Lake Tahoe Unified School District Adopts ‘Green’ Resolution

The South Lake Tahoe Unified School District is getting a little greener.

Earlier this week, the board unanimously adopted a resolution supporting expanded energy efficiency programs and sustainability improvements, according to a press release. The resolution also supports green building practices, greater biking, walking and transit options for students, school lunches with more locally sourced and organic foods, additional school gardens and landscaping practices that minimize water and chemical use.

“It is great to see the school district take a strong position in support of sustainability, energy efficiency and renewable energy,” Rebecca Bryson, co-founder of Small World, a Tahoe-based parent advocacy organization, said in the press release. “The district’s leadership and direction will improve the environment for our students and community, and help prepare our students to land successful jobs in these fields in the future.”

The resolution comes less than six months after South Lake Tahoe became the 26th city in the U.S. to commit to a goal of 100 percent renewable energy by 2032. That resolution was unanimously adopted by City Council back in April.

“Given the impact that climate change is already having on Lake Tahoe, it’s critical that we transition quickly to a 100 percent clean energy economy, and give our kids the education and tools they need to be part of the solution,” John Friedrich, spokesperson for Climate Parents and a Tahoe resident, said in the release. “The Lake Tahoe school district board just took an important step in this direction by pledging to expand energy efficiency programs and increase reliance on renewable energy, in line with the city of South Lake Tahoe’s commitment to 100 percent renewable energy. We’re grateful for the leadership of the school district in doing the right thing for Tahoe kids and our environment.”

Lake Tahoe Unified School District Adopts ‘Green’ Resolution, by Staff, Tahoe Daily Tribune, October 17, 2017.

California’s Tree Die-Off Gives Life to New Business

Deep in California, in the Sierra National Forest, there are more dead trees than live ones. And figuring out what do with them is a towering task.

Forest Supervisor Dean Gould sees the evidence every day of the state’s massive tree die-off, a crisis that’s claimed more than 102-million trees over eight million acres in the past seven years.

“It’s unprecedented. A whole variety of conditions had to happen simultaneously and they did,” Gould said.

The biggest culprit: a severe drought, which left the trees vulnerable to beetles.

And all those dead trees are creating other concerns. “Now we have a lot of fuel on the ground,” Gould explained.

He says while many dead trees in remote areas will be left in place to decay, tens of millions of others that could topple onto roads and power lines or clog paths for firefighters, or fuel fires, have to go.

“If it’s in a highly accessible area, we want to get it down.”

Most of the dead trees are being trucked to biomass plants where organic matter is turned into energy.

At the Rio Bravo Rocklin Biomass plant in Placer County, plant manager Chris Quijano says his plant receives between 25 and 40 truckloads of California’s dead trees each day.

“It’s pretty available to us right now. It’s good fuel for the plant,” Quijano said.

“We take that woody waste material and put it in a boiler,” Quijano explained. He says the flame generates heat, which generates steam, which creates electricity.

Biomass is considered a renewable energy source, because plants can be replaced with new growth. Burning biomass releases carbon emissions.

California’s Tree Die-Off Gives Life to New Business, by Christin Ayers, KPIX, September 24, 2017.

Gone green: The Foothills Event Center invests in renewable energy

When Mardie Caldwell purchased and rehabilitated The Foothills Event Center in 2013, she says she had a vision for creating a warm, welcoming gathering place for the community in an environmentally friendly facility.

Changes, both small and large over the past few years have made that vision a reality.

A few weeks ago, a large solar array on the entire roof of the building was completed. It is now live and providing 85 percent of the electricity needs for the center, a news release states, in addition to those of Lifetime Adoption’s offices located upstairs.

“We started exploring solar when we first moved into the building,” Caldwell said. “There were so many immediate needs that we had to prioritize what made the most sense in terms of opening the facility. Safety issues were at the top of the list.”

The first green changes made were LED lighting to the parking lot lights. According to the release, vandals had removed copper wiring, rendering the lights completely useless when Caldwell acquired the property. This was the first step in making the property and building both safe and functional. Rewiring to traditional parking lot lights would have been more affordable, but Caldwell opted for an eco-friendly option.

