DOE, GRID Complete 56 California Tribal Solar Installations

On April 22, nonprofit solar installer GRID Alternatives joined the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) and the Bishop Paiute Tribe at an Earth Day event marking the completion of 56 no-cost rooftop solar installations on tribal lands in California. GRID leveraged grants from the DOE and the California Public Utilities Commission’s Single-family Affordable Solar Housing (SASH) program to install the solar systems and provide workforce training to tribal members through two phases starting in 2015.

According to GRID, the 56 individual rooftop solar installations total 217 kW total power and are expected to save tribal members up to 90% off their typical utility bills and more than $2,000,000 over the system lifetimes. In addition, 18 tribal members received 725 hours of solar installation workforce training during the two phases of construction.

“Thanks to GRID and the DOE and participating tribal members, the Bishop Tribe has made steady progress toward their goals,” says Mervin Hess, tribal administrator of the Bishop Paiute Tribe, referencing the tribe’s goal to serve 200 homes – about half of the approximately 400 low-income homes – by 2020 with rooftop solar. “The savings from the installations are making a difference, especially for tribal members in the greatest need, and is a step toward become more self sufficient.”

“Our mission at the Office of Indian Energy is to maximize the development and deployment of energy solutions for the benefit of American Indians and Alaska Natives,” says Chris Deschene, director of the DOE Office of Indian Energy Policy and Programs. “Through investments in projects like these, we stand shoulder-to-shoulder with tribal governments working to identify and implement viable, innovative energy and infrastructure solutions that unlock the value of their indigenous energy resources, reduce energy costs, create jobs, and improve their quality of life.”

The Bishop Paiute Tribal installations are part of a larger tribal solar program led by GRID across 24 tribal communities in Arizona, California, Montana, New York and South Dakota. The program is funded by more than $1 million in cost-shared grants to the individual tribes from the DOE Office of Indian Energy Policy and Programs, which provides technical assistance, training and funding to tribes across the country.

“Solar power really helps out, means one less bill to worry about, and is a money saver that helps me take care of my family. With the money we save from solar, I’m planning to expand on our home and do improvements,” says Harlan Dewey, a member of the Bishop Paiute Tribe who had solar installed and received workforce training through the program. “I started training with GRID at the reservation’s first project and became one of the first tribal members to support the GRID program, and I still help out with installations. It makes me really good to help my people and to share the program with other tribal members.”

According to GRID, tribal communities face some of the highest poverty and unemployment rates in the U.S. The nonprofit solar installer launched its national tribal program in 2014, with the long-term goal of making solar power and job training accessible to tribal communities throughout the country. Since 2010, GRID has partnered with 40 Native American tribes and 400 Native American job trainees to install solar electric systems for nearly 500 tribal member families. GRID also partners with tribal colleges and departments to provide students with hands-on training to supplement their curriculum, and in 2016, five Bishop Paiute youths participated in residential installs as part of GRID’s Solar Futures educational program.

“Solar empowers our tribal communities to reach their clean energy goals – in some cases, creating clean energy access for the first time – while expanding utility cost savings and job training,” says Tim Willink, director of tribal programs for GRID. “Our model has worked for a variety of tribal communities, and these federal grants will bring solar power to even more families.”

GRID DOE, GRID Complete 56 California Tribal Solar Installations, by Joseph Bebon, Solar Industry, April 24, 2017.

CSE Helps Create Wood-to-Energy Demonstration Project

The Center for Sustainable Energy (CSE) is a partner in a renewable energy project in California’s northeastern Yuba County that promises to help alleviate the threat of wildfire while demonstrating the practicality of using forest biomass that would otherwise simply decay for generating power.

Dead and dying trees are a problem throughout California’s Sierra Nevada, where years of drought, warmer temperatures and bark beetle infestations have created record levels of forest residues. In the Gold Rush town of Camptonville, a bioenergy power plant is in the planning, thanks to a $4.9 million grant from the California Energy Commission as part of its Electric Program Investment Charge (EPIC) program. The combined heat and power facility will produce electricity to sell to Pacific Gas and Electric and heat for use in conjoined businesses.

