DOE’s newest attempt to ban low-carbon fuels through “Zero Emissions Building Definition” limits consumer options and threatens reliability 

WASHINGTON – A new “National Definition of a Zero Emissions Building” announced by the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) would prohibit onsite combustion of fuels in future building construction. The definition, intended to provide industry guidance to support new buildings moving toward zero emissions, rules out the use of natural gas with carbon capture and other low- or zero- carbon fuels, including renewable natural gas, hydrogen, and other biofuels in any building codes that adopt DOE’s definition of zero-emissions. The final definition can only be met using all-electric applications. 

According to two recent studies conducted at the behest of DOE by the National Petroleum Council, natural gas and its delivery system will continue to play a crucial role in energy security and an important role in economic security beyond 2050 under all modeled scenarios and are an important component of achieving emissions reduction goals. Additionally, the American Gas Association’s own Net-Zero Emissions Opportunities for Gas Utilities study found that pathways that utilize natural gas and the vast utility delivery infrastructure to incorporate renewable and low-carbon gases provide optionality for stakeholders, help minimize customer impacts, maintain high reliability, improve overall energy system resilience, and accelerate emissions reductions. 

“Natural gas utilities have a proven track record of reducing GHG emissions. AGA and its members are committed to reducing GHG emissions through smart innovation, new and modernized infrastructure and advanced technologies that maintain reliable, resilient, and cost-effective consumer energy  choices,” said American Gas Association President and CEO Karen Harbert. “DOE’s definition of a zero-emissions building puts the federal government’s thumb on the scale by mandating electrification which will ultimately limit options for zero-emissions buildings, making it more challenging to attain ambitious emissions goals.” 

AGA submitted comments in response to DOE’s Request for Information on a “National Definition for Zero Emissions Buildings.” DOE ignored these and other stakeholder comments calling for a fuel-neutral approach that aims to reduce total emissions.  

DOE’s proposed definition lacks robust analytical backing, disincentivizes innovation and avoids consideration of energy reliability. Under the proposed definition, essential options like natural gas and other fuels would be excluded from the building sector’s future solutions. Furthermore, emerging technologies, particularly those involving carbon capture, storage, and utilization at the building site, would be ineligible under the DOE’s current proposal despite their potential contributions.  

AGA strongly supports expanding access to renewable gases to help accelerate widespread accessibility and adoption of renewable and low-carbon energy sources. The natural gas system can store and deliver renewable energy derived from various sources and is a critical tool for reaching GHG reduction goals. The pace of emissions reductions is poised to accelerate as natural gas utilities continue to improve the efficiency of their systems and expanded use of advanced technologies like renewable natural gas and low-emissions hydrogen. 

There is substantial evidence in current research that demonstrates a long-term role for natural gas and other fuels in achieving ambitious environmental goals, including decarbonization and net-zero emissions by mid-century. In November 2023, GTI Energy’s ‘Designs for Net-Zero Energy Systems’ report, a meta-analysis of U.S. economy-wide decarbonization studies, concluded that natural gas and liquids remain integral in all building sector scenarios achieving net-zero emissions by 2050. 

Additionally, AGA’s Implications of Policy Driven Residential Electrification study found that policy-driven electrification would increase the average residential household-energy related costs and would require significant investments in electricity infrastructure. According to the study, total costs would increase between $590 billion to $1.2 trillion depending on the power generation scenario, or $15,830 to $21,140 per household on average over the lifetime of the heating equipment.