At the same time, the building and landscaping all needed rehabilitation. After years of vacancy, both were showing signs of neglect. At one time, members of the community expressed concern for the plants that were withering in the summer months without water.

“I remember reading on Facebook about the plants, and it touched me that this community would have such concern for the trees and plants that were once flourishing,” she said. “Once we owned the property, it was a priority to get water to everything. And I’m happy to report that we were able to save many of the existing plants!”

Caldwell says many have been added, including irises and others donated from local gardeners.

In 2016, the interior lights were changed from fluorescent to LED with the ability to dim as needed for events.

“Some people want bright lights for meetings and business functions,” says Megan Swinney, venue manager for the facility. “Others, such as weddings, receptions, and concerts may want very dim lights. With the flexibility of our dimmable LED system, along with our colored lighting and spotlight options, we are able to meet most any request.”

With the installation of the solar panels, Caldwell said major upgrades for energy efficiency may be complete.

“This was a large, multi-year plan that I believe is now at completion,” she said. “Some systems needed replacement to function, others were a choice, like adding the solar array. All in all, I’m just blessed to have the opportunity to be able to host so many beautiful and happy functions, and do it in an environmentally conscious way.”

Gone Green: The Foothills Event Center invests in renewable energy, by The Foothills Event Center, The Union, August 17, 2017.

U.S. Surpasses 40 Cities Committed to 100% Renewables, Notes Sierra Club

On Thursday, just days after Orlando, Fla., established a similar goal, Nevada City, Calif., joined the growing list of U.S. cities that are officially committed to transition to 100% clean, renewable energy.

Surrounded by city council members, key members of the community and partners, Nevada City Mayor Duane Strawser announced the city’s near-unanimous vote to ensure that the city’s electricity will come entirely from renewable sources by 2030 and that all energy sources would be renewable by 2050.

According to the Sierra Club, Nevada City is now the 41st city in the U.S. to establish a 100% renewable energy goal, which also comes on the heels of similar pledges from other mountain communities, including South Lake Tahoe, Calif., and Park City, Utah.

“Nevada City’s commitment for 100 percent renewable energy is driven by our community,” said Mayor Strawser. “The passion for the natural environment and our responsibility to take care of it is part of the fabric of what makes Nevada City a very special place to live. I challenge other communities across the nation to join us in this goal.”

The Sierra Club says Nevada City’s resolution is grounded in a burning reality as the growing impacts of climate change threaten the mountain community. Fourteen of the 15 hottest years on record globally have occurred since the beginning of this century, and 2017 is predicted to be the second warmest on record.

“If this summer is any indicator of what climate change can mean for the future of our community, it is time to do all we can to avoid its impacts,” said Don Rivenes with the Nevada County Climate Change Coalition. “Over the last three years and particularly the last few months, we have seen citizens from across our community come together to tackle climate change by helping our city officials take bold action. We’re thrilled to see Nevada City commit to 100 percent renewable energy today.”

Nevada City has an existing Energy Action Plan (EAP) with a goal of a 28% reduction in electricity use by 2020. The resolution will lead the way toward updating the EAP to transition to 100% renewable energy by 2050.

“The Sierra Nevada Alliance (SNA) is proud to work with cities like Nevada City,” said Jenny Hatch, SNA’s executive director. “Nevada City recognizes the many impacts on the local economy and environment that climate change will bring. At Sierra Nevada Alliance, we bring together the passion to fight climate change with the passion to protect our mountain communities to make an unstoppable force for change. That’s why it is no surprise that mountain cities are leading the way on renewable electricity.”

U.S. Surpasses 40 Cities Committed to 100% Renewables, Notes Sierra Club, by Joseph Bebon, Solar Industry, August 11, 2017.

California Survives the Eclipse without Losing Any Energy

FOLSOM, Calif. – When the moon partially obscured the sun here on Monday, dozens of engineers watched from a large, gray control room outside Sacramento.

