Jerry Brown’s Western Grid Plan Is Dead in Sacramento, at Least for Now

Gov. Jerry Brown’s grand plan to bring Wyoming wind power to California and export solar power to neighboring states won’t get a vote in Sacramento before the legislative session ends Friday, following opposition from ratepayer watchdogs, labor unions, the utility industry, community choice advocates and even some environmental groups.

Assemblymember Chris Holden, a Pasadena Democrat who chairs the Assembly’s energy committee, said his legislation to make good on Brown’s plan is being tabled until next year. In a statement, Holden said lawmakers “will continue our work on the issues over the fall and likely revisit it in the second half of this two-year session.”

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Jerry Brown’s Western Grid Plan Is Dead in Sacramento, at Least for Now, by Sammy Roth, The Desert Sun, September 13, 2017.

Energy Bill Could ‘Squash’ Coachella Valley’s Plans to Ditch SoCal Edison, Critics Say

Coachella Valley governments have been working to give homes and businesses an alternative energy provider to Southern California Edison — but a last-minute bill in Sacramento could bring those efforts to a screeching halt, critics say.

Local government agencies have been working to form a community choice aggregator, or CCA, which would allow participating cities to ditch Edison and buy electricity directly from power providers. The goal is to reduce electricity rates and increase the valley’s use of climate-friendly solar energy, which is abundant in the sunny California desert. When a CCA forms, investor-owned utilities like Edison still operate the transmission system and sometimes send out the electricity bills, but they don’t play any other role.

Palm Springs and Cathedral City have already voted to join the CCA being developed by the Coachella Valley Association of Governments, and city councils in Desert Hot Springs and Palm Desert could vote in the next few weeks. Riverside County is working on plans for its own CCA, which would cover unincorporated parts of the county.

But as community choice has gotten more popular, utilities have grown alarmed about the perceived threat to their business model. And now a bill in Sacramento — being debated during the final week of the legislative session, which ends Friday — could undermine the economics of forming a CCA, critics say, threatening community choice initiatives in the Coachella Valley, Los Angeles County, San Diego and elsewhere.

The bill from Assemblymember Chris Holden, D-Pasadena, is designed to speed up the development of solar and wind farms in time to take advantage of federal tax credits that are set to decline over the next few years. The bill would require large utilities to buy additional renewable energy by the end of 2018, beyond what state law currently mandates, in amounts to be determined by the California Public Utilities Commission.

Some CCA advocates say those additional purchases would hamper community choice. That’s because when local governments form CCAs, customers are still required to pay monthly “exit fees” to their former utility, to cover the cost of long-term power purchase contracts the utility had signed based on expected power demand.

If utilities sign additional solar and wind contracts next year to take advantage of federal tax credits, customers of newly formed CCAs could be stuck paying for that energy through their exit fees. Those additional costs would “effectively freeze development of CCAs,” the California Community Choice Association wrote in a letter to Holden over the weekend.

RELATED: California energy bill might also support Salton Sea geothermal

Part of the reason some community choice advocates are concerned is because they think renewable energy is more expensive now than if utilities wait a few more years.

“Every calculation is different. Every community choice program is different, has different economics. But at the end of the day, that much power being procured at the price right now… it would just squash community choice,” said Nicole Capretz, executive director of the Climate Action Campaign, which has lobbied for community choice in San Diego.

California’s big investor-owned utilities also oppose the bill, but for a different reason.

The utilities say the required purchases aren’t needed to meet California’s current target of 50 percent renewable energy by 2030, and may lead to higher-than-necessary energy costs for customers. In a letter to Holden, they wrote that “even the possibility of expiring tax credits does not justify a procurement mandate when it is unclear that such a mandate is the least-cost manner in which to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.”

“Costs for renewable energy have continually fallen over the last several years. It is possible that future procurement, even with lower tax credits, could still be cheaper than procurement today,” the utilities wrote in the letter, which was signed by executives from Southern California Edison, San Diego Gas & Electric and Pacific Gas & Electric.

The main purpose of Holden’s bill is to allow California to expand its power grid across the western United States — a controversial proposal whose supporters see it as a way to share renewable energy across state lines and save billions of dollars for California consumers, and whose critics fear it will actually lead to higher costs and a greater reliance on coal-fired power plants in the West. Gov. Jerry Brown favors the idea. But labor unions have fought it, since it would lead to California importing more clean energy from other states, which could mean fewer jobs building solar and wind farms here.

The provisions to speed up solar and wind development are designed in part to mollify unions, by giving them a guarantee of more construction jobs over the next few years.

READ MORE: California lawmakers debate western grid plan in 11th hour of session

Many renewable energy advocates see that accelerated development as a boon for California ratepayers — and not something community choice supporters should be especially concerned about. In a letter last week to state Sen. Ben Hueso, a San Diego Democrat who chairs the Senate’s energy and utilities committee, a coalition of environmental groups and renewable energy companies said continued declines in the cost of solar and wind “will not compensate for the loss of the federal tax discount.”

The letter was signed by the Environmental Defense Fund and the Clean Power Campaign, whose backers include the Natural Resources Defense Council, Environment California, the developer EDF Renewable Energy and Warren Buffett-owned Berkshire Hathaway Energy Company.

READ MORE: Why federal tax credits for renewable energy are going away

Preliminary data released by California Public Utilities Commission staff in July, meant to help inform long-term planning decisions, found that Californians could save $633 million if utilities buy an extra 4,000 megawatts of solar and wind before 2020, when the solar investment tax credit begins to drop and the wind production tax credit disappears.

In the Coachella Valley, community choice could bring significant economic benefits while boosting reliance on climate-friendly energy, a goal of many local officials.

