Coastal Advocates Defend Marine Sanctuaries

President Donald Trump may want to expand offshore oil drilling, but it’s no surprise he’s facing pushback in a region known for being one of the most at risk of climate change and where residents are increasingly turning to renewable energy.

San Mateo County officials are urging the federal government to keep protections in place for three national marine sanctuaries spanning the surrounding California coastline.

In an April executive order, Trump requested a review of all marine sanctuaries established or expanded within the last decade — which includes the 2015 expansions of the Greater Farallones and Cordell Bank national marine sanctuaries, as well as the 2008 expansion of the Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary. Explained as an “America-First” energy strategy, Trump seeks areas where offshore oil drilling could take place. But he will undoubtedly face vehement opposition from a region that places high value on its coastline.

 Trump touted it as a way to put the energy needs of American families first — but his order extends toward Bay Area communities where residents are requiring more of their power be delivered by renewables.

On Tuesday, the Board of Supervisors unanimously approved a resolution describing Trump’s action as an “unneeded and unwarranted intrusion into settled law” while defending the three sanctuaries as vital to the ecosystem and economy.

Board President Don Horsley, whose district includes the coast, noted the region has a strong history of progressive environmental policies.

“In the state of California, we’ve been fighting to preserve our coastside for decades now, and I don’t want to see any oil drilling on the coastside or the potential of oil spills,” Horsley said. “While the federal administration starts talking about expanding the drilling of oil and gas, we’re really concerned that’s not the way to go. We think it’s better to be looking at renewable sources like solar and wind.”

The county has opted to lead by example, establishing a joint powers authority known as Peninsula Clean Energy. The community choice aggregation program has residents automatically signed up to for receive 50 percent renewables from Pacific Gas and Electric, with options to chose up to 100 percent renewables.

Sonoma, Marin, San Francisco and San Mateo counties, as well as a dozen Silicon Valley cities have all adopted community choice aggregation programs. California has also been a leader in the electric car industry, with robust rebates provided for those looking to ditch their gas-powered engines.

Bordered by both a Bayfront and coastside, San Mateo County has also been described as one of the most at risk of climate change impacts. Billions of dollars of public as well as private infrastructure such as homes, airports, office buildings and wastewater treatment plants line areas where seas are expected to rise, according to a county vulnerability assessment.

Aside from Trump’s orders signaling a regression from local efforts, there are also fears that offshore oil drilling could harm sensitive ecological habitat on which the state and fisheries rely.

The sanctuaries support dozens of marine mammal species, many of which can only thrive in a biologically-rich ecosystem. They’re also part of vital migratory routes for whales and birds that hold international significance, as well as an important breeding ground and forging area for numerous protected species, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

Debbie Ruddock, Half Moon Bay’s mayor and legislative affairs coordinator for the California Coastal Conservancy, said offshore drilling is rich for hazards.

She noted some old wells continue to leak into sensitive habitat, closing beaches and harming wildlife.

“In California, we have a $50 billion coastal economy and the components of that are tourism, but also commercial fisheries,” Ruddock said. “Anything that might pollute our ocean waters like offshore ocean drilling has potentially devastating impacts to the state’s economy, including the San Mateo County economy. It’s been found marine sanctuaries and protected areas have been very successful in regenerating Pacific Coast fishery stock and helping increase the survival of marine animals.”

The public has until July 26 to offer comments following Trump’s executive order, and Ruddock urged people to make their voices heard.

 “Removing protected status is only regressive,” Ruddock said.

The Cordell Bank and Greater Farallones national marine sanctuaries more than doubled in size following NOAA’s 2015 decision under former President Barack Obama. Cordell, which is located just north of San Francisco, expanded from 529 square miles to 1,286 square miles. The Farallones, which stretch offshore from the northern tip of San Mateo County to Point Arena, was increased from 1,282 square miles to 3,295 square miles, according to NOAA.

The Monterey Bay Marine Sanctuary stretches from Marin to Cambria, protecting 6,094 square miles of marine habitat that was also expanded under former President George W. Bush in 2008. It was originally designated in 1992 and provides an abundance of wildlife such as 34 marine mammals, more than 180 species of birds and 525 species of fish, according to NOAA.

Federal protections were expanded to the areas after years of input and research, prompting officials to question Trump’s attempt to unravel designations in a region that places indefatigable importance on its coastline.

