Details of local power start-up promise cheaper rates, more control

There has been much debate on how to get greener, cheaper power and not pay the profits of an investor-owned utility. However, soon, for most residential customers this will actually become a reality when the Monterey Bay Community Power gets switched on in July.

Marc Adato, Community Outreach & Events Coordinator for Monterey Bay Community Power,  gave a presentation at the Scotts Valley City Council meeting on Feb. 7 that outlined these and other benefits that residents of Scotts Valley, as well as the entire county, can expect from having joined up with the new public agency.

Monterey Bay Community Power (MBCP) is a new, local public agency created as joint powers authority between three counties and 16 cities around Monterey Bay, including Hollister and San Benito County.  It operates in partnership with Pacific Gas and Electric Company, using PG&E’s transmission lines and customer billing services.

But the MBCP also operates as a separate, “nonprofit wholesale energy buyer,” said Adato, “buying from 100 percent carbon-free electric power sources,” and then selling this power at the same retail rates as PG&E, using PG&E’s transmission lines.

“We are able to operate much leaner than PG&E and retain net revenues and invest back into the local communities with some good projects and programs,” Adato said.

The key benefits are greater access to clean-sourced, renewable energy, a reduction of greenhouse gas emissions and a promise of three percent rebates to consumers, rather than paying the profit share that PG&E pays its stockholders. There is also the added benefit of increased local investment in more green energy, according to Adato.

The MBCP has been under development for more than four years, having undergone financial feasibility and technical studies before the cities and counties decided to join up in early 2017. Although strictly local in its scope of operation, the agency is empowered by California’s Community Choice Energy law, AB 117, passed in 2002. This law enables local governments to form these agencies that aggregate purchasing power, allowing them to negotiate large contracts for solar, wind and hydroelectric power at rates lower than PG&E.

Adato outlined the two-phase MBCP program launch: about 37,500 businesses, industrial and agricultural customers of PG&E will be “switched on” beginning March 1, and about 235,000 residential customers will be automatically enrolled in the MBCP in July.  Changes in PG&E bills accounting for the participation of the MBCP will begin with enrollment.  Customers will have an opportunity to opt-out of participation in the MBCP if they desire.

“This is all about choice,” said Ginie Johnson, an analyst for Fifth District Supervisor Bruce McPherson. “The MBCP provides an opportunity for cleaner, cheaper and more local control over our power supply, compared to what PG&E has to offer.”

There will also be a choice of how to use the three percent rebate that MBCP promises to customers. The rebate can be used as a credit on future energy bills, or can be invested in local renewable energy and greenhouse gas reduction projects and programs.

“I’m sure many in our community are going to find some really interesting details in the programs and projects that can be funded by the donation of the three per cent rebate,” Johnson said.

Those customers equipped with solar panels who sell power back to PG&E from time-to-time can expect slightly higher prices from MBCP than the wholesale price paid by PG&E.  The MBCP is going to pay closer to a mid-point between the wholesale and retail price of this electricity, according to Adato, thus encouraging more solar power gained from roof-tops.

According to data from the MBCP, 45 percent of the electricity sold by PG&E originates from carbon free sources, with nuclear power making up 24 percent, and natural gas accounting for 17 percent of PG&E’s electricity mix. Buying power from the MBCP increases the mix to 100 per cent sustainable, carbon-free sourced energy.

Community Choice Energy (CCA), also known as community choice aggregates (CCA’s), have weathered strong opposition from traditional investor-owned utilities across the state.  PG&E spent more than $46 million in 2010 backing Proposition 16 that would have made forming a CCA far more difficult by requiring a two-thirds supermajority of voter approval before local governments could establish a CCA. Proposition 16 failed by a five point margin, although the grass roots opposition advocating for utility reform had access to less than $100,000.

