Earth Day: Improving Air, Water Is ‘Urgent Necessity’

Earth Day, the world’s largest secular holiday and the only event celebrated by more than a half-billion people of all backgrounds, faiths and nationalities, is sponsored by many national and international organizations.

In his official proclamation, Fresno Mayor Lee Brand cited the following reasons for declaring Saturday, April 22, Earth Day in Fresno:

“Earth Day, begun as an annual event on April 22, 1970, focused public attention on pollution and environmental concerns and made the hitherto esoteric term ‘ecology’ a household word. Many national organizations are celebrating it with outreach programs showcasing the positive contributions that environmental science makes to improve the health of our planet and it’s citizens; Earth Day community-sponsored events promoting environmental awareness and education are held to communicate with a wide audience in the San Joaquin Valley; and improving the Valley’s air and water quality is an urgent necessity.”

Donald Trump’s inconsistent, idiotic actions days in office and extensive contacts with Wall Street and the military leave us with little hope for the environment.

However, if Earth Day raises our consciousness of our obligations to the planet, results in a balanced view of our responsibilities to the fragile ecosystem, and makes us aware of the crucial importance of governmental policies on the environment, it should have a positive effect.

GEORGE B. KAUFFMAN, FRESNO

Earth Day: Improving Air, Water Is ‘Urgent Necessity’, by George Kauffman, The Fresno Bee, April 19, 2017.

CPUC to Hold May 11 Voting Meeting in Merced

The California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) will hold its May 11, 2017, Voting Meeting in Merced. The agenda for the meeting includes items on Pacific Gas and Electric Company’s (PG&E) rate case, and on the CPUC’s efforts to identify disadvantaged communities in the San Joaquin Valley and determine options to increase access to affordable energy in those communities.

WHEN: Thursday, May 11, 2017, 9:30 a.m.

WHERE: Merced Civic Center, Council Chambers, 678 W. 18th St., Merced; also available via listen-only call-in number at 1-800-857-1917, passcode 92105

WHAT: The CPUC’s Commissioners will discuss and vote on proposed policies, including PG&E’s General Rate Case, which forms the basis of customer rates for 2017-2019; and options to increase access to affordable energy in San Joaquin Valley disadvantaged communities.

The Voting Meeting begins with public comment, and members of the public are encouraged to attend. Those intending to make public comment can sign-up to speak in person before the meeting starts, or can sign-up online in advance at https://ia.cpuc.ca.gov/requesttocomment/.

The CPUC’s Rules for Public Comment, the Voting Meeting Agenda, a list of items that will be held over to a different meeting, presentations, remote access, and other information will be available on www.cpuc.ca.gov/Commission_Meeting.

The CPUC typically holds Voting Meetings twice a month at its headquarters in San Francisco, and also schedules Voting Meetings in other cities throughout the state. In addition, the CPUC holds many Public Participation Hearings and other events statewide in order to reach out to consumers.

If specialized accommodations are needed to attend, such as sign language interpreters, please contact the CPUC’s Public Advisor’s Office at public.advisor@cpuc.ca.gov or toll free at 866-849- 8390 at least three business days in advance.

To receive electronic updates on CPUC proceedings, sign-up for the CPUC’s free subscription service at http://subscribecpuc.cpuc.ca.gov.

The CPUC regulates privately owned electric, natural gas, telecommunications, water, railroad, rail transit, and passenger transportation companies. The CPUC serves the public interest by protecting consumers and ensuring the provision of safe, reliable utility service and infrastructure at reasonable rates, with a commitment to environmental enhancement and a healthy California economy.

For more information on the CPUC, please visit www.cpuc.ca.gov.

###

CPUC to Hold May 11 Voting Meeting in MercedPublic Now, April 17, 2017.

CARB Green-Lights Clean Air Efforts with Next-Gen Vehicles, Fuels

The California Air Resources Board (CARB) has formally approved two climate and air quality efforts, including a suite of actions to deploy the next generation of clean vehicles, equipment and fuels.