Electric grid operators at the California Independent System Operator (CAISO), which delivers 80 percent of the electricity in a state that has more solar energy capacity than every other state in the country combined, watched intently as solar generation began collapsing here at 9 a.m. Pacific Standard Time as the shadow of the moon swept from west to east across the United States.

Above them hung a wall of screens charting the 26,000 miles of high-voltage transmission lines winding through California. One screen showed the state losing half of its solar ability during the morning of the eclipse before spiking back up to normal. Grid operators didn’t don eclipse glasses but instead focused on the task at hand – working in a windowless room to keep the lights on elsewhere in California, without even seeing the event firsthand.

The scene offered a rare window into what might happen as the Golden State’s electric grid – and indeed the nation’s – becomes increasingly reliant on renewable sources like solar and wind to meet Americans’ energy needs while curbing the amount of greenhouse gases those needs generate.

Right now, solar energy provides only a small slice – slightly less than 1 percent in 2016 – of the electricity generated by utilities in the United States and nearly 10 percent in California alone. But that sliver, much as the crescent of the sun swells after a total eclipse, is only expected to grow as the price of solar panels continues plummeting.

Other states like North Carolina, which also sports many solar panels, had to adjust as Monday’s squeezed their energy supply for several hours.

For most of them, the eclipse went off without a hitch.

“Things went really, really well,” said Eric Schmitt, vice president of operations at the CAISO.

In California, hydroelectric and natural gas-fired power plants, along with power drawn from seven surrounding Western states as part of preexisting agreements, stepped in to make up for the loss of between 3,000 to 3,500 megawatts in solar power, according to initial estimates from the CAISO. FFor a cloudless August day, the grid operator estimated a loss of about 6,000 megawatts from both solar panels owned by homeowners and utility-scale solar facilities.

Nature helped, even if it blotted out the sun in the first place. The weather was generally mild statewide, meaning fewer Californians likely turned on their air conditioners. And elevated reservoirs at the Helms Pumped Storage Plant in the Sierra Nevada, for example, were flush with water from the rainy season that was used to power hydroelectric pumps.

California Survives the Eclipse without Losing Any Energy, by Dino Grandoni, The Washington Post, August 21, 2017.

City Council Votes to Join Energy Authority

Lincoln City Council voted 3-2 Tuesday night to join the Sierra Valley Energy Authority, a Joint Powers Agency (JPA) that might provide electricity at lower rates than PG&E.

Councilmen Gabriel Hydrick and Stan Nader voted against joining the Sierra Valley Energy Authority.

According to a report by Lincoln Economic Development manager Shawn Tillman, legislation passed in 2002 authorizes Community Choice Aggregation (CCA) programs to operate in California. The legislation allows cities, counties and Joint Powers Agencies to combine the electricity demand in its jurisdiction and obtain or generate power to meet those needs. The Community Choice Aggregation would be able to set rates, determine rebates and incentives and provide other energy-related programs.

PG&E would continue to provide transmission, distribution, maintenance and repair, and billing services.

Hydrick said he voted against joining the Sierra Valley Energy Authority because terrible consequences are likely when government interferes with the marketplace.

“If you think the water rate is convoluted, wait until you see this,” Hydrick said. “The city manager has been burned a couple of times and he’s set up to be burned.”

Nader said he would have liked more time to study the proposal.

“I understand that Placer County has electrical resources,” Nader said. “I’m troubled about government getting more and more into things private business does. I am uncomfortable seeing more and more government-run programs that should be done by private industry.”

According to Tillman’s report, the main benefits from joining the Joint Powers Agency are allowing consumers a choice of energy providers; allowing local control of rates and programs; the opportunity to develop local energy resources and job creation.

Lincoln Mayor Peter Gilbert said he was comfortable joining because he has confidence in the other cities participating in the Sierra Valley Energy Authority JPA. Gilbert said every city in Placer County has joined but Roseville, which has its own utility district.

“This thing has much more upside than downside,” Gilbert said. “Each individual user can opt in or out.”