“California residents and our state’s economy depend on a clean and healthy ocean. The Greater Farallones and Cordell Bank national marine sanctuaries protect our fishing communities, our tourism industry and the world-renowned beauty of our state,” U.S. Rep. Jackie Speier, D-San Mateo, said in an email. “Our sanctuaries are settled law and have broad public support. President Trump should leave them alone.”

Coastal Advocates Defend Marine Sanctuaries, by Samantha Weigel, The Daily Journal, July 15, 2017.

‘Community Choice’ Could Provide Cheaper, Greener Electricity for San Diego, Report Says

A government-run alternative to San Diego Gas & Electric could deliver more green energy while costing residents and businesses less money over time, according to a report released Wednesday by the city of San Diego.

The document sparked the latest round of jockeying by environmentalists, fiscal hawks, backers of investor-owned utilities and others, with each group espousing what it sees as the benefits, detriments or unknown factors of community choice aggregation — commonly called CCA.

Such programs have become increasingly popular across California, with a growing number of cities and counties considering them as a way to more rapidly boost use of renewable energy.

The California Public Utilities Commission recently predicted a transformation in the state’s power market: It said investor-owned utilities, which today buys and sells power for about 76 percent of the electricity market, could see its control over such decisions plunge to less than 15 percent by 2025, largely because of competition from CCAs and the installation of rooftop solar panels.

The study released Wednesday looked at the feasibility of launching a CCA program in San Diego, which might eventually be launched to satisfy the city’s pledge to use 100 percent renewable energy by 2035.

“We’re moving full speed ahead to reach our ultimate goal of using one hundred percent renewable energy citywide, and this draft study shows we have the ability to get there,” Mayor Kevin Faulconer said on Wednesday after the report’s release.

Under community choice, a utility still operates the poles and wires needed to deliver energy, but elected officials control the buying and selling of power for their jurisdiction. If a city or county votes to form or join such a program, ratepayers can opt out if they would rather have the rates offered by their traditional utility.

Specifically, the new report found that a community choice program has the potential to deliver cheaper rates than SDG&E’s while providing 50 percent renewable energy by 2023 and 80 percent green power by 2027. SDG&E currently offers about 43 percent renewable energy to its customers, and under state law must get to 50 percent by 2030.

Advocates of community choice hailed the report, which was compiled by the fiscal, engineering and energy consulting company Willdan Financial Services in Temecula.

“It confirms that we already knew — that San Diego families only stand to gain from the adoption of community choice,” said Nicole Capretz, executive director of the San Diego-based nonprofit group Climate Action Campaign. “The question is no long whether we move forward with community choice, the question is what are we waiting for.”

The SDG&E shareholder group that lobbies on CCA issues, Sempra Service Corporation, released a statement criticizing the report as flawed.

“San Diegans deserve an open and honest conversation about the best way to reduce emissions in our region. The city’s study is incomplete because it is not possible to determine what a government-controlled energy model will cost customers. Until the true costs and benefits of such a program are transparent and shared with the public, we believe it is premature to move forward.”

The lobbying group said issues that could impact rates for both community choice and utilities are still being debated by the state Public Utilities Commission. Specifically, the commission is reviewing whether to adjust an “exit fee” charged to CCAs to ensure that utilities are compensated for the long-term energy contracts they signed on behalf of ratepayers who subsequently became community-choice customers.

In the fight against climate change, San Diego approved a Climate Action Plan in December 2015 that calls for slashing its greenhouse-gas emissions in half by 2035 from the level in 2010. Electricity accounts for about 24 percent of the city’s carbon footprint, behind transportation at 55 percent.

The city has already met an interim benchmark of cutting such emissions by 15 percent by 2020 as a result of state and federal mandates to improve fuel efficiency and for utilities to purchase green power. But there’s debate about how San Diego can best get to its 2035 goal, which is legally binding.

The city is accepting alternative proposals for meeting its green-energy goals.

SDG&E officials said the utility plans to submit its own competing blueprint, which the City Council would likely weigh against community choice or other energy options. This process would include voting on a path forward sometime early next year.

“Over the coming months we will also look at other approaches, put all the alternatives on the table and have a public discussion about the best way to ensure reasonable rates for San Diegans and a sustainable future for our city,” Faulconer said.

