Rebuilding with 2050 in mind, not 1950

An energy perspective on rebuilding after the most destructive wildfire episode in California history

Powerful forces are placing enormous pressure on a fast rebuild of the fire-demolished areas in Santa Rosa and Sonoma County. As featured in a recent Sunday edition of the local paper of record, the Press Democrat, the debate about how to rebuild, and how fast or slow has begun. It is a debate that will likely grow. “City officials and most of the City Council have adopted a full-speed-ahead approach…but others are asking whether the city, by moving so fast, might miss its chance to rebuild smarter and safer,” the article states.

It is understandable that the city and county and many residential and business property owners want to clean up and rebuild as quickly as possible. Careful consideration of residents’ and business owners’ needs and wants is imperative. Some kind of process for ensuring that their voices are heard and needs are met as soon as possible needs to happen, as does determining what kind of rebuild occurs over the longer term.

Instead of a slow-down, an expedited process for code revisions and special permitting for the longer term rebuilding is in order to allow for inclusion of advanced 21st century systems and technology in what is rebuilt. The question is: how can we expeditiously rebuild with energy infrastructure optimized for safety and efficiency. Doing so offers a path forward that has a potential win/win dynamic that can favorably address resilience and future emergency response scenarios, in addition to offering advantages on consumer energy costs, energy load management, and more.

Rebuilding with the year 2050, not 1950 in mind means a lot more than under-grounding electric utilities, slapping solar panels on roofs, and making homes electric-vehicle-charging-ready or even adding on-site energy storage to the system. It means integrating all of these technologies and more with the smart sensors and controls, communications tools, and advanced automation that are now available that can do double duty for both early warning of future disasters, early pinpointing of trouble spots, and managing energy generation and demand for cost savings and greenhouse gas reductions.

So, what are we talking about here?

Reports are emerging about microgrids in Sonoma County that were able to keep lights on and water pumps operating when others lost power as a result of the fire. A case in point is the story from our friends at the Stone Edge Microgrid project in Sonoma Valley. Not only were they able to go into energy island mode, they were able to do it remotely. For ten hours while the power was out all around them, using rooftop solar generation and energy storage they were able to stay powered. “By quickly putting the microgrid in island mode in response to the fires…the team learned a lot of lessons it wouldn’t have learned otherwise. Top among them [microgrid engineer Craig Wooster] said: ‘The microgrid did what it was supposed to do.’” I wrote about this now repeating phenomenon briefly in “Preventing the Zombie Apocalypse” in 2013 when the Rocky Mountain Institute pointed out the resilience benefits of microgrids that weathered 2012’s Superstorm Sandy far better than areas of New York that did not have such systems.

The vision for a green energy rebuild with 2050 in mind could look something like this: An all-electric renewables-based clean community microgrid that obviates the need for reconstructing obsolete fossil gas and electric infrastructure, including wooden utility poles, a 19th century technology. Why all electric? Because in Sonoma County our electricity dollars pay for an extremely clean mix of power, thanks to Sonoma Clean Power.

Then, beginning with passive design (taking local environmental conditions like prevailing winds into consideration) of new structures, and including the four key technologies of solar, storage, electric vehicles, smart controls, along with others like electric heat pump water and space heaters would enable the decommissioning of the fossil gas infrastructure.

It is a system where sensors are embedded in key points that allow emergency responders to know what and where the problem is early, instead of relying on an antiquated system that requires someone to make a phone call (Imagine if you needed to get a phone call to know you cut your finger; no, your system just knows and reacts!). Other sensors can be embedded that allow grid operators to communicate with load centers in a two-way mode allowing real-time demand response management. All structures can and should be designed to be zero net energy or even net-plus, producing more power than they consume. Many more dimensions of a smart green energy rebuild can be considered.

Some of these technologies may cost more to include, but the right kinds of programs, financial tools, and incentives can make it possible for these ideas to be low or no cost to property owners. This is where the utilities, local government, PACE providers, Community Choice agencies, local financial institutions, and others can play a critically important role and there are early indications that they are eager to work together to make some of this happen. There are community and system-wide energy, safety, and resilience benefits that can justify the investment. And ultimately this approach will save homeowners money on energy and enhance their own safety.

Of course, in addition to the residents, businesses, and others whose structures burned, many other stakeholders will need to be engaged on this including community based organizations, developers, contractors, energy project developers, systems integrators, and others. Both Sonoma County and Santa Rosa will need to be willing to look at innovative stretch and reach codes and ordinances, innovative building codes that push performance to the next level and that can help facilitate such a vision.

