Berkeley restaurants

Natural gas ban threats spark restaurant fear – The Hill

The story at a glance

  • Restaurants across the country are beginning to worry about a natural gas ban in their city.

  • The drive to phase out natural gas appliances stems from the environmental and health risks posed by the fuel.

  • Owners point to the financial impacts such a policy would have on their restaurants, while chefs say a ban could restrict the cuisine available.

Restrictions on natural gas appliances have set off alarm bells among chefs and restaurateurs, who fear that any ban on gas stoves will fundamentally change the way some cuisines are prepared and pose significant cost issues.

Although 21 states have implemented preemptive laws banning future natural gas banning legislation, more than 60 cities in California have taken steps to phase out the devices, while similar proposals have been passed in New York and the rest of California. other states to help fight climate change.

“It’s spreading pretty quickly,” said Jot Condie, president and CEO of the California Restaurant Association (CRA) in an interview with Changing America. “Thinking globally, acting locally is important, but developing a city-by-city energy policy is not a smart way to achieve this. And we kind of watch that unfold in real time,” Condie said.

ARC is in the midst of a lawsuit filed against Berkeley, Calif., the first city in the nation to implement a ban on natural gas hookups in all new building construction. A decision is expected before the spring of 2023, Condie said.

The majority of policies in place do not immediately ban the use of natural gas in commercial buildings. Instead, they aim to steer new construction or renovations away from fuel use, requiring future structures not to include gas hookups or infrastructure. Some laws provide exceptions for commercial restaurants.

According to internal data from the National Restaurant Association, 76% of US restaurants use natural gas, while 94% of owners who use gas in their establishment say any ban would negatively impact their business.

What are the trade-offs?

Burning natural gas does not emit as much carbon dioxide as other fossil fuels like coal and oil. But leaks of methane and pollutants during the extraction, production and distribution process pose environmental problems.

Methane is the second most abundant greenhouse gas resulting from human activity, according to the Environmental Protection Agency, and is 25 times more potent than carbon dioxide at trapping heat in the atmosphere.

Leaks from natural gas appliances also pose health problems. A new study by California researchers has found that even when turned off, gas stoves in kitchens can leak concentrations of benzene comparable to those found in second-hand smoke.

Benzene is a known carcinogen and exposure can cause leukemia.

“Natural gas leaks are a source of hazardous air pollutants that have been largely overlooked,” study co-author Drew Michanowicz said in a statement.

“Policies that phase out gas appliances are not only good for our climate, our study shows that these policies also provide important public health benefits by improving indoor and outdoor air quality.”

But for restaurants, the policies were passed too quickly and without much consideration for the industry, owners and representatives say.

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“There are certain types of food and certain cooking techniques that really require a flame in one way or another to work and also for consistency and quality purposes,” said Mike Whatley, vice president of business. of State and Defense of the Population at the National Restaurant. Association. “This is an issue that has a particular and unique impact on restaurateurs in that it impacts the very product we serve.”

The organization’s data shows that 90% of operators who use natural gas say losing the ability to cook with an open flame would negatively impact the quality of food served. “The technology to replicate the flame just isn’t there yet for a commercial setting,” Condie said.

Gas appliances are also traditionally cheaper to run than electric ones, although depending on a restaurant’s location, utility costs can vary.

A lack of uniformity in policies poses problems for restaurant groups that operate in different states or cities, as some only apply to new buildings and others to renovations.

“We want to be a productive player and part of the conversation when it comes to environmental stewardship,” Whatley said, but “the industry as a whole is concerned about outright losing the ability to have a flame of natural gas via a natural gas. gas ban.

Other restaurateurs argue that only a small proportion of emissions come from the commercial sector, with the majority resulting from transport or industrial pollution.

In California, six percent of greenhouse gases come from the commercial sector and an even smaller portion is attributable to restaurants, Condie said. In 2020, the commercial and residential sectors accounted for 13% of all greenhouse gas emissions in the United States, with the majority resulting from natural gas consumption.

“I think everyone understands that climate change is absolutely at a crisis level,” he noted, but “it just seems right that they tackle this locally first, [with] an industry that can least afford it and is less able to go electric than probably many other industries.

What the owners say

In 2020, the city of Ann Arbor, Michigan passed its A2 Zero plan to achieve carbon neutrality by 2030. The plan does not prohibit new natural gas infrastructure, but includes initiatives to reduce the commercial use of natural gas by promoting the electrification of businesses.

Pre-emptive legislation that would ban natural gas ban legislation was introduced in the state, but was not enacted.

Kevin Gudejko is the president and CEO of Mainstreet Ventures Restaurant Group, which operates nine restaurants in Michigan and four in Ann Arbor. The group also operates in Florida, Ohio and West Virginia.

A few years ago, one of the restaurants on Mainstreet switched to using induction burners exclusively. “We spent about $12 or $13,000 to redo our electrical system there,” Gudejko said, because the previous infrastructure couldn’t provide enough power.

A medium-sized company, Mainstreet Ventures will be able to adapt and afford some of the transition costs, Gudejko said, but he fears going electric may be less feasible for smaller, family-owned establishments.

Increased demand on the state’s power grid, which is already facing challenges, could pose additional problems.

“I think there’s a place for it, but I just don’t see how an outright ban can work for our industry.”

Induction burners heat up quickly and can be energy efficient, but when it comes to fine, more sophisticated cooking, there are open-flame techniques that can’t be replicated with burners, Gudejko said.

For example, at some Gudejko steakhouses, “we use broilers to get that really crispy outer edge. [It] It’s really quite difficult, almost impossible, to char anything on an induction burner.

Tom Hutchinson, co-owner of La Posta de Mesilla and Hacienda de Mesilla in Las Cruces, NM, raised additional concerns about the abandonment of gas stoves. Hutchinson previously served on the board of the National Restaurant Association and currently serves on the New Mexico board of directors.

Hutchinson uses natural gas for all equipment in its restaurants. “The conversion to electricity can certainly be done, but all it does is impose demands on the grid,” he said. “I don’t think the grid is in place, the electricity is in place, to be able to do the conversion,” for all restaurants in the state.

New Mexico has no pending proposals for a gasoline ban, but neither is it among those with preemptive laws in place. It ranks among the top 10 natural gas producing states in the country.

Echoing Gudejko’s concerns, Hutchinson said “we should go out and buy all the new equipment for our restaurants, we should revamp our kitchens”, if a ban were to be enacted. “It would be terribly expensive to make this conversion today.”

Although chefs can probably make the transition to induction over time, many have been trained to prepare food over an open flame, while the ability to control the size of that flame is crucial for some kitchens.

“These are people who are very, very good at their job. They are professionals. They understand the importance of the energy source they use to heat food and cook their food,” Hutchinson said.

“I think too often we quickly jump to these new ideas without understanding what’s really going on and what the real impact is,” Hutchinson added, suggesting that test cases could be done to better understand how the conversion might go. unroll.

“We have to be very, very careful not to go too fast.”