Agency to Study Oxnard Power Plant Alternatives

The manager of California’s electricity grid agreed to conduct a study of clean energy alternatives to replacing an existing natural gas facility in Oxnard with a new, more efficient fossil fuel plant.

In a five-page filing with state regulators on Friday, the California Independent System Operator asked for a deadline of Aug. 16 to complete the project. The California Energy Commission had initially given the system operator until July 19, if it chose to do the review of alternatives to the proposed Puente natural gas project near Mandalay State Beach.

Commissioners have scheduled a hearing for June 28.

The system operator’s decision to study the alternatives follows hundreds of filings over the past week from residents near the power plant site, many urging the energy commission to reject any plan to build a new natural gas plant in the already heavily industrialized community.

A similar review is underway by the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power, which is deciding whether to spend $2.2 billion to renovate existing power plants in the L.A. basin or use clean energy to meet demand. That study is expected to be completed in the first quarter of 2018.

The studies mean that a handful of proposed fossil fuel plants could get scrapped in favor of renewable energy.

A Los Angeles Times investigation earlier this year found that power plants are closing prematurely in the state because of a glut of electricity. Yet regulators continue to approve more natural gas plants.

Members of the electricity grid operator’s board of governors decided in May to propose a study of clean alternatives to the proposed Puente natural gas plant.

California has mandated that 50% of its electricity must come from clean energy sources such as solar and wind power by 2030. Senate Leader Kevin de Leon has proposed legislation to move to 100% clean energy by 2045.

Critics of the proposed natural gas projects argue that adding more fossil fuel facilities doesn’t make sense when solar, wind and energy storage have become viable alternatives to plants that emit greenhouse gases.

Agency to Study Oxnard Power Plant AlternativesVentura County Star, June 17, 2017.

 

Santa Barbara County Energy Choice Forum

On June 7, 2017, Santa Barbara County Energy Choice held a Community Choice Energy forum at Faulkner Gallery in the Santa Barbara Public Library.

This free public event was hosted by Santa Barbara Energy Choice and included the following speakers,

Cathy DeFalco from Lancaster Choice Energy, J.R Killigrew from Marin Clean Energy, Joe Galliani from South Bay Clean Power Advisory Committee, Jennifer Cregar from the County of Santa Barbara, and Gary Gero from the County of Los Angeles.

Please click here to check out videos and materials presented during the forum.

Santa Barbara Becomes 30th US City to Commit to 100% Renewable Energy

SANTA BARBARA, Calif. – The City of Santa Barbara has become the 30th city in the United States to commit to a transition to 100 clean and renewable energy.

Santa Barbara is the first city on the Central Coast to make the bold commitment to transition to 100 percent renewable energy by 2030 and transition all municipal buildings and operations to 50 percent clean energy by 2020.

“President Trump may be withdrawing the U.S. from the Paris Climate Accord, but cities are stepping up and re-committing to adopt, honor and uphold the Paris climate goals. I’m proud that Santa Barbara just adopted a 100% renewable energy goal and is joining other cities across the nation leading the way on clean energy at the local level,” said Mayor Helene Schneider.

“Renewable energy costs have decreased dramatically and are now cost competitive with fossil fuels, and Santa Barbara County already has eight times more jobs in clean energy and energy efficiency than in the oil industry. The transition to 100 percent clean energy represents a better and more prosperous path forward for our community,” said Katie Davis, chair of the Sierra Club’s Santa Barbara Group.

Other California cities to commit to 100 percent renewable energy include San Diego, San Francisco, South Lake Tahoe, Del Mar and Palo Alto.

Santa Barbara Becomes 30th US City to Commit to 100% Renewable Energy, by Newsroom Staff, KEYT, June 7, 2017.

Could an Offshore Wind Farm in SLO County Hurt Endangered Whales?

Two companies are eyeing the Central Coast as a promising location for the first offshore wind farm on the West Coast — a move that concerns conservationists and the local fishing industry.

Their fears? Miles of underwater cables could trap whales. Constant underwater noise might interrupt sea life navigation and communication. Birds could be killed by spinning windmill blades, and access could be lost to large swaths of fishing grounds for black cod and swordfish.

