Solar Parking Canopies going up fast at Kaiser Permanente Santa Rosa

If you have visited the Kaiser medical center on Bicentennial Way in Santa Rosa recently, you will have noticed that parking is temporarily a bit trickier with a large chunk of the spaces roped off while gleaming solar parking canopies are being installed.

This is a wonderful reason to temporarily lose parking and we applaud Kaiser for making this investment. Solar parking canopies are a win/win for electricity customers as well as motorists who can park in shade and avoid that dreadful experience of entering an oven-hot car during the warm months. There is even an “icing on the cake” greenhouse gas benefit gained by avoiding the fuel use needed to cool down a hot car with the AC cranked to Category 5 force.

I snapped the photo for this brief blog on my last visit and took the time to ask one of the workers a quick question… will electric vehicle (EV) charging stations be integrated into the installation? I was surprised by the response. “You are the 100th person that has walked up and asked that question.” Unfortunately the answer was “no.”

So, even though that worker was exaggerating, I am clearly not the only one who cares. In fact, I always notice EVs when I am at Kaiser, so yes, people who visit there would probably make daytime use of them. In fact, this is an important consideration due to the fact that daytime is when the sun is shining and the cars can charge on sunshine. And, Kaiser could promote employee adoption of EVs if for no other reason the health benefits of tailpipe exhaust-free transportation.

It’s great to see these structures, and similar ones under construction at Santa Rosa parking garages, going up. The planning and construction period is the optimal time to consider including other technologies that enhance the value of solar. Integrating EV charging and/or storage into the construction financing and closing down the parking for construction once instead of twice is the efficient way to go financially and logistically. The revenues accrued by EV charging can be shared with the host (Kaiser) and the electric service provider to recoup the installation cost over time.

Solar is no longer a siloed technology; it has evolved to what we call Solar-Plus. It is now considered a component of what is known as Distributed Energy Resources where multiple energy technologies are integrated in an optimized deployment. Solar combined with smart technology, onsite energy storage, and EV charging, is the way to go. With a mission to get 140,000 EVs on the road in Sonoma County by 2030 to help meet emissions reduction goals, future commercial solar parking canopy project developers, commercial & industrial customers, and electricity service providers should take a close look at this kind of integrated deployment.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Utilities Grapple with Rooftop Solar and the New Energy Landscape

First appeared in Yale Environment 360

In the prevailing narrative of the rooftop solar industry, the dominant theme is combat. The good guys are the innovative, climate-positive, customer-pleasing solar companies, which must be nimble to avoid being crushed by the plodding, influence-buying, fossil fuel-spewing dinosaurs of the electricity industry, the utilities.

Thus The New York Times headlined a recent story, “Rooftop Solar Dims Under Pressure from Utility Lobbyists,” while a Vox headline declared contrarily that, “Utilities fighting against rooftop solar are only hastening their own doom.”

The combat trope isn’t entirely wrong. The utilities have successfully waged battles to squelch rooftop solar in states such as Arizona and Indiana, mostly by wielding political muscle to reduce compensation to customers for electricity fed back into the grid. This has helped hobble solar companies, and after four years of growth that averaged 63 percent a year, U.S. rooftop solar growth dropped to 19 percent last year, and this year is projected to be flat.

But the metaphor begins to break down here, since utility company opposition isn’t the only reason for the slowdown in rooftop solar. According to Shayle Kann, head of GTM Research, a leading electricity market analysis firm, two of the nations’ three biggest rooftop installers, SolarCity (now owned by Tesla) and Vivint Solar, shifted the emphasis of their business models from growth to profitability. In addition, in California, home to nearly half the nation’s rooftop installations, rooftop’s growth has tapered off as solar companies have run out of early-adopter customers. In any case, the decline is almost certainly temporary: GTM Research projects that rooftop solar’s growth in the coming years will rebound to a healthy 10 to 15 percent annually.

A few utilities are taking tantalizing first steps into the new realm of decentralized, electricity generation.

The truth is that the combat analogy is misleading. Some utilities do actively oppose rooftop solar. But others have been immobilized by the ongoing paradigm shift toward clean, renewable energy. And a few utilities — most notably, in New York, California, Hawaii, and Minnesota — are taking tantalizing first steps into the new realm of distributed, or decentralized, electricity generation.

“The broad characterization of all utilities acting monolithically is highly unfair, highly unsophisticated,” said Tanuj Deora, executive vice president at the Smart Electric Power Alliance, whose members are utilities learning to navigate the renewable energy arena. Most utilities are moving slowly, he says, “not because they have some hatred for rooftop solar,” but because the task of adjusting to the coming renewable energy era is profoundly complex.

Both utilities and their regulators have been slow to recognize the tidal wave coming at them. For more than a century, utilities had learned how to send electrons in one direction, usually safely and reliably, from large, centralized fossil fuel and nuclear power plants over transmission and distribution lines to businesses and homes.