Arguably the biggest opponent of CCA proposals in San Diego County is SDG&E. This year, it became the first investor-owned utility in the state allowed to form a shareholder-funded lobbying group to weigh in on community choice. Investigators at the utilities commission said they are looking into whether the SDG&E lobbying arm began meeting with elected officials before it was cleared to do so.

Sempra officials have denied any wrongdoing.

This lobbying arrangement followed the Legislature’s decision in 2011 to bar investor-owned utilities from using ratepayer dollars to speak out on CCAs. The lawmakers took action after a bitter fight between Marin County and Pacific Gas & Electric over establishment of the state’s first CCA program.

In the San Diego region, elected officials have had mixed reactions to establishing community choice programs.

In February, the county Board of Supervisors declined to study the feasibility of CCA for the unincorporated communities it governs.

Meanwhile, Solana Beach has taken official steps toward adopting community choice, and three other North County cities — Encinitas, Del Mar and Carlsbad — are jointly looking at a similar idea.

By the end of the year, community choice programs from Humboldt to Lancaster are expected to serve nearly 1 million people, according to state energy regulators. In addition, cities and counties representing more than 15 million of the state’s nearly 40 million residents are in various stages of considering community choice.

‘Community Choice’ Could Provide Cheaper, Greener Electricity for San Diego, Report Says, by Joshua Emerson Smith, The San Diego Union-Tribune, July 12, 2017. 

 

Interview – Tom Habashi, Chief Executive Officer, Silicon Valley Clean Energy

“It’s incredible, you just have to keep an open mind. You can be creative in so many ways…in about a year we are going to have a $250 million business with a lot of opportunities to consider.”   Tom Habashi, CEO, Silicon Valley Clean Energy

Silicon Valley Clean Energy (SVCE), the Community Choice Energy (CCE)[i] program that provides electricity to residents and businesses in twelve Santa Clara County cities launched its first phase of serving customers in April 2017. (Its second phase will take place in July.) On May 22, we took the opportunity of its launch to sit down and talk about SVCE’s operations and plans with its CEO Tom Habashi.

Before taking the job of SVCE CEO, you were the director of Roseville Electric Utility for a while.

Yes, and before that I also worked for City of Palo Alto Utilities. I was at the latter for about 14 years. I was in the electric engineering section for about six years and then I shifted to the power supply side.

What made you decide that Community Choice Energy (CCE) was an arena worth pursuing?

Well, actually I had retired from Roseville and took a break for five years. But this opportunity brought me out of retirement.

What intrigued you about getting involved with CCE?

It is what I like to do — the procurement side of the business — also working with renewables. It comes without the baggage associated with the electricity distribution system. It is an area in which you can be creative and innovative without being held back by the constraints associated with the transmission and distribution system. The latter is exact and you can’t think beyond certain bounds.

Well, you started innovating right away at SVCE by figuring out how to go 100% carbon free.

I found that going carbon free was definitely desirable from an environmental standpoint and doable from an economic standpoint, so I didn’t see why we should dabble around getting smaller percentages of renewable energy when we could go to 100% immediately. This is especially true if you aren’t locked into the thinking that eligible renewables are the only way to get to that goal. And I wasn’t locked into that mindset, either technically or politically. So it made sense to go 100% carbon free.

What is your power mix going to be? A lot of it is going to be electricity from large hydro in the Pacific Northwest, isn’t it?

It comes from both the northwest and California. We are starting the first two years at fifty percent renewables including twenty-five percent of Type One. We’ve been trying really hard to get twenty-five percent of Type Two but the market changed in the past few years, making Type Two scarce. And I think that’s due to the market design that you must have seventy-five percent of Type One and you can’t have any more than ten percent of Type Three.[ii]

Will this become more of an issue as all of these emerging CCE programs start procuring electricity? Will completing their portfolios be a challenge for some of them starting up?

I think so. One of the things we are doing, for example in 2019, is to change our policy from having a power mix of 50-25-25 to meeting the RPS standard percentage with Type One. We will fill the remainder with large hydro to enable us to continue 100% carbon free.

Let’s take the city of San Jose as an example. After a lengthy process, its city council approved a CCE program that they would like to launch about one year from now. Before they launch they will need to create an energy portfolio. And they have been considering an energy mix with renewables about ten percent above PG&E’s. Given the situation you just described, San Jose may have some challenges achieving a cost competitive and clean energy mix?