In the first action, CARB approved the State Strategy for the State Implementation Plan (State SIP Strategy), which describes the board’s commitment for further reducing vehicle emissions needed to meet federal air quality standards over the next 15 years. In addition, the board also approved the South Coast Air Quality Management District’s comprehensive air quality plan.

As reported, CARB directed staff to report annually on progress on implementation of the SIP Strategy, including recommendations on additional funding, as well as direction to expedite implementation where possible.

“Today’s action builds upon California’s efforts over the last 50 years and sets the stage for a range of actions into the next decade,” says CARB Chair Mary D. Nichols. “We look forward to continuing California’s air quality leadership, working with our federal and local partners to provide the pathway to cleaner air, along with a vibrant economy.”

According to CARB, the State SIP Strategy maps out a comprehensive suite of actions to deploy the next generation of clean vehicles, equipment and fuels, including a portfolio of new engine standards for cars and trucks and the durability and inspection requirements to ensure these vehicles remain clean over their lifetime. The strategy also includes enhanced deployment of zero-emission technologies, cleaner-burning fuels, and innovative pilot and incentive programs to accelerate the deployment of this cleaner technology.

In parallel to actions at the state level, CARB will continue to call for strong federal action to develop more stringent engine standards for cars, trucks, ships, aircraft and locomotives.

These advanced technologies will help transform and clean up California’s transportation system, providing important public health benefits, especially in the South Coast and the San Joaquin Valley, the two regions of the state with the greatest air quality challenges. The cleaner technologies will also deliver significant reductions in greenhouse-gas and toxic diesel particulate matter emissions that are essential to meeting California’s climate, air quality and risk reduction goals.

The South Coast’s Air Quality Management Plan (AQMP) is a comprehensive road map for meeting ozone and fine particulate matter standards in both the South Coast region and the Coachella Valley. In conjunction with state actions to reduce mobile source emissions, the South Coast AQMP includes a broad spectrum of measures to transition residential and commercial homes and buildings to cleaner energy sources, from electrification and fuel cells to solar power.

Further, the district’s plan also contains important actions to achieve further reductions of pollutants from large industrial facilities, such as refineries and power plants. Attaining federal air quality standards will provide significant public health protection for the 17 million residents who live in the region, estimated by the district to total $173 billion in cumulative health benefits between today and 2031.

CARB Green-Lights Clean Air Efforts with Next-Gen Vehicles, Fuels, by Lauren Tyler, Next-Gen Transportation, March 24, 2017.

10 More Electric Buses To Make Porterville Fully Electric

The City of Porterville in California has entered into a sales contract with GreenPower Motor Company for the purchase of 10 EV350 40-foot zero-emission, all-electric, transit buses.

The purchase will see all 9 of Porterville Transit’s routes go fully electric. Accompanying the purchase, 11 charging stations are to be installed at the transit service’s maintenance facility and transit center — for a total purchase price of around $9 million.

In addition, the sales contract provides the City of Porterville the option of buying an extra 20 buses, with the same terms and conditions being applicable as with the first purchase.

“We are going to be the first transit fleet in California to be zero-emissions/all-electricand look forward to working with GreenPower to replace our aging and polluting active-fleet,” commented Richard Tree, Transit Manager, Porterville Transit. “Companies like GreenPower are driving the industry forward, and making all-electric the new norm in public transportation, while playing a significant role in accomplishing our mission to improve the environment in our community and the Valley as a whole.”

As it stands, the first bus of the order is expected to be delivered by Autumn 2017. The remaining 9 will then be delivered over the following 3 to 4 months.

“This conversion of the entire Porterville transit system to GreenPower zero-emission buses is the most innovative project that I have been part of to date, and it is ground-breaking for the industry,” stated Brendan Riley, President of GreenPower. “In addition, we have 20 buses available on this contract for other transit properties, including the San Joaquin Valley Air Pollution Control District who are seeking to deploy not just a zero-emission vehicle, but a zero-emission solution.”

