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For some activists in Inner Southeast, 'natural gas' is just methane, and a greenhouse gas to be avoided

ELIZABETH USSHER GROFF - Woodstock resident Becky Luening lives in an all-electric home, and reports, I never thought I would want an electric stove, but induction stove tops are so different from the coil variety, and better even than [natural] gas, which I always preferred in the past.An agenda item entitled "Bringing Climate Change Home" first led to a discussion opposing use of natural gas for home heating and cooking at a recent virtual Board Meeting of the Woodstock Neighborhood Association (WNA).

Woodstock resident and WNA Board Member Pete Jacobsen had suggested the topic; Jacobsen had been known, during his service as a Board Member of the nonprofit Inner Southeast neighborhood coalition Southeast Uplift (SEUL), for being instrumental in implementing "green" improvements and repairs at SEUL.

At that WNA meeting, he said, "I think most Inner Southeast Portlanders are convinced that climate change is real, and doing something about it soon is vital. There are so many areas into which to consider putting our efforts that it is easy to just spin our wheels."

Jacobsen explained that he thinks we should be moving away from fossil fuels. "Few grasp that natural gas is methane, by itself a far worse contributor to climate change than carbon dioxide, and that it is apparently impossible to mine, capture, and distribute natural gas without significant leaks of pure methane into the atmosphere at every stage." Methane is known to be a big contributor to climate change, he said. It should be underlined that complete combustion of natural gas, or methane, converts the gas to water vapor and carbon dioxide – so those who use gas for heating or cooking are not automatically spewing methane from their appliances when gas is used for these purposes.

Given Jacobsen's enthusiasm about reducing fossil fuel usage in Inner Southeast Portland neighborhoods and his agenda item, one WNA member asked him how he heats his own home.

He conceded that his 1956 home is currently heated by natural gas; but he said he is researching ways to retrofit it to be all-electric, generated by "renewable energy". He added that he would like that to be a goal for other homes and buildings that are now powered by natural gas or oil. He speculates that furnace replacements might be made more affordable in the future with special financing or tax credits, so fossil-fuel-heated homes could change to electric heating.

When a WNA member pointed out that much of our electricity is generated by burning fossil fuels, his response was: "True, but the percentage goes down every year. Our local supplier, PGE, uses 25% 'renewable energy' right now, and is committed to 50% by 2022, just a year away."

In a follow-up e-mail discussion, WNA members explored the pros and cons of going "all electric". Based on sharing within the small group at the WNA meeting, the most common home energy system in these parts seems to be a hybrid gas-and-electric system, although some still do heat with oil. Some members thought it might be a steep climb to make a change, given the present energy-producing reality.

But a neighborhood discovery came through an e-mail discussion that made the ecological possibility seem more concrete and do-able. Woodstock resident and WNA member Becky Luening reported, "I just want to share that my home is all electric, a decision we made consciously eleven years ago for reasons similar to Pete's [Jacobsen]."

In fact, Luening's 1953 Mid-Century Modern Woodstock home was part of the 2010 City of Portland's "Build It Green" tour, featuring energy efficient homes. The home has a heat pump system, combined with a filtered forced-air distribution system, induction stove tops, a convection oven, and a solar panel. With the addition of solar panels and extra insulation, their home energy bill has dipped to as low as $10 in summer months.

Jacobsen and others on the WNA Board expressed a strong interest in continuing to explore what can be done locally, in neighbors' own homes and lives, to reduce energy consumption, reduce our ecological footprint, and slow global warming. As long as members are interested, the WNA board promises to provide a forum for these and other hot topics.

To learn more about natural gas/oil powered homes vs. all-electric, go to the WNA website – – click on Woodstock Neighborhood Association at the top, scroll down to "Fossil Fuel in Our Homes", and then click on "for more information about avoiding natural gas, click here", for an essay penned by Jacobsen on the subject.

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