Now, abruptly, their networks are being asked to accommodate electrons flowing in two directions, to and from consumers, without compromising safety and reliability, as a new generation of electronic devices enters the market. These “distributed energy resources,” or DERs, can be stationed in or near homes and businesses. They include not just rooftop solar, but wind power, batteries, electric vehicles, smart meters, smart water heaters, smart thermostats, on and on. They promise not just emission-free, fuel-less electricity, but far greater energy efficiency, thus reducing consumer costs and environmental damage. Their expanding use increasingly will determine how the grid functions.

Everything about utilities, from their rate structures to their business models to their corporate cultures, is on the cusp of change.

Rooftop solar has inspired so much contention chiefly because it’s the first DER to enjoy widespread use, experiencing “the biggest, fastest adoption of these technologies,” Jesse Jenkins, a contributor to a Massachusetts Institute of Technology 2016 report, “Utility of the Future,” said in an interview. “It’s a bellwether of the broader issues that we’re going to be dealing with in the next decade.” Everything about utilities, from their rate structures to their business models to their corporate cultures, is on the cusp of change.

For all the conflict surrounding rooftop solar, solar energy last year generated just under 1 percent of U.S. electricity, and utility-scale solar farms have three times the generating capacity of residential solar installations. That disparity is likely to grow.

While the shift to rooftop solar and other distributed energy sources presents a major technological challenge to utilities, their current business models provide them no incentive to meet it. According to the models, utilities are allowed to use ratepayer revenue only to reimburse themselves for the costs of operating the grid. Profits accrue to them as a designated percentage— usually 7 to 10 percent— of their capital expenditures on infrastructure investments, from new plants to new transmission lines.

Rooftop solar is in the vanguard of DERs that promise to upend this business model. Not only do rooftop solar and other DERs divert customers from the utilities, these innovations defer infrastructure expansion by producing decentralized, renewable energy or by improving energy efficiency, thereby threatening utility profits.

And as more and more customers install solar panels, utilities earn less and less revenue, which means that rates for remaining customers must increase — which drives even more of them to rooftop solar. As battery storage becomes cheaper, some customers will be tempted to leave the grid entirely.  A paper published by the Edison Electric Institute in 2013 famously warned of this vicious circle, giving rise to the expression “utility death spiral.”

Hemmed in by their business model and regulators who expect adherence to it, many utilities have concluded that they have only one alternative: stop rooftop solar. In this battle, utilities have sometimes behaved oafishly, sabotaging themselves.

In the battle over rooftop solar, utilities have sometimes behaved oafishly, sabotaging themselves.

Florida utilities, for example, spent more than $21 million last year in support of a proposed state constitutional amendment they touted as a way to expand rooftop solar, but that actually contained provisions to kill it. Three weeks before the election, the policy director of a utility-supported think tank was recorded as he explained the deception at an energy conference. The resulting revelation helped defeat the amendment. Six months later, the Florida legislature unanimously passed laws hastening rooftop installations.

Similarly, in 2015 Nevada’s Public Utilities Commission, under pressure from the state’s largest utility, NV Energy, announced drastic changes in rooftop solar rates that caused installers to stop doing business in the state. Even worse for rooftop solar owners, the rates were made retroactive, so that customers who’d been enticed into purchases with generous state rebates and the promise of unchanging rates over their contracts’ 20- or 30-year lifetimes found that they’d been victimized by a bait-and-switch: Under the new rates, they would pay more for electricity than if they’d never installed solar, even though they generated most of their own electricity. But the utility interests underestimated rooftop solar’s appeal. The resulting protest was so strong that in June, Gov. Brian Sandoval, a Republican, signed legislation that restored most of the previous rate structure and enabled rooftop installers to resume operations.

For utilities, the issue isn’t solar energy per se, which they like as long as they can sell it themselves. From their perspective, utility-scale solar has some major advantages over rooftop: not only does it enable utilities to keep their customers, but thanks to economies of scale and lower installation expenses, its electricity costs one-third to one-half as much as rooftop’s, according to Michael O’Boyle, a grid expert at Energy Innovation, a San Francisco-based policy research firm.

Equally significant, the value of electricity generated by solar varies greatly depending on time of day and location. The plentiful electricity generated on rooftops at mid-day, when the sun is highest, is much less valuable than late-afternoon electricity, which feeds the daily demand peak formed when both homes and businesses are consuming energy. And the first rooftop solar installation in a given location is far more valuable than the hundredth: the first one may help meet mid-day electricity demand, but the hundredth may help produce a surplus, in which case its chief impact is straining the system.

These nuances usually aren’t captured in “net metering,” the common, but flawed rate structuring system for rooftop solar owners that has been the focus of most utility-versus-solar company conflicts. Under net metering, utilities compensate rooftop electricity contributions to the grid at an unvarying rate, usually close to electricity’s average retail cost, roughly 11 cents per kilowatt-hour. Utilities argue that compensation should be lower, near electricity’s wholesale cost of 3 or 4 cents per kilowatt hour, because rooftop owners benefit from using the grid without paying for it. Solar companies say compensation should be at least as high as the retail rate because rooftop solar provides valuable unacknowledged benefits such as generating pollution-free energy, eliminating grid transmission losses when electricity is sent long distances, and avoiding the costs of building more power plants and transmission lines.

