California Dreamin’ of Offshore Wind Energy and Job Creation

It’s not just states on the northeast coast of the US that stand to benefit from offshore wind – California could too.

Recent weeks have seen a lot of attention paid to the potential of offshore wind energy of the northeast coast of the US, but there is also potential aplenty on the country’s east coast.

A report from the Green Economy Programme at the Center for Labor Research and Education at the University of California, Berkeley suggests that floating offshore wind energy could play a leading role as a source of green energy and employment.

Robert Collier, a research and policy specialist in the Labor Center’s Green Economy Programme, suggests that, as California accelerates its transition to a low-carbon future, one of its challenges is to choose ‘high-road’ policies that not only cut emissions but spur broad-based growth, create quality jobs, and benefit communities, and notes that state and federal governments have recently launched a planning process for one emerging clean energy source with significant high-road potential: offshore wind.

Mr Collier’s report analyses the policy actions needed for offshore wind power to become an important component of California’s energy mix and an economic catalyst. He acknowledges that these steps would entail an unusual degree of long-term co-ordination and commitment by government and industry. Yet such an effort appears to merit serious consideration because of the sector’s potential to create high-wage employment and help balance the state’s power grid at electricity rates competitive with those of similar sources.

California state agencies already provide direct and indirect subsidies to other technologies such as battery storage and advanced biofuels. By placing strategic bets on competing clean energy alternatives, these subsidies stimulate what Mr Collier called a “multi-sided development race” that will strengthen the state’s climate policy options in the years to come.

“Offshore wind carries the same inherent risk as the other technologies in this race: the lack of certainty that they will cut their currently high costs enough to become fully competitive,” he writes, “but offshore wind also has a unique vulnerability that doubles as economic potential: its physical scale and logistical complexity.”

Deep water off the coast of California would probably preclude the use of fixed-bottom foundations and require the use of floating platforms of the type that are being developed in Europe and elsewhere.

As Mr Collier notes, any offshore windfarm requires an extensive supply chain. Ensuring this supply chain takes root in California rather than in Asia or Europe would require major upgrades to California’s infrastructure for ports, transportation, and transmission. The payoff would be creation of a new economic sector that – to a greater or lesser extent, depending on policy decisions – could provide significant job creation.

A necessary factor in developing this supply chain is investor confidence, and as Mr Collier noted, in-state production of the full range of windfarm components is possible if state and federal planners send clear signals to wind developers that, if they build this manufacturing capacity in California, their investments will find steady markets through a long-term series of offshore projects. Without such signals, it is likely that much of the supply chain would be outsourced, with fewer economic benefits for Californians.

“Californian offshore wind is a case study of the challenges and opportunities inherent in a 21st-century industrial policy for the clean energy transition,” he said. “An entirely new industry is being envisioned, potentially involving major infrastructure requirements and long-term power resource planning. Success will depend on policy decisions and market signals that are only just now beginning to be evaluated by government and non-government stakeholders.”

A central finding of his report is that California’s offshore wind planning efforts will soon need to broaden their scope. Since early 2016, the state and federal governments have commissioned research, conducted stakeholder outreach, and mapped out the labyrinth of state, federal, and local permitting. This is important groundwork, much of which involves potential environmental concerns that are outside the purview of this report. But because there are so few US precedents for high-road economic planning, additional attention will be needed to identify and design the appropriate policy tools.

The report’s findings include that offshore wind would bridge the daily late-afternoon gap between fast-vanishing solar output and rising residential electricity consumption, thus reducing the state’s need to import wind power from Wyoming or other out-of-state sources. In doing so, it could allow California to develop additional solar power without destabilising the grid. As an in-state energy source rather than an out-of-state import, offshore wind would be under the purview of the state’s own regulators as well as federal agencies, thus allowing California policymakers to ensure compliance with state policies and interests.

Until only a year or two ago, offshore wind seemed far too expensive to ever be able to compete with California’s other sources of renewable power, but recent technological innovations have sent offshore wind costs plummeting, suggesting that by the mid-2020s, floating windfarms will be close enough to price parity with land-based renewables.