In SVCE’s case, we adopted rates that are one percent below PG&E’s. And even with our 100% carbon free approach to procurement, we are looking to retain about 25% or 30% of our net operating revenues. This will give us quite a reserve cushion over the next couple of years and after that we will be able to adopt rates that will be considerably more favorable to our customers.

That makes sense strategically.

Yes, and we have some creative new ideas about how to give back to the community using some of our retained earnings.

Of course, one of the things you can do with some of your net revenue is to develop distributed energy resources to further reduce greenhouse gas emissions, for example, enabling more local solar development.

One of the things that I push continuously now, especially with the suppliers of utility scale solar, is the need to seriously improve energy storage and link it to more solar development. And I think the only way that some solar developers will pursue storage is when the incentives that are being given today are changed. I think if we take that $23 after tax production incentive that is given to the wind folks and the 30 percent tax credit that is given to the solar folks and focus it on the storage side of the business, it will bring things into balance sooner.

So this is one of the challenges that you face, to balance your energy portfolios — the type and duration of your contracts and your expenses, too. It’s a juggling act.

Yes, we need to have diversity of technologies, resources, suppliers, and length of contracts. The more diversity you bring into the game the better.

Let’s return to the issue of distributed energy resources. There are other GHG reduction avenues SVCE can explore. For example, a number of local activists are interested in electrification — fuel switching gasoline and natural gas to electricity.

We are interested in this and it needs to be done smartly. Also, you want to give incentives to people to plug in during the middle of the day, not as soon as you get home or at nighttime.

So, some kind of demand-response strategy?

Exactly, give them free electricity during the day. If the energy is coming at negative cost, give it to them for free. We are still making money. And increase the cost at other times of the day. There are a lot of ways that you can use rates to influence behavior. And put together programs, too, like installing EV charging stations everywhere you can.

That’s what Sonoma Clean Power has been doing. They’ve been adding more charging stations and also creating incentives for the purchase of electric vehicles.

Yes, and there are people thinking about electrifying the freeways so you can charge while you drive.

Of course that’s down the road, so to speak. One of the challenges, as you know, is that it’s great to get more electric vehicles on the road, but unless you reduce the traffic, for example by getting people out of single occupancy vehicles, the congestion will remain very great in the Bay Area. So we need to come up with overall transportation strategies.

I’m all for electrifying all the trains. I think that’s the best way to go. I take the train to San Francisco for meetings. I never get in the car and drive; I just get on the train. Fortunately, I live only a few minutes walk from the train station.

As you mentioned at the start, there is a lot of potential for innovation once a CCE program is up and running.

It’s incredible; you just have to keep an open mind. And innovate not only in how to design technology but also in rate structures and how to spend money and how to creatively utilize your staff. You can be creative in so many ways.

So CCE programs can be real laboratories for innovation.

That’s right, in about a year we are going to have a $250 million business with a lot of opportunities to consider.

Of course, you will need to have your board be open to new possibilities.

I’ve been lucky with that. I have a board made up of people who have lived in Silicon Valley for some time and some of them have started their own businesses. Our board is very open-minded and creative. And they give me plenty of leeway. It has been very good so far.

What do you see as the biggest challenges confronting both SVCE and the Community Choice movement in general?

Obviously one of the biggest is the constant financial threat from not knowing what the PCIA or the PAM will look like in the future. If that gets resolved, that will make our lives a lot easier.

The second is something you find in every industry. You start up and you get accustomed to ways of doing business and even though the CCE movement is only seven years young, people get into routines. When that happens you can lose track of your original mission: reducing GHG emissions. And it will be important for us to remember that Community Choice programs are the single most significant step cities and counties can take to reduce our emissions by up to 25%.

Of course a Community Choice program can have other goals as well, such as enhancing the local economy. But the primary thing we need to remember is to focus on is doing away with the burning of fossil fuels.

Five years from now, in your ideal vision, what would Silicon Valley Clean Energy look like?

It would continue to be carbon free. It would have thirty to forty percent of its needs being met by long term PPAs or the actual facilities that we will build ourselves -wherever it makes the most sense to build them.

We would also be doing a lot of work to promote electrification – of everything. And, also we would be pushing energy efficiency products and strategies. Hopefully we will have our brand name and logo in every household.