Net metering does a poor job of reflecting rooftop solar’s varying value depending on the time and location of its generation.

But what is usually lost in the dispute is that no matter what rate a utility sets, net metering fosters energy inefficiency because it does a poor job of reflecting rooftop solar electricity’s varying value depending on the time and location of its generation. At the moment utilities lack the technology even to identify sites where rooftop installations would be most valuable, so they have no way to formulate energy-efficient rates. And without business models that reward them for installing tools to evaluate the value of rooftop locations, they have little incentive to act. In this way, utilities aren’t so much villains as captives of their often somnolent regulators.

“The regulators,” said GTM Research’s Kann, “are the keys to this whole transition.”

Regulators in a few states are beginning to reshape policies accordingly. California’s Public Utilities Commission is performing the delicate task of supporting the rooftop solar industry while phasing out net metering. Two years ago it introduced time-of-use rates for homeowners with new rooftop solar panels, and will follow up in 2019 with rates that also take location into account.

Minnesota’s Public Utilities Commission fostered the growth of rooftop solar’s close cousin, community solar (which typically involves placing solar arrays over parking lots and agricultural fields) by abandoning net metering. Instead, it devised a methodology for calculating a fair rate for electricity fed back to the grid by adding up all the components of community solar’s value, including the so-called “social cost of carbon” — the dollar benefit from reduced climate change impacts and air pollution.

“What we found is that every year, the value of community solar has been higher than the retail electricity price,” said John Farrell, an energy researcher at the Minneapolis-based Institute for Local Self-Reliance. “Which means that customers who produce solar energy were giving more value to the grid than they were receiving in net metering payments.”

“The utilities are going to have to either come to the table or they’re going to go out of business,” says one expert.

New York’s Public Service Commission has crafted the most ambitious of state renewable energy regulatory shifts. Its Reforming the Energy Vision, or REV, has begun moving away from typical utility compensation schemes including net metering toward programs that reward innovation. Its first venture was Consolidated Edison’s Brooklyn-Queens Neighborhood Program. Faced with increasing electricity demand in the area, ConEd first considered a conventional solution, building a new substation at a cost of $1.2 billion. Then it asked outsiders for alternative proposals, and selected one that meets the increased electricity demand with distributed resources, including rooftop solar — at a cost of $200 million. Under REV provisions, the utility’s reward for fostering electricity efficiency was earning as much profit as it would have if it had installed the substation.

“It’s not just the utilities that need to change their business model,” Richard Kauffman, New York’s “energy czar” and REV’s leader, said in a telephone interview. “One of things we’ve been pleased about is the way that the solar industry has demonstrated a willingness to change its business model. The solar sector is beginning to view the utility not as the enemy, but as a customer and partner, in just the way that the utility needs to start viewing the solar industry.”

In the long run, utilities are likely to come around, since the rapidly decreasing costs of rooftop solar and other DERs and the expected emergence of cheap batteries promise consumers a chance to leave the grid entirely. “If customers have the choice to cut the cord,” said the ISLR’s Farrell, “the utilities are going to have to either come to the table or they’re going to go out of business.”

Utilities Grapple with Rooftop Solar and the New Energy Landscape, by Jacques Leslie, Yale Environment 360, August 31, 2017.

Tesla Camper Electrifies Visitors at Stadium EV Show

Craig Blasingame showed off his 2014 Tesla outfitted with a sleeping area to raise awareness of how electric cars can fit outdoor lifestyles.

For the Coronado resident, it’s all about spreading the word. And Saturday, he thinks he persuaded three people to make the switch from gas to electric.

People stood in line to test drive vehicles.

People stood in line to test-drive vehicles made by Tesla, BMW, Kia, Honda, Volkswagen, Chevrolet and Ford. Photo by Chris Stone

“If all of the EV owners today could talk one person into it, and one person talks someone else into it, it won’t be too many years before we are all electric and I think that’s a desirable thing to be,” he said at the third annual Electric Vehicle Day at the stadium formerly known as Qualcomm.

San Diego Gas and Electric Co. hosted the event that included test drives of electric vehicles, electric bicycles and scooters, displays of an electric city bus, school bus, trucks, semi trucks and electric charger suppliers.

In addition to SDG&E, the event was sponsored by Cleantech San Diego and the Center for Sustainable Energy during National Drive Electric Week.

In the stadium’s open parking lot, attendees weren’t talking about the Chargers but ways to charge their cars to avoid the gas pump.

One making the switch after talking to Tesla owner Blasingame was Kevin Huang of Rancho Bernardo, who was sold on the car’s cost, driving experience, torque and stability.

But saying goodbye to the gas pump and driving an ecological car were his main incentives.

He came to the stadium with questions about the cost of charging, mileage range of battery power and availability of charging stations. He looked over models from makers including BMW, Ford, Nissan, Honda, Volkswagen, Chevrolet and Kia.

Twenty-plus models were available to inspect.