Federal waters off the Central Coast may be leased to an energy company as soon as next year. A meeting held in San Luis Obispo this month about the effort to identify a potential area for offshore energy projects drew 100 people. Another public meeting is planned for June.

“We’re at the very beginning stages of planning,” said John Romero, public affairs officer for the Pacific Region of the U.S. Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, which held the meeting.

What would a wind farm look like?

In California, deep water near shore would require companies to use floating wind turbines that would be anchored to the sea floor with a network of mooring and anchoring cables.

offshore wind how it works

Energy captured by offshore wind turbines on the Central Coast would be transmitted by cable to shore, where it could connect to California’s grid through either the Morro Bay Power Plant or the Diablo Canyon nuclear power plant, which is scheduled to close in 2025. Floating turbines would be connected by cables and anchored to the ocean floor. U.S. Bureau of Ocean Energy Management

Trident Winds LLC last year proposed to lease about 50 square miles to install 100 floating wind turbines that would generate 7 to 8 megawatts of energy. The area is on the southwest border of the Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary, about 26 miles off the shore of Point Estero in water 2,600 to 3,300 feet deep.

Statoil Wind US, LLC has told federal regulators that it’s interested in the same area asTrident.

In response to Trident’s proposal, various organizations have expressed concern about potential impacts. Among their concerns:

▪  Underwater cables have the potential to entangle or alter migration patterns of marine mammals, including endangered species like the blue, gray and humpback whales that have been seen in the area, the Center for Biological Diversity said in a letter to BOEM.

Environmental groups have called for more research about seabird and marine activity in the area, as well as the effects of turbines on birds, underwater sound generated by turbines, and the introduction of electromagnetic fields on marine organisms.

▪  The Santa Ynez Band of Mission Indians Tribal Elders Council opposed the lease requestbecause of the unknown impacts of wind turbines on an important ceremonial location in the area.

▪  The World Shipping Council said there is significant commercial shipping activity in the area proposed by Trident, saying that “placing wind energy facilities too close to maritime traffic routes would risk the safe navigation of vessels.”

▪  The fishing industry could lose access to large swaths of ocean, particularly if the federal government sells a lease to more than one area for wind development. A second wind farm could connect to the Diablo Canyon nuclear power plant, which is scheduled to close in 2025. It’s unlikely that fishing would be allowed in or around the wind farms.

“Physically, it would be impossible,” said Jeremiah O’Brien, vice president of the Morro Bay Commercial Fishermen’s Organization.

Studies and data to answer concerns are being gathered and public participation is encouraged. No offshore leases would be issued until environmental studies and analysis are done under the National Environmental Policy Act.

Explore maps and share information on the California Offshore Wind Energy Gateway at https://caoffshorewind.databasin.org/

Could an Offshore Wind Farm in SLO County Hurt Endangered Whales?, by Monica Vaughan, The Tribune, April 27, 2017.

Bruce McPherson: Community energy on its way

May 3 was a momentous day for our region when representatives of Monterey Bay Community Power (MBCP) met as the first tri-county Community Choice Energy (CCE) agency in California. MBCP will oversee the most impactful environmental strategy local governments can take to meet established state and regional climate goals.

Elected and administrative representatives from Monterey, San Benito and Santa Cruz counties, as well as 16 cities therein, met officially in Marina to formulate an electricity deliverance system which will at least double our reliance renewable resources (solar, wind and biomass) in the future. With a population of more than 750,000, this tri-county region stands to carry the largest electricity peak load at 660 megawatts-plus of any CCE in California.

This is a “four-win” energy efficiency program. In addition to (1) doubling our reliance on renewable energy resources, our four-year study and review of other CCEs in the state show that (2) this can be done at rate parity or less, (3) provide local governance among our 19 county-city government participants and (4) create numerous local jobs as it is implemented.

Forming Community Choice Energy (sometimes referred to as Community Choice Aggregation) agencies was authorized by California state legislation in 2001 and amended in 2011. The state subsequently established 2030 as the year to meet some strict climate action/strategy goals; with MBCP, we may be able to reach our goals on clean electricity production 10 years ahead of that date.