Councilman Paul Joiner said joining would give Lincoln residents a choice. If the council had voted against joining, then Lincoln residents would not have had a choice to switch from PG&E to Sierra Valley Energy Authority.

“I’d rather be a part of this and retain some degree of control and give residents a choice,” Joiner said. “The Public Utilities Commission (PUC) already controls PG&E; there is no free market.”

Councilman Dan Karleskint said estimated savings to residential electricity customers, under the Sierra Valley Energy Authority, would likely be closer to one percent or one-and-one-half percent than the reported five percent.

The City Council will appoint a councilman to the Joint Powers Agency’s board at the council’s July 6 workshop.

City Council Votes to Join Energy Authority, by Steve Archer, Lincoln News Messenger, Jun 29, 2017.

“Solarbration” for Nevada County’s Solar Generation and Energy Efficiency Program

NEVADA CITY, Calif. June 20, 2017 – Tuesday, June 20th, Nevada County celebrated the solar power generation of two of the five solar sites that are part of the County’s Solar Generation and Energy Efficiency Program: the Eric Rood Administrative Center, and Wayne Brown Correctional Facility. The program is projected to save $7 million in energy costs over the next 20 years, which will increase to $1.3 million annually in year 21 and beyond. In addition to the program’s five solar sites that include over five thousand solar panels, the County also accomplished $1.7 million in deferred maintenance costs with the replacement of HVAC units, lighting, and energy efficient building controls at seventeen different County sites.

Nevada County received the 2017 Exemplary Renewables Award from their local Climate Change Coalition and Sierra Club organizations for their efforts with the program. Nevada County’s new solar panels will be producing 4.4 million kWh per year, meeting around 80% of the County’s energy needs. This is the equivalent to removing the greenhouse gas emissions of 653 cars or 981 tons of waste that is recycled instead of landfilled.

“When the Solar Generation and Energy Efficiency Program came to the Board of Supervisors I was ecstatic, because I always believed and wanted solar at Nevada County,” said Supervisor Chair Hank Weston. “This is monumental because it follows Nevada County’s 2012 Energy Plan and goals to reduce our carbon footprint.”

Nevada County would like to thank the County departments that played integral roles in this program, Information & General Services; the Community Development Agency; County Executive Office; County Counsel; and the Auditor-Controller, as well as the contractors Climatec, SunPower, and Teichert.

“Solarbration” for Nevada County’s Solar Generation and Energy Efficiency Program, by Nevada County Board of Supervisors’ Office, YubaNet, June 20, 2017.

CCAs Bring Comeuppance to Big Utilities

You can call it a form of comeuppance for huge privately owned California utility companies unscathed so far by exposure of their negligence and blundering of the past decade. They now find themselves deeply threatened by what some might consider a small army of mosquitos.

No individual was penalized when a federal trial found Pacific Gas & Electric Co. guilty of criminal negligence in the 2010 San Bruno pipeline explosion that killed eight persons and destroyed dozens of homes. The company itself was fined just $3 million, a pittance for the vast enterprise.

Similarly, no company executive has yet been charged with anything criminal in the well-documented multi-billion dollar collusion between Southern California Edison Co. officials and Michael Peevey, former president of both Edison and the state Public Utilities Commission. They agreed privately to force consumers to pay the bulk of the costs for decommissioning the San Onofre Nuclear Generating Station in northern San Diego County, rendering subsequent public hearings completely without meaning. That case is still under investigation, more than two years after raids on Peevey’s homes uncovered key documents in the case.

But the PUC, a participant in the illicit meeting where the decision was made to dun consumers more than $3 billion for the closure, saw its members carefully maintain straight faces while fining Edison a puny $16 million for not reporting a meeting their own chief attended.

Those paltry penalties deprived millions Californians of justice. But a different kind of punishment is now pecking away at the utility giants. This comes in the form of Community Choice Aggregations, arrangements where cities and counties can let electricity customers choose whether to stay with the existing utilities or switch to a locally-run public entity that buys power from generating companies at the source and brings it to consumers via utility company lines. Non-profit CCA prices are generally lower than those of for-profit utilities.