A study prepared last year by EES Consulting found that a community choice program run by the Coachella Valley Association of Governments could offer a 50 percent renewable energy mix while cutting electricity costs by 2.1 percent in 2018. CVAG could also give customers the option of a 100 percent renewable energy mix, which the study estimates would cost 6 percent more than the electricity provided by Edison in 2018.

Those numbers could change slightly depending on how many customers the CCA has.

Officials in Rancho Mirage — who have feuded with CVAG over the CV Link project — voted earlier this year to explore forming their own CCA. Indian Wells also put consideration of community choice on hold last week. The east valley cities of Coachella, Indio and La Quinta wouldn’t be eligible to join because they’re served by the publicly owned Imperial Irrigation District, rather than investor-owned SoCal Edison.

That leaves the possibility of a four-city CCA involving Palm Springs, Cathedral City, Palm Desert and Desert Hot Springs, which would have nearly 113,000 customers.

READ MORE: Will Riverside County ditch Southern California Edison?

Riverside County’s proposed CCA would save homes and businesses in unincorporated areas nearly $8 million annually, according to a study commissioned by the county. The average home would save between $50 and $55 annually, the study found.

County supervisors could vote to move forward with community choice as soon as next week, after which the county would file a CCA application with the California Public Utilities Commission. CVAG hopes to file an application this year and launch its program next summer, according to Katie Barrows, CVAG’s director of environmental resources.

Homes and businesses would have the chance to opt out if they want to stick with Edison.

“The Coachella Valley is burdened with extremely high energy bills, and one benefit of a CCA is the opportunity for competitive and possibly lower electricity rates,” Barrows said.

The Western Riverside Council of Governments is also working on a community choice program with plans to launch next year. CVAG has had talks with Riverside County and the western riverside council about forming a joint program, which could lead to lower costs all around due to the economies of scale of buying electricity in bulk. But at least so far, the three government agencies have chosen to move forward separately.

There are already nine community choice programs operating in California, according to Shalini Swaroop, deputy general counsel for one of those CCAs, Marin Clean Energy. The trend started in the Bay Area but has slowly moved downstate, with the desert cities of Lancaster and Apple Valley launching CCAs in 2015 and 2017, respectively.

More CCAs are in the works, as local governments look for ways to reduce electricity rates and switch from planet-warming fossil fuels to clean energy faster than utilities are required to by state law. Swaroop said she expects at least six CCAs to launch in the next year, including a Los Angeles County program whose initial members will include the cities of Calabasas, Rolling Hills Estates, South Pasadena and West Hollywood.

Those CCAs might have trouble launching if they’re forced to help pay for the solar and wind energy utilities would be required to buy under Holden’s bill, Swaroop said.

“Any community choice aggregator that wanted to launch that was subject to these fees would probably have a significant delay in order to determine how these fees would affect their costs to ratepayers,” she said.

Energy Bill Could ‘Squash’ Coachella Valley’s Plans to Ditch SoCal Edison, Critics Say, by Sammy Roth, The Desert Sun, September 12, 2017

Apple Valley Choice Energy Prompts Thousands of Customer Calls

APPLE VALLEY — The center that supports customers of the town’s new energy program fielded 14,843 calls between February and August as residents sought answers to questions about their electric bills and Apple Valley Choice Energy (AVCE) itself, according to official data.

Additionally, 2,005 residents decided against AVCE before an April 1 launch that made the town the default electric provider for the region’s third-largest municipality. That equates to a 7 percent opt-out rate, a figure that has since jumped to 9.4 percent as another 647 left the program after implementation.

The calls —another 12,434 were fielded directly by agents — prompted an update on the program during the Town Council’s Aug. 8 meeting during which Public Services Manager Joseph Moon attempted to clear up confusion and allay any concern related to the statistics.

Moon prefaced a comparison of bills before and after AVCE’s launch by saying most customers are “comfortable with” and “appreciate” the program, but he added that the thousands of calls are to be expected because AVCE was only recently rolled out.

“The first page of the Edison bill before (the launch) is very similar to the bill afterwards (in May),” Moon said. “The second page is actually the biggest difference. In this particular bill … the delivery charges and the generation charges from Edison are on the same page.

″(After the launch) that second page only shows the delivery charges. The generation charges are on the next page.”

Moon said some the confusion among customers stems from the listing of those charges on separate pages, as well as the inclusion of Community Choice Aggregation (CCA) surcharges that weren’t on bills before AVCE.

“The first one is the Power Charge Indifference Adjustment (PCIA) fee,” he said. “That’s what we call the exit fee, so CCA customers pay that. That Department of Water Resources (DWR) fee is shown under the CCA (charges), but (customers) paid that before AVCE.”

The third CCA surcharge on bills after April is called a Competitive Transition Charge (CTC), according to Moon, who said that it’s actually a credit to AVCE customers.

The town has lauded AVCE as a money saver for residents because the program offers more affordable rates than SCE. A joint-rate comparison conducted in June showed the difference in AVCE and SCE rates based on a typical customer, according to Moon.

“We’re lower in every category except for two,” he said, “and the reason why we’re higher in those two is because we don’t offer those two.”

AVCE rates start at about $0.06 per kilowatt hour (KWH), with the average customer seeing a minimum discount of 3 percent over SCE’s rates, according to a previous Daily Press report, but if the volume of customer calls is any indication, the benefit, for some, might not be worth the bewilderment.

Adding to the perplexity is the AVCE data itself, as the aforementioned number of calls to the call center and to agents — 14,843 and 12,434 — does not equal the year-to-date calls listed on the same document, which shows 6,379 and 5,361, respectively.