CCEs are funded through customers paying their electricity bills, not taxes. Ratepayer money stays local and being a larger, tri-county agency should drive down costs of procuring electricity.

Through my Santa Cruz County Board of Supervisors office, this effort began four years ago. Not enough praise can be made for the 15-member Project Development Advisory Committee (PDAC) who over 28 public meetings worked tirelessly in exploring program viability and structural options on whether this tri-county proposal was feasible. The answer was “yes.” Numerous staff and volunteers also were of tremendous assistance, as well as the established CCEs in Marin and Sonoma counties.

It’s also noteworthy that not one dollar of general fund money from any county or city was tapped to conduct the PDAC’s necessary Technical Feasibility Study. While some CCEs spent $700,000 or more in forming their agency, we raised more than $400,000 through the California Strategic Growth Council ($344,000), nonprofit partner Community Foundation of Santa Cruz County ($25,000), World Wildlife Fund ($30,000), UCSC Carbon Fund ($5,000), and others.

Our sincere thanks to each of them.

As for PG&E, we will partner with them as they continue in transmission/distribution, repair and customer service (billing). Other special rate charges such as CARE, Medical Baseline and other programs for low-income households remain in place.

With MBCP oversight from Policy (elected officials) and Program (administrators) Committees in the months ahead, we now anticipate that our agency will be up and running in spring 2018. Next year, customers will have three chances to opt out of MBCP if they wish.

It has taken some time to establish Monterey Bay Community Power, but for environmental and economic reasons, it has been worth the wait. Clean, community energy is on its way in our tri-county region.

Santa Cruz County 5th District Supervisor Bruce McPherson is interim chair of Monterey Bay Community Power.

Bruce McPherson: Community energy on its way, by Bruce McPherson, Monterey Herald, May 13, 2017.

PUC Judge Rejects Southern California Edison Bid to Refurbish Ellwood Peaker Plant

A California Public Utilities Commission judge has ruled against a Southern California Edison proposal to refurbish a natural-gas-powered “peaker” plant in Goleta that would have extended the facility’s lifespan by 30 years.

Administrative Law Judge Regina DeAngelis wrote in a non-binding ruling that other regional power-generators can better provide the extra energy resiliency the CPUC wants for the area, and that the plant may not be the most environmentally friendly source of emergency power during a local blackout.

“The record reflects that Ellwood is a highly polluting resource permitted to emit as much as 103.59 pounds per hour of nitrogen oxide — which is over 20 times the normal emission rate of a modern peaking unit with modern emission controls,” she wrote.

The April 7 decision is intended “to give the commission additional time to explore whether any approved need in the Santa Barbara/Goleta area can be met in a manner more consistent with the Commission’s goals of reduced reliance on fossil fuel.”

The facility, which sits on the east side of Las Armas Road in western Goleta, serves as a peaker plant, meaning it kicks on when there is a peak need on the electrical power grid.

Edison, which operates it under a short-term contract with NRG Energy, applied in 2014 to refurbish the 44-year-old combustion turbines to extend their lifespan by 30 years, to 2048.

The proposal includes a 10-year contract calling for NRG to operate the plant under Edison’s direction.

Edison spokesman Robert Laffoon-Villegas told Noozhawk that the utility company is seeking “to continue operations at the Ellwood facility to be able to provide safe electrical grid operations in the event that high-voltage transmission lines are not available to serve the greater Santa Barbara area.”

DeAngelis’ ruling, however, does not carry any force behind it; it will only become binding if the 5-member California Public Utilities Commission votes to adopt it, likely at a meeting next month.

In 2013, the CPUC asked Edison to acquire new sources of power that would add between 215 and 290 megawatts to the Moorpark sub-area by 2021. The area is a portion of a greater local-reliability area that includes southern Santa Barbara County.

Edison wanted to use the peaker plant to help meet this long-term capacity and reliability requirement, though the independent organization that oversees California’s bulk electric-power system considered it an existing source, according to DeAngelis.

Edison’s search for new sources was supposed to only include facilities that would generate that power through new or additional capacity, something the CPUC views as critical to a “level playing field among bidders.” Ellwood would not utilize what’s called “incremental capacity.”