A first of its kind in the state, the 3-megawatt direct combustion boiler steam turbine generating facility will integrate advance emissions controls and a low water use condenser. The plant repurposes an old sawmill site and is set to create 27 new full-time jobs.

“This project takes what is otherwise a high-hazard risk material abundantly available in the local forest and turns it into power and revenue from the associated businesses,” said Shawn Jones, CSE senior project manager for technology integration. “Our hope is that the project also will serve as a model for biomass utilization that could be applied in other Sierra Nevada communities.”

The EPIC-funded project will be implemented by the Camptonville Community Partnership (CCP) in collaboration with ICF Inc., CSE, University of California Davis, Babcock Power Environmental, Direct Contact, Gaelectric and DE Solutions.

Over the past three years, CSE has worked with CCP to plan a wood-to-energy system, first by supplying assistance through the U.S. DOE Pacific Combined Heat and Power Technical Assistance Partnership that CSE administers, and then as partners in the project proposal. After construction, CSE will continue to help with system interconnection, operations and evaluation.

CSE Helps Create Wood-to-Energy Demonstration Project, Chuck Colgan, Center for Sustainable Energy, April 24, 2017.

South Lake Tahoe Sets Goal of 100 Percent Renewable Energy by 2032

South Lake Tahoe City Council unanimously approved a resolution Tuesday committing to a goal of 100 percent renewable energy by 2032.

South Lake Tahoe is now the 26th city in the U.S. to adopt such a goal, including many towns in California, Utah and Colorado.

“Working on planning projects in the Tahoe Basin, it’s very challenging to get universal support on almost anything. So the fact that we have been working on something that’s so positive, it’s been a really exciting opportunity,” Nick Exline, one of the driving forces behind the 100-percent renewable initiative, said at the April 18 council meeting.

A room-full of residents and agency representatives were in attendance to express support of the resolution.

“Our goal at the Sierra Nevada Alliance is to take this, template this initiative, duplicate it, and show other mountain communities throughout the Sierra how this can be done,” said the organization’s executive director Jenny Hatch. “This is going to say something about South Lake Tahoe.”

The League to Save Lake Tahoe, South Tahoe Chamber, Lake Tahoe South Shore Chamber of Commerce, and the Sierra Business Council were some of the other organizations that spoke out in support of the initiative.

To reach the goal of using 100 percent renewable electricity, the resolution states that the city will “encourage the transition to 100% renewable energy by its local community energy supplier by 2032” and “endeavor to adopt policies to encourage 100% renewable energy for municipal operations by 2032.” This includes a shorter-term goal of reaching 50 percent municipal renewable energy by 2025.

Additionally, the city has set a goal to reduce carbon emissions by at least 80 percent by 2040.

To start, the initiative will be driven by a group of volunteers that make up the Sustainability Committee working alongside the city.

“Our goal in the short term is to have no costs associated with the city … We have a group of professionals that do this for a living that are willing to donate their time,” explained Exline, who is a senior planner at Midkiff & Associates, a planning and permitting consulting firm in the Tahoe Basin.

“Over the next year or two we want to work with city staff when appropriate to develop strategies to meet these objectives, ensuring by the time we come forward — if we ever do to seek money — that the economic benefits are clear and that the wins economically will outpace any cost that would be associated with it.”

So what’s the first step? The city’s contract is up next year with its existing energy provider Liberty Utilities, so negotiations will begin with an eye towards securing more renewable energy sources.

“Liberty right now generates 25 percent of their power from renewable sources. They are on track for 30 percent by 2020,” explained Devin Middlebrook, sustainability program coordinator and member of the new committee.

The city can negotiate with Liberty to buy “renewable energy credits” that allow the city to purchase energy that specifically comes from renewable sources, said Middlebrook.

Solar is another option the committee and city will explore.

“You can do a solar project where you get the community to all buy into a solar facility that generate powers for the community,” said Middlebrook. “We’ve been talking about doing that somewhere down by Topaz Lake within the Liberty network. So basically we have a solar facility that’s not in Tahoe, but all the power that goes into the grid is used in Tahoe.”

