In summary

Studies show that transitioning to an electricity grid powered by 100% clean energy can lock in lower utility bills.

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By Andrew Brooks, Special to CalMatters

Andrew Brooks is the director of West Coast Operations at the Association for Energy Affordability.

The price of natural gas is soaring in California – again. The spike, which will push up heating bills for millions of families this winter, speaks to a fundamental truth about powering and heating our homes with fossil fuels like gas – we are at the mercy of wild fluctuations in price that are an inherent part of the business model. 

For decades, this cycle of fossil fuel price spikes has felt inescapable – but thanks to rapid technology advances, it no longer is. California has the opportunity in coming years to move into an energy future that is dramatically more stable and significantly more affordable – by ending our dependence on fossil fuels entirely. 

Numerous studies show that transitioning to an electricity grid that is powered by 100% clean energy resources – and then using that electricity to power appliances in homes for heating and cooking – can lock in lower energy bills for households. Getting there will require a massive investment in upgrading homes with electric appliances, but this investment will pay for itself through lower energy bills, job gains, cleaner air and a more stable climate. 

Let’s talk first about the inherent differences between the business models of fossil fuels and clean energy resources that make a clean energy future the obvious choice. 

If you look at a graph of natural gas prices over the last decade, the line looks like the ridge of a particularly scraggly mountain range – soaring peaks followed by lurching drops. We’re headed up a peak right now, and still climbing. The Energy Information Administration projects that natural gas heating bills in the West will increase by 23.5% this year compared to last year.

A graph of renewable energy prices like solar over the last decade paints a very different picture. That line has moved in only one direction – downward. In fact, the price of renewable energy has dropped so dramatically that it is now the world’s most affordable energy resource. 

To insulate families from spikes in fossil fuel prices, California needs to move much faster to invest in new renewable energy resources like wind and solar by accelerating our 100% clean energy target. The next step – which must happen concurrently with our push for more renewable energy – is a massive effort to upgrade homes with clean electric appliances like heat pumps that can put this clean energy to work lowering bills for families and cutting the pollution that is driving the climate crisis. 

A recent study from Carbon Switch found that if every home in the United States replaced their heating and cooling systems with heat pumps, the average California household would save more than $300 annually in energy costs. The report also found that the transition off of fossil fuel appliances could create as many as 348,656 jobs in California alone. 

A clean energy future with more stable and affordable bills is in sight – but of course, this transition will not arrive in time to protect households that currently use gas for heating from sky-high energy costs this winter. No household should have to choose between staying warm and putting food on the table. To protect vulnerable families, California needs to vastly increase utility assistance for low-income families now.

California leaders took an important step in the right direction earlier this year when they allocated $2 billion for utility debt relief – but these funds have been slow to reach vulnerable households and are insufficient to meet the scale of the need. To make matters worse, California’s moratorium on utility shut offs just expired, leaving thousands of families facing shut offs as we head into winter.

This spike in gas prices is going to hit families hard, but we don’t need to remain at the mercy of fluctuations in gas prices in winters to come. California leaders have the policy solutions at their fingertips to deliver a more stable and affordable clean energy future – we should invest in them.

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