For Huang and many of the 1,800 attendees, the Tesla model S drew the most attention with the longest waiting line for test drives. (The new Model 3, starting at $35,000, wasn’t available.)

Britta McNealy and her brother Peyton take a spin in a mini electric car

Britta McNealy, 2, and her brother Peyton, 6, take a spin in a mini electric car on Electric Vehicle Day. Photo by Chris Stone

But a steady stream of drivers took a variety of makes and models for a spin.

“The idea is to get San Diegans behind the wheel of an electric car because it’s not until you drive it do you feel the torque and the excitement of the car,” said April Bolduc, electric vehicle customer engagement manager for SDG&E.

The biggest concerns among those who inspected the electric cars were battery range and ability to easily recharge the car.

Huang said he worried about having a constant concern about where his next charge would come from, but with the 200-mile range on some of the cars, he thought longer drives was doable.

Randy Schimka of SDG&E told the crowd about the Power Your Drive program in which the utility is installing 3,500 charging stations at 350 multiunit dwellings and workplaces with funding from the California Public Utilities Commission.

Schimka expressed hope that with more chargers on the market, the charging units would become a lot more affordable.

Most electric vehicle owners charge their cars in their own garages, he said.

But while people in apartments and condos may find charging more challenging, SDG&E can install meters on outdoor apartment outlets for individual customers with a landlord’s approval.

SDG&E representatives also discussed federal tax credits and state rebates available to EV owners, in addition to the company’s Power Your Drive program offering reduced rates for charging cars between midnight and 5 a.m.

Ryall Wilson of Allied Gardens had a future purchase in mind as he surveyed the models.
“I like the whole concept of not using gas,” he said.

“I had no idea that there were so many to choose from,” Wilson said. He said he was particularly interested in the Nissan Leaf and Chevy Bolt.

Craig Blasingame shows the route he and his wife took as they traveled

Craig Blasingame shows the route he and his wife took as they traveled by Tesla and bike. Photo by Chris Stone

“I am really excited,” he said. “I had no idea that there were so many to choose from. It will be a fun decision-making process.”

Electric scooters and bicycles also grabbed people’s attention.

San Diego Electric Bike in Solana Beach brought a selection of pedal and nonpedal bikes and scooters for people to try out.

“I think it’s great,” Duane Wittmeier of Mira Mesa said after a test ride. “You go up a hill and get a little bit of extra [power] so you don’t have to exert yourself.”

People rode Phat Scooters that go up to 20 miles an hour, have a beach, golf and bike mode, range from 30 to 50 miles per charge depending on speed and four hours to charge.

The $1,700 scooters are customizable for surfboard and golf club racks.

The electric bikes allow riders to go faster and farther in mountain bike, beach cruiser and road bikes. The nearly $2,000 Magnum Metro is the most popular, said Brian Ruehl of San Diego Electric Bike.

An all-electric bus from Build Your Dreams in Lancaster also was on display. While not in use in the San Diego area, more than 100 40-foot buses are used in Los Angeles, Long Beach, Antelope Valley, Lancaster and Indianapolis and throughout the world.

The name Qualcomm has been stripped from the Mission Valley stadium sign.

The name Qualcomm has been stripped from the Mission Valley stadium sign. Photo by Chris Stone

For a comparable price as gas models, James Holtz, a fleet manager for BYD, said the bus can run 250 miles on a charge for a full bus with air conditioning running.

Last year, the Metropolitan Transit System invested in a fleet of propane fueled buses in San Diego.
While people looked over the electric buses and cars, Tesla owner Blasingame was trying to persuade others of the virtue of electric cars.

Blasingame added 35,000 miles to his Tesla when he took coastal tours on both sides of the country and in a Route 66 journey from Santa Monica to Chicago, staying overnight in campgrounds where he refueled.
A phone app allows him to program either air conditioning or heating overnight while he and his wife sleep in the back.

He said he had no problems fueling up across the nation except in Pennsylvania, where local officials wouldn’t allow the fueling stations at campgrounds because such cars don’t generate gas tax income.
On his first journey, people had a lot of questions about his curiosity generating car.

One fellow camper was dumbfounded when he looked at Blasingame’s EV.

“You know, you ain’t got no motor,” the camper said. Blasingame assured him it was under the car.

Tesla Camper Electrifies Visitors at Stadium EV Show, by Chris Stone, Times of San Diego, September 9, 2017

Pleasanton Residents Urged to Ask Council to Join Energy Group

Pleasanton is one of two cities in Alameda County that has not signed up to participate in the East Bay Community Energy (EBCE) program.

EBCE, a joint powers agreement to operate a Community Choice Aggregation (CCA) program was established in December by Alameda County. A CCA allows local governments and some special districts to pool (or aggregate) their electricity load in order to purchase and/or develop power on behalf of residents, businesses, and municipal accounts.

Goals of the program are to promote renewable energy, reduce greenhouse gas emissions, and provide energy at a lower rate.

Both Livermore and Dublin have signed on.