That makes a lot of sense. As you know, most people don’t know anything about SVCE or Community Choice in general. But if and when you develop local projects and distribute equipment to customers you become a recognized asset rather than an undiscovered passive electricity provider.

In this industry we seem to have become accustomed and a lot more comfortable with the notion that our customers don’t know who we are and don’t think about us unless there’s an outage. And, when that happens they usually don’t have good feelings about you.

I’m OK with that. I can live with being unknown. I don’t need the name recognition as much as I need the behavioral change that needs to happen on the part of our customers and everybody to eventually get us to a carbon free world.

If recognition of SVCE helps people become conscious of the importance of being energy smart then it makes sense. It’s not just to puff up the organization but also to help people see they are being served by an innovative organization that is not only providing low cost carbon free energy but also helping them live more in harmony with the environment. That seems like a nice positive outcome.

It certainly is. And I know from years of experience that people respond to incentives. A lot of people are buying electric cars today not because they want a cleaner environment or even to reduce the cost of their gasoline but because they are getting incentives that reduce the price of their car quite a bit. And I would like to keep that going up until we find out that perhaps fuel cell vehicles are an even better way to run a car. Then we can take the incentive away from electric cars and push it into a new product.

So in conclusion, what advice do you have for local governments that are now considering starting Community Choice programs?

Skip the feasibility studies and the technical studies, they’ve been done already, and go straight into the Implementation Plan. That is the document that they will need to hand over to the CPUC and it is for all practical purposes your technical study. If you look at the elements you need to include in your Implementation Plan, it’s the same stuff. We know CCE is a good idea and a number of communities are already doing it. They are demonstrating that Community Choice can work. Save the hundreds of thousands of dollars being spent on those unnecessary reports. Don’t spend three or four years going around talking about it. Just jump right in and do it!

______________________

[i] In this interview we use the term Community Choice Energy and the abbreviation CCE. CCE is the same thing as Community Choice Aggregation (CCA), which is the formal legal term for the policy. There are four other cities in Santa Clara County. Palo Alto and Santa Clara operate municipal utilities, San Jose recently decided to start its own CCE program, and Milpitas has decided not to pursue CCE at the present time.

[ii] Renewable Energy Certificates are how the State of California tracks qualified renewable energy content in the State’s overall power mix. There are three Categories of RECs. Type (category) One (renewable energy certificates) is RPS-eligible renewable energy generated in California or delivered directly into the state. It is both the power and the renewable attribute, bundled together. Type Two is firmed and shaped (usually with natural gas) renewable energy scheduled into a California balancing authority, Type Three is unbundled renewable energy credits sold separately from the associated generation, that do not qualify under Type One or Type Two.

Council Should Reconsider Joining MBCP

Opinion:

It is my belief that the city council has made a mistake. During a city council meeting in March, Mayor Mike LeBarre and council members Darlene Acosta and Carlos DeLeon initially voted not to join Monterey Bay Community Power (MBCP), a tri-county-wide, nonprofit alternative to PG&E that would double our use of renewable electricity while reducing rates. The three council members forming a majority vote decided to instead further explore the option of starting our own Community Choice Energy (CCE) program. Unfortunately, I believe the council majority is gambling on the risky private option in the hope it will generate revenue for the city’s general fund, as King City has many needs.

While I respect the research and presentation presented by City Manager Steve Adams in recommending the city go with its own CCE, I believe it was a bad decision.

As a nonprofit, MBCP can offer superior savings. Our monthly electricity bills will be higher if the council majority hires a private CCE firm at a cost of $1 million over the next five years. MBCP will lower our rates by 3 percent in year one, while the private option might cut rates by 1.5 percent. Or not. We just don’t know. It could also lose up to $1 million during the first year. Projections show that there is a 33 percent chance that revenue will be negative by month 12.

All we do know for sure is that the new program is entirely experimental, since no privately run CCE exists anywhere in America. Moreover, we would be one tenth the size of the smallest currently operational CCE in California. King City is far too small to run an effective CCE without dedicating additional staff resources — which would cost the city even more. MBCP would require almost no staff time or resources.

MBCP is also the more reasonable option for the environment. The private company would not increase our use of renewables, while MBCP would raise our portfolio of clean energy by 100 percent or more, helping us reach mandatory California standards more than a decade ahead of schedule. That would be something to be proud of!