Overall, that sounds like a pretty good deal for the City of Porterville. Getting diesel buses off the roads is of course always an easy way to reduce local air pollution emissions.

Porterville bought Proterra electric buses back in 2015, but then made the momentous announcement at the end of 2016 that it would go fully electric.

10 More Electric Buses To Make Porterville Fully Electric, by James Ayre, CleanTechnica, March 12, 2017.

Almond Huller’s Solar Panels Make Efficient Use of Land

A triangle of land is doing double duty at Cortez Hulling, which takes the hulls off almonds at a plant near Ballico.

At ground level is a basin that captures heavy storm runoff directed away from the stockpiles of hulls, which are used mainly for dairy feed. On top are solar panels that provide 74 percent of the plant’s electricity.

JKB Energy of Turlock installed the system that way to minimize the footprint on this high-value ground.

“It uses the land in the most efficient way,” Chad Cummings, director of sales and marketing at JKB, said Wednesday. “I think that fits with the values of the ag industry and the values of solar.”

The plant, at Santa Fe and Cortez avenues, is a longtime part of the California almond industry. Booming sales have led to large gains in land values.

The solar system has cut conventional power costs by about $110,000 a year.

“It keeps our Turlock Irrigation District bill low, and doesn’t get in the way of operations,” said David Thiel, general manager of the Cortez Growers Association, which owns the plant.

Cummings said the installation cost was slightly higher than normal because of the need to put the panels on concrete supports above the basin, but it still penciled out.

JKB is one of several solar companies working with farmers and food processors. They have conserved land also by putting panels on rooftops or using them to shade parking lots.

Almond Huller’s Solar Panels Make Efficient Use of Land, by John Holland, The Modesto Bee, March 31, 2017.

 

Trump’s Climate Policy Roll-Back Won’t Impact Central Valley

On Tuesday, President Donald Trump signed an executive order in attempts to roll-back former President Barack Obama’s legislation aimed to curb global warming.

The order suspends, rescinds or flags for review more than a half-dozen measures on power plant emissions limits, coal mining on federal lands, and regulations on fracking and methane.

It will not, however, have much, if any, impact on the Central Valley anytime soon.

“The main thing to keep in mind is this is not going to happen very quickly,” said Dave Clegern, California Air Resources Board public information officer. “Most of what the president set in motion today will take considerable time, so impacts here – and many other places – won’t be seen quickly.”

As part of the roll-back, Trump initiated a review of the Clean Power Plan, which restricts greenhouse gas emissions at coal-fired power plants. The Obama-era plan would cut emissions by almost a third from 2005 levels by 2030 while saving billions of dollars and thousands of lives from air pollution, according to CARB.

“As far as the Clean Power Plan, California was already ahead of that,” Clegern said.

The plan required individual states to address climate change, of which California has already surpassed.

Last year, Gov. Jerry Brown signed SB 32, committing California to reducing greenhouse gas emissions 40 percent below 1990 levels by 2030.

On Thursday, CARB approved another rule to further improve air quality for California residents: the oil and gas rule.

The new regulation is aimed at curbing emissions of the powerful greenhouse gas that regularly escapes from oil and gas operations.

CARB said it will reduce methane leaks by the equivalent of 1.4 million metric tons of carbon dioxide annually, the equivalent of taking 280,000 cars off the road for a year.

“The Trump administration has backed away from efforts to develop a federal rule to curb methane leaks from existing facilities — the nation’s largest source of methane pollution,” said CARB Chair Mary Nichols, Thursday. “California’s regulations continue our leadership in fighting air pollutants and help meet our goal of reducing greenhouse gas emissions 40 percent below 1990 levels by 2030.”

For now, California is set to continue its preventative efforts, Clergen said.

