, wealthier areas.
PG&E has identified the East Campus Housing gas infrastructure, inherited from the military in 1994, as requiring replacement in five phases. Phase one gas system upgrades are currently in the planning stage and would continue to serve approximately 600 housing units. If the California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) approves PG&E’s application, phases two through five will move to electrification.
“As California transitions to electrification, any new investment in natural gas infrastructure risks becoming a stranded asset. It would be like buying a fax machine in 1999,” says Lacey Raak, CSUMB’s director of sustainability. modernizing our infrastructure supports campus values and reduces pollution that causes climate change.”
To exchange natural gas for electrons, PG&E would fund the replacement of all gas appliances in affected East Campus housing units – including water heaters, stoves, ovens and clothes dryers – with electric models. . Electrification would cost PG&E about $17.2 million.
Last month, PG&E filed a petition asking the CPUC for permission to use pipeline repair funds for electrification instead. PG&E has requested an expedited review, but the utility may have to wait up to a year for a final decision. If the project is approved, Campus officials will work with PG&E to review plans, meet university licensing requirements and coordinate with residents.