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East Campus may become California’s largest electrification project

East Campus Housing

East Campus housing

September 7, 2022

By Kera Abraham

Campus life may be on the brink of something electric. In an innovative pilot project, Pacific Gas & Electric (PG&E) is proposing to retire a natural gas pipeline – which now supplies about 1,200 units of student, staff, and faculty housing in East Campus – and electrify the neighborhood.

Electrification means replacing infrastructure that uses fossil fuels with alternatives that use electricity. If that electricity is generated with renewable sources like solar, wind, or hydroelectric power, electrification can significantly reduce the carbon dioxide emissions that drive climate change. According to PG&E, the project in East Campus would be the utility’s first neighborhood-scale electrification initiative and the largest in California. 

PG&E estimates the East Campus electrification project would reduce more than 5 million pounds of emissions, the equivalent of taking almost 500 gasoline-powered cars off the road for a year. 

This project is an important step toward achieving carbon neutrality by 2030, a goal in CSUMB’s Inclusive Sustainability Plan. A key strategy in the campus Master Plan is to replace natural gas with electricity in new and existing buildings. In addition to cutting emissions, the shift would improve indoor air quality and improve community safety. A 2022 study suggests electrification can address environmental injustice, too, as dangerous gas leaks happen more often in low-income neighborhoods and communities of color than in whiter and wealthier areas.

PG&E has identified the East Campus Housing gas infrastructure, inherited from the Army in 1994, as needing replacement over five phases. Phase-one gas system upgrades are currently in the planning stages 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 pivot to electrification.

“As California shifts to electrification, any new investments in natural gas infrastructure risks becoming a stranded asset. It would be like buying a fax machine in 1999,” says CSUMB Sustainability Director Lacey Raak. “Modernizing our infrastructure supports campus values and reduces pollution that causes climate change.”

To swap natural gas with electrons, PG&E would fund the replacement of all gas appliances in the affected East Campus housing units — including water heaters, stoves, ovens, and clothes dryers — with electric models. Electrification is estimated to cost PG&E about $17.2 million.

Last month, PG&E filed an application requesting the CPUC’s permission to use the gas pipeline repair funds for electrification instead. PG&E 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 permitting requirements, and coordinate with residents.