In September 2017, last minute amendments were made to bills in Sacramento that “would have clouded our ability to implement the MBCP”, said Assemblyman Mark Stone, D-Scotts Valley. Stone worked to exempt the newly established MBCE from these amendments, but said there are still industry forces “trying to kill the CCA movement before it really starts to take off.”  The Public Utilities Commission is considering a moratorium on the creation of any more CCA’s, but their legal ability to that is not entirely clear, according to Stone.

 

Details of local power start-up promise cheaper rates, more control, by Patrick Dwire, The Press Banner, February 15, 2018.  

Wind farms could boost our post-Diablo economy

As your Feb. 4 editorial, “Wind farms could be banned off the Central Coast,” points out, it’s hard to believe that offshore wind turbines would interfere with U.S. Naval operations but drilling platforms wouldn’t.

The Central Coast has two golden opportunities to replace the energy, jobs and tax revenue that will be lost when the Diablo Canyon plant closes.

One of these is to implement a Community Choice Energy (CCE) program that would let PG&E customers choose to direct their monthly energy bill payments toward investments in wind and solar.

The other opportunity: Multiple wind energy providers are eager to exploit our massive offshore wind resources. Supervisor Bruce Gibson has pointed out that a 1-gigawatt wind farm could generate $100 million of economic activity and make good use of existing distribution infrastructure at the Morro Bay and Diablo Canyon power plants.

The CCE feasibility study was blocked by a 3-2 vote of the Board of Supervisors. And the Navy is accustomed to having free run of the California coastline from Mexico to the Bay Area. Both of these obstacles can be overcome with forward-looking leadership.

CCE could help fund wind power development. We must work to make both visions a reality.

 

Wind farms could boost our post-Diablo economy, by Michael Segor, The Tribune, February 15, 2018.

Proposed Calif. Offshore Oil Drilling Faces Opposition

Santa Barbara County’s response to the Trump Administration’s initiative to allow offshore oil drilling in nearly all United States coastal waters is projectively negative, most demonstrated by Congressmen Salud Carbajal’s call for the exemption of California’s Central Coast from oil drilling.

On Jan. 4, 2018, the District of Interior’s (DOI) Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM) proposed a five-year plan that would lift former President Barack Obama’s offshore drilling ban that attempted to push the nation toward clean, renewable sources of energy.

The proposed plan, which would be effective from 2019 to 2024, would allow corporations access to gas and oil in U.S. coastal waters previously protected by the Obama Administration.

Carbajal expressed strong opposition to the Draft Proposed Program (DPP), the first draft in a series of three proposals for the 2019-2024 cycle, in a letter addressed to President Donald Trump and DOI Secretary Ryan Zinke.

“I am particularly concerned that expanding drilling into the Pacific region fails to recognize input from local stakeholders, ignores the impacts to our environment, and threatens our local tourism and commercial fishing industries,” Carbajal wrote in the letter.

In his letter, Carbajal indicates support for Governor Jerry Brown’s advocacy for California’s exemption from the DPP’s plan, citing Santa Barbara County’s needs specifically due to the local region’s history with oil spills resulting from offshore drilling

Annie Fergus, a third-year psychology major and intern at the California Public Interest Research Group (CALPIRG) UCSB chapter, explained that the BOEM’s initiative to open coasts to drilling was likely incentivized by monetary profit.

“It obviously helps the economy. The more it makes us money, the less we rely on foreign oil,” she said.

Fergus explained that allowing offshore drilling would be an enormous step backward in efforts to convert UCSB into an environmentally friendly campus.

California’s exemption from the DPP would have positive political implications by forcing transportation and energy industries to turn to alternative, more sustainable resources such as wind and solar energy, Fergus said.

Matias Eusterbrock, a fourth-year sociology and economics double major and vice chair of UCSB’s Coastal Fund, said that increased oil development makes clean energy seem like a better alternative.

“I think that by not relying on such harmful forms of energy both in extraction and use, we incentivize the innovation that we need,” Eusterbrock said.

CALPIRG recently released an email petition for campus community members to sign in opposition of offshore oil drilling. The group’s goal is to make the UCSB campus run on 100 percent renewable energy, according to Fergus.