How seriously do the utilities take the threat of CCAs? One indicator was the 2010 campaign for Proposition 16, run by and for PG&E, which spent $46 million qualifying and promoting the measure. That initiative would have allowed CCAs to form only after a two-thirds supermajority vote in any area involved. Essentially, that was an effort to kill the CCA idea. Even without much experience with CCAs, and with opponents spending less than .2 percent as much as PG&E, the measure lost by a 53 to 47 percent margin.

The eight current California CCAs now operate in places as diverse as Sonoma County, San Francisco and the high desert city of Lancaster in Los Angeles County. Butte County is exploring the idea. So are San Jose and San Diego.

But the most serious comeuppance so far for the utilities came this spring, when Los Angeles County supervisors – free to do this because Proposition 16 failed – voted to create a CCA that will buy power primarily from renewable sources like solar thermal arrays, wind farms, hydroelectric dams and geothermal wells.

When the new CCA opens next year, anyone in unincorporated areas within California’s most populous county can switch to it. Scores of cities in the county will also be able to join the CCA and provide residents the choice of whether to stay with Edison or opt out.

The city of Los Angeles, which has run a publicly-owned utility of its own for many decades, will not be eligible.

No one has reported the exact amount CCAs already cost the big utilities, but it is sure to be in the billions of dollars once the Los Angeles County version comes online.

The companies know the most effective way for them to retain customers under this burgeoning free-choice system is to provide better service. So Edison is building scores of new electric vehicle charging stations, which look progressive even though they serve only a tiny fraction of Californians. And PG&E has upgraded equipment in San Francisco, cutting the frequency of significant blackouts to an average of just 1.02 times per customer per year.

CCA’s, of course, are not a direct punishment of PG&E and Edison for their blunders and illegal acts. But CCAs very likely would not be proliferating without that very recent history, which saw the big utilities create an unfriendly climate for themselves.

CCAs Bring Comeuppance to Big Utilities, by Thomas Elias, The Union Democrat, May 24, 2017.

