New law curbing small gas motors affects portable generators, too

A man fires up a gasoline-powered generator to provide electricity to a trailer. (Photo: Virrage Images, via Shutterstock)

California’s first-in-the-nation law banning the sale of new gas-powered mowers and blowers also targets a machine that has become increasingly popular with consumers in recent years — portable generators.

As people face power blackouts — in areas where utilities have cut power to curb wildfire threats, for example — many have turned to generators as a backup energy source.

The new law, AB 1346 by Assemblymember Marc Berman (D-Palo Alto), was signed Oct. 9 by Gov. Newsom.

Berman’s bill requires the sale of new small off-road engines to be zero-emission by 2024, or when the Air Resources Board says the cutoff is feasible, whichever is later. “Small” means less than 25 horsepower, and portable gas-powered generators typically have half that level, or less.

Portable gas-powered generators would be phased out by 2028.

“AB 1346 does not affect stationary generators,”  Berman noted when the measure was signed. “This extension is designed to provide adequate time for manufacturers to develop cost-effective zero-emission portable generators that meet consumer needs during outages.”

A trade group that represents the manufacturers of the generators was skeptical.

“The use of other small off-road engine equipment is often discretionary and planned,” said Joseph Harding of the Portable Generator Manufacturing Association. “But when someone turns to a portable generator, it’s out of necessity. It’s to sustain life—keep food from spoiling, keep water available, to maintain communication with the outside world, even keep vital medical equipment operating.”

This bill also requires the state to make some $30 million in funding available to help landscaping and gardening businesses to make the transition to zero-emission equipment.

By one estimate, electric-powered lawn equipment shipped by North American manufacturers increased from 9 million units in 2015 to over 16 million units in 2020, while the overall market shifted from 32% to 44% electric.

What about electric power that may not be suitable for such devices as chain saws and power generators?

The determination, ultimately, may be left to the ARB.

Editor’s Note: Uriel Espinoza-Pacheco is a Capitol Weekly intern from The  Met Sacramento.

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