An April 2016 analysis by the National Renewable Energy Laboratory of development scenarios for California offshore wind concluded that an economically feasible build-out of 16 GW would create steadily increasing employment totalling an annual average of 13,620 full-time jobs in construction, installation, and manufacturing by 2040-2050, and 4,330 full-time, long-term jobs in operations and maintenance, plus thousands more service-sector jobs in the broader economy.

California’s first offshore wind projects are likely to be executed with imported turbines and other parts, but if state policymakers send clear signals that a multi-year sequence of many contracts is in the offing, private manufacturers and investors are more likely to build factories and other facilities in California for turbines, blades, towers, and foundations. This, in turn, could lower costs and make the electricity produced more competitive with other power sources.

A full supply chain also presupposes the availability of suitable port facilities for manufacturing and assembly, and two alternatives appear potentially viable: either a multi-site approach, with different functions carried out at a variety of ports, or a single multi-use hub at Eureka, where the Port of Humboldt Bay has vast expanses of vacant industrial land at a deepwater harbour (although it also has major challenges for highway, rail transport and grid interconnection).

Mr Collier suggests that California’s initial offshore windfarms are likely to be either in waters near the Diablo Canyon nuclear plant, whose reactors are slated to close in 2024 and 2025, or offshore Humboldt and Del Norte counties, near a long-closed nuclear plant that is currently undergoing its decommissioning process. In either case, the result could be retraining and re-employment for some of the nuclear plant workers.

For offshore wind energy to achieve a leading role as a provider of clean energy and jobs, he suggests, co-ordinated industrial planning that has been rare in US states in recent decades would be required, but if California is to transition to renewable energy, policymakers and stakeholders should give serious consideration to it.

California Dreamin’ of Offshore Wind Energy and Job Creation, by David Foxwell, Offshore Wind, November 14, 2017.

Airport Could Get 5-Acre Solar Array

McKINLEYVILLE – Humboldt County is making a move toward renewable energy use by pursuing a plan to install a solar power array at its main airport.

At its Oct. 10 meeting, the county’s Board of Supervisors approved a “letter of commitment” to allow a nine acre-portion of the California Redwood Coast – Humboldt County Airport to be used as a solar power “micro-grid.”

The Redwood Coast Energy Authority (RCEA) would own and operate the power system, whose development hinges on a $5 million grant from the state. RCEA is pledging $6 million in matching funds.

The Arcata-based Schatz Energy Research Center is being contracted for the grant application. Before explaining the micro-grid’s features, Peter Lehman, the center’s director, related the power system to an earlier discussion of this week’s AT&T telecommunication service failure.

“This is really appropriate – you’re talking about emergencies here in the county and what we’re proposing to do will give us resiliency and redundancy for energy at the airport, which we’re certainly going to need when we have our own disaster here,” he said.

Lehman added that in addition to resiliency, the solar array will result in cost savings of $60,000 a year and will create local jobs. The solar array will also serve the Coast Guard station at the airport and the county’s animal shelter.

The system will produce two megawatts of power while lowering greenhouse gas emissions, said Lehman.

Lehman said the micro-grid will feature a “sophisticated controller which allows it to operate when it’s grid-connected – which is almost all the time – or when it’s islanded, which would be the case in an  emergency.”

The micro-grid will have a “huge” 6,000 kilowatt hour Tesla battery, he continued, adding that electrical vehicle charging stations will also be installed at the airport.

He added that “for the county accounts, this will be invisible except for the fact that it’s going to be more resilient,” as RCEA will own and operate system and Pacific Gas and Electric Company infrastructure will be used.

County Public Works Director Tom Mattson said the nine-acre micro-grid area at the airport’s south end is part of a 34-acre area identified for airport improvements and leasing.

He told supervisors that the electricity cost savings will be greater than the income the county could get if it leased the land.

Mattson estimated the airport’s total annual energy costs to be $150,000 and he said the micro-grid will cover about one-third of the facility’s energy needs.

Supervisor Mike Wilson noted the availability of completely renewable energy through the RCEA’s community choice energy program. He’s hoping that the micro-grid plan is part of a larger county push toward renewable energy use.

