Our electricity went out during that last big storm. The winds had wracked a nearby power pole and a line snapped. PG&E responded well, its crew working through a night of howling rain while we “glamped” at home. Like pioneers, we read by candlelight and went to bed early. Our experience was far from hardship—almost fun—because our home has gas. We could cook, shower and even warm ourselves in front of a gas fireplace. Had the house been all-electric, we would have been without heat, hot water or warm food. Camping not glamping. And if we had a Tesla in the garage, we would have been walking to work.

We were not alone. During that storm, PowerOutage.us reported at one point that 224,630 customers were without power in California. Extreme weather was the cause: toppling trees, high winds and floods, not the oft-decried incompetence of utility companies. Given our climate, no utility will ever be able to assure continuous power in California. If you think the solution is undergrounding the state’s 33,000 miles of power lines, ask an electrical engineer about the costs and challenges involved in setting high voltage lines subsurface (they produce too much heat, damp soil is a highly conductive medium). Or simply research the reliability of underground lines versus traditional power lines. Or, if you happen to believe our recent apocalyptic weather was an aberration, you might consider joining those old Russian River hippies who somehow manage to express shock and awe every time they’re flooded out.

Our power grid is growing more fragile as we overtax it. Summer’s commonplace blackouts are sometimes attributable to wildfires, but as often merely to demand arising from heat waves. Even without population growth, the state’s power requirements are mushrooming as our citizenry acquires one electrical device after another. By way of small example, we typically provided our tenants with 100 amps when we started in retail forty years ago. Today, those same tenants demand 200-400 amps. Another example: older homes routinely carry just 100 amps; if a homeowner adds a charger for her Tesla, she will likely need to double her power to handle the 30-50 amps the car requires. It’s worth remembering that Governor Newsom has mandated that all new cars be electric as of 2035.

This then is the background against which more than fifty cities and counties throughout the state—Marin County the latest—have banned or severely discouraged natural gas hook-ups. Of course it started with Berkeley in 2019. This well-intentioned idea—clean power for all—spread like, well, wildfire, consuming the progressives in no time. It’s a lovely thought: clean electricity flowing from renewables—solar and wind. This may be our tomorrow, but it’s not our today. Because the sun shines less than half the time, winds fail and we have yet to devise the battery capacity to store renewables at scale, we still need a complete backup system of old school power plants. Even if renewables are our future, that clean electricity would still be delivered via power lines at the mercy of nature’s whims.

It’s not only electricity’s questionable reliability that should have our local governments reconsidering their natural gas ban, but its cost. While installing all-electric in a new home runs about the same as a traditional gas/electric system, its operating costs do not. According to the infallible internet, electricity is three to four times more expensive than natural gas. Outlawing gas is even worse for commercial buildings. Because of the significant upsizing all-electric systems need to power big buildings, the cost of design and installation for a building’s mechanical, electrical and plumbing systems runs about 10 percent more than gas.

Every new all-electric house and Tesla gobble that much more of the state’s occasionally inadequate supply of electricity. Given time enough and the political will, we could increase that capacity, but it would involve major projects: vast solar farms in the desert, wind farms that everyone wants somewhere else and, as a necessary backup: more gas-fired and perhaps nuclear power plants. We can add the power, but we cannot tame nature; the grid will always be vulnerable to weather.

There’s an old expression—perfect is the enemy of the good—that fits here. Until electricity is as plentiful, secure and inexpensive as natural gas, that is, until things are much closer to perfect, it’s little short of lunacy for our cities to shut off the gas.