“There’s no safe way to drill for oil and transport oil,” said Liam Horstick, campus organizer of UCSB CALPIRG. “We shouldn’t be drilling for more fossil fuels, anyway, because of the impact to climate change and 100 percent renewable energy.”

Joan Hartmann, third district supervisor and Santa Barbara County representative, is currently working on several projects to push the county toward more sustainable sources of energy.

According to an email statement from Hartmann, such projects include “evaluating Community Choice Energy, increasing buildout local distributed energy resources such as solar, demanding response and energy storage to create a more resilient energy system and promoting zero emission vehicles and infrastructure for these vehicles that don’t have internal combustion engines.”

The Dos Cuadros oil field holds about 11.4 million accessible barrels of crude oil under the Santa Barbara Channel and is part of what attracts oil companies to California’s Central Coast. The federally leased field is regulated by the DOI, not the state of California.

In early 1969, a well blowout about 10 miles from Santa Barbara’s coast in the Dos Cuadras field caused the spill of roughly 100,000 barrels of crude oil into the Santa Barbara Channel, polluting beaches from Goleta to Ventura and on four of the Channel Islands.

Over 3,600 sea birds died, along with fish, barnacles and some marine mammals. The spill resulted in $9.5 million of commercial and private property damage.

The platform that caused the spill is currently still in operation today, along with its three sibling platforms.

The effects of the spill contributed to the passage of several environmental protection acts as well as the establishment of the US Environmental Protection Agency and the California Coastal Commission.

A major spill occurred again in 2015, when a Plains All American pipeline burst, sending 3,400 barrels of crude oil into the waters of Refugio State Beach. The pipeline has now been closed.

The 1969 and 2015 oil spills have served as points of reference for many opponents of the DOI’s movement to open coastal waters to drilling.

“The Central Coast knows all too well the risks that oil drilling poses to our communities, and I will continue to urge this Administration to take our coastline off the negotiating table,” Carbajal said in his statement.

Since 1969, the California States Lands Commission has not granted any new offshore drilling leases within its jurisdiction limit of three miles off the coast, though existing operations were allowed to continue.

The DOI temporarily paused operations on California’s Outer Continental Shelf following the 1969 spill until the passages of the National Environmental Policy Act and the California Environmental Quality Act in 1970.

Another major component of the opposition to the proposal is California’s economy. According to Hartmann, coastal recreational, fishing and tourism are essential to the state’s thriving economy and the proposed program could be extremely detrimental to such industries.

Like California, coastal states across the country rose in opposition against the BOEM’s proposed plan. Governors in Washington and Oregon joined Brown to sign a joint statement in early January saying that the states would take any measure to prevent oil drilling.

“They’ve chosen to forget the utter devastation of past offshore oil spills … They’ve chosen to ignore the science that tells us our climate is changing and we must reduce our dependence on fossil fuels. But we won’t forget history or ignore science,” the statement read.

The BOEM is currently holding public meetings across the country regarding each coastal state’s stance on drilling.

A version of this article appeared on pg. 3 of the Feb. 15, 2018 issue of the Daily Nexus.

 

Proposed Calif. Offshore Oil Drilling Faces Opposition, by Anyi Cheng, The Daily Nexus, February 15, 2018.  

The county should reconsider Community Choice Energy

As members of the Earth Care Committee at St. Benedict’s Episcopal Church, we consider wise stewardship of the resources in this county a sacred responsibility. We share this as Christians with all the major spiritual traditions of the world. Two years ago, several of our members attended and spoke at a Board of Supervisors meeting where a feasibility study for a Community Choice Energy (CCE) program was approved for our county. We were happy about this action.

CCE programs have been shown to make sense, and thus they are growing rapidly across this state. Marin, Sonoma, and San Francisco counties, for example, have ones successfully in place, and many others, like Los Angeles, Monterey, and Santa Cruz, will add them by the end of this year. CCE programs are demonstrably saving both energy—important in these days of climate change, and money—important for cash-strapped local governments. With the Diablo Power Plant closing, the need to develop a viable energy program with significant economic benefits has now become urgent.