Wilson said that “at some point in the near future,” he’d like the board to discuss signing on to RCEA’s “opt-up” option, which delivers 100 percent renewable energy.

He noted that the cities of Arcata and Blue Lake have chosen that option.

“There’s been some talk of the airport being the first wave of that for the county,” said Wilson.

Other improvements to the main airport’s energy systems are being planned.

Mattson said replacing the airport’s field lighting and aging power cables will likely reduce electricity costs by 80 percent.

Supervisor Ryan Sundberg’s district includes the airport. Sundberg is a state coastal commissioner and was not at the board meeting because he was attending a Coastal Commission meeting.

Airport Could Get 5-Acre Solar Array, by Daniel Mintz, Mad River Union, October 23, 2017.

Humboldt County Airport May Get Solar Microgrid

Update 10/10/17:

MCKINLEYVILLE – The Humboldt County Board of Supervisors are hoping a green idea takes off at the Humboldt County airport in McKinleyville.

During their meeting today, the board signed a letter to the California Energy Commission asking for funding to build a solar microgrid on nine acres of airport grounds.

The multi-million dollar project could save the airport 65% on its energy bill annually, which comes out to about $60,000 a year.

For now, the county is putting $15,000 towards the cost of environmental review for the project.

If it does move forward, surrounding local residents could also access the clean energy through the Redwood Coast Energy Authority’s Community Choice Energy program.

Humboldt Supervisors Request Funding for Solar Power at Airport, by Staff, KIEM, October 10, 2017.

 

MCKINLEYVILLE – The California Redwood Coast Humboldt County Airport in McKinleyville may be getting a green upgrade.

It’s still all ‘up in the air’, but the Public Works Aviation Division wants to partner with Humboldt State’s Schatz Energy Research Center and the Redwood Coast Energy Authority to install a solar microgrid on nine acres within airport grounds.

The energy produced would benefit the airport and the surrounding community, and estimates show the airport could reach up to $60,000 in electricity savings annually if the project moves forward.

Funding is being requested through the California Energy Commission – between 2 to 5 million dollars’ worth.

On Tuesday, the Humboldt County Board of Supervisors intends on signing a letter of commitment during their regular meeting addressed to the California Energy Commission to support the cause.

Also during their meeting, the board plans on holding a closed session to consider public employee performance evaluations for the county’s Human Resources Director, Administrative Officer, and the Public Defender.

The Public Administrator’s Office has been under investigation for possible misconduct stretching back to 2015 regarding sales of estate property being sold to past and current county employees.

Public Defender David Marcus has been controversial since he started in February – with all nine deputy public defenders sending a letter to the board in March, asking them to reconsider his hire and claiming he is unqualified.

More recently, visiting Judge Marjorie Carter ruled a lawsuit against his hiring could go forward.

The first part of the meeting that is open to the public starts tomorrow morning at 9AM in the Humboldt County Courthouse Board Chambers.

Humboldt County Airport May Get Solar Microgrid, by Staff, KIEM, October 9, 2017.

Humboldt Charges Ahead with EV Stations

Humboldt County is taking action to comply with a state law requiring expedited permitting for electric vehicle charging stations and Supervisor Mike Wilson has described it as a first step toward electric switchover.

“It’s the minimum and I think we need to start talking about what we can do, beyond streamlining the permit process, to actually encourage implementation and construction of these charging stations,” he said during the Sept. 12 Board of Supervisors meeting. “It’s the future and the county needs to be a part of that future – so we’ll be talking about it in the future, hopefully not too distant.”

County supervisors approved introduction of the EV station permitting ordinance at the meeting, with final adoption set for this week.

Mike Wilson

The ordinance puts the county on track to comply with a state law that requires municipalities with less than 200,000 residents to adopt permitting streamlining for EV charging stations by Sept. 30.

The county’s ordinance “basically identifies that these will be approved on an over-the-counter basis, as we can,” said Planning Director John Ford. “It sets that goal but if we can’t do it over-the-counter, we’ll do it within two days.”

Responding to a question from Supervisor Rex Bohn, Ford said the ordinance’s description of over-the-counter permitting for EV stations makes it more explicit than a similar ordinance for solar power systems.