On August 31, a panel hosted by Organizing for Action held a clean energy workshop at the Pleasanton Library to encourage Pleasanton residents to communicate with their councilmembers their wish to become part of the EBCE.

EBCE, a community controlled not for profit power supplier, will begin operating in participating cities and unincorporated areas of Alameda County starting in April or May of 2018.

Van Rainey, Volunteer Climate Change Lead, OFA East Bay Central Chapter, presented the panelists. They included Alexandra McGee, Community Development Manager of Marin Clean Energy, California’s first CCA, in operation since 2010; Rod Sinks, Founding Chair, Silicon Valley Clean Energy/Cupertino City Councilmember; Cathy Brown, City of Pleasanton Energy and Environment Advisory Committee Member, Environmental Scientist; and Seth Baruch, Consultant, EBCE/Alameda County who assisted with Alameda County CCA Technical Feasibility Study.

The Pleasanton City Council decided against joining EBCE after a presentation and discussion in October. The council’s reasoning was that they wanted to maintain local control over electricity. The council had issues with how the voting was organized. They saw it as giving greater voting power to larger cities. After an affirmative vote by the entire EBCE board, any three members can call for a voting shares vote to re-affirm the action. Theoretically, the three largest cities, Oakland/Fremont/Hayward could combine vote shares to overturn decisions.

The Pleasanton council indicated that it would revist the issue after the EBCE had been in operation for a year. At the Aug. 31 workshop, it was pointed out that PG&E is not locally controlled, while EBCE’s bylaws require a representative from each participating city to be included on the board.

Panelists encouraged Pleasanton residents to contact their representatives now, since council members can make it an agenda item at any time when there is community interest.

Cathy Brown noted that Pleasanton’s power load data has already been studied by the Alameda County CCA Steering Committee. This ensures an expedited process for joining EBCE

Panelists offered the following observations:

Seth Baruch noted that the technical feasibility study commissioned by Alameda County shows that using the county’s local renewables will be competitive with or cheaper than PG&E.

Alexandra McGee pointed to rate decreases for Marin Clean Energy’s users over the last two years.

Rod Sinks cited a $40.8 million net revenue projected for Silicon Valley Clean Energy in the coming 2017-18 operating year. He said that the board will need to decide whether to issue dividend checks to ratepayers, reduce next year’s rates, or invest in incentive programs for new renewable projects. He clarified that the revenue must be allocated to agency initiatives and cannot be used for other purposes, such as city general funds.

In addition to other positives, it was pointed out that local clean power generation creates local jobs. EBCE buys renewable power through contracts with local producers.

The program incentivizes the development of solar on local “brown sites” in such places as parking lots, warehouses, water treatment facilities, etc. Alameda County has already conducted a solar siting study which identifies prime areas for new solar installation.

Once part of the program, a community decides its own renewable energy level, all of which are greater than the current renewable base load from PG&E (30% as of 2015).

Residents who do not want to purchase power from EBCE can opt-out for free during the enrollment period and continue purchasing as they do now through PG&E.

While communities control the sources for power generation in EBCE, PG&E is still a partner, handling transmission/line repair, and billing/accounts.

If Pleasanton residents are interested in getting involved with events supporting EBCE, they can sign-up here: http://bit.ly/CCE4PLS

For more information go to https://sites.google.com/site/ofaebc/home

Pleasanton Residents Urged to Ask Council to Join Energy Group, by Staff, The Independent, September 7, 2017.

King City Working on Community Clean Energy Program

Steve Adams, City Manager, King City

The City Council recently took the first step in an effort that could potentially make King City a future leader of local clean energy production. A contract was approved with Pilot Power Group, Inc. to prepare the feasibility and technical analysis needed to determine the likelihood of success of forming the City’s own Congregated Choice Aggregation Program (CCA). Results of initial studies have been favorable.

Under the program, the CCA would become the local electric energy provider and PG&E would continue to transmit and bill for the power. Customers would also maintain the ability to opt out of the program and continue to receive their power directly from PG&E if they choose.

The contract has been structured in two phases. The first phase consists of preparing the necessary technical analysis. To ensure its accuracy and objectivity, the City will also be contracting with an outside third party to prepare a peer review of the results. Based on the results of the studies, the Council will then make a decision on whether to proceed to Phase II, which will include developing, launching and operating the CCA on an ongoing basis. No commitment on Phase II has been made at this time. That decision is targeted to take place in October.

The City made the decision to further evaluate the potential of forming its own CCA in an effort to design the program to maximize benefits to the local community. Goals and proposals of the program being studied to accomplish this include the following: 1) to establish customer rates lower than those currently charged by PGE; 2) to develop projects that will generate local renewable power; 3) to provide outstanding customer service, including 100 percent call takers that are bilingual; 4) to provide subsidized programs offering rooftop solar equipment to local residents, businesses and organizations, including no cost programs for low-income individuals and families and agencies that serve them; 5) to provide local job training in the solar industry and increase local jobs; 6) to assist in accelerating the process of electric service connections for new businesses and projects; and 7) to develop a program of installing additional energy efficient streetlights throughout the City.