Thus our disbelief and dismay at learning of the board’s recent rejection of the study that found a CCE would likely be feasible for SLO County. We ask them to reconsider this decision and allow more information to be examined.

Earth Care Committee members: Rev. Michael Eggleston, Joan Ghilotti, Rev. Caroline Hall, John Horsley, Joe Morris, Bob Pelfrey, Rev. Barry Turner, and Alice Welchert

 

The county should reconsider Community Choice Energy, by The Earth Care Committee, The New Times, February 15, 2018. 

Rejection of Community Choice Energy is astonishing

Republicans must be terrified by the prospect of learning the truth.

That’s the only conclusion one can draw from the astonishing news that the Republican majority on the SLO County Board of Supervisors — Lynn Compton, Debbie Arnold and John Peschong — used their power to veto further exploration of the fiscal implications of adopting a countywide Community Choice Energy program.

It is truly ironic that The Tribune featured an article describing Cal Poly’s creation of a solar farm that will supply 25 percent of the university’s energy needs on the same day this backwards-looking decision was reported by Andrew Christie in a separate Tribune Viewpoint.

On the other hand, this decision underscores the fact that Compton, Arnold and Peschong are faithfully following their own leader, Donald Trump, whose denial of facts is already legendary in its sociopathic scope.

Fortunately, we also have the local leadership example of Heidi Harmon and the city of San Luis Obispo, who have chosen to continue to examine the feasibility of a CCE program for our citizens. The truth — locally and nationally — will come out. So let Arnold, Compton and Peschong drive their model-T version of leadership back to the 19th century. This year the voters will have their chance to choose.

 

Rejection of Community Choice Energy is astonishing, by Bob Pelfrey, The Tribune, February 2, 2018.

Cal Poly to save millions of dollars with new solar farm

SAN LUIS OBISPO, Calif. – Under a bright sunny sky, Cal Poly flipped the switch today on a brand new solar farm located on the western edge of its campus.

The 18.5-acre facility is the university’s first major energy project since announcing a goal of climate neutrality during 2015-16 academic year.

“This fits right into our goal,” said President Jeffrey Armstrong. “We want to be net-zero in 2050. We want to really move beyond the goal that the governor has set because the whole issue of greenhouse gases and climate change are very important.”

Along with Armstrong and 24th District Rep. Salud Carbajal, several other university, city and county dignitaries held a ribbon cutting ceremony to mark the event.

The solar farm includes more than 16,000 panels that will produce more than 11 million kWh per year, which is enough energy to power more than 1,000 homes. It’s enough energy to supply 25 percent of Cal Poly’s total needs annually.

“It’s going to save $17 million dollars over 20 years,” said Armstrong. “On top of that, since it’s a public-private partnership, we have zero up-front costs.”

The university teamed up with San Luis Obispo-based REC Solar to build the farm. The company was founded by two Cal Poly graduates, who helped in the design and construction of the facility.

“We applaud Cal Poly’s creativity in leveraging the system to inspire research in sustainability for years to come. REC Solar is privileged to be a part of the university’s sustainability journey,” said REC Solar CEO Matt Walz in a statement.

In addition to the environmental and financial benefits, the solar farm will also be used for academic opportunities for Cal Poly students.

“There’s going to be multiple ‘Learn By Doing’ opportunities for our students, both associated with this facility and all the data that’s going to be collected,” Armstrong said. “It’s really a great parternship.”

The site will also be used by Cal Poly Animal Science students, who will be able to access the facility to research vegetation management practices for solar farm projects by grazing sheep on the premises.

 

Cal Poly to save millions of dollars with new solar farm, by Dave Alley, KCOY, January 24, 2018.

SLO County supervisors hit new low with rejection of Community Choice Energy

On Tuesday, county supervisors voted to file and forget a feasibility study on the establishment of a Community Choice Energy program.

