San Diego will continue relying on natural gas years into the future – even if it achieves its pledge to use 100 percent renewable energy by 2035.

The city made its bold promise to quit using fossil fuels in December when it adopted a legally binding Climate Action Plan aimed at cutting San Diego’s carbon footprint in half over 20 years.

But the renewable energy commitment, it turns out, comes with a big caveat.

It doesn’t count natural gas used for things like heating homes or powering ovens and water heaters. The much-celebrated commitment to use 100 percent renewable energy is in fact a commitment to use 100 percent renewable electricity.

That’s no small exception.

On average, 42 percent of the natural gas used in San Diego goes to electric generation, though that can sometimes reach as high as 70 percent on some days.

That means the city could keep using nearly 60 percent of the natural gas it uses today and satisfy its commitment not to use any fossil fuel at all.

“Natural gas will still be used for heating, cooking, etc. by residential and business customers who rely on it for a variety of uses,” said Jennifer Ramp, a San Diego Gas & Electric spokeswoman, in an email.

A city spokeswoman likewise confirmed that the renewable energy standard only applies to electricity.

San Diegans use roughly 360 million cubic feet of natural gas per day – or about 4,000 Olympic-sized swimming pools’ worth. It’ll keep using more than half that amount, even after it meets its requirement to quit fossil fuels.

The city’s Climate Action Plan directs the city to pursue a program called “community choice aggregation,” which would let the city, instead of SDG&E, purchase energy for local residents.

It would theoretically then purchase a larger share of energy from renewable sources than SDG&E is required to provide under state law.

That’s still a ways off. The city is studying the costs and benefits of creating such a program and would have to take a series of steps to make it happen. Even then, the program would need to be implemented successfully to get to 100 percent renewable energy by 2035. And even then, it would still allow city residents to keep using natural gas – just not for electricity.

The projected greenhouse gas reductions from switching to 100 percent renewable electricity – 1.5 million metric tons of carbon dioxide – reflect the fact that city residents will keep using natural gas in their homes beyond 2035.

Andrew Keatts

I'm Andrew Keatts, a managing editor for projects and investigations at Voice of San Diego. Please contact me if you'd like at

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