As part of the feasibility studies, Pilot Power Group will prepare an initial cost analysis of constructing a local solar power plant on old unused landfill property owned by the City. If found viable, it could provide a substantial local renewable power source and revenue to recover landfill closure and monitoring costs incurred by the City. They will also evaluate the potential for providing the streetlight expansion program using wireless solar streetlights. The streetlight program was an important recommendation in the City’s Comprehensive Plan to End Youth Violence. Other overall renewable power options, such as wind energy, will also be considered.

Pilot Power Group is partnering with Grid Alternatives, a local non-profit, to potentially construct all the solar related projects, including the rooftop solar program. They are able to provide these programs at a substantially reduced cost and incorporate an extensive job training effort for local disadvantaged individuals from the community in each project.

Two public meetings will be held to involve the community, answer questions, and to request your input and ideas. Everyone is invited and encouraged to attend. First, the Chamber of Commerce and Agriculture is sponsoring an informational luncheon at noon on Tuesday, Aug. 29, at St. Mark’s Episcopal Church Hall, 301 Bassett St. The cost is $15 for the lunch. Second, a bilingual meeting will be held at 2 p.m. on Sunday, Sept. 24, at St. John the Baptist Catholic Church, 504 N. Third St. There will be no cost for this program.

In the meantime, feel free to contact City Hall at 385-3281 for more information.

King City Working on Community Clean Energy Program, by By Steve Adams, King City Rustler, August 16, 2017.

Voters of Color in California Polled: 74% think climate change is a serious problem facing the state

Climate change will effect us all, but it hits people of color hard in many ways. On August 22nd, KQED’s California Report released the results of a poll conducted by EMC Research of Oakland: out of 800 voters of color, 74% think climate change is a serious problem facing California.

To create questions for the poll EMC enlisted help from people like Veronica Garibay, Co-Director of the Leadership Council for Justice and Accountability, which does neighborhood organizing in the San Joaquin and Coachella Valleys. Previous polls have not focused on people of color and Garibay thinks that this confirms what community residents have been saying in inland regions of the state, throughout the state by people of color, communities of color, and lower-income communities that are feeling the impacts of climate change.

Along with releasing the results from the poll, Garibay said that a document will also be released identifying what climate justice is. Included in this document will be recommendations that different regions of the state conduct with vulnerability assessments to outline the threats they face from climate change and opportunities for change in those areas. In Fresno County, the Leadership Council has been working with community leaders to increase access to the city of Fresno. This partnership has worked to create a rural rideshare program that will use electric vehicles built and designed by the community and charged at charging stations located within the community. By incentivizing the use of electric vehicles, they hope to promote better air quality and to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, as well as to bring solutions to the rest of the state.

Source: The California Report – Audio version

In August 2016, Clean Power Exchange conducted a survey of voters in the San Joaquin Valley and found that a majority of Valley residents want clean, locally-produced electricity, and a choice in service providers.

Voters of Color in California Polled: 74% think climate change is a serious problem facing the state, by Ross Markey, Clean Power Exchange, August 23, 2017.

 

College of Marin Opts for 100 Percent Renewable Power

The College of Marin announced this week it has switched to MCE’s “Deep Green” electricity, making it just the latest in a slew of public power customers to choose the 100-percent-renewable energy program.

MCE, formerly known as Marin Clean Energy, offers two energy options: a “Light Green” power supply, in which sources are currently 55 percent renewable; and a “Deep Green” product that is 100 percent renewable. About 30 percent of Pacific Gas and Electric Co.’s electricity comes from renewable sources.

Since April, the county of Marin and six Marin municipalities — Corte Madera, Larkspur, Novato, San Rafael, Ross and Mill Valley — have opted for the Deep Green program. The only Marin municipality at this point that hasn’t switched to Deep Green is Tiburon.

In addition, during the same four-month period, Napa County and the cities of Richmond, Lafayette and El Cerrito decided to become Deep Green customers.

MCE estimates that consumption of its Deep Green electricity will increase by 66 percent in 2017. In April, Deep Green customers accounted for 2.3 percent of MCE’s total sales; today, they account for about 4 percent.

One reason cities and counties may be jumping on the bandwagon is a state law that requires them to cut their greenhouse gas emissions to 1990 levels by 2020, a reduction of approximately 15 percent, said J.R. Killigrew, an MCE community development manager.

“Equally important,” said Killigrew, was all the advocacy that came from Marin. “I think it was a beautiful orchestra of MCE staff, community advocates and municipal staffs all working together to get these communities to opt up to Deep Green.”

After participating in the Environmental Forum of Marin’s master class, Sarah Loughran of San Rafael and Helene Marsh of Tiburon made it their project to lobby the county of Marin and seven municipalities that hadn’t yet opted for Deep Green to take the plunge.

“We very much wanted to do a meaningful project to reduce greenhouse gas emissions causing global warming,” Loughran said. “We feel that Marin can serve as an example to other localities.”

“The timing was right,” Loughran said, “because in a number of cities and towns they had recently implemented fairly significant solar installations and by reducing the amount of electricity they had to buy, they cut the cost of going to Deep Green.”