In so doing, the board majority set a high bar: They are going to have to work hard for the rest of the year to come up with a vote that can wrestle away the prize for their most inexplicable, indefensible and reactionary vote of 2018.

It was a vote that exposed this board’s biggest problem — which is not a lack of harmony, comity, tactfulness or etiquette. It’s the sharp divide over serious policy issues of critical importance to all residents of the county, and, time after time, the failure of three supervisors to grasp those issues, choosing instead to adopt “status quo” as the answer to every question.

But even with the record they have created, the “no action” Community Choice vote by Supervisors Lynn Compton, Debbie Arnold and John Peschong stands out as a failure to address looming problems, out of step with the rest of the state and marking an accelerating slide into the past.

As SLO Clean Energy succinctly put it in a Tribune Viewpoint the day before the board met: “Localizing control of energy purchasing decisions and energy-related revenue reinvestment decisions via CCE is one of the single most impactful actions county supervisors can take at this moment.” It would be “proactive, practical, and frankly, obvious.”

Diablo Canyon is going to close. The local economy is in urgent need of diversification and a source of new revenue, and fast. Community Choice is it.

Supervisors Gibson and Hill pointed out that their colleagues’ vote was ideologically motivated, but did not penetrate to the heart of the mystery. Both marveled at the ideology that could accommodate the whiplash-inducing, anti-competitive, anti-free market, anti-local control, monopoly-defending positions staked out by the board majority while proclaiming they were doing the opposite.

Let us count the rationales, and appropriate responses:

▪ A Community Choice Energy program is too financially risky.

Here’s the Local Energy Aggregation Network, a non-profit organization that works with local governments to assure the formational and operational success of Community Choice Energy Programs based on the state’s Community Choice Aggregation law: “California’s first CCA, Marin Clean Energy, was launched in 2010 to serve customers in parts of Marin County. The program that was once branded as a ‘risky scheme’ has proven to be economically viable and has expanded its service territory and its roster of programs and services.”

▪  It’s too new.

Supervisor Peschong said he understood that “a few groups are trying to make this work.” Supervisor Compton said “If this takes off, I’m willing to re-take a look at it.” Both pretended this is 2009. They know better: In addition to Marin County’s seven-year track record, Community Choice Energy programs are up and running in Sonoma, Mendocino, San Mateo and Humboldt counties, and in Lancaster and San Francisco. By the end of this year, eight more will launch, covering the cities of Davis, Solana Beach and San Jose, and Contra Costa, Alameda, Los Angeles, Monterey, San Benito, Santa Cruz, Placer and Yolo counties.

Fourteen more local governments from San Diego to Butte County, including the city of San Luis Obispo, are in the process of exploring how to set up their own CCAs. (The day before the board meeting, the city of SLO invited the county to partner with them. Invitation declined.)

▪ A study said it wouldn’t work here.

feasibility study found Community Choice to be economically infeasible as a tri-county program encompassing San Luis Obispo, Santa Barbara and Ventura Counties because this would straddle the service areas of two utilities.

But the feasibility study also found a CCA to be very likely feasible, and very much worth further exploration, within PG&E’s service area, i.e. San Luis Obispo and northern Santa Barbara Counties.

▪  CCE programs are structured with an “opt out” option instead of an “opt in” option.

The horror!

Nobody ever had the choice of “opting in” to PG&E, right? Or the option to do anything else?

▪ A CCE program represents government control of energy.

It would mean oversight by local elected local government officials, as opposed to the current control of energy by unelected utility executives in San Francisco, and state-appointed officials of the California Public Utilities Commission — the folks who denied SLO County’s hoped-for $85 million in mitigation funds for Diablo’s closure. Just saying.

That was the gist of the arguments by the board majority, on their way to “no.”

Supervisors Gibson and Hill pointed out that the issue before the board was not whether to establish a CCE program for the county, but whether to direct staff to further explore the fiscal specifics of doing so. Both were incredulous that Compton, Arnold and Peschong were essentially telling county staff “We don’t want to get more information,” and telling the citizens of this county “We don’t want you to have a choice.”