Moon could not be reached Friday afternoon for an explanation of the discrepancy; however, during the Council meeting, he saw the 9.4 percent opt-out rate as a positive for the program.

“Since we implemented the program, the opt outs have whittled down to only six (between Aug. 1 and Aug. 6),” he said. “And so, even though there’s been a lot of questions … our call center has been answering those questions, and our opt-out rate is actually fairly low because most people opted out even before the program began.”

Currently, there are eight “operational members” in the California Community Choice Association (CCCA), including AVCE, and opt-out rates vary among those members.

Launched in 2010, MCE Clean Energy, which services approximately 255,000 customers in two counties and six cities in northern California, has the highest opt-out rate — 17.4 percent — among the members, according to comparative data provided by each CCA.

The lowest opt-out rate is 1.94 percent and belongs Peninsula Clean Energy, which has provided electricity to 300,321 customers in San Mateo County since October 2016, the data shows.

AVCE’s opt-out rate is currently the third highest among the eight operational CCCA members. Sonoma Clean Power is second highest with 13 percent; however, SCP services about 600,000 customers.

Additionally, AVCE — with sits at 25,624 customers — is the smallest of CCCA members, the closest in size being Lancaster Choice Energy, which services 50,664 customers and has an opt-out rate of 6.9 percent.

Apple Valley Choice Energy Prompts Thousands of Customer Calls, by Matthew Cabe, Victorville Daily Press, August 18, 2017.

LOIS HENRY: Time to Tell the State How You Think PG&E’s Latest Rate Increase Should Be Divvied up — Just Try and Keep It Clean

I love that the California Public Utilities Commission is coming to Bakersfield in August, after the second-hottest July on record, to hold a hearing about how PG&E should spread the pain of its latest rate increase.

Summer is the perfect time to ask Bakersfieldians what we think about energy costs.

Yes, folks, the PUC will have representatives here Monday for two public comment sessions regarding who should pay how much of the $1.5 billion (2017-19) raise PG&E got earlier this year.

The size of the rate increase “pie” is set, the PUC is just trying to work out how big a slice it’s going to cram down our throats.

Which brings me back to “baseline allotments,” something I’ve written about for years now.

The concept of baseline energy was concocted in the 1980s when the Legislature directed the PUC to create tiered rates as a means to encourage energy conservation.

The idea is consumers won’t use as much electricity in order to stay in lower-cost tiers.

The lowest tier is considered baseline energy.

The amount of baseline is supposed to be between 50 percent and 60 percent of the average amount of energy used by consumers in each of PG&E’s nine territories.

Anyhow, in Kern County we are allotted about 520 kilowatt-hours, or kWh, per month in summer, which runs from May through October.

We’re charged about 20 cents per kWh within the baseline amount.

The next tier, which is up to 400 percent above baseline, is charged at nearly 30 cents per kWh.

The third tier is 40 cents per kWh for anything greater than 400 percent over baseline.

In Kern County during summer, most people blow past baseline like it’s standing still.

I think the baseline allotment should be increased for areas with such harsh summers.

There are a couple of ways to do this.

1. Reduce summer months to June through September.

May and October are usually pretty temperate. Including them in the calculation drives down the “average use” amount on which baseline is calculated.

2. Exclude solar homes from the average-use calculation.

I wrote about this last October and it still galls me.

Homes equipped with solar panels use little to no energy.

Including them in the calculation of “average use” is like including rocks.

 The more solar homes in an area, the less energy is used, driving down the baseline allotment and increasing costs for those of us who can’t afford solar.

It’s unfair and needs to change. (See sidebar for info about a bill in the state Senate that would do just that.)

These are two small but important issues for residential customers to bring to the PUC’s attention in our own defense.

There are other, bigger, issues that need to be tackled, including rattling the Kern County Board of Supervisors to look at “community choice aggregation.”

That’s where the county can choose to buy its electricity from a generator other than PG&E but still use the utility’s distribution lines.

Other counties have done it and pay up to 32 percent less on generation costs.

Since generation costs make up more than 40 percent of our bills, that could be substantial.

But, as I said, that’s another issue for another time.

For now, all we can hope for is a little relief on baseline allotments.

A dark corner of my heart wishes the City of Bakersfield would turn off the A/C during the PUC’s meeting Monday to show commissioners what it’s really like to try and live within our baseline allotments.

But then no one would stick around for the meeting.

* This column was corrected in regards to tier 2 charges.

LOIS HENRY: Time to Tell the State How You Think PG&E’s Latest Rate Increase Should Be Divvied up — Just Try and Keep It Clean, by Lois Henry, Bakersfield.com, August 12, 2017.

The Net Economic Impacts of California’s Major Climate Programs in the Inland Empire

First comprehensive cost/benefit study of state climate policies in Inland Empire finds $9.1 billion in direct economic benefits and over 41,000 direct jobs over seven years

Click here for the full report

The report focuses on San Bernardino and Riverside Counties, both of which face unique economic and air-quality challenges, and examines the impacts of three programs: 1) cap and trade; 2) renewable energy; and 3) distributed solar & energy efficiency programs in the region.  From 2010 to 2016, the report estimates a net benefit of $9.1 billion in direct economic activity and 41,000 net direct jobs, both ongoing and one-time construction jobs. When accounting for the spillover effects of these benefits, the figures jump to $14.2 billion in total economic activity and over 73,000 jobs over the time period.