Supervisor Estelle Fennell described charging stations as facilities that are in demand. “I think people who are interested in the charging stations and these vehicles don’t need very much prompting – they’re chomping at the bit,” she said.

Noting that Humboldt County as a whole has many charging stations per capita, Bohn said, “We’re doing pretty good, we’re ramping it up and obviously the electric vehicle market is expanding rapidly so I think we’re in tune to keep pace.”

A written staff report states that there is “minimal financial impact” related to the ordinance. The report also states that “there is the possibility of increased permit revenue in the future as a result of this ordinance as it will expedite the process for permitting electric vehicle charging stations.”

Humboldt Charges Ahead with EV Stations, by Daniel Mintz, Mad River Union, September 26, 2017.

Humboldt County Welcomes Community Choice Energy

This past May, Humboldt County became the eighth local jurisdiction in California to provide Community Choice Energy to its residents and businesses. Humboldt joined Sonoma, Marin, Mendocino, and several other counties and cities now offering an alternative way to buy electricity.

For years, investor-owned utilities like PG&E have been the only choice for most Californians when it comes to electricity supply. A state law adopted in 2003 allows local governments to procure electricity on behalf of local customers, with power delivery still handled by the local utility. This has allowed customers access to lower rates and more renewable power, with lower greenhouse gas emissions.

Humboldt County’s program comes courtesy of Redwood Coast Energy Authority, a trusted provider of energy efficiency services for over a decade. We’re pleased that the community has welcomed the program, with nearly 95% of electric customers choosing to take advantage of our cost savings and locally controlled service. Community Choice Energy is now available throughout the county, with the exception of Ferndale, which will join the program early in 2018.

In addition to our base program, which now provides over 40% renewable power to the county, we offer a 100% renewable REpower+ option. An average household pays just five to six dollars extra per month for this service. Two local municipalities, the Cities of Blue Lake and Arcata, have chosen to switch all their public facilities over to REpower+ and are now powering their operations on 100% renewable electricity.

Community Choice Energy is made possible by ratepayer dollars. At the same time we’re helping utility customers cut their electric bills, we’re also setting aside a portion of revenues that will be used to build new renewable energy projects, creating clean industry jobs for the people of Humboldt County.

Speaking of the people of Humboldt, all of you helped develop and set direction for this new program through the workshops and surveys you participated in during planning and startup. We continue to welcome the public to our monthly Board meetings – come let us know what you think. See our website for meeting schedules and agendas.

Humboldt County Welcomes Community Choice EnergyRedwood Coast Energy Authority, September 15, 2017.

We Are Still In

BDSusanOrnelas.jpeg

Susan Ornelas

Mayor, governors, college and university leaders, businesses and investors are coming together to declare that they will still support the Paris Climate Agreement to combat climate change. President Trump’s announcement to withdraw the U.S. from the Paris Climate Agreement was met with widespread criticism, and local and state governments are taking responsibility to decrease greenhouse gas emissions in response. Susan Ornelas, the mayor of the City of Arcata, gives her thoughts on this growing international community known as We Are Still In.

Q: When did you first hear of We Are Still In? Was there an envelope in the mail?

A: No, I came across it on Facebook or the internet. I just saw that, and saw that mayors were signing on and I thought while looking at the Paris Accord, “Well the city of Arcata has internal documents that direct us to do these things already!” So it wasn’t a big decision to have to make, it was kind of like, “we’re in!” We’re already in, and I just thought about the citizens and that they would like to see the city of Arcata on this list. So I just contacted the city manager and Mark Andre (Director of Environmental Services) and said, “yeah, lets sign up, let’s get our name in there.”

Q: How was it implemented? How did you get your name signed on?

A: Well we just wrote a letter based on, we have kind of a legislative platform that if things come up that fit the platform that we already approved, the mayor could just send a letter. So I just sent a letter saying the City of Arcata is still in on the accord, and like I said, and internally I knew that our policies were already working towards these things so wasn’t too difficult to do.

Q: What has the city and university done to contribute to the “We Are Still In” agreement?