We share that incredulity. So should we all.

Andrew Christie is director of the Santa Lucia Chapter of the Sierra Club.

WHAT IS COMMUNITY CHOICE ENERGY?

A state law passed on 2002 gave California cities and counties the ability to buy and sell electricity. Community Choice Energy (also referred to as Community Choice Aggregation) allows local governments to leverage the purchasing power of their residents and businesses to buy and/or generate power for their communities.

When a CCE program is formed, the provider purchases the electricity, which often includes renewables like wind and solar power, and sets the rates. The existing utility company continues to deliver electricity purchased by the CCE provider over its power lines and provides metering, billing and other customer services.

Source: San Luis Obispo County staff report

 

SLO County supervisors hit new low with rejection of Community Choice Energy, by Andrew Christie, The Tribune, January 24, 2018.

Camarillo: Council action gives residents a choice

By about this time next year, Camarillo residents and businesses may be seeing lower electric bills.

The Camarillo City Council voted unanimously Jan. 10 to move forward with plans to bring in an alternate supplier of electricity to compete with Southern California Edison.

Gary Gero, chief sustainability officer for Los Angeles County, gave a presentation to the council and invited Camarillo to join Thousand Oaks, Ojai, Oxnard and the unincorporated areas of Ventura County in the Los Angeles Community Choice Energy, or LACCE, program.

LACCE is a community choice aggregation program, a collection of local governments that group together and buy energy to compete with power companies like Edison, which holds a monopoly on supplying electricity to Camarillo and the rest of Ventura County.

In 2008, Marin Clean Energy in Marin County was the first program in the state to create a community choice aggregation, with Sonoma Clean Power following in 2013.

In January 2016, the council joined a study to determine if it would be financially feasible for cities in Ventura, Santa Barbara and San Luis Obispo counties to start their own aggregation, but it proved to be too expensive. Now the counties have the opportunity to join L.A. County’s program.

Gero and the council members said Edison’s status as an investor-owned utility means it must make a profit. LACCE, a nonprofit program, has lower overhead and can pass the savings on to consumers.

“The bottom line for me is that this is an opportunity to provide more options to our ratepayers,” Councilmember Kevin Kildee said.

Gero said customers won’t see noticeable changes in service once LACCE takes over early next year.

Each of Camarillo’s businesses and nearly 25,000 households will continue to receive their regular bill from Edison, Gero said, but customers will see information on their statement indicating how much of what they’re paying to Edison will be sent to LACCE.

“Southern California Edison will continue to maintain the transmission and distribution systems, so they will actually deliver the electricity over their wires,” Gero said. “We’re not going to go out and build new wires. And they actually provide the meterreading and billing services.”

LACCE operates by buying energy from a variety of sources, including renewable sources like wind and solar power, and then reselling that energy to Southern California Edison for a cheaper price than Edison can purchase it.

Customers affected by the switch will receive four reminders that their energy provider will change to LACCE, and they can opt out and return to Edison at any point.

Gero said he hopes Camarillo will be able to join LACCE without paying any sort of entry fee as the program offers waivers for communities affected by the wildfires.

Several members of the public spoke in favor of joining LACCE during the public hearing, as did Ventura County Supervisor Linda Parks.

Parks encouraged Camarillo to join, saying that the more Ventura County entities participate the more seats the county will have on the LACCE board, which comprises one representative from each government that joins the program.

“I think getting in now, getting in early, we can get to the policy table when decisions are being made on things that are very important to our ratepayers,” she said.

Startups

The council voted unanimously to approve $10,000 for the Chamber of Commerce’s event Startups Ventura County.

Formerly called Startup Weekend Ventura County, the event for entrepreneurs provides seed money and workspace at the Camarillo Airport for promising business ideas.

Along with the new name, the third edition of the annual event will have an application process.

“(The application) is to ensure those who participate are coming with a business concept already in mind,” Assistant City Manager Tom Fox said.

