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Governor Signs Climate Bills Forged from Shared Vision in Fresno and California

From a rooftop in downtown Fresno, Governor Brown signed several groundbreaking climate bills on September 14, 2016. The view was meant to inspire a vision for the Valley’s development. Fresno Mayor Ashley Swearengin, who opened the signing ceremony, called downtown Fresno “ground zero.”

Together on the rooftop were stakeholders in the Valley’s environmental, social, and economic development. These included community-based organizations, elected officials, and government agencies that work together, sometimes as adversaries, to improve the lives of Fresno and San Joaquin Valley residents. Also included was Joaquin Arambula, a newly-elected assembly member who represents Fresno.

Community-based organizations have worked hard to ensure that development in the Valley includes historically neglected communities, as identified by California’s “Enviro Screen” mapping tool. While mostly agency representatives and electeds shared the Mayor’s vision, the advocates in the audience want investments to be made in West Fresno, Southeast Fresno, and over 20 more Valley communities designated as the most disadvantaged in the state.

As bill authors eagerly stood behind the Governor, waiting for him to sign their piece of history, Governor Brown described why these climate change bills were good for the Valley. He warned if we don’t do something about climate change now, the Valley’s hot temperatures will create unlivable conditions. He also remarked on the opportunities to capture methane from dairies, saying, “The dairies…you know what it is, that could all be clean energy.” That statement struck a chord with the advocates who have been working to be included in the discussions on the use of dairy digesters. While the new technology promises to reduce greenhouse gases, the indirect impacts to nearby communities, whether this is the most efficient and inexpensive way to reduce methane, and the degree to which the technology will perpetuate mega dairies in our Valley, are all issues that have not been thoroughly assessed.

Among the bills signed by the Governor was AB 1550 authored by Assemblymember Jimmy Gomez (D-Los Angeles) which seeks to resolve a lesson from Cap & Trade auction proceeds. While the current program ensures 25 percent of funds benefit disadvantaged communities, with 10 percent spent directly in those communities, many advocates soon realized in “in benefit” create a loophole that left out communities in need. The new rules require at least 25 percent of funds go to projects within and benefitting disadvantaged communities and at least 10 percent for low-income households.

AB 2722 by Assemblymember Autumn R. Burke (D-Inglewood) provides big-picture strategic investments allowing communities to draw funds from multiple sources under the cap-and-trade program, to provide local benefits through a holistic, rather than piecemeal approach. Funds will be directed to a grant program run by the Strategic Growth Council for greenhouse gas emission reduction projects that provide local economic, environmental and health benefits to disadvantaged communities. The Central Valley Air Quality Coalition (CVAQ) supported AB 2722 during their annual Clean Air Action Day in Sacramento, where over 30 individuals met with legislators to discuss clean air priorities for the San Joaquin Valley.

Burke’s bill ensured $70 million to come to Fresno alone, half of the funds geared to fund neighborhood-level transformative projects that reduce greenhouse gas emissions and provide local economic, environmental, and health benefits in disadvantaged communities. The Strategic Growth Council (SGC) that administers the funds came to Fresno on November 7th to hear from the public on how to administer the $70 million in Fresno. They heard from local elected representatives and countless advocates all pointing to their priorities for the funds before the agency continues administering the program.

Where the funds will be allocated in Fresno is the biggest question the SGC will have to balance. The Mayor’s office is pushing for investments in Downtown and High Speed Rail corridors while advocates again had the opportunity to raise West Fresno, the community that has been left out. Coincidentally, the City created a separate General Plan planning process for the community, the Southwest Specific Plan. With this plan to be approved by City Council next week, the SGC has a blueprint of how to invest funds in the most disadvantaged communities. The community will be waiting to see how they balance the interests and needs of community residents and elected officials.

The Governor also signed AB 1613 and SB 859 which details the $900 million cap-and-trade investment plan.

With the signing of these bills comes opportunities for organizations, agencies and community residents to advocate for the communities most in need in Fresno and across the Valley, even while potentially challenging popular plans such as, the Governor-Fresno Mayor’s office alignment to invest in the Downtown-High Speed Rail areas. While we all share the same goal of reducing the effects of climate change, we will need to work together to ensure the strategies we support, benefit everyone and especially those who are burdening the impacts.