Other approved power sources such as the upcoming Puente Project in Oxnard added up to enough power to meet the 215-290-megawatt requirement, she said.

Ellwood’s 54 megawatts would put Edison well over the 290-megawatt maximum, which was derived from the maximum costs the CPUC thinks ratepayers should be on the hook for.

Edison proposed, however, that serving the Santa Barbara and Goleta area presented unique geographic challenges to providing power during an emergency, which it said warranted the extra resiliency afforded by a refurbished peaker plant.

DeAngelis conceded that the South Coast would likely face rolling blackouts should two 230 kilovolt lines go down, but declined to examine the argument closely because it relies on a power-reliability standard not used by the CPUC and other agencies and organizations.

She called such an incident rare, and said there were likely other preferable solutions that could serve that emergency purpose.

On top of that, the plant is only permitted to operate 380 hours a year, which totals 16 full-days of power during a long blackout.

That’s not long enough, DeAngelis concluded — especially if the plant has used most or all of those hours before the 230-kilovolt lines go down.

“We further find that no reliability need justifies approval of the Ellwood contract,” DeAngelis wrote.

She also noted that many surrounding residents were not keen on keeping the at-times noisy facility around.

It isn’t certain how long the plant would last without the maintenance and equipment replacement needed to avoid decommissioning, Laffoon-Villegas said.

“As the facility started operation in 1973, it is reasonable to believe capital upgrades are necessary to extend the operational life of the Ellwood facility for any significant amount of time,” he said.

PUC Judge Rejects Southern California Edison Bid to Refurbish Ellwood Peaker Plant, by Sam Goldman, Noozhawk, April 24, 2017.

UC Santa Barbara students kick off project to create program evaluation tool for Community Choice agencies and stakeholders

Awarded scholarships to attend Business of Local Energy Symposium

Previously announced in the Center for Climate Protection’s e-news, in late March a group project entitled “Developing a Toolkit to Optimize Community Choice Energy Programs,” initiated by a group of UC Santa Barbara students in the Bren School of Environmental Science & Management, was selected for support by the school. On April 14th a kick-off meeting was held among the participants including the Center for Climate Protection.

To be completed in the spring of 2018, project deliverables under consideration include:

  • An Excel-based interactive Community Choice program evaluation tool
  • A list of appropriate or “best fit” practices with descriptions and real-world examples where available
  • A user-friendly public-facing website “dashboard” with above-mentioned deliverables and possibly a wiki section where Community Choice agencies and stakeholders can share information and ideas

The students will also produce a final written report, policy brief, poster and oral presentation.

Some of the questions to be answered by the proposed project include: What are the possible costs and benefits of Community Choice agency programs, policies, and projects meant to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and rates/costs? What can be done to minimize costs and maximize benefits? How can a community or existing agency know what program design and practices will work best for it?

Erica Petrofsky, one of the initiators of the project said that “my teammates and I are elated to be working with the Center for Climate Protection to help the environment and communities in California and beyond. Each of us applied to be on this project team due to our individual interests in greening the energy sector, the economics of energy, and local ways to take action. For me, this is an opportunity to gain expertise and get involved in the promising area of Community Choice Energy. It’s the perfect Bren School group project to prepare me for the career I hope to pursue.”

The Bren School has earned a reputation as one of the top schools of its kind in the nation. It is among a handful of schools in the U.S. — and the only one in the West — that integrate science, management, law, economics, and policy as part of an interdisciplinary approach to environmental problem solving.

More recently, two of the four students in the group project, Erica and Symphony, were awarded scholarships to attend the Business of Local Energy Symposium in Long Beach on May 5. This will be an opportunity for a full day of immersion in all things Community Choice, as well as an opportunity for the students to meet many of the people involved in day-to-day Community Choice operations, and vice versa.

We will post occasional updates as milestones are reached so be sure to check your CPX e-news!

King City Backs out of Monterey Bay CCE

A hugely popular renewable energy program sounds like nothing but fun in the sun to most government leaders, but a couple communities are now signaling they may pass on the chance to join the party.