“We think this is a bad move, but the federal government has the right to review it’s rules,” he said. “California will just keep going.”

San Joaquin Valley Air Pollution Control District declined to comment on the executive order and its effects on the Central Valley.

San Joaquin Valley and renewable energy

Construction of renewable energy projects has generated $11.6 billion in economic activity in California’s San Joaquin Valley

Renewable energy programs created about 31,000 direct jobs in the valley and another 57,000 indirect jobs from 2002 to 2015.

The San Joaquin Valley is home to 24 percent of the state’s solar energy generation and 54 percent of its wind generation.

Information provided by California Air Resources Board

Trump’s Climate Policy Roll-Back Won’t Impact Central Valley, by Calley Cederlof, Visalia Times-Delta, March 28, 2017.

Kings County Getting First Battery Storage Plant

“The future is going to overwhelmingly be solar plus battery. They go together like peanut butter and jelly.” – Elon Musk

Kings County is processing a conditional-use permit to build a 20-acre, six-phase battery storage facility, designed to work with nearby utility-size solar plants to save and deliver electric power to the grid in morning and evening hours. The logic of storage technology – one can save energy you produce for when it is needed the most. It works when the wind does not blow or the sun does not shine.

The California PUC has mandated that utilities contract to buy 1,325 MW of battery storage by 2020, and some of it right now. PG&E has awarded a contract to NY-based Convergent Energy for 10MW of DC powered batteries that will be set up at a site near the Henrietta substation near Lemoore, that is already surrounded by a sea of solar farms.

Criss-crossed by major transmission lines and popular with solar farm developers, Kings County is likely going to get more of these next generation of renewable energy facilities in coming years.

Henrietta D Energy Storage LLC, is a 10-MW distribution-connected, stand-alone zinc-air battery energy storage resource with a discharge duration of four hours. It will be located at 16885 25th Ave., near NAS Lemoore. The expected initial delivery date is May 1, 2020, with a term of 20 years.

While the first phase of the project is a modest 10 megawatts, the conditional permit calls for up to 187 megawatts, some 760 boxcar-size power units, that will look like a white city from the Avenal Cutoff highway.

Kings County has been a hotbed of solar activity in the past few years with more coming. That includes several large Recurrent Energy solar farms near this proposed battery plant including the new NAS Lemoore 167MW solar facility on 930 acres at the base. In a nod to defense security, the Navy has favored battery storage technology for the base, home of the F-35C Joint Strike Fighter, to be more self-sufficient and to ensure the lights stay on – even if the grid goes dark.

Convergent Energy spokesman Frank Genova, the firm’s CFO, says they have “big plans for the expansion of this site that will depend on how fast demand increases” for stored energy in the area. Genova says “technology improvements and increased production has driven battery costs down,” helping to spur more installations, particularly in California. The oil and offshore renewable energy giant Statoil, recently made a large equity investment in Convergent.

Clearly falling prices are helping with one source saying the price of lithium ion batteries dropped 90 percent between 1990 and 2005, and has continued dropping.  Meanwhile, California has been the most aggressive at using the new technology to help replace power from the shuttered San Onofre nuclear power plant, and soon-to-be-closed Diablo Canyon.

Helping to drive down the cost for batteries has been the construction of the Elon Musk-inspired Tesla Gigafactory in Nevada that opened in December. Tesla has been behind the opening of a new 80MW battery storage facility for SCE located near Los Angeles that fired up last year. It helped replace power lost from the big natural gas leak at the Sempra Energy’s Aliso Canyon storage facility in 2015 that backed up intermittent power from wind and solar farms.

Battery storage is only one type of storage technology. Pumped hydro has been used by PG&E in Sierra at the huge Helms plant for decades to store and release power when needed, moving water uphill  when it is cheap at night.