Sadly, the recent firestorms could be the “face of the future” as my colleague Barry Vesser pointed out in the aftermath of the 2015 Lake County wildfires. But out of the ashes of this disaster can be born something new and wonderful. And it could create a new model for other communities to follow who will inevitably be hit by ever-increasing climate calamities. We have an unprecedented opportunity to create much safer, energy efficient (and therefore, cost-saving over time), and resilient communities in the areas that were completely lost. Let’s think seriously about doing that before paving over the opportunity.

California Community Choice Association Quarterly Update Published

The October edition of Cal-CCA’s Quarterly update is out.

Cal-CCA now has 13 operational members and 10 affiliate members throughout the state.  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 April, including news about the newest agencies: Los Angeles Community Choice Energy (LACCE), Pico Rivera Innovative Municipal Energy (PRIME), and Pioneer Community Energy (Placer County).

Download the Update HERE.

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


Just Published! Energy Democracy: Advancing Equity in Clean Energy Solutions

Energy Democracy is the first book to show what building an alternative, democratized energy future can look like. It frames the international struggle of working people, low income communities, and communities of color to take control of energy resources and use those resources to empower their communities. Bringing together racial, cultural, and generational perspectives, the book features contributions from leaders of initiatives that range from rural Mississippi and the South Bronx to Californian immigrant and refugee communities and urban and semi-rural communities in the Northeast. It also features a section that focuses on the Community Choice energy movement in California.

Positive early praise of the book:

“This exceedingly important book connects the dots, and shares strategies on how we win on climate, how we win on renewable energy, and how we win on empowering vulnerable communities!”
—Mustafa Santiago Ali, Senior Vice President, Hip Hop Caucus

“In this marvelous collection, you’ll hear directly from many of the inspiring leaders who have been theorizing, organizing, and laying the policy groundwork for that leap forward—and you might just be moved to join them.”
—Naomi Klein, Author of No Is Not Enough and This Changes Everything

“This is a critical read for those seeking to build a broader movement for economic equity, environmental justice, and planetary health.”
—Manuel Pastor, Director, Program for Environmental & Regional Equity, University of Southern California

If you’d like to purchase a copy from Island Press, which ships worldwide, use the code 4ENDEM, which is good for a 20% discount. You can also order it from Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and your local independent bookseller.

I hope you will consider sharing the book with your own networks. You can help in a few ways:

· Forward this message to your own organizational contacts and members, or share the news on your social media networks. Feel free to include the discount code, 4ENDEM.

· If you’d like to review it for a publication or website, you can request a review copy from

· If you’d like to use it in a class, you can request an exam copy at

· Encourage your organization to ask for details about a discounted bulk purchase. Island Press can offer bulk discounts on copies of the book, ranging from 20-50% off based on quantity.

· Review the book on Amazon, Goodreads, or another review site.

· If you have Bay Area contacts, let them know about the book’s launch event at the Clean Power, Healthy Communities 2017 event in Oakland on November 16th.

California State Legislative Summary – 2017

October 15 was the deadline for the Governor to sign legislation and with that deadline now passed, the 2017 session, the first year of a two-year session, has drawn to a close. We tracked several bills directly and indirectly related to Community Choice, as well as several others of interest to the climate, clean energy, and clean transportation communities.

The good news is that although several bills were introduced that might have negatively impacted Community Choice, all of them were either amended favorably or died a natural legislative death. Bills directly affecting Community Choice included SB 618 (Bradford), AB 649, (Dahle), and AB 79 (Levine). Community Choice alarm bells rang early in the session over SB 618, a Bradford bill that as introduced, would have effectively handed control of Community Choice agency (CCA) energy portfolio design to the CPUC. Energy portfolio design is one of the key statutory authorities of CCAs and losing it would be a major blow to all CCAs.

The not so great news is that late in the session a dynamic emerged where two bills relating to regionalization of the California electrical grid AB 726 and AB 813, were amended to include language that would halt the formation of new CCAs. The CCA lobbying forces were able to stop the bills from moving in 2017, but in the process, SB 100, the 100% renewable energy by 2045 bill, was also held up. All three bills became two-year bills, so we can expect a renewed battle in 2018.

Some bills indirectly related to Community Choice but of interest to anyone who cares about the climate crisis and advancing clean energy are in various states of play. This includes AB 262, the “Buy Clean California” bill, was signed by the governor. Two bills by San Francisco’s Scott Wiener, SB 71 (solar mandate), SB 700 (California Storage Initiative), will both come up again in 2018.

Two bills related to the state’s carbon “Cap & Trade” program were introduced, one, the governor-supported AB 398 that extends the current program to 2030, was enacted to the chagrin of many Fee & Dividend activists, while SB 775, widely regarded as a superior revision of the Cap & Trade program, remains as a two-year bill with an uncertain future.

Click HERE for a listing of the bills we tracked with a brief description of what they are or were about, and their status. The bill numbers on the left link to the California’s legislative info page.

The 2018 session begins on January 3rd. For general information about legislation, click HERE. To find your representative, click HERE.