A: The city and the university are working well together right now which is a contribution in itself. We have a lot of good coordination and the university has made some strides I feel like. The city has made strides like years ago and we’re still making further strides into zero waste and understanding that…The university did the whole sustainability analysis of themselves…that whole effort of reducing waste, more sustainable systems, less carbon use, you know. I think as a society many of us are trying to reduce our carbon use. Transportation is one of the biggest challenges for this county.

Q: Like moving to the autonomous car?

A: Yeah that will help, although you really have to look at where you’re getting your electricity and is that a good source. Is that a carbon free source, is that non-polluting as much as possible. It’s good that solar has gotten as inexpensive as it has.

Q: Is that probably going to become the norm at some point?

A: “Yeah, and then do you know about the Community Choice Energy Program? That’s another thing the city of Arcata is involved in. The whole county is actually involved in this…. So the Community Choice Energy Program is that Humboldt County now runs or purchases its own energy. It’s still run through PG&E but it’s called Community Choice Energy…. But this also goes in with the whole Paris Climate Accord because the county now is choosing more renewable sources of energy and investing in local solar arrays and things like that. So that’s what called a Joint Powers Agreement, a J.P.A., which means the county and the cities have joined together and we all sit on a board, and we’re overseeing this Redwood Coast Energy authority purchasing now energy for the county, and we’re getting it a little cheaper, and we’re emphasizing renewables. So that’s another way that we’re working to sort of you know weave ourselves out of carbon. And then another thing that I would say that the City of Arcata does is we study some carbon sequestation in like marsh lands because that’s another good source of carbon sink. So the City of Arcata is investing in marsh lands now, working with the university, with students doing studies and things of carbon sequestration in marsh lands. That’s another thing that we’re interested in that we work towards. We see the value of them. I mean there used to be people would just drain marsh lands and farmed it, but we see the value in them for bird habitats for ecosystem diversity and…

Q: Kind of like estuaries?

A: Yeah kind of like estuaries. You know a marsh land, yeah.

Q: In your opinion why do you think We Are Still In holds such significance for our community?

A: Well you know I think because Arcatans really take pride in their environmental stances and they wanted to feel like they supported this. They didn’t want to just give this up after the whole country had, you know, promised to join and then we pulled out, and I think there’s something powerful about all these mayors getting together because the mayors are closer to the people and they’re joining forces and saying whatever is going on at this level we’re still doing this. We still believe that we want to make sure we leave something for our children and things like that. So I think the mayors are speaking more for the people and that’s also kind of heart warming but also powerful stance. I think people liked that too. I think it’s important and people want to feel that we’re not going backwards, you know, I think that would be depressing for people. There’s ways we’re feeling like were watching our society and we are going backwards. But with this particular thing with the mayors coming forward and you know, saying “no, we’re still in”, that at least didn’t go backwards for people.

We Are Still In, by Staff, The Lumberjack, August 30, 2017.

Blue Lake Power Seeks Suppliers to Restart Biomass Plant in California

Blue Lake Power LLC plans to restart its 12-MW biomass power plant in California next month, the company announced on Sunday.

Blue Lake said in a press statement it is currently working to secure short and long-term supplies of fuel for ongoing operations. The particular facility will be burning wood to produce steam and generate electricity. It requires some 175 highway loaded chip vans of fuel per week, according to Blue Lake’s estimates.

The company noted that the plant may burn untreated wood such as sawmill hog fuel, shavings, bark, branches, cull logs, tree tops, off-spec and waste lumber, amongst other. However, treated or painted materials are not acceptable, it added.

The electricity generated at the site will be sold into the power grid in Northern California.

Blue Lake Power Seeks Suppliers to Restart Biomass Plant in California, by Staff, Renewables Now, June 26, 2017.

Blue Lake Council to Consider 100% Renewable Energy for City Facilities

BLUE LAKE – Blue Lake Council will consider powering the city with 100% renewable energy.

Member Bobbi Ricca requested the discussion to better understand the financial implications of Shifting To Redwood Coast Energy Authority’s Re-Power program. According to a report from RCEA, the cost would amount to $3,100 annually.

The council will meet Tuesday, July 25. Please check back for updates on the city’s decision. 