In related news, PG&E also has announced it would contract with Amber Kinetics to build 20MW, four-hour duration Gen-2 Flywheel Systems. The company says it believes its steel flywheel technology will drive down pricing while enhancing operational safety and flexibility for utility-scale energy storage. Until now, commercial flywheel system capabilities were measured in minutes, with limited usefulness to electric utilities seeking to integrate renewable energy at transmission and micro-grid levels.

Amber Kinetics’ technology offers critical advantages over batteries, says the firm. Even with unlimited cycling during their 30-year lifespan, the systems have no degradation. Because they are 98 percent steel by weight, they pose no risk of fire, chemical explosion or hazardous materials release. Most important, because they are manufactured from readily available, abundant raw materials and don’t need replacement at regular intervals, they are significantly more cost effective than batteries.

Energy Nuevo, Amber Kinetics’ 20 MW project located in the city of Fresno, was selected by PG&E in California’s first energy storage solicitation. It is believed to be one of the largest ever for a transmission level flywheel system. Energy Nuevo will provide energy storage beginning in 2020.

Also PG&E selected Hecate Energy for a 1MW lithium ion energy storage facility at the old Kearney substation.

Kings County Getting First Battery Storage Plant, by John Lindt, The Sentinel, March 16, 2017.

Central Valley Farmers and Renewable Energy feature at the California Climate & Agriculture Summit

On February 28 I attended the fifth annual California Climate & Agriculture Network (CalCAN) Summit at UC Davis with my colleague and co-worker Kristin Berger.

CalCAN is a Sacramento and Sonoma County-based coalition that advances policy solutions at the nexus of climate change and sustainable agriculture.

Central Valley Farmers made a good showing at the Summit to share their experiences in implementing measures that reduce greenhouse gas emissions and lead toward sustainability in other respects.

T&D Willey Farms, an organic farm in Madera was on one of the first panels to talk about current research on both climate mitigation as well as adaptation. T&D Willey is also the host of “Down on the Farm” a radio program hosted by Tom Willey on KFCF 88.1FM out of Fresno that frequently covers climate issues and other sustainability-related issues in the agricultural sector.

Energy issues, including Community Choice Energy, got a real workout at the breakout session “Net Energy Metering & What it Means for Farmers.” Terra Nova Ranch, located near the town of Helm in Fresno County discussed the challenges and ultimate rewards of deploying two solar arrays on their farm.

The issues discussed in the Energy breakout session are addressed in depth in a report shared at the conference: “Shining Brighter: Farmer Perspectives on California Renewable Energy Program.”

Also in attendance were representatives of the Burroughs Family Farm of Stanislaus County that features a wide range of sustainability practices including tracking solar arrays.

My colleague Kristin met growers from Northern California, the Central Valley, and the Central Coast, and learned the challenges faced from working leased land, owning and working smaller parcels of land and/or land located adjacent to developed areas, and growers identifying themselves as disadvantaged. She attended panels on California’s water efficiency, soil quality management, and farmland conservation incentive projects sourced from the newly available cap and trade money.  

California’s State Water Efficiency and Enhancement Program (SWEEP) first three rounds of funding have produced savings of 12.2 billion gallons of water and 11,278 tons of CO2, or the equivalent of taking 2,374 passenger vehicles off the road. Another panel focused on soil health provided in-depth information about California’s Department of Food and Agriculture Healthy Soils Program and other related programs offered through state and federal agencies. A panel on farmland conservation projects organized by American Farmland Trust touted the “triple harvest” of climate protection, smart growth, and food security. 

A video of the plenary session, speaker bios and more is available from CalCAN online in a full recap of the Summit.

Central Valley Solar Activity Cooling

Tulare County construction activity is slowing down and new solar permits are following suit. 

Within the commercial numbers there has been a big drop seen in permits for solar panel in the county in 2017 versus 2016. In the residential sector permits for 643 solar units were issued in early 2016 versus just 247 so far this year.