Community Choice Aggregation is another route. It is a system that enables local governments to aggregate the buying power of customers to secure alternative energy supply contracts, while also allowing those who don’t want to participate to opt out.

Kim Stevens, a Colorado-based senior regional field organizer with Al Gore’s Climate Reality Project, said collaboration across mountain towns in the U.S. is key in finding a path to reach the renewable energy goal.

“This is a growing movement and while you are an early adopter, you are by no means alone in getting to 100 percent,” said Stevens, citing other recreation destinations like Salt Lake City, Park City and Moab.

“There are experts in all of these communities that are so excited to work with more mountain communities to help them figure out this path as well.”

South Lake Tahoe Sets Goal of 100 Percent Renewable Energy by 2032, by Claire Cudahy, Tahoe Daily Tribune, April 18, 2017.

Sierra Institute Wins Award for Proposal to Turn Logging Waste into Energy

Taylorsville – Sierra Institute for Community and Environment, a research organization focused on education and community collaboration, has won a $100,000 national competition for its entrepreneurial approach to solving challenges facing national forests across the country.

The institute’s winning business plan capitalizes on California’s alternative energy markets and the woody material available in local national forests, which occupy two-thirds of the land base in Plumas County, where the institute is located.

The proposal calls for a three-megawatt facility that would produce both heat and electricity. Located in Plumas near other wood-products businesses, it would be fueled by small diameter trees and logging waste and sell electricity to California’s energy market, said Greg Peters, a spokesman for the National Forest Foundation, the contest’s sponsor.

The heat generated by the biomass plant would be sold to other wood-product facilities located on a campus envisioned to include a firewood production facility, a wood-chip processing facility, cross-laminated timber production and a greenhouse heated by the biomass energy plant.

The proposal drew the judges’ attention for its challenge to several traditional concepts, Peters said. It locates a small-scale biomass facility in a rural region, where conventional thinking suggests it would not be economically viable. The Sierra Institute business concept also comes from a non-profit organization, conventionally thought to be unable to raise enough capital to finance a biomass plant of this type.

Jonathan Kusel, the institute’s executive director, credited the proposal’s success to its close partnerships and the collective effort of many rural communities across California.

Sierra Institute is working with a $2.6M California Energy Commission grant, most of it going to contractors constructing a biomass-fired heating system for a building in Quincy, said Camille Swezy, the institute’s biomass program associate. Some of the matching energy grant will also fund a wood-products campus to include the enterprises envisioned in the business proposal.

The Barrett Foundation Business Concept Challenge award, to be presented Wednesday in Washington, D.C., is sponsored by the National Forest Foundation, which promotes the 193-million acre National Forest System. Named for Craig R. Barrett, former chairman and CEO of Intel and current chairman of the foundation’s Board of Directors, the contest is designed to stimulate new and entrepreneurial business ideas for managing national forests.

Sierra Institute Wins Award for Proposal to Turn Logging Waste into Energy, by Jane Braxton Little, Sacramento Bee, April 17, 2017.

Placer County to Become Energy Provider? Auburn City Council Hears Presentation on Proposal

Should Auburn buy energy from Placer County?

That’s the question Auburn City Council members may face in the coming months, after county Treasurer-Tax Collector Jenine Windeshausen gave an initial presentation to council members Monday.

She said the measure would allow counties and cities to use forest fuel load, waste streams, hydroelectric power and energy efficiency efforts to save residents money.

“The question was posed, how do we harness this for our citizenry and invest in our local resources back into our local community. What we realized is the best way to provide a foundation for that is for a Community Choice Aggregation (CCA) program,” she said.

The move could save residents 5 percent on their electric rates, but not PG&E’s distribution fees, saving rate payers $6.5 million a year, Windeshausen said. Placer County would also receive $3 million a year for energy efficiency from fees that currently go to PG&E.

CCAs were allowed through AB 117, which enabled cities and counties to combine electrical loads and purchase energy and electricity to serve that energy load, collaborating between cities and PG&E.