The construction industry benefitted the most from these policies, with an increase of over $9.6 billion in business investment and 36,000 jobs from 2010 to 2016, mostly from the development of wind and solar power plants. Firms involved in the operation of new wind and solar power plants increased revenue by $1.8 billion and created over 900 ongoing maintenance jobs. Those facing challenges include companies involved in fossil fuel power generation, with a negative impact of $1.7 billion in sales and over 1,100 jobs over the time period. Firms involved in extracting oil and gas lost almost $15 million in sales and over 40 jobs.

Key findings include:

Renewables Portfolio Standard (RPS):

  • Proliferation of renewable energy plants in the Inland Empire is responsible for over 90 percent of the direct economic benefit to the region
  • The region has built a total of 3,721 MW in renewable capacity – enough to power 2.6 million homes – with projects totaling another 2,162 MW already permitted and awaiting construction
  • In total, the net impact from RPS exceeded $12.4 billion

Cap and Trade:

  • Cap and trade had a net economic benefit of $25.7 million from the first four years of implementation, 2013 to 2016
  • The figure includes $900,000 in tax revenue and net economy-wide employment growth of 154 jobs
  • When funds that have been appropriated but not yet spent are included – projected net economic benefit reaches nearly $123 million with 945 jobs and $5.5 million in tax revenue

Distributed Solar and Energy Efficiency Programs:

  • The California Solar Initiative, Solar Investment Tax Credit, and investor-owned utilities energy efficiency programs, which provide direct incentives for solar installation and energy efficiency retrofitting, contributed about $1.1 billion in subsidies for solar and $612 million in energy efficiency from 2010 to 2016
  • When costs to ratepayers are weighed against the job and economic benefits – the net impact resulted in the creation of more than 12,000 jobs and $1.68 billion across the economy

Policy Recommendations:

  • Develop a comprehensive transportation program to maximize benefits and minimize harm for local industry and residents – warehousing, logistics, and long commutes make transportation the most uncertain aspect of California’s climate program
  • Disburse auction proceeds in a timely and predictable manner, and ensure the Inland Empire receives an appropriate level of statewide spending
  • Develop robust transition programs for workers and communities affected by the decline of greenhouse gas-emitting industries, including re-training and job placement, bridges to retirement, and regional economic development initiatives

The Net Economic Impacts of California’s Major Climate Programs in the Inland EmpireNext 10, August 3, 2017.

Here’s How California Ended up with Too Much Solar Power

California’s power-grid operators are dealing with a glut of daytime electricity produced by household, government, business and industrial solar installations.

This forces the electricity prices on state’s real-time marketplace to plummet, leading some power-plant operators to shut down until demand catches up with supply later in the day.

And increasing amounts of wind and solar energy are being wasted or “curtailed,” as they call it, because no one can use it, according to data obtained from the California Independent System Operator ( Cal ISO).

Last year 305,241 megawatt hours of solar and wind electricity were curtailed — a loss of enough carbon-free electricity that could have powered about 45,000 California homes for a year. This was almost double the amount of clean power that was lost through curtailment in 2015.

This energy loss coincided with a 28 percent yearly increase in electricity produced from large-scale solar plants on the state’s control grid, according to the data. The grid system, which excludes Los Angeles, Sacramento, and Imperial Valley area utilities, last year got 11.9 percent of its electricity from solar plants, up from 9 percent in 2015 and 6.3 percent in 2014.

The waste could increase unless changes are made. State power officials are pushing to get 50 percent of power from renewable sources by 2030 as required by state law.

Cal ISO officials say the proportion of lost renewable energy is relatively small now.

But they also describe the situation as unsustainable as more big solar plants and rooftop systems come online and create a surge of power late mornings and early afternoons.

The problem is at its worst in springs months, when the sun shines longer reach day, but fewer people are running their air conditioners, the state data shows.

“We need to start finding ways to offset curtailment as we add more renewable sources, or we will be wasting renewable energy,” said Phil Pettingill, Director of State Regulatory Affairs at Cal ISO.

Officials are weighing several ways to harness the midday glut.

One strategy calls for California to buy and sell more power from neighboring states to the east. This would spread out the midday solar surge because the sun rises as much as two hours earlier in Arizona and Nevada, Pettingill said.

Since 2014, limited trade between Cal ISO and utilities in neighboring state have been allowed, but only on an hourly basis.

Not only does expanding the market provide more flexibility to prevent to waste of solar energy, it also allows gives utilities more opportunities to acquire electricity when prices are low, said David Wright, general manager of Los Angeles’ utility during a lecture last week at U.C. Riverside.

Meanwhile, utilities are moving toward time-of-use pricing for home electricity costumers.

This would encourage Californians to set timers on pool pumps, washing machines, dishwashers and other appliances to take advantage of cheaper electricity in the middle of the day while discouraging power consumption in the evening when electricity is more expensive and in greatest demand.

Southern California Edison, for example, already offers time-of-use pricing for the those who sign up for it, said Edison spokesman Robert Laffoon-Villegas. Under rules imposed by the California Public Utilities Commission, Edison will begin next year to phase in time-of-use pricing for all costumers.

Riverside’s publicly owned utility also plans time-of-use prices, and proposals are expected to go before the city’s utility board and council before the end of this year, said Martin Ochotorena, the utility’s manager of contracts, projects, and settlements.

Another strategy is for solar and renewable sources to be located near urban areas where most electricity is consumed. One example is Riverside’s Tequesquite Solar Project built on the city’s former 125-acre landfill. It features enough solar panels to power 2,250 houses.

Situated within the well-populated Inland Southern California, no electricity from this plant has ever been curtailed since it started up in 2015, Ochotorena said.

Battery storage

Another strategy is battery storage, so solar energy can be saved for evening peak demand time.

In January, Edison officials showed off a 1.5-acre, battery-storage facility in Ontario that features 400 modular “powerpack” battery units made by Tesla that can power 15,000 homes for four hours.