Community Choice Energy: A California transformation in one decade

by Ann Hancock, Executive Director, Center for Climate Protection

In October 2014, at our first Business of Local Energy Symposium, only two operational Community Choice programs existed in California: Marin Clean Energy and Sonoma Clean Power. A mere sixteen months later, Community Choice is taking off across the state.

We reported this story in our February 24, 2016 blog post called “The accelerating pace and growing number of Californians served by Community Choice.” For the March 4 Symposium we elaborated on this story.

The combined population of areas with existing and about-to-launch programs, as well as large population areas considering Community Choice programs, is about 17.6 million. If all of these had operational Community Choice programs by 2020, and if we subtract out the approximately 25 percent of Californians already served by Municipal Utility Districts (therefore ineligible for Community Choice), then about 60 percent of eligible Californians would be able to select Community Choice. This transformation would happen ten years from the time Marin Clean Energy went live.

From a climate protection perspective, the impact of this transformation is potentially huge. Consider the impact if results are similar to Sonoma Clean Power, for example, which in 2014 realized a 48 percent reduction in greenhouse gas emissions relative to PG&E’s last reported data from 2013.

CCA growth4

In addition to the communities listed in the table above, many other California cities and counties are in varying stages of exploring Community Choice.

California’s Community Choice movement faces many hurdles, such as exit fees (also known as the Power Charge Indifference Adjustment rate) charged by the Investor-Owned Utilities, access to start up financing for Community Choice Energy programs, and the long time it takes for communities to get programs up and running. Still, the data show that momentum is building for Community Choice.

Last month, I was interviewed about Community Choice by two members of an international team studying emerging local energy solutions worldwide through the Enel Foundation. I asked the researchers how Community Choice compared with the other solutions they were studying. They responded, “Community Choice Energy is one of the most powerful solutions we have found.”

Community Choice is a platform for innovation where public/private partnerships build something that is both dynamic and enduring. It is up to us to bring the energy revolution home to our communities. That requires leadership and hard work.

Given the impacts of climate change, it is also our moral obligation to accelerate this trend, and leave our children and grandchildren a sustainable energy system that supports future prosperity.

San Bernardino County Energy Symposium Draws Desert Preservation Activists and Elected Officials

Woody at SBern Symp

Woody Hastings (front row left) and Bill Powers (front row right) share their experience and knowledge of the renewable energy model known as Community Choice Aggregation while state, county, water and business leaders listen and take note.

Photo caption: Woody Hastings (front row left) and Bill Powers (front row right) share their experience and knowledge of the renewable energy model known as Community Choice Aggregation while state, county, water and business leaders listen and take note.

About 100 community leaders and clean energy advocates convened for a Local Energy Symposium on January 25th, hosted by the Morongo Basin Conservation Association in Yucca Valley, not far from Joshua Tree National Monument. Earlier in the day, a smaller group of elected officials, water agency representatives, and other stakeholders attended a question-and-answer session focused on Community Choice energy.

It was great to be there with my colleagues Barbara Boswell of Lancaster Choice Energy and Bill Powers, legendary San Diego-based energy engineer, to share our thoughts about Community Choice with the desert community.

The purpose of the Local Energy Symposium was to seek an answer to the question, “Is Community Choice [energy] the smart renewable energy option for the Morongo Basin?” If the spirit of the question-and-answer period was any indication, there is a lot of promise for the Morongo Basin and surrounding region.

Local Radio Station Z107.7FM was on hand to report on the event and share some of the potential benefits of Community Choice energy. One of the top reasons that the region is interested in Community Choice is that they have not been benefitting from the large-scale solar and wind projects and transmission lines in the region. The hope is that with a local Community Choice agency, some of these projects could be developed in a way that creates local jobs and circulates more dollars in the local economy. Further down the road, it is hoped that such an agency would take on more of the decision-making about what kinds of renewable energy projects are developed in the service territory. The more power that is derived from local renewable sources, the less need for long distance transmission lines and towers marring the pristine desert views.

In other areas of San Bernardino County, the City of Fontana has contracted with Good Energy to produce a Technical Study for a possible Community Choice program. And the San Bernardino County Association of Governmentsis pursuing a countywide assessment.

Stay tuned for more exciting news and updates from the desert communities of San Bernardino County!