Deep Green customers pay about a penny per kilowatt hour extra for their electricity. Half of that revenue is used for renewable energy development within MCE’s service area.

College of Marin spokeswoman Nicole Cruz said the college’s switch to the Deep Green program will result in about a 3 percent increase in its $1.5 million annual electric bill, or about $45,000 in the first year. Cruz said the added cost would be offset in the future, however, as solar panels to be installed at the Kentfield campus, and now being installed at the Indian Valley campus, become operational.

Deep Green revenue is being used for the first time to support the construction of MCE’s 10.5-megawatt Solar One project in Richmond. Richmond Mayor Tom Butt said Solar One “will be the Bay Area’s largest publicly owned solar farm, supporting 341 jobs and generating enough power for 3,417 homes per year.”

Before Mill Valley and Lafayette decided to become Deep Green customers, MCE estimated the two new county customers and seven new municipal customers it had gained since April would result in the elimination of more than 7,200 metric tons of electricity-related greenhouse gas emissions, the equivalent of removing 1,500 cars from the road in one year.

Dawn Weisz, MCE’s chief executive, said this week that College of Marin’s move to Deep Green will cut greenhouse gas-related emissions by another 1,100 metric tons.

College of Marin president David Wain Coon, said, “We are proud to be the first educational institution to join MCE’s Deep Green and hope that other educational institutions and organizations in the area will consider using certified clean energy in the near future.”

College of Marin Opts for 100 Percent Renewable Power, by Richard Halstead, Marin Independent Journal, August 18, 2017.

Severing Ties with Utilities Isn’t as Easy as Cutting the Cable Cord

If disaster ever struck, Joe Fleischmann could keep the lights, refrigerator and big-screen TV running in his Orange County home, even if the power company went dark.

Fleischmann is an early adopter of home energy storage: In his garage is a battery strong enough to help keep the essentials in operation.

The home of the former Los Angeles County sheriff’s deputy sports a full suite of eco-friendly power equipment — solar panels on his roof as well as battery storage and an electric vehicle charging station in his garage. But even with all his powerful tools, Fleischmann still can’t cut the power cord with Southern California Edison.

Severing ties with the centralized power system — going off the grid — might be a dream of survivalists and some consumers, but the reality is difficult to achieve. The cost of batteries large enough to power air conditioners, a washer, dryer and other big energy guzzlers would imperil most homeowners’ budgets.

“As far as being completely off grid, it’s kind of a foreign thought to me because you’ve always had to rely on the utilities,” Fleischmann said. “We could do that, but at what cost?”

Even the leader in the residential electricity storage industry — and supplier of Fleischmann’s $26,000 battery system — doesn’t see consumers defecting from their utilities.

“True off-grid is ridiculous,” said Blake Richetta, senior vice president of Sonnen Inc., who oversees the German battery maker’s U.S. arm that is based in North Hollywood. Sonnen has about 18,000 residential systems, primarily in Germany and Italy.

Not only is it costly to turn your home into a virtual power plant, Richetta said, but it makes the consumer’s home an island that would be unable to tap the central power system if the off-grid operation fails.

And going it alone negates a more global benefit: Residential and commercial power systems can provide support for the electric grid and utility companies.

“Energy storage adds value, significant value, to the grid operator,” said Richetta, a former North American sales manager for Tesla Inc., which has a battery line of its own.

For instance, as consumers add solar panels and battery storage, combined with increasing energy efficiency, demand decreases for electricity from traditional utility companies. That helps utilities avoid construction of new fossil fuel plants such as natural gas facilities.

“We are essentially helping the grid do things it could never do before in a cheaper and cleaner way,” Richetta said.

And although Fleischmann’s system comes with a high price tag, the cost has been dropping substantially, making it potentially more affordable for average consumers in the next few years.

Ravi Manghani, director of energy storage for GTM Research, said the installed price of residential systems has dropped 25% to 30% over the last two to three years. The cost of the batteries themselves has declined by about 60% during that time to about $425 per kilowatt-hour, he said.

And consumers can benefit from state and federal incentives that can reduce the overall cost, Manghani said.

In some places, living off-grid makes more sense than in others.

In the United States, that place is Hawaii, which has the nation’s highest electricity rates at roughly twice as much as what Californians pay per kilowatt-hour. Because Hawaii must import fuel for its power plants, costs run high.

Hawaii’s higher utility tab makes it a simpler decision for consumers to spring for solar panels and battery storage. And that potential sales opportunity has drawn the attention of energy companies including Sonnen, Tesla, Sunrun and Blue Planet, which are offering solar and battery packages similar to Fleischmann’s system but at various sizes.

But for other places, even relatively high-cost California, it can be difficult to get a deal that includes storage for less than what consumers are paying their utility company for electricity.

“You’re probably not going to save enough money to make that work,” said Ron Nichols, president of Southern California Edison, which serves about 15 million people through 5 million residential and business accounts. “Right now it doesn’t pencil out.”

Nichols acknowledges that the equation might improve eventually for residential consumers.