Yet the use of this technology on the power grid is still in its infancy and questions linger about the cost and practicality.

Wright, the general manager of the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power, the nation’s largest municipal utility, said in his lecture at UCR that battery-storage systems are too expensive, run out of electricity too fast, and take up too much space.

To illustrate his point, he showed a slide to the audience with a map showing how replacing one natural gas power plant with a battery- storage system would consume more than 200 acres, which would be extremely costly in places like Los Angeles.

Ironically, Wright was speaking in a College of Engineering building at UC Riverside that is powered by a combination of solar panels and a trailer loaded with batteries that keep the lights on and buildings cool after the sun sets.

Sadrul Ula, a UCR engineering professor, said these solar panels and batteries power three buildings at the university’s Center for Environmental Research & Technology, which is working to improve battery-storage technology.

As he showed off rows of yellow batteries in a trailer, he described them as the solution to harnessing peak solar production, storing it for evening and nighttime use.

“We charge these batteries when we have surplus solar, so we don’t waste it,” said Ula, managing director of UCR’s Winston Chung Global Energy Center.

Ula expects batteries to become more cost-effective as more solar comes online and more surplus electricity is available to charge them. Batteries can be stored in big rig truck trailers, so they can be dispatched where needed to ease bottlenecks in the grid. That can reduce land costs, he said.

Electric vehicles

Wright and Ula both see the rise of electric vehicles as a boon for solar energy because cars can be charged when most people are at work and the panels are producing electricity at the peak levels.

Wright said the problem now is a lack of charging stations. He said tax credits and other subsidies are needed, as well as land-use regulations that would require charging stations at new apartment buildings and other locations.

Ula added that technology is being developed that could allow batteries in electric cars and trucks to also store electricity for the grid. This would require smart charging stations that would allow electricity to go in two directions.

Ula envisions a time when car owners could get a cellphone messages asking them if it would be OK to pull power from their car batteries in the evening in exchange for credits to recharge the vehicle during the day when solar energy is plentiful. With millions of cars and trucks in California, such a technology could store to a lot of megawatt hours.

But let’s not forget natural gas power plants, the main workhorses of our power grid that will be with us decades to come, said Sean Gallagher, vice president of state affairs for the Solar Energy Industries Association.

Modernizing fossil fuel plants would allow them to work in better harmony with solar production by allowing them to start up and shut down more quickly, he said.

Here’s How California Ended up with Too Much Solar Power, by David Danelski, The Press-Enterprise, March 18, 2017.

City of Palm Springs First City in the Coachella Valley to Join Community Choice Aggregate

Palm Springs is leading the way in the Coachella Valley when it comes to Community Choice Energy and becoming a more sustainable city.

On Wednesday, July 5, the City Council voted to become the first city in the desert to join a new Community Choice Aggregate, (CCA), operated by the Coachella Valley Association of Governments, (CVAG).

The new CCA would enable local control of electricity choices and rates, provide more renewable energy options and allow cities and/or county governments to pool the electricity demand of multiple communities for the purpose of supplying power. A CCA creates an economy scale, buying and/or developing power on behalf of resident, business and government electricity users. Local electricity continues to be distributed and delivered over existing power lines owned by the jurisdiction’s investor-owned utility, in the case of the City of Palm Springs, Southern California Edison. The utility would continue to maintain transmission lines and provide customer service.

Over the next three months, the Coachella Valley’s five other municipalities served by Southern California Edison will begin considering whether or not to join the CCA and bring Community Choice Energy to their communities. Joining is optional and customers can opt out at any time.

“Palm Springs’ commitment to sustainability was once again demonstrated by our Council voting unanimously to become the first member of a new Community Choice Energy entity in the Coachella Valley,” said City Councilmember Geoff Kors, who represents the City on CVAG’s Energy & Environmental Resource Committee and sits on the Community Choice Energy Working Group.

“This effort will not only save many consumers money, but will provide every resident and business the ability to select what kind of energy they want to purchase – green, local, or remain with Edison,” said Kors. “In other parts of California that have taken this step, the increase in green power has been significant and I am hopeful Palm Springs will continue to lead in this important area.”

CVAG hopes to have the new CCA operational by spring of 2018. For more information, call (760) 346-1127.

Negotiations toward a Salton Sea Consensus Are Progressing, Water Agency Says

The Imperial Irrigation District has been using its clout as the agency with the biggest water entitlement along the Colorado River to press for California officials to live up to their commitment that they will keep the Salton Sea from turning into an environmental disaster.

During the past year, IID has warned the state that without a credible, well-funded “road map” to restore deteriorating shoreline habitats and cover up growing stretches of dust-spewing lakebed, the district won’t take part in a proposed deal to use less water from the dwindling Colorado River. And on top of that, the agency has warned, the nation’s biggest farmland-to-city water transfer deal could be in jeopardy if the state doesn’t urgently pursue fixes at the Salton Sea.

Now, however, negotiations appear to be progressing toward a consensus that would satisfy the district’s demands and win its support.

Kevin Kelley, the IID’s general manager, said the district has worked together with Imperial County and the San Diego County Water Authority to reach a consensus position on what they want to see, and they’ve presented a proposal to state officials as part of ongoing negotiations.

Kelley said the agencies want the State Water Resources Control Board to approve an order that would lock in a commitment to carry out and fund the state’s 10-year plan for the Salton Sea, which calls for building thousands of acres of ponds and wetlands around the shrinking lake. He said this type of order would bring “durability” and specific milestones to hold the state accountable long after Gov. Jerry Brown leaves office.