See you in 2018!

Monterey Regional Airport ‘Flips the Switch’ on Solar Project Expected to Save $5.5 Million in Energy Costs

MONTEREY, Calif., Sept. 26, 2017 /PRNewswire/ — Monterey Regional Airport (MRY) celebrated the completion of its new, on-site solar program during a “flip the switch” event connecting a field of solar panels beside the runway to the electricity grid last Thursday, September 21, 2017. Through a collaborative partnership with OpTerra Energy Services, MRY’s new clean energy generation capacity represents a new chapter in the airport’s innovative approach to enhancing the environmental impact of its facilities. Statewide leaders from the California Energy Commission as well as regional and local elected officials attended in support of the new sustainable energy project, which is expected to save MRY $5.5 million in energy savings.

Read more by clicking the link below.

Monterey Regional Airport ‘Flips the Switch’ on Solar Project Expected to Save $5.5 Million in Energy CostsPR Newswire, September 26, 2017.

CalCCA Annual Conference draws Community Choice Leaders from throughout the State

About 200 Community Choice energy leaders from around the State convened in Riverside California on Tuesday, October 3rd for the second annual meeting of the year-old California Community Choice Association (CalCCA).

The need for vigilance and readiness to take action in defense of Community Choice in the legislative and regulatory arenas was introduced early in the day by Dawn Weisz, CEO of the very first operational Community Choice agency (CCA) in the state, and was a consistent thread throughout the day, given the recent and continuing legislative challenges and the ongoing complexity of the PCIA proceeding.

In his keynote remarks Lancaster mayor Rex Parris, the driving force behind the formation of Lancaster Choice Energy, the third CCA in the state to launch, included photos of his grandchildren in his slides and emphasized the urgency of the work at hand given that we are clearly experiencing the consequences of climate change now. He implored the CCA community to continue making greenhouse gas reduction an essential purpose of Community Choice energy.

In some exciting and unexpected news, Geof Syphers, CEO of Sonoma Clean Power closed out the day’s events with a pledge and a challenge to his CalCCA peers. He pledged $100,000 to support a CCA technical study or studies in disadvantaged communities in the State, and challenged his fellow agencies to pony up as well to support fledgling CCA efforts in economically challenged areas. Rightly or wrongly, Community Choice is perceived to be a prospect mostly of wealthier coastal communities. The State is keenly interested in bringing the benefits of clean energy to all communities, including historically disadvantaged communities. Community Choice offers significant opportunities on that front, beginning with the enhanced consumer choice and energy democracy attributes that local, accountable, public, not-for-profit Community Choice brings.

CalCCA was founded in 2016 by the five operational agencies at that time with a mission to represent the interests of California’s Community Choice electricity providers and their customers in the legislature and at the relevant regulatory agencies, including the California Public Utilities Commission, California Energy Commission and California Air Resources Board. Community Choice agencies are not-for-profit agencies administered by local governments, usually cities or counties, with a mission to provide competitive and in most cases cleaner alternatives to the for-profit utility energy sources. There are currently about 13 Operational Members and about 10 emerging CCA Affiliate Members. For more information visit CalCCA’s website.



International Green Industry Hall of Fame to feature Dr. Michael Mann of “Hockey Stick” Graph Fame

The International Green Industry Hall of Fame, IGIHOF for short, takes place this year in Clovis at the Veteran’s Memorial Hall on October 5th and 6th. IGIHOF’s mission is to recognize individuals and organizations for excellence and outstanding achievements in the green industry.

I’ll be attending along with my colleague Barry Vesser, Deputy Executive Director of the Center for Climate Protection. We are looking forward to sharing the benefits of Community Choice Energy with the attendees from around the Central Valley.

This year’s event features many interesting organizations and speakers, including Michael Mann, PhD of the global temperature “Hockey Stick” chart fame. Dr. Mann is the Distinguished Professor of Atmospheric Science at Penn State and is also director of the Penn State Earth System Science Center. He has contributed to UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change reports and his work was recognized as a factor in the IPCC and Al Gore receiving the Nobel Peace Prize in 2007.

Other notable attendees and presenters include:

• Motivo Engineering, developing a multi-purpose shareable mobile power delivery system for agriculture. Consisting of a power module integrated with a small tractor Motivo’s HARVEST system provides mobility, rotary power, and electrical power from a single zero-emission platform. Based on a patent-pending power electronics architecture developed by Motivo, HARVEST collects power from solar panels or the grid, stores that power in an on-board battery, then delivers it on-demand.

• Richard Hatfield, CEO, Lightning Motorcycles, the world’s fastest electric motorcycle.

• Elizabeth Perez-Halprin, Founder-President, GC Green Inc.