“Battery technology is going to get better over time,” he said. “And its costs are going to come down.”

Nichols said he sees some of the greatest, immediate opportunities in commercial storage systems such as at schools, large office buildings and other commercial entities.

Commercial customers pay a premium for using electricity at times of peak demand. A battery can reduce commercial customers’ use of electricity from the utility company during those periods and ultimately save money. In addition, they can contract with the power company to allow the utility to draw electricity from the battery when the electric grid might need it.

“It’s not some silver bullet for everything,” Nichols said. “But we’re finding new opportunities. They’re going to be very helpful for the grid in the future.”

Bernadette Del Chiaro, executive director of the California Solar Energy Industries Assn., agrees that battery prices are still a bit high on the residential side. But she argues that just as commercial customers can assist the electric grid with their batteries, so can residential consumers by staying connected to their utilities and the wider electric grid.

“The solar and storage industry are really, actually committed to a green grid,” Del Chiaro said. “It really is seen as making the grid stronger and more resilient, as opposed to everybody an island unto themselves.”

Del Chiaro said utility companies benefit from the argument that solar plus storage is too expensive for residential customers because they retain control of electricity and keep prices high for consumers. But working toward empowering consumers will ultimately reduce their costs, she said.

“What we’re trying to push for is something that truly transforms the market,” Del Chiaro said. “Everybody just thinks solar and storage are toys for the rich. The utilities run around Sacramento and call solar plus storage the ‘Cadillac class.’”

But if utilities are allowed to set the agenda for how the electric system develops, she said, “we’ll keep prices really high that way.”

Fleischmann, who retired from the Sheriff’s Department after a back injury, installed a 6.5-kilowatt solar array on his Brea home three years ago. He added the Sonnen battery system last year.

Fleischmann thought the Sonnen system, which looks like a storage cabinet in his garage, provided a good match for his home. The system is expandable, unlike some batteries, and can be operated from a computer and smartphone.

“I think it actually looks pretty cool,” Fleischmann, 46, said.

His goal was to save money on the electricity consumed by his family of five as well as to provide backup power in an emergency. He wasn’t thinking off-grid.

But he purchased a large battery — 12 kilowatts, while the typical home system, Nichols said, is about 4 kilowatts and enough to last about four hours. Fleishmann chose a large system with the benefit of a state rebate that picked up about a third of the cost of the battery.

Fleischmann keeps about 20% to 25% of his battery in reserve as backup while tapping the remainder to support his home or send to the electric grid.

“If the grid goes down, we would still have a source of electricity,” Fleischmann said. “I think with the popularity of the system and as the costs come down, more people will be able to invest in them.”

Severing Ties with Utilities Isn’t as Easy as Cutting the Cable Cord, by Ivan Penn, Los Angeles Times, August 13, 2017.

Sonoma Clean Power Launches Second Round of EV Incentive Program

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As a follow up to last year’s Electric Vehicle Incentive pilot program, which saw 206 customers purchase or lease steeply discounted electric vehicles, phase two of Sonoma Clean Power’s Drive EverGreen program will run from August 8th to October 31st, 2017.

In keeping with SCP’s commitment to reducing emissions from cars, the agency has negotiated significant discounts on nine models of electric vehicles at seven local dealerships. SCP is also offering additional incentives of their own, with a bonus incentive for low income-qualified customers, and free home chargers.

SCP’s Board of Directors recently approved an additional incentive available to Transportation Network Company drivers (such as Uber and Lyft) who use electric vehicles. The incentive will be available for “fare miles”, meaning miles driven for a customer. More details will be available on that incentive soon.

“We were encouraged by the strong interest we had in the program last year,” said Board Chair, Bruce Okrepkie. “We are thrilled to be able to expand the program to our newest customers in Mendocino County this year,” added Okrepkie.

In response to information that over half of Sonoma County’s emissions are transportation related, SCP felt compelled to develop a customer program aimed at getting more EVs on our roads. “In our first year of serving customers, we reduced electricity-related emissions by half, compared to PG&E,” said SCP CEO Geof Syphers. “We knew we could do even more by promoting electric cars and charging them with clean, renewable energy,” Syphers added.

To apply, people need to get a certificate verifying they are SCP customers at DriveEV.org. Once approved, customers learn the amount of incentives they are qualified for and are welcome to proceed with negotiating a purchase or lease of a qualified EV from one of the participating dealerships.

“There’s no guarantee how much longer federal rebates up to $7,500 will be available on new EVs,” said SCP’s Director of Programs, Cordel Stillman. “This program is too good to pass up for anyone even remotely interested in the benefits of driving an EV.”

Sonoma Clean Power is a not-for-profit public agency, which is the public electricity provider for Sonoma and Mendocino counties. SCP provides cleaner energy at competitive rates and promotes local solutions to climate change.

For more information on the Drive EverGreen program, visit DriveEV.org or call 1 (855) 202-2139.

Sonoma Clean Power Launches Second Round of EV Incentive ProgramSanta Rosa Metro Chamber, August 4, 2017.

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.