“It gives us a road map that we can have some confidence in, recognizing that this governor won’t be in office for the entire 10 years, there’ll be a change in the makeup of the Legislature, but this problem will continue,” Kelley said.

He said the agencies aren’t calling for additional projects or funding, but simply want to see the state be bound to follow through on the work schedule laid out in the $383 million plan – for which only $80.5 million has been approved so far.

“We’re not allowing the perfect to stand in the way of the good: A 10-year road map that enables everyone to go forward and perform at the Salton Sea is better than what we have today,” Kelley said.

What the agencies are asking for doesn’t represent everything they’ve wanted, he said, “but I think that it would give us some confidence that this 10-year plan is durable enough to go forward with.”

READ THE SERIES: California’s Dying Sea

The agencies sent their proposal to the state on June 27. They declined to release the document, saying it’s part of ongoing negotiations, and described their proposals in broad terms without revealing specifics.

Bruce Wilcox, the state’s assistant secretary for Salton Sea policy, said he thinks it’s a good sign that the three agencies are cooperating on their proposal and that it shows a new level of consensus.

“This is the first time that everyone has been pretty much on board with a plan moving forward,” Wilcox said. “There’s always some minor details to be worked out, but I think that’s positive.”

Dust and vanishing birds

The California Natural Resources Agency released its plan for the Salton Sea in March. The blueprint calls for building a patchwork of ponds and wetlands along the lake’s retreating shorelines during the next 10 years to cover growing expanses of dusty lakebed and to create habitat for fish and birds.

If those ponds and wetlands are fully built, they would cover up 29,800 acres by 2028 – less than half of the more than 60,000 acres of dry lakebed that will be left exposed over the next 10 years.

People in communities around the lake already suffer from high asthma rates, and the problem is likely to get much worse in the coming years as growing expanses of dry lakebed send bigger clouds of fine dust into the air.

The Salton Sea was formed between 1905 and 1907, when floodwaters from the Colorado River burst through canals and filled the low-lying basin in the desert known as the Salton Sink, covering an ancient lakebed.

Since then, the lake has been sustained by water running off farmland in the Imperial Valley. But the lake has been shrinking for years as the amounts of water flowing into it have decreased, and growing strains on the Colorado River are pushing the lake toward a drier future.

READ MORE:  California has a new $383 million plan for the shrinking Salton Sea

The lake, which has no outlet and is already saltier than the ocean, has been getting progressively saltier and regularly gives off a stench resembling rotten eggs. The remaining fish appear to be disappearing and bird populations have been crashing.

The Salton Sea is about to start shrinking more rapidly next year under a 2003 water transfer deal, which is sending increasing amounts of water away from the Imperial Valley to urban areas in San Diego County and the Coachella Valley.

The agreement called for the Imperial district to send “mitigation water” from its canals into the sea through 2017 – a period intended to give state agencies time to prepare for dealing with the effects. At the end of this year, that flow of water will be cut off and the lake’s shorelines will retreat more rapidly.

Over the next 30 years, the sea is projected to shrink by a third.

Ralph Cordova, Imperial County’s executive officer, said a central, longstanding demand is that people in the area shouldn’t have to bear a burden as a result of the water transfers. He said the county wants to make sure there is “enforceability” so that if state officials fail to follow through on their plan, there are ways of holding the state accountable.

“It’s a nice plan, but if they don’t do what they say they’re going to do in the plan, what then?” Cordova said.

In 2014, the Imperial Irrigation District and Imperial County filed a petition before the State Water Board demanding state action at the Salton Sea after years of delays and unfulfilled plans.

Kelley has called the Salton Sea a “ticking time bomb” that could have far-reaching impacts.

In November, IID’s leaders demanded the state present a credible “road map” and said they would only be able to participate in a drought deal for the Colorado River once there is a viable Salton Sea plan. Under the proposed Colorado River Drought Contingency Plan, water districts in California, Arizona and Nevada would temporarily take less water from the overallocated river to boost Lake Mead – which has fallen to record low levels – in an effort to avert severe water shortages.

IID’s participation is crucial for the proposed agreement, and if the district eventually says it’s satisfied with California’s efforts at the Salton Sea, that could clear the way for the larger deal on the Colorado River, which provides water for nearly 40 million people and more than 5 million acres of farmland.

Kelley said state officials and IID representatives have agreed in their discussions on the Salton Sea that “such an order by the state board would be a prerequisite to IID’s participation in a Drought Contingency Plan,” which California officials want to see finalized.

In March, IID and Imperial County filed a motion with the State Water Board requesting a hearing on the Salton Sea and asking the board to order the completion of a final plan by Oct. 1. That hearing has been delayed as negotiations have progressed.
Kelley said the agencies want to see the state’s plan be fully funded and they also want assurance that the State Water Board will continue to have authority over the plan for the entire 10-year period.

“A 10-year plan absent a water order would not be sufficient, and the elements that have gone into this consensus position on the part of the three agencies represent not only progress but commitment,” Kelley said. “This represents real progress and a going-forward plan that we can believe in.”

The three agencies are waiting for a response from state officials.

“At the end of the day, what we really want to see – I think what everyone wants to see – is projects built on the ground,” Kelley said.

State officials have yet to decide on long-term fixes. They say they’re considering options that include piping in and desalinating water from Mexico’s Sea of Cortez and building a “perimeter lake” that would stretch more than 60 miles around much of the Salton Sea.

In the meantime, their first priority is to use the $80.5 million that’s available to start designing and building canals and ponds along portions of the shore.

