Community members push Council to support all-electric pool

Julie Reichle

The old Piedmont pools were drained of water in September.

While it hasn’t been decided whether the new Piedmont Community Pool will be heated with natural gas or by electric power, most of those who expressed opinions Monday night to the City Council encouraged the council to turn on the juice.

Heating large swimming pools using electricity is still fairly cutting edge, and relatively rare. But several people — some of them quite impassioned — told the council at its Monday meeting that it’s worth spending the extra upfront costs for the needed infrastructure in the name of environmental protection in the big picture, and to adhere to the city’s Climate Action Plan 2.0 on a more local level.

“We would be making a strong statement to the citizens of Piedmont of the necessity of electrifying,” Margaret Ovenden told the council. “If we could do it with a pool, people could certainly do it in their homes.” She called it the “modeling effect.”

For Piedmont to meet its CAP 2.0 greenhouse gas emission goals, natural gas use in all homes and buildings in the city will have to be significantly reduced, according to Alyssa Dykman, Piedmont’s sustainability program manager. The city’s now-closed old pool, she said, was by far the single largest CO2 emissions emitter among city-owned facilities, accounting for about 20 percent of such emissions in the entire city (residences account for the lion’s share).

If the new Community Pool Complex, which city leaders hope will open in 2024, is entirely powered by electricity – the pool, the building and lighting, etc. – there would be no on-site greenhouse gas emissions.

But upfront costs for an all-electric pool, at an estimated $1.6 million, would be about $600,000 higher than for a gas-heated pool, according to a city staff report. The cost savings with an all-electric system over 25 years would be $1 million more than if the pool were heated by gas.

About 80 percent of the pool project’s required energy would go to heating and pumping the pool water. 

There has been a push by local environmentalists and others to have the new Piedmont pool heated with electricity, via a heat pump system, instead of the more common natural-gas-fired pool heating system. Former Councilman Garrett Keating said Monday he considers an electric heating system a “sound investment now.”

Clarence Mamuyac, president and CEO of Berkeley-based ELS Architecture and Urban Design — which is doing the pool’s schematic design — and a consultant, Ted Tiffany, both told the council the technology to heat the pool using electricity is viable, if more expensive. Tiffany noted that some aspects, including the noise made by some of the equipment, would warrant further study and perhaps some tweaks after installation.

Council members, including Mayor Teddy Gray King and Conna McCarthy, said they would work to tap into possible state grant funding to help pay for electric heating technology. 

No decisions were made Monday about how the new pool’s water will be heated. But that, as well as downsized plans for the pool complex building to save money, will likely come to a vote at the council’s next meeting on April 4.

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