Joining the established CCE model embodied by MBCP will save money, create local green jobs (because excess revenue would be earmarked for regional renewable projects perfectly situated for our South County landscape) and move us away from dependence on fossil fuels.

There are seven large, nonprofit CCEs currently operational in California, all saving ratepayers millions of dollars while slowing carbon emissions at an astonishing rate. Publicly run CCE is now the proven, most effective way for local municipalities to fight climate change. And our council is saying no.

Over the past four years, Sonoma Clean Power set aside $45 million for local investment in renewable energy production. It also cut rates by 10 percent last year. MBCP will be similarly successful. An enormous organization (270,000 ratepayers), it will put all surplus revenue — projected at $20 million per year — back into the program, thereby driving down rates and creating options for local workers.

On Tuesday, May 23, approximately 25 concerned citizens attended our city council meeting to encourage our elected officials to link arms with 19 other jurisdictions throughout our region by joining Monterey Bay Community Power (MBCP). As of this date, they have chosen not to.

More than 100 other King City residents have already joined me in taking action to let our council know where we stand on MBCP, either by signing petitions or showing up at meetings. We want rate cuts, a more stable program with less administrative distraction, local jobs and benefits to the environment we all rely on as an agricultural community.

It’s not too late for us to join MBCP, but we must act quickly. We must put it back on the June 6 council agenda for a public hearing, which would allow further discussion and another vote. My sincere hope is that Councilman DeLeon or Councilwoman Acosta will join the current minority and allow us to join our sister cities in the tri-counties in moving toward a greener future — rather than contributing to our identity, as many city residents see it, as “the Island of King City.”

Council Should Reconsider Joining MBCP, by Domingo Uribe, King City Rustler, June 12, 2017.

Electric Cars Aren’t Just a Big-City Thing. That’s What Put a Charge into This Rural Project

Thirteen free-to-use charging stations for electric vehicles have opened in Fresno County’s rural cities.

Every incorporated city in the county now has a place to charge a car. The latest launch didn’t happen in Fresno or Clovis, both of which already have charging sites.

The new chargers are fueled by photovoltaic solar cells, which are designed to make the devices emissions-free. And, to repeat, there is no charge to use them.

The communities that received charging access: Fowler, Selma, Kingsburg, Reedley, San Joaquin, Kerman, Coalinga, Huron, Parlier, Orange Cove, Mendota, Firebaugh and Sanger. All the stations are at city halls except Fowler’s, which is outside the library, Kerman’s at the city’s Community Center, and Kingsburg’s, which is atht library.

The cost of the project was $800,000. Valley Air District provided $78,000 through the Charge Up! Program, which is funded through local DMV fees. Fresno County Rural Transit Agency paid the remaining balance with a Caltrans grant.

The Valley is one of the fastest growing regions of the state for sales of electric vehicles, said John Boesel, chief executive officer for CALSTART, a clean transportation technology industry organization.

“It’s the first rural county in the nation to develop a network of solar-powered electric-vehicle chargers,” he said.

Boesel said demand for the chargers in rural communities already exists: “Before today’s event, people were pulling up to power their cars.”

The project is a cooperative effort of CALSTART, Valley Air District, Fresno County Rural Transit Agency, the California Energy Commission, Caltrans and Envision Solar.

Electric Cars Aren’t Just a Big-City Thing. That’s What Put a Charge into This Rural Project, by Marc Benjamin, The Fresno Bee, May 24, 2017.

San Jose Is Latest, Largest City in California to Embrace Community Choice

Dive Brief:

  • The San Jose City Council this week voted unanimously to form the largest community choice energy program in California, ensuring residents will have more supply options than simply taking service from Pacific Gas & Electric.
  • The vote requires San Jose Clean Energy to provide at least one option with 10% more renewable energy than PG&E’s power mix, as well as a 100% greenhouse gas-free option.
  • Community choice aggregation (CCA) is growing in popularity in California, as the state’s utility sector embraces more forms of customer choice. A recent report estimated that by the mid-2020s, up to 85% of retail load could be supplied through CCAs, rooftop solar and direct access providers.

Dive Insight:

While some concerns lingered about possible budget impacts, San Jose City Council’s unanimous decision reflects California’s growing embrace of community choice programs.