The state’s plan also contemplates the development of more geothermal energy plants near the Salton Sea’s south shore, where one of the planet’s most powerful geothermal zones runs along the San Andreas Fault. There are now 11 geothermal power plants in the area, and the state’s plan requires that canals and ponds be built to ensure access to areas where new plants could be built.

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As IID and other agencies negotiate with state officials, environmental groups have told the state they don’t want to be left out of the process. In a June 16 letter to the State Water Board, the Sierra Club, Defenders of Wildlife, and the National Audubon Society asked to participate in any talks on drafting a state order.

The groups were parties to a previous 2002 order under which the state board required IID to deliver “mitigation water” to the Salton Sea for 15 years.

Sarah Friedman, a senior campaign representative with the Sierra Club, said the groups “want a process that’s open and transparent and has all parties in it.”

“Ultimately we’re just trying to put the state and the parties on notice that we are also parties and we also have interests,” Friedman said. “We really just need to see greater action and commitment to averting this massive ecological and human health disaster.”

Lawmakers pushing bills

The state’s efforts would get a boost under a package of bills that are advancing through the Legislature. The bills, SB 615 and SB 701, would enshrine the 10-year plan in state law and establish a $500 million bond measure, which would go before voters next year and would pay for projects at the Salton Sea.

The bills were authored by Assemblymember Eduardo Garcia, D-Coachella, and Sen. Ben Hueso, D-San Diego, and were approved last week by the Assembly Water, Parks and Wildlife Committee, which Garcia chairs. The bills are slated to go before the Appropriations Committee and then to the full Assembly.

Garcia also incorporated $30 million for the Salton Sea in AB 18, a proposed bond measure for parks.

“We’ll be in a better place,” Garcia said, “if these get on the ballot and approved by the voters and we’re able to fund the entire 10-year plan.”

Hueso, who visited the Imperial Valley on June 30 with Garcia and other state officials, said it will be important to get the $500 bond measure on the ballot.

“It’s going to be very difficult to explain to Californians why it’s an urgent need, but we’re going to work very hard to do that,” Hueso said.

Riverside County Supervisor V. Manuel Perez said he’s pleased to see the bills moving forward in the Legislature.

“It seems like there’s great momentum,” Perez said. “I think that we’ve been advancing the work over the last few years more so than over the course of the last 20 years.”

Perez, who previously served in the state Assembly, said one of the problems in the past was that at the local level, “we weren’t as united as we needed to be.”

That has changed in the past few years, and Perez said demonstrating a “united front” will help in pushing for solutions as the Salton Sea shrinks.

Negotiations toward a Salton Sea Consensus Are Progressing, Water Agency Says, by Ian James, The Desert Sun, July 10, 2017.

The Climate Change Debate Is Settled. Here’s What You Can Do.

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Alan Siebuhr

The debate is settled: climate change is happening. 2016 was the hottest year on record, adding on to some of the hottest on record within the last 15 years.

We already see the effects worldwide: destabilization within different regions, agricultural problems, species loss, changing weather events, devastating droughts, and rising sea levels. It has recently been discovered that, within the next 15 years, many residents in Marin, Calif., and other coastal communities will have their homes, local schools, and utilities at risk of damage due to impending sea level rise.

My generation, and the ones after us, will have to deal with these problems.

I grew up in the Coachella Valley. I went to high school in La Quinta, where I continued on to College of the Desert. I transferred and recently graduated from the University of California, Berkeley, with a Bachelor of Science in Environmental Economics and Policy.

With growing environmental threats, I felt it was important to understand the problem to develop policy solutions.

Climate change is caused by carbon pollution. Most people don’t understand how we measure the costs of carbon pollution. During my studies, I often came across the metric called the “Social Cost of Carbon” (SCC). The SCC is a dollar value of long-term damage done by one ton of carbon dioxide (CO2) in a given year. It includes economic, ecological, health, and physical impacts in a monetized form. If we multiply the standard SCC (roughly $69) by the amount of CO2 humans put in the air annually (40 billion tons), it comes out to roughly $2.7 trillion in costs, which include but are not limited to:

Roughly $14 billion from deaths and illnesses related to pollution, heat waves, hurricanes, wildfires, mosquitoes, and flooding

$882 billion from rising sea levels near coastal cities, affecting many homes and businesses across the country

$1 billion in heat-related losses in 2011 alone in meat animal production

My generation will have to bear this burden.

While the future seems bleak, I also know it doesn’t have to be this way. Several cities have already taken action: Georgetown, Texas, is on par to be 100 percent renewable in 2018, while Las Vegas has gone 100% renewable in all government-owned buildings, saving the city $50 million annually.

In California, there are several counties where communities have chosen to receive their electricity from renewable energy resources (referred to as Community Choice Energy/Aggregation, or CCA/CCE). Sonoma Clean Power and Marin Clean Energy allow consumers to choose where their electricity source, with the option to “opt-out” if they choose not to be included. The Coachella Valley Association of Governments is exploring CCA for our regions. Several cities in California are also on track to 100 percent renewable energy, such as Santa Barbara, Richmond, and Oakland, with Santa Monica already at 100 percent renewables.

On the local level, the Palm Springs City Council will soon be voting on an ordinance to require solar panels on new residential construction and any major remodels in the city.

This will stop the addition of new carbon emissions and inspire other CV cities to take action to limit carbon pollution.

The costs of carbon pollution are very real and will only increase over time. Now is the time for our local governments to take action against climate change, so that we can leave a better future for my generation and generations after.

The Climate Change Debate Is Settled. Here’s What You Can Do., by Alan Siebuhr, The Desert Sun, June 14, 2017.

Fifth Massive Solar Farm in Riverside County — This One near Joshua Tree — to Sell Power to SoCal Edison

Riverside County could soon be getting its fifth massive solar farm.