• Phil Dillard, Founder/Director, VETCON

• Jim Kor, CEO, Kor Ecologic

• Mark McAffee, CEO, Organic Pastures

• Dr. Michael Ben-Eli, CEO, Sustainability Laboratory

• Tom Bowman, founder and CEO of Bowman Change, Inc.

• Joseph Oldham, SJV Clean Transportation

• Phil Erro, Erro Farms

• Isiah Gomez, Marine Engineer

• John Tang, Coca-Cola North America

Hope to see you there. It is not too late to register. Register here.

Chula Vista Becomes 4th City in San Diego County to Adopt 100% Clean Energy Goal

SAN DIEGO, Sept. 27, 2017— Huge congratulations are in order for the City of Chula Vista, which has cemented its status as a climate leader in our region by adopting a Climate Action Plan with a commitment to achieve 100% clean energy by 2035. They join the cities of San Diego, Del Mar, and Solana Beach in committing to that goal, and set our region on a path to lead the nation.

We are also pleased that the Council committed to evaluation of Community Choice Energy to achieve the 100% clean energy goal and offer choice, local control and create local jobs with local renewable development, and to developing a gold-standard active transportation plan and updating their Climate Action Plan in 2020 to ensure they reach state climate targets for 2030.

“We’re thrilled that Chula Vista continues to step up to lead the regional effort to stop climate change and power our cities with 100% clean energy,” said Nicole Capretz, Executive Director of Climate Action Campaign. “The commitments in this CAP model success for our binational region, and we look forward to seeing the momentum continue to build in favor of energy freedom, active transportation, and other innovative climate solutions.”

Mayor Salas reminded the City Council and the public that over a decade ago, the city was among the first in the state to explore Community Choice Energy. “It was really an unknown at the time,” she said. Now, in contract, “We’re no longer a city that’s standing on our own. We have other partners that we can work with right here in the County of San Diego. So it’s not an unknown venture that we’re going into.”

Nick Segura, IBEW Local 569 Business Manager, says, “I commend the Chula Vista City council for their commitment to 100% clean energy goals. We look forward to working with the Chula Vista Council to ensure our clean goals create local jobs by a skilled and trained workforce and spark economic growth.”

Bike Walk Chula Vista member Randy Van Vleck lauds the city’s commitment to active transportation: “We’re excited that the council voted to support a resolution that seeks to achieve a gold-standard Bike Friendly Community status and ensure that the city play a leading role in fighting climate change.”

We applaud the leadership of Mayor Mary Salas and Councilmember Steve Padilla, who confronted the “fierce urgency of now,” urging, “Getting moving on getting a real CAP that advances outcomes for our community is not something we have a lot of luxury and a lot of time to tinker around with, because the clock is ticking.” Thanks as well to Councilmembers Pat Aguilar and John McCann for voting to support this plan, which passed 4-1.


Climate Action Campaign is the leading climate watchdog organization with a simple mission: stop climate change and protect our quality of life with 100% clean energy. For more information, please visit

Public Banking in Oakland Scores a Victory

A public banking forum is scheduled for Monday at City Hall

The Oakland City Council this week passed a resolution authorizing a public bank feasibility study, the next step on the road to making the bank a reality.

The resolution, co-sponsored by Councilmembers Rebecca Kaplan, Dan Kalb, and Abel Guillén, authorized a feasibility study of a regional public bank with the ability to provide community benefit lending and handle cannabis business deposits.

The study was funded by the City Council at $75,000, the City of Berkeley at $25,000, and private donors, many from the cannabis industry.

Berkeley Mayor Jesse Arreguín and Berkeley Councilmember Kriss Worthington, for contributing to the study, and making it a collaborative, regional effort.

Councilmembers Kaplan and Kalb will host a community forum on public banking and renewable energy Monday, Sept. 25, 7 p.m. to 9 p.m. at Oakland City Hall, 3rd Floor.

The forum, co-sponsored by Friends of the Public Bank of Oakland and Local Clean Energy Alliance, will discuss how a public bank in Oakland could help fund local renewable energy resources for our new Community Choice program, and bring jobs and economic benefits to communities throughout Alameda County.

The featured speaker will be Wolfram Morales, chief economist of the Sparkassen public banks of Germany, discussing how Germany’s public banks have financed that country’s astonishing conversion to 85 percent renewable energy.

Speakers will include Nicholas Chaset, new CEO of Alameda County’s East Bay Community Energy, a new community choice aggregation organization that will provide electricity to the county primarily from renewable sources of energy.

Also on the panel will be Greg Rosen, founder and principal of High Noon Advisors, and an energy expert; and Jessica Tovar, an organizer for the East Bay Clean Power Alliance.

For more information, contact

Public Banking in Oakland Scores a Victory, by Ken Epstein, Oakland Post, September 21, 2017.

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 Collins Electrical Company 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.