“While leaders in Washington continue to languish in a petroleum-fueled past, cities like San Jose will chart the path to a more sustainable future,” Mayor Sam Liccardo said in a statement. The program aims to lower San Jose’s greenhouse gas emissions and boost renewable energy supply, at a cost-competitive rate, he added.

After several notifications, residents will be automatically enrolled in the new program, though they can choose to re-enter PG&E’s service. The program will “spur local green energy production and boost the San Jose economy,” according to Kerrie Romanow, environmental services director with the city.

Studies performed for the city concluded that if all consumers chose an electricity option with 10% more
renewables than PG&E, San Jose could see greenhouse gas emissions reductions from 10% to 18%. The program is expected to launch in 2018 and will serve 300,000 customers by 2019.

The growth of community choice aggregation has been a major contributor to customer choice in California. A new report from the California Public Utilities Commission and the California Energy Commission estimated more than 900,000 customers take service from a CCA.

Since Marin Clean Energy formed the state’s first CCA in 2010, the CCA trend has been accelerating. Marin’s program now serves more than a quarter million customers, and Los Angeles County is moving forward with a CCA that could eventually serve a million customers.

The Mercury News reports San Jose City Councilman Johnny Khamis has some concerns about the CCA’s possible budgetary impacts on the city, but he ultimately voted in favor of it anyway.

“Our residents are owed this security as we enter a new line of business and experience the risks and unknowns that naturally attend any new venture,” Khamis told the paper. He wants to ensure the program is separated from the city’s general fund, so the cost of renewable energy does not impact critical services.

San Jose Is Latest, Largest City in California to Embrace Community Choice, by Robert Walton, UtilityDive, May 18, 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!

Why Electric Companies Should Help Their Customers Reduce or Eliminate Natural Gas

Retail electricity providers, especially Community Choice agencies, should move quickly to help their customers “fuel-switch” their home heating fuels from (natural gas, heating oil, propane) to electricity that is more and more being generated from low carbon energy sources. New high efficiency heat pump water heaters plus ducted or ductless heat pump systems for space heating exist that can replace natural gas furnaces, and boilers. Moreover, such systems are easy to install, offer improved living environments, and are rapidly coming down in price. Such systems can combine with rooftop or community supplied solar energy, or an increasingly clean electricity grid, to create ultra-low emission homes and commercial buildings. The next time you need to replace your gas-fired furnace or water heater, think about switching to a modern, efficient electric system.

Background of the Problem

Previous estimates grossly underestimated the severity of the green house gas threat posed by methane, the principal component of natural gas (~85%). Methane emissions from natural gas leakage during oil and gas extraction and distribution, as well as emissions from animal feedlots and public waste facilities, all threaten to push global warming past the tipping point where unstoppable melting of frozen arctic soils could lead to catastrophic releases of naturally occurring methane. To avoid this outcome, several steps should be taken. In particular, public policies that tout natural gas as a “bridge fuel” to cleaner energy should be discarded as misguided and dangerous.

Because methane, carbon dioxide (CO2) water vapor, and other greenhouse gases (GHGs) remain in the atmosphere for vastly different lengths of time, scientists calculate their combined effects over an arbitrary time frame, usually 100 years. This allows, for example, the effects of the gas HFC-134, a refrigerant used in automobile air conditioning systems (~13 year atmospheric life), to be summed up with the effects of other gases like carbon tetrafluoride (atmospheric life ~50,000 years).

Scientists use the term “global warming potential” (GWP) to describe the characteristics of each gas individually. The GWP compares each gas to carbon dioxide (CO2). The result is a number that indicates the climate changing effect of the gas when compared to CO2 over a 100 year span. Nitrous oxide, for example, has a GWP of 298, meaning it has 298 times the global warming effect of carbon dioxide over 100 years.

The serious flaw in this approach comes from the short term effects of common gases that remain in the atmosphere for only a few days or a few years, and represent a danger not considered in the arbitrary 100 year time frame used to measure combined GHG effects. Methane, the other big GHG besides carbon dioxide, remains in the atmosphere for about 10 years, so combining it with CO2 and other gases into a 100 year time frame effectively masks methane’s actual short term effects. Methane is second only to CO2 as an anthropogenic (man-made) contributor to warming, but it is increasingly the focus of scientific attention because of its short term threat to push the planet past a tipping point whereby global warming may increase rapidly due to natural positive feedback loops. Two such feedback loops cause considerable concern. One is the vast amount of natural methane that will be released into the atmosphere as arctic soils warm, methane that will be created from long frozen biological material in the ground (mainly frozen plant matter). Another feedback and potential tipping point comes from a warming atmosphere that can hold more water vapor, itself an extremely potent greenhouse gas, that will increase as the atmosphere warms.