Blue Lake Council to Consider 100% Renewable Energy for City Facilities, by Staff, News Channel 3, July 24, 2017.

Community Choice Energy Program Comes to Humboldt County

People who live in Humboldt County now have a choice when it comes to their electricity supplier.

Roger Engel is the director of power resources for the Redwood Coast Energy Authority (RCEA), a non-profit with a board made up of government officials from cities in Humboldt as well as the county board of supervisors.

“This year we have introduced a new program that’s called Community Choice Energy,” Engel said.  “It’s an alternative way of providing electricity service, so instead of PG&E being the only choice you have for electricity, you can now get your electricity through us.”

The program is “opt-out,” which means everyone within the RCEA region will automatically be switched to the new electricity provider, unless they request otherwise.

“It does automatically switch over if you don’t choose otherwise and that’s not something we made up,” Engel said. “That’s the state of California that set up these community choice energy programs so there is an opt-out program everywhere they operate.”

While state legislation created community choice energy programs, Engel said they are adopted on a smaller level. In this case, board members at the RCEA, which included representation from each city in California, decided what sources they wanted to get energy from.

“We provide local control because the governance of our program is through local governments. Here there’s a board that meets once a month and the public can and does show up at these meetings to express their opinions about where we should be getting our energy and how much it should cost,” Engel said.

The RCEA website says their electricity service is cheaper and cleaner than PG&E’s. However, PG&E will still be the main supplier of gas in the county. Deanna Contreras, a representative from PG&E said they will still have a big role in Humboldt County.

“PG&E has been working closely with the Redwood Coast Energy Authority,” Contreras said. “We are partners because PG&E will still be responsible for the transmission. It’s still our power lines, still our power polls.”

And Contreras said PG&E welcomes the alternate energy source.

“It allows choice and PG&E supports choice for its customers,” Contreras said.

Humboldt County residents that have PG&E as their energy provider will still receive one bill a month from PG&E, but the electricity portion will be replaced with the RCEA service.

Community Choice Energy Program Comes to Humboldt County, by Alex Hasenstab, KRCR, June 28, 2017.

Program Gives Users Option to Go Fully Renewable

Customers enrolled in Redwood Coast Energy Authority’s community choice energy program can “opt up” so that all the electricity coming into their home or business comes from 100 percent renewable sources.

“It’s a great, attainable way to fight climate change by reducing your carbon footprint,” Eureka City Councilman Austin Allison, who opted into the program this month, said.

“We offer repower as the base option which gets you to about 40 percent renewable energy,” RCEA community strategies coordinator Barbara Garcia said.

Opting into REpower+ moves that percentage up to 100, she said.

“We fill that 60 percent with renewable,” Garcia said.

RCEA executive director Matthew Marshall said the whole goal of the community choice energy and the repower program is to provide customers with more local renewable energy at rates comparable to those offered by the Pacific Gas and Electric Co. Biomass energy from generation plants in Scotia and Samoa is being used and power bills for CCE customers are slightly lower than before. Through REpower+ customers can opt to pay slightly more than their old PG&E bills to only be using renewable energy, he said.

“We’ve had several hundred customers opt up so far,” Marshall said.

He said he hopes even more people, businesses and entities sign up.

“That option costs a penny per kilowatt/hour more which amounts to a few extra dollars a month.” Garcia said.

“Those dollars that are generated by the program are what makes the project successful.”

Money generated by REpower+ customers goes toward maintaining the program, future renewable programs and developing new local renewable energy generation facilities, she said.

“We’re looking at a lot of potential solar sites through the county,” Garcia said this includes the county airport in McKinleyville.

But other renewable options are being explored too, she said.

“I know wind is something to be looked at in the future and wave energy as well,” Garcia said.

People can sign up by calling 1-800-931-7232 or 707-269-1700.

“We try and make it easy,” Garcia said about opting up.

The switch can also be made online at RCEA’s website. For more information, visit cce.redwoodenergy.org. REpower+ information can be accessed by clicking “options” under the “business and government” drop-down tab.

Program Gives Users Option to Go Fully Renewable, by Hunter Cresswell, Eureka Times-Standard, June 24, 2017.