On the commercial side, solar permit valuation in early 2016 was $62 million vs just $11 million so far this year with an ebb in larger projects. Solar units on dairies are the exception this year with strong numbers.

Central Valley Solar Activity Cooling, by John Lindt, Visalia Times-Delta, March 3, 2017.

County Starts Climate Impact Study

HANFORD – The state was offering a grant to counties to study and prepare for local effects of climate change, and Kings County went for it.

This week, county supervisors accepted $9,900 in federal money funneled through the state to have employees at the Kings County Department of Public Health conduct the study, which should finish up in May.

Although they accepted the grant, Kings County supervisors aren’t necessarily fully on board with California’s aggressive push to reduce human activity, such as the burning of fossil fuels that the vast majority of scientists say is contributing to climate change.

“My view is that, if we can look at issues that affect our community that don’t have to have that political term ‘climate’ change attached to it, that’s OK,” said Supervisor Craig Pedersen. “But if we’re going to be told to go out and find climate change, that’s not our [responsibility].”

Pedersen said the county doesn’t have to report results of the study to the state.

“This is just saying, ‘Here’s some money to help you plan for impacts of whatever is happening,'” Pedersen said.

The state Department of Water Resources has warned that climate change is likely to result in shorter, warmer winters with less snow, hotter, longer summers and more intense droughts.

Supervisor Doug Verboon said Kings has to “deal with the possibility of warmer winters.”

“I don’t know that it’s going to happen, [but] I know that the powers that be are talking about it,” Verboon said.

Verboon said the argument that there will be longer, more intense droughts can be used to support the construction of Temperance Flat, a second dam on the San Joaquin River that, if built, would capture more water in wet years.

Supervisor Joe Neves thinks the biggest impact on local climate will come from fallowing cropland and taking it out of production due to lack of water.

Neves predicted that’s what will happen because of two things: the state’s environmental policies keeping more runoff in streams and wetlands (i.e. farmers get less) and the 2014 Sustainable Groundwater Management Act, which requires farmers to pump out only as much groundwater as they can put back in through recharge.

Neves predicted more dust in the air, more valley fever cases, more asthma and more breathing issues as the San Joaquin Valley rolls back total irrigated acreage.

“You’d have more dust storms, and you’d have a lot of other environmental issues,” Neves said. “The last 40 years, we have artificially made our climate a little bit more moist by introducing more and more water into what is basically a desert environment. Now, we’re going to be going backward.”

Whether or not the severe drought of the last several years can be directly attributed to climate change or not, Darcy Pickens, an environmental health educator at the Kings County Public Health Department, said it has had effects.

She pointed to well failures and declining groundwater quality as the water table has dropped.

“When we have long periods of drought, clean drinking water or access to clean drinking water can be an issue,” she said.

Pickens said this is the first study of its kind done locally by Kings County.

She said the study will focus on things like air pollution, which worsened during the drought.

“The state, they expect air quality to deteriorate,” she said. “They expect us to have long periods of drought followed by periods of heavy rainfall. They do expect fires to get worse.”

“That’s part of what we’ll be looking at in the report,” she said.

Pickens said the study will examine ways to adapt to and mitigate the negative effects.

Kings County Public Health Director Keith Winkler pointed to possible valley fever spikes from a winter coming on the heels of several years of drought.

The fungal spores grow in the soil, which is then stirred up and inhaled into the lungs.

Winkler said more cases have been reported after wet, rainy winters.

“There are indications that when you have a wet year, that promotes the growth of the valley fever fungus,” Winkler said. “Then you have that much more potential for spores to be released in the summer. There does seem to be a correlation.”

Winkler also pointed to the possibility of more extreme local heatwaves like the 2006 episode that killed thousands of livestock.

Kings County residents will have a chance to provide input on the study through public hearings, although none have been scheduled yet, according to Winkler.

County Starts Climate Impact Study, by Seth Nidever, Hanford Sentinel, February 17, 2017.