The utility would continue owning and operating its delivery and billing systems, but the county would provide the local resources in its stead. The county treasury would provide financing and waste energy and other facilities could be made to generate electricity.

A joint-powers authority has been made called the Sierra Valley Energy Authority, which already includes Colfax. It will be up to council members to decide whether to join when the matter comes back to the council.

Councilman Dr. Bill Kirby said it sounded good, but was concerned about more government bureaucracy, which Mayor Matt Spokely agreed with. He asked how PG&E feels, and Steve Nichols, a former 30-year employee who spoke for the agency, said it was good for the consumers and could help job growth. He said PG&E was in favor of the partnership.

A long discussion took place over whether rates would go down, depending on energy use.

Placer County to Become Energy Provider? Auburn City Council Hears Presentation on Proposal, by Michael Mott, Auburn Journal, April 12, 2017.

Placer County Moves Closer to Utility Role

Placer County inched forward to purchasing and possibly generating energy on behalf of residents with a new joint-powers agreement for its Community Choice Aggregation program (CCA).

Several counties now use landfill gas, waste energy and other local resources to generate energy for local needs, including in Marin and Sonoma counties. Assembly Bill 117 passed in 2002, allowing cities or counties to purchase energy wholesale, possibly generate energy and manage power supplies for residents. Utilities like PG&E continue distributing energy and billing.

Jenine Windeschausen, treasurer-tax collector, gave an update at the Feb. 22 board meeting saying since last summer the program has: Signed agreements with consultants to develop energy load and supply portfolios; prepared rate structures to show soon; developed a community outreach plan; and started negotiating with energy suppliers.

At that meeting, supervisors approved a jointpowers agreement establishing the board with members from Placer County, Auburn, Rocklin, Lincoln and Colfax. The agreement also ensures the county is reimbursed for implementing the program.

Supervisors Jennifer Montgomery and Kirk Uhler were approved as the county’s representatives and one will come from each city or town. They were pleased.

“Any time we have opportunity to control our own destiny, we should take it,” Montgomery said. “Placer County is so rich in natural and renewable resources that will support a CCA. Any town would be foolish not to participate in this. I’m delighted this is moving forward.”

“This provides an exciting opportunity in Placer County and gives us effective tools for economic development.”

Placer County Moves Closer to Utility Role, by Michael Mott, Auburn Journal, March 31, 2017.

GBUAPCD Accepting Comments on Solar Project

THE GREAT BASIN UNIFIED AIR POLLUTION CONTROL DISTRICT REQUESTS PUBLIC COMMENT ON THE DISTRICTS DECISION TO ALLOW CONSTRUCTION AND OPERATION OF A FOUR ACRE SOLAR PROJECT

Pursuant to District Rule 205, the District solicits public comment on proposed Authority to Construct to be granted to Coso Energy Developers for a four acre solar power generation facility within the Coso Known Geothermal Resource Area off Gill Station Coso Road, East of Hwy 395, Inyo County, CA.

Proposed permit conditions and supporting documents are available for inspection at the District office. The facility will be constructed in compliance with all district, state and federal air quality standards and regulations.

The District will accept written comments in its office until the close of business on April 10, 2017. Submit comments to: The Great Basin Unified Air Pollution Control District, 157 Short Street, Bishop, California 93514.

GBUAPCD Accepting Comments on Solar ProjectSierraWave, March 13, 2017.

Let the Sun Shine! Visitor Center in Lone Pine Turns on Solar System

The Inyo National Forest is pleased to announce that the solar photovoltaic (PV) system at the Eastern Sierra Visitor Center in Lone Pine was turned on in December. This system should meet nearly 100% of the facility’s electrical demand.

“The solar photovoltaic system installation at the visitor center in Lone Pine exemplifies the Forest Service’s commitment to leading by example,” said Nora Gamino, Acting Forest Engineer. “This is one of several projects underway on the Inyo National Forest that demonstrate our dedication to sustainable practices.”