King City and Del Rey Oaks are the only two municipalities out of 21 that have voted not to join Monterey Bay Community Power (MBCP), a green alternative to Pacific Gas & Electric (PG&E) that will begin auto-enrolling customers this summer.

While grassroots efforts have convinced Del Rey Oaks council members to re-agendize the matter later this month, King City’s majority sounds like a much firmer no. That isn’t stopping King City Mayor Pro-Tem Carlos Victoria, one of the two votes in favor of joining MBCP last month, from trying to get it back on the agenda.

“MBCP is already established, and will be productive,” says Victoria. “Everyone’s doing it, and there has to be a reason for that.”

Seventeen municipalities, including Santa Cruz, have voted to sign on so far, and their residents should be receiving cheaper and greener electricity by spring of 2018, proponents of community choice energy (CCE) say. Two other outstanding municipalities, Carmel and Pacific Grove, have votes coming up.

While he researched alternatives to MBCP, King City Mayor Mike LeBarre came across Lancaster’s single-city CCE model in Southern California and suddenly felt inspired enough to create the state’s smallest CCE program. “Even though we’re a small little town, we are trying to reduce our costs and address environmental issues,” says LeBarre.

Virginia Johnson, project manager for MBCP, says the group formed to reduce costs of electricity, while addressing reducing greenhouse gas emissions. Compared to MBCP, King City’s CCE program will be more expensive for ratepayers and offer significantly less renewables.

While MBCP plans to start its program at least 3 percent cheaper than PG&E, King City will be only 1.5 percent cheaper, according to government reports. And while MBCP plans to offer ratepayers renewable options of 50-60 percent and 100 percent during its first year, King City would offer just a 35 percent renewable package—the same as PG&E. King City would also shoulder massive administrative costs, instead of sharing them with MBCP, a nonprofit.

The company that would likely set up King City’s CCE, Pilot Power, has never run such a program, and got sued for breach of contract in March 2015. During a Feb. 28 presentation to the King City Council, even Pilot Power indicated that the size of King City is smaller than optimal, and that the city should partner with other jurisdictions to save on costs.

If it were to join MBCP, LeBarre says King City’s influence and bargaining power in the group would be tiny, especially because the Monterey County town has a population of just 13,000 people.

The other—and perhaps primary—reason for splitting off is that the city could use a portion of surplus revenue for unrelated projects, like installing LED or solar street lights, whereas all of MBCP’s surplus revenue will go toward reducing rates and expanding its renewable portfolio.

Daniel Nelson, director of government affairs for Santa Cruz-based GreenPower, questions LeBarre’s motives, and equates King City’s justification to a tax levied on citizens without asking.

“They want to have a pot of money that doesn’t benefit the ratepayer and is effectively a tax on residents,” says Nelson. “They’re thinking of CCE as a way to generate money for things besides benefiting ratepayers.”

King City Backs out of Monterey Bay CCE, by Ardy Raghian, Good Times, April 19, 2017.

King City May Consider Its Own Energy Program

The King City Council has decided to look outside of Monterey Bay Community Power and consider the feasibility of establishing an independent community choice energy program.

The Community Choice Energy (CCE) or Aggregation (CCA) becomes the electric power provider and PG&E continues to transmit and bill the power. Customers can opt out of the program and continue to receive their power directly from PG&E.

The Council chose between two options on March 28, either joining the Monterey Bay Community Power Joint Powers Authority or to form its own city CCE by contracting with an outside operator.

“Staff is recommending that further study on looking into forming our own CCE,” City Manager Steve Adams said. “We are a proponent of the Monterey Bay Community Power program … and we applaud those that have organized this effort.”

Although Monterey Bay Community Power had the advantages of is it is ready to go and in place, feasibility studies are complete, the city staff was pretty confident that the program would be successful the city staff and city council decided to pursue another direction.

“At this point they do not have a specific adopted plan on how exactly the savings will be spent,” Adams said. “That will be determined when they seat their boards.”

With the recent violence, the Council members wanted to see the extra savings from lower rates used for street lighting; however, when representatives of Monterey Bay Community Power plead their case, they said the savings would be passed onto the consumers.

