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Faith in the Valley: Faith Community Asserts Support for Energy Democracy

I attended the Faith in the Valley: Power Faith Community Forum at the Fresno Convention Center on Saturday, September 10th. Nearly 2,000 participants, including Fresno mayoral Candidate Henry Perea and numerous congregations from throughout the San Joaquin Valley, gathered for an afternoon session dedicated to three issues our community faces: environmental, racial, and economic. Faith and community leaders presented ideas that were then discussed in breakout sessions by attendees at their table.

Speakers asserted that we must stop accepting the unhealthy air and toxic water that have become a way of life for so many San Joaquin Valley residents. Event organizer Thomas Weiler said, “We hope to encourage utility companies and our Valley’s leadership to invest in clean energy projects…that both provide sustaining jobs for low-income families and tangible benefits to families who have otherwise been excluded from seeing any benefits from the ‘green’ economy.” One proposed solution written in the program was to “create thousands of local living wage jobs through investments in energy efficiency and community solar projects, while exploring Community Choice Energy amongst other vehicles.”

I distributed information about Community Choice Energy (CCE) being promoted by our Clean Power Exchange program. Various attendees talked with me about Community Choice – how it provides electricity from clean energy sources via a not-for-profit public entity, and how it could benefit the Valley from both an environmental and economic standpoint. As several areas utilizing CCE in the Bay Area like Sonoma County with Sonoma Clean Power and Lancaster with Lancaster Choice Energy have proven, CCE provides lower rates to utility users compared to what the big utility offers, meaning more revenue is invested back into our economy.

Utilizing clean energy sources to power our electricity will reduce our greenhouse gas emissions, reduce the need for fracking that contaminates groundwater, and offset the particulate air pollution our Valley residents breathe in on a daily basis. “Faith in the Valley community leaders have been excited to learn that voters and ratepayers have more opportunity than ever before to negotiate for these concrete, life-saving changes through Community Choice Energy,” Weiler stated.

Events such as the Faith Forum are a powerful way to spread news about the benefits of Community Choice Energy and other programs; people seemed very excited by these solutions and the prospect of a better future for the Central Valley. Perhaps the biggest point raised during the event was that if we all stand together, we can make these visions a reality. Community Choice Energy is a prime example of how we can address our global climate crisis in a meaningful way at the local level. If events like these are any indication, Valley residents are ready for this.

Program cover for Faith In The Valley Forum.

Program cover for Faith In The Valley Forum.

Faith in the Valley: Faith Community Asserts Support for Energy Democracy, by Erik Cherkaski, Clean Power Exchange, September 29, 2016.

A Hot Issue: Fresno’s Getting Warmer …But We Could Change That.

July marks the first full month of summer. Here in Fresno, the seventh month of the year is the peak of the area’s grueling high temperatures during the season. This summer presented Fresno’s unyielding heat waves slightly earlier than normal, and will continue on until early fall. Just a few days after the summer started, Fresno experienced a record-breaking heatwave. Whereas normal days in the beginning of the season hover around the mid-nineties, parts of Fresno County hit highs closer to 110 degrees, forcing some communities to open cooling centers during the day. It should come as no surprise that the National Weather Service encourages people to stay indoors during hours of blistering temperature highs.

When the summer heat becomes unbearable, people rely on their homes to keep cool. Utility customer’s consumption of electricity goes up during summer months, particularly in areas with significant heat. Such a high demand during these periods not only raises electricity rates but also increases fossil fuel consumption used to produce the electricity, and the use of fossil fuels has a direct link to rising global temperatures.

Climate Change continues to impact the San Joaquin Valley with temperatures steadily rising over the past decades. Studies show an average of 1°C increase during the first half of the century and then a 2°C increase by the second half, combined with a significant decrease in precipitation. One particular concern is the increase of the temperature of daily low temperatures. The Central Valley is noted for experiencing a wide range of high and low temperatures throughout a 24-hour period. But according to studies, this phenomenon is declining as Valley morning and nightly low temperatures are beginning to rise, marking longer stretches of intense heat during summer months. Such elongated temperature highs during the day contribute to rising use of energy consumption throughout a 24-hour period in the season of sunshine. An additional concern about higher than normal overnight temperatures is that many fruit and nut trees grown in the Central Valley require a certain number of “chill hours” in order to produce a crop.

Although California’s investor owned utilities (IOUs) have made promises to expand usage of clean energy, fossil fuels are still a large source in generating power for homes and businesses. According to the U.S. Energy Information Administration, the country generated four trillion kilowatt hours of electricity in 2015. Close to 67% of that electricity came from fossil fuel sources (coal, natural gas and petroleum) while only 13% came from cleaner, renewable sources such as hydropower, solar and wind. According to the IOUs maintaining the grid and expanding the use of renewable energy comes at an ever-increasing price. This month, the California Public Utilities Commission held public hearings in several Central Valley cities to discuss the area’s utility provider rate increase, with the company arguing it is needed for further investment in grid maintenance and clean energy sources.

So, Fresno and its surrounding areas get very hot during the summer, heat waves seem to be getting more intense due to climate change, and the direct culprit behind climate change, fossil energy, is still a major source for powering our electricity to cool us down: sounds like one vicious cycle, right?

Well, first, let’s take a look at that IOU claim that renewable energy costs more. The fact is that solar and wind power prices have dropped dramatically over the past six years. So much so that solar and wind are now at or near “grid parity” in many markets meaning that they are equivalent or lower in cost than conventional power sources. But who will take advantage of this fact and pursue this cleaner, cheaper power on our community’s behalf?

One answer is Community Choice Energy. Community Choice Energy is a program, enabled by state law passed in 2002, that has the power to buy, and may even generate, electricity for its residents and businesses via a not-for-profit public entity; created by the people, for the people. The program offers several economic and environmental benefits such as providing consumer choice, competition in the monopolized utility market, offering lower rates, strengthening the local economy, and utilizing alternative energy sources. The four existing Community Choice agencies in California have proven the concept. Perhaps, more than ever, now is the time to explore a program that emphasizes cleaner, renewable energy sources for its residents at competitive rates. After all, it certainly isn’t getting any cooler over here.

July temperatures in Fresno this year have hit the triple digits on multiple occasions.

July temperatures in Fresno this year have hit the triple digits on multiple occasions.

Report: Fresno is No. 1 for Industrial Solar Power in California