This project directly supports energy reduction and net zero goals specified in the Energy Policy Act (2005), Energy Independence and Security Act (2007), and Executive Order 13693 (Planning for Federal Sustainability in the Next Decade).

The Forest Service has committed to achieving net zero energy, water, or waste at 30 facilities over 5,000 Gross Square Feet by 2025. Given that the system will offset nearly 100% of the facility’s electrical demand, the agency is now one facility closer to meeting its goal.

The agency’s Net Zero Network encourages projects at Visitor Centers, which are not only some of our largest energy-consuming facilities, but also provide educational opportunities for those recreating on National Forest System land.

Other notable projects on the Inyo National Forest include the installation of the PV systems at the Mono Basin Scenic Area Visitor Center and Ancient Bristlecone Pine Forest Visitor Center, which is completely off the grid and received Gold Certification from the Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) program.

Let the Sun Shine! Visitor Center in Lone Pine Turns on Solar System, by News Staff, Sierra Wave, January 11, 2017.

City Gives OK to Expansion of Sierra Valley Energy Authority Joint Powers Agreement

An amendment to the Sierra Valley Energy Authority agreement was unanimously approved at the Feb. 22 Colfax City Council meeting.

Placer County Treasurer-Tax Collector Jenine Windeshausen spoke in favor of the amendment that expands the joint powers agreement and allows Placer County, Colfax and other cities in the county to initiate a community-choice energy aggregate, which would purchase energy at wholesale prices. Energy will still be transmitted by PG&E but Sierra Valley Energy Authority can offer incentives, such as for new businesses and conservation. Any user can opt out but participation should result in lower energy costs, according to discussion at the meeting.

City Gives OK to Expansion of Sierra Valley Energy Authority Joint Powers Agreement, by Reene Abbott, Colfax Record, March 1, 2017.

PG&E to Withdraw Relicense Application for DeSabla-Centerville Hydroelectric Facility in Butte County

CHICO, Calif. February 2, 2017 – Reflecting California’s changing energy landscape and rising operating costs at the DeSabla-Centerville hydroelectric facility in Butte County, Pacific Gas and Electric Company (PG&E) announced today that it will withdraw its application for a new license for the facility from the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC).

PG&E’s withdrawal of the application, expected in mid-February, will start a process led by FERC to determine the future of the small hydroelectric facility. PG&E will request FERC initiate its “orphan project” process, which would allow for other qualified entities to apply for a license to operate the facility in the future. The FERC process could take 5-10 years.

“PG&E recognizes the importance of the DeSabla-Centerville facility to the local communities, including its role in supporting environmental resources, meeting the needs of farms and other water users, and providing public recreation. We will continue to focus on the safe and environmentally friendly operation of the facility under existing license conditions as FERC moves forward with its process,” said Debbie Powell, senior director of power generation operations at PG&E.

PG&E made this decision as the DeSabla-Centerville facility is no longer economically viable for PG&E’s electric customers. This is due to renewable energy markets becoming increasingly more competitive, customer demand from PG&E declining due to customer-owned solar and community choice aggregation programs, and increasingly costly regulatory requirements to operate the hydroelectric facility.

Other entities may be able to generate power more economically at DeSabla-Centerville due to potential differences in financing mechanisms and business models.  PG&E is supportive of qualified entities filing for a FERC license to operate DeSabla-Centerville.

Any new owner would be required to obtain a FERC license and be bound by license condition requirements, including protections for fisheries, notably the salmon population in Butte Creek. Also, should FERC choose a decommissioning path for the facility, any decommissioning plan would have to follow all FERC requirements.

The DeSabla-Centerville facility includes the DeSabla, Toadtown, and Centerville powerhouses, the DeSabla, Philbrook and Round Valley reservoirs, and canals and flumes in the foothills and mountains of Butte County.

The facilities were initially developed in the early 20th century by predecessor companies later acquired by PG&E. Some of DeSabla-Centerville’s canals and flumes stem from the Gold Rush era.

PG&E to Withdraw Relicense Application for DeSabla-Centerville Hydroelectric Facility in Butte County, by Paul Moreno, YubaNet.com, February 2, 2017.