Another View: Placer’s energy future

The Golden State Warriors with their lightening passes, 3-pointers from the other side of the moon and tenacious defense clobbered the Cavs to win the NBA Basketball Championship. It’s exciting to watch a team perform at the top of their game.
In the public policy arena, the stakes are higher. We need our local elected officials to perform at the top of their game. Placer County, the cities of Auburn, Colfax, Lincoln, Rocklin and the town of Loomis serving 64 percent of the county’s population will soon have a fully functioning joint powers entity called the Sierra Valley Energy Authority (SVEA), which will replace PG&E as the purchaser of electricity for all Placer residents, businesses, non-profits and other organizations, except for those under the jurisdiction of Roseville’s municipal utility district. Will the seven locally elected officials serving on the governing board of the SVEA and the authority’s staff and contractors outperform PG&E? Will the SVEA craft a realistic (no wishful thinking) strategic plan and make wise decision that will help ensure that electricity for Placer residents, employers, workers and seniors will be more affordable and reliable than under the current system?
State law, AB 117 of 2002, created the Community Choice Aggregation (CCA) Program, which allows local governments to aggregate the electricity demand within their jurisdictions and purchase and/or generate the electricity to meet the demand. The local CCA, usually a joint powers authority, sets the generation rates and creates incentive programs while the host utility continues to provide transmission, distribution, maintenance, repair and billing services. The five California-based CCAs are operating in Marin, Sonoma, Lancaster, San Mateo, San Francisco and Santa Clara. On July 12, 2016 the Placer County Board of Supervisors voted to create the CCA program by forming the joint powers authority and the cities of Colfax and Auburn have voted to join the SVEA. It is expected that the remaining cities and towns in Placer County will join the SVEA in the next several months. Customers will receive two written notices before the SVEA begins operation and two written notices allowing the customer to opt-out and remain with PG&E.
Is this a good idea? A Placer County Community Choice Energy Team composed of county staff and consultants wrote in a 42-page “Financial Analysis and Due Diligence Report” (October 10, 2016) that creating a CCA in Placer County is “financially, economically and operationally feasible.” The team asserts that a CCA could result in a potential 5 percent reduction in the energy cost portion of the customer bills. With local control of the power supply including biomass energy from forest fuels, hydroelectric power from the Middle Fork dams on the American River and tapping landfill gases, the SVEA could produce “additional economic, environmental and social benefits.” Keeping more ratepayer money circulating in the local economy will create more jobs.
These are great goals. I applaud the team for bringing the CCA option to the local governments and for crafting the initial report of how it would work here. However, I didn’t accept all the assumptions in the report and we need to ask hard questions, eschew wishful thinking and do a lot more strategic planning. We face six major challenges.
First, we don’t yet have a clear strategy on how the SVEA can obtain the lowest price possible for energy produced by natural gas or a Strategic Plan 2030 that outlines specific actions to develop local sources of energy, such as biomass, solar, hydro and landfill waste-to-energy.
Second, we need strategy to take advantage of the biomass energy potential from Placer’s forest lands while recognizing that biomass energy is much more expensive than natural gas and from heavily subsidized solar and wind power. California has only one-third as many biomass plants as we had in the 1980s due to poor federal and state policies.
Third, the California Public Utility Commission allows utility companies to charge a fee on CCA customers to compensate the utility for power purchase contracts they entered into on behalf of those customers. That fee has gone up 80 percent the last two years and if Placer does not create an effective lobbying effort any rate advantages of having a CCA may vanish.
Forth, since there are no detailed reports on how the SVEA will be staffed, I’m concerned that we are not ready to operate the SVEA in the most cost-effective way for ratepayers.
Fifth, we need to emulate what the Sonoma Clear Power CCA did when they worked with PG&E to produce a side-by-side comparison of the rates that will be charged by the local authority and PG&E. Customers should be given full information so they can decide whether to opt-out or not.
Lastly, we need more public input, a website, and a series of town hall meetings to explain this important and complex undertaking to the hard-working people and seniors who pay the bills.
Kevin Hanley is a former mayor of Auburn and can be reached at hanleykh@jps.net.

Another View: Placer’s energy future, by Kevin Hanley, Auburn Journal, June 23, 2017.

Sierra Valley Energy Authority Seeks IT Services

Placer County and the cities of Colfax, Rocklin, Auburn, and Loomis have formed a Joint Powers Authority (JPA) for the purpose of administering a new Community Choice Aggregation (CCA) program. The new JPA is called Sierra Valley Energy Authority (SVEA). The purpose of SVEA is to take local control over the electricity supply from the existing investor-owned utility and provide economic, social, and environmental benefits tailored to the ratepayers within the participating service areas.
The Sierra Valley Energy Authority is expected to employ up to 30 staff members. It is anticipated that new employees will start in September and the organization will grow to about 20 in the first quarter of 2018 with remaining growth to occur over the following one to three years. The facility for this operation will likely be in Rocklin or Loomis and comprise 6,000 to 8,000 square feet. The office environment will be a mix of enclosed offices and systems furniture cubicles. The enterprise is intended to be entrepreneurial, high performing, lean, and agile. Our initial preference is to be ‘in the cloud’ as much as possible, with limited to no need for onsite servers, storage, etc. The term of this contract is three years. Up to two one-year extensions may be negotiated within 90 days of contract expiration.
This Request for Proposal, hereinafter referred to as RFP, includes a description of the scope of work, proposal requirements, and instructions for submitting your proposal. The responses will be evaluated resulting in one or more vendors being asked to submit a cost proposal and potentially participate in an interview per Section 7.9 later in this document. NOTE!! All inquiries concerning this RFP should be submitted to Tom Barrington, consultant to SVEA, at thomasabarrington@gmail.com using the subject line, “Placer County CCA Managed IT Services RFP Inquiry“, and copied to Katie Kale at kkale@placer.ca.gov .