“The key advantage of pursuing or forming our own CCE is that the city would be able to decide and control where the savings would be directed,” Adams said. “Staff has developed a specific proposal on how we would recommend those savings be directed so that the council, the community could see specifically what the potential benefits of this program could be.”

The City Staff proposal according to Adams would be to dedicate one-third of the savings to reducing customer rates, one-third to clean energy and energy efficiency projects, and one-third to installation and operation of new street lights.

“If you take the projections using the feasibility study, on average savings generated over a seven year period that would mean approximately a 1.5 percent overall rate reduction.”

The number would be different based on customer usage.

The City is proposing to partner with agencies that participate in similar programs to set up a program to award solar panel improvements to low-income families, non-profit agencies, schools, and other entities that provide public benefit.

The idea to form an individual CCE was supported by Mayor Mike Lebarre, Council Members Darlene Acosta and Carlos DeLeon. Mayor Pro-Tem Carlos Victoria and Council Member Robert Cullen were in favor of joining the larger JPA with Monterey Bay Community Power.

City May Consider Its Own Energy Program, by Samantha Bengtson, The King City Rustler, April 13, 2017.

Battery Storage Facility Proposed for Santa Paula

Santa Paula could soon be on the frontline of an emerging trend in energy storage: putting power into large batteries to use in an emergency or when electricity supplies run low.

Folsom-based ZGlobal Power Engineering and Energy Solutions has applied to the city of Santa Paula for a permit to build a battery storage facility at 132 N. 13th St., next to a Southern California Edison substation just north of the city’s Main Street. The project would consist of up to 20 large, self-contained batteries charged by an acre of solar panels placed above them, city planning consultant Chris Williamson said.

Power from the solar panels would be stored in the batteries until Edison needs to use it, Williamson said. That could happen because of energy shortages elsewhere in the grid, or because of a disruption to the region’s electricity infrastructure, such as from a forest fire or earthquake.

“This is a backup,” Williamson said. “It is a benefit in the sense that, should there be some regional power problem, that facility would kick in, and because it’s connected to the local grid right there, the power would immediately go out to the houses and the people.”

ZGlobal initially plans to build storage capacity to power about 5,000 households for at least four hours. Once expanded to the full capacity, it could power 20,000 households for that time period, said Pedro Nava, a ZGlobal consultant and former state Assembly member.

The project is anticipated to cost between $15 million and $20 million, which would be privately funded, he said.

Battery storage represents a new and growing trend in California, fueled by swift advances in technology and a push by the state to plug vulnerabilities in the energy grid. The Santa Paula project is unusual because it uses solar panels. ZGlobal recently opened a battery storage facility in El Centro, but that location stores power from a neighboring gas-fired plant, Nava said.

“This is clearly the advent of a new direction,” he said. “Solar panels are non-emissive, they are relatively easy to maintain, and they are very efficient. And so you have the benefits of generating power with a solar panel that doesn’t pollute the environment, and then storing that energy in batteries that don’t pollute the environment, and so it is better for the community as a whole.”

The project is under environmental review and is expected to go before the city’s planning commission in late May or June, Williamson said, adding that if the commission grants a permit, construction would likely begin later in the year.

It’s not clear what impact, if any, the battery facility might have on the approval chances of a separate proposal by Calpine Corp. to build a natural-gas fired “peaker plant” two miles west of Santa Paula. That plant would supply power to the grid during times of peak demand. The project, under review by the California Energy Commission, has faced widespread criticism from the community and city officials, who maintain it will be an eyesore and harmful to health and the environment.

Williamson said the peaker plant would be much larger and supply power to a broader area than the battery storage facility. It also could provide electricity indefinitely, whereas the batteries would run out of energy after a period of time and need to be recharged, he said.

Even so, Nava said the growth in battery storage solutions could lead to a decline in gas-fired peaker plants over the long run, even if it doesn’t impact Santa Paula directly.

“Fundamentally, the more energy that we have available in battery projects like this one, the less need there’ll be for those dirty, polluting peaker plants,” he said.

Battery Storage Facility Proposed for Santa Paula, by Claudia Boyd-Barrett, Ventura County Star, April 13, 2017.