The 500-megawatt Palen solar project would be built near Desert Center, between Interstate 10 and Joshua Tree National Park. It would join the nearby Desert Sunlight facility — which at 550 megawatts was the world’s largest solar farm when it opened — and three projects near the Arizona border, known as Blythe, McCoy and Genesis.

Palen’s developer, San Diego-based EDF Renewable Energy, has signed a contract to sell the electricity the plant would generate to the region’s major utility, Southern California Edison — a key step before construction can begin. The California Public Utilities Commission is likely to approve that contract later this month. The developer must also wait for Riverside County and the federal Bureau of Land Management to conduct an environmental review, which the agencies expect to finish later this year.

Like many solar plants in the desert, Palen has faced pushback from conservationists and tribal groups, who say the industrial facility would harm fragile ecosystems, destroy Native American artifacts and negatively impact Joshua Tree National Park, which is just eight miles from the project site. Critics have argued Palen would disrupt sand transport habitat critical to Mojave fringe-toed lizards and a corridor used by Agassiz’s desert tortoise, which is considered “threatened” under the federal Endangered Species Act.

Palen would be located within a 148,000-acre renewable energy zone designated by the Obama administration last year. But David Lamfrom, from the nonprofit National Parks Conservation Association, said it was never the government’s intention for every acre to get developed. Ecosystem impacts still need to be taken into account, he said.

“You have some really unique habitat in that Palen system, including the sand dune system, and connectivity and proximity to wilderness and the national park,” he said. “There’s likely less harmful locations even within that (renewable energy) zone that are currently available, and where they would run into less conflicts.”

Several factors make Palen attractive to a utility like Edison, said Ian Black, the EDF executive responsible for the firm’s California solar portfolio. For one thing, the desert’s strong sunlight means EDF can sell the electricity at a relatively low price and still turn a profit. Palen will also be built along the I-10 corridor, where there are transmission lines ready to carry the clean power to the Los Angeles basin.

Edison has agreed to buy 125 megawatts of power from Palen, with an expected output of 406 gigawatt-hours — enough electricity to power 60,000 average California homes. EDF hopes to build out to 500 megawatts eventually, but it could start construction with just the single contract in place. The full project would span 4,200 acres of federal lands.

EDF also secured a power purchase contract last year for its 150-megawatt Desert Harvest project, which was approved in 2013 and would be built near Palen. Black wouldn’t say when construction on that project will begin, but indicated Desert Harvest and Palen could be built at the same time, depending on when Palen gets its permits.

“Obviously we would want to make a plan to construct both on a timely basis, to maximize the number of local jobs and minimize the adverse impacts,” he said.

Palen has been on the books since 2009, when the German firm Solar Millennium asked state officials for permission to build two 750-foot solar towers. The proposal has gone through several owners, technologies and configurations since then. It’s been delayed by corporate bankruptcies, regulatory rejections and protests from conservationists.

EDF acquired the project from the Spanish firm Abengoa Solar last year, and quickly announced its intention to switch from the mirror-based solar technology favored by previous developers to traditional solar photovoltaic panels.

As part of their environmental review process, the Bureau of Land Management and Riverside County are considering several alternatives to EDF’s proposal, including a smaller project that would span just 1,620 acres and avoid desert washes, riparian habitat and sand accumulations suitable for Mojave fringe-toed lizards. That configuration would also cut the project’s power potential in half, to just 230 megawatts.

Avoiding those habitat types would follow the rules laid out in the Desert Renewable Energy Conservation Plan, an Obama administration road map for protecting California desert ecosystems while encouraging climate-friendly energy development. The sweeping land-use plan set aside 6.5 million acres for conservation and 3.6 million acres for recreation, while designating 388,000 acres for solar, wind and geothermal projects.

Conservationists have generally said the plan strikes a good balance between desert protection and energy development, but solar and wind companies have argued it closes far too much land to energy projects. Industry critics have also described certain building requirements designed to protect birds and other animals as expensive and unnecessary, saying they’ll raise the cost of construction and scare away developers.

Palen was proposed before the Obama-era plan was finalized in 2016, meaning it isn’t subject to those building requirements. Still, officials say the’re considering the scaled-down alternative to see what it would take for Palen to comply with those rules.

Only one new solar farm has been proposed in the California desert since the Obama plan was finalized — a 200-megawatt project near Desert Center proposed by Fotowatio Renewable Ventures, which is based in Spain. No new wind farms have been proposed, seeming to validate the industry’s criticism that the plan closes most of the state’s best remaining wind hot spots to development. Officials marked many of those areas as off limits to prevent bird deaths and to avoid conflicts with military testing and training.

There are several other solar proposals in various stages of development in Riverside County, all of which predate the Obama administration plan. SunPower has proposed a 400-megawatt solar farm called Arica, which would be built on 4,000 acres of public land near Desert Center. Recurrent Energy is developing the 350-megawatt Crimson project, which could include energy storage, on 2,900 acres of public land near Blythe. And federal officials are working an environmental analysis of First Solar’s proposed 4,800-acre, 300-megawatt Desert Quartzite solar plant on public land near the Arizona border.

Nationally, the solar and wind industries continue to grow rapidly, driven by low prices and — in some states, like California — mandates to transition from planet-warming fossil fuels to climate-friendly energy sources. The Energy Information Administration said Wednesday that solar and wind accounted for 10 percent of U.S. electricity generation for the first time in March, with wind making up four-fifths of that total.

Fifth Massive Solar Farm in Riverside County — This One near Joshua Tree — to Sell Power to SoCal Edison, by Sammy Roth, The Desert Sun, June 14, 2017.