Policymakers should, therefore, take methane’s effect over its 10 year atmospheric presence into consideration, not simply the arbitrary 100 year time frame that is still widely applied. In a 10 year time frame, methane is known to be about 100 times as powerful as CO2 as a greenhouse gas, not the 28 to 36 times figure that is still used to guide public policies.

It is important to note that since the industrial revolution worldwide oil and gas development, large scale agriculture, and other factors have caused the absolute amount of methane in the atmosphere to not only go up about 250% (Figure 1), but to continue to increase even though its atmospheric life is only ten years. This strongly indicates that the sustained increase over the last few centuries has been caused by human activities, and thus can be reversed.

Figure 1: The Rise of Atmospheric Methane Since 1750

Notice how worldwide atmospheric methane appears to have leveled out around the year 2000 and then started increasing again around 2008. A great deal of scientific debate centered on this development. Some scientists argue that the new increase is primarily due to increases in emissions from the tropics, from wetlands, or from agricultural sources. However, recent research points to natural gas recovery and distribution as the main source of increased emissions. This research points to shale fracturing, which expanded rapidly around the year 2008, as a primary driver of newly rising methane levels worldwide.

Underestimating the global warming effect of methane is common when setting public policy. The chart below indicates the estimated sources of GHG emissions in Sonoma County, California (Source: Climate Action Plan 2020 by the Regional Climate Protection Authority, Sonoma County). Notice that the amount of GHG emissions from the “Building Energy” sector is estimated at 33% of total emissions.

2010 Countywide GHG Emissions by Sector

Building emissions in this chart are derived almost entirely from natural gas consumption. Moreover, solid waste emissions and a substantial portion of livestock emissions in the report are from methane as well, leading to a total of about 40 percent or more of reported emissions to be from methane.

In the case of this report, the multiplier used for calculating building emissions was considered to be 28 times that of CO2. Clearly, if the true short-term methane to CO2 GWP ratio is about 100 in the short term, not 28, then the effect of natural gas emissions should occupy a much larger fraction of the pie chart. Whether relatively more resources should be spent on reducing transportation emissions, as opposed to building emissions, rests largely on the accuracy of such assessments.

It should be clear why some scientists have argued that total methane emissions, including agricultural emissions, may represent as big or bigger a GHG threat as do CO2 emissions from the transportation sector.

These facts point to the need to rapidly fuel-switch from natural gas as a fuel used for heating buildings and water, to cleaner electricity derived from renewable sources for those purposes. All retail electric service providers, including the big utilities, should be adopting fuel-switching to electricity as a high priority, but they are conflicted. However, Community Choice agencies are very well-suited to this purpose given that they operate exclusively in electricity service and exist to serve the interest of the communities they serve, as well as the broader public interest.

California Community Choice Association Quarterly Update Published

The April edition of Cal-CCA’s Quarterly update was released just as we were putting together this week’s e-news!

Cal-CCA is the official association of the 8+ Community Choice agencies in the state that work together to represent the interests of California’s Community Choice electricity providers and their customers.  Most of Cal-CCA’s work happens in the state legislature and at the relevant regulatory agencies, including the California Public Utilities Commission, California Energy Commission and California Air Resources Board.

The update includes highlights of activity since the last update was published in January, including news about the newest agencies: Apple Valley Choice Energy, Silicon Valley Clean Energy, and the Redwood Coast Energy Authority.

Download the Update HERE.

To make sure you don’t miss the next Update, click HERE.

 

Senate Bill 618 Amended

Threat removed for now, but vigilance required

At the request of Cal-CCA, SB 618, the bill that would have granted the CPUC greater regulatory authority over Community Choice agencies, was amended in the Senate Energy Committee on April 18 removing the most harmful element. Cal-CCA removed its opposition and the bill was approved in the committee unanimously. If the bill becomes a threat in the future we will post an action alert on our home page and in our e-news “News & Views.”

To learn more about the bill and to subscribe to official updates, click HERE.