The winner will receive $10,000, and second place will receive $5,000. Both will be given one year of free workspace at the airport.

Startups Ventura County will be held in April at the Camarillo Public Library.

Daily Drive repairs

In the consent calendar, the council awarded Camarillo-based Encompass Consulting Group a contract to design the replacement of the sidewalks, curbs and gutters on Daily Drive between Las Posas Road and Calle La Roda.

The contract is worth almost $104,000 with an additional $15,500 budgeted for contingencies.

The area was damaged by pine tree roots, and the project plans to remove the trees, replace the sidewalk to accommodate ADA requirements, rebuild the curbs and gutters, and repave that section of Daily Drive with asphalt.

Courthouse building

During the study session, the council discussed the old courthouse property at 2220 Ventura Blvd. in Old Town.

Built in 1965, the property is being used for parking and bathrooms for the farmers market. The council and staff discussed possibly tearing down the building to turn the area into a park.

The city bought the property from the county for $1.4 million in 2006. Though the city hoped to be able to use the building for office space, Camarillo-based contractor S.L. Leonard said it would cost between $2 million and $4.3 million to renovate the building.

The council directed staff to move forward with getting a conceptual design for the park.

“We’ve got a blank canvas here,” City Manager Dave Norman said. “We just have to tell the artist what we want.”

 

Council action gives residents a choice, by Cameron Kiszla, Camarillo Acorn, January 18, 2018.

Central Coast Reacts To Proposed Offshore Oil Drilling Plan

New offshore oil and gas wells could be coming to the coast of California.  The Trump Administration has proposed an expansion of drilling operations in nearly all federal waters.

At the end of Monterey’s Commercial Wharf, there’s a tiny shack where you can buy abalone by the pound. Nearly all of the company’s California Red Abalone is grown in the water, just beneath the wharf.

“Watch out it’s pretty slippery,” warns Monterey Abalone Company’s Andrew Kim.

I follow Kim down a ladder to the farm. The abalone spend at least four years growing in cages that hang from the wharf’s wooden planks. Winches move the cages in and out of the water so workers can feed the abalone kelp.

“It’s kind of a dark, dank environment down here, but the abalone really like this shaded environment,” says Kim.

The company has always felt safe operating here, right in the heart of the Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary. The area is federally protected, so any activity that threatens marine life, like abalone, is banned. That includes offshore oil drilling.

But Kim is still concerned about the possibility of new oil and gas wells elsewhere in the state. The Trump Administration’s proposal would open up six spots along the coast of California, including two along the Central Coast. The exact locations aren’t public yet.

“I don’t feel good about it. An oil spill would be catastrophic to businesses like ours and fishermen,” Kim says.

And he worries oil spills could affect the abalone suppliers he relies on from outside the Sanctuary.  Plus, there’s the simple reality of what happens when oil spills.

“Oil, when it flows into the sea, doesn’t stay where it starts,” Margaret Spring says.

Margaret Spring is the Chief Conservation Officer of the Monterey Bay Aquarium.  Looking out to the Monterey Bay, we see pristine water and harbor seals lounging on rocks.  Spring says this scene is possible because there’s no oil drilling here.

But the state does have 38 active offshore oil and gas leases, all off the southern California coast. It’s been more than thirty years since any new leases have been approved. Spring sees that as a sign Californians don’t want any more.

“So I think it’s just picking a fight that’s not necessary. We think that if we were able to bring the information about what’s at stake here to the administration, we hope that they would listen to us, and take us seriously that this is a place that needs to be protected,” says Spring.

The Aquarium is encouraging people to join its opposition to any expansion of offshore oil drilling. The online public comment period closes March 9.

But if the Trump Administration moves forward with this proposal, State Assemblymember Mark Stone says California has tools to fight back. I reached him by phone up in Sacramento.

“We’re going to have to rely on the regulations we have in place, and the regulatory agencies to push back and not allow for the expansion of any oil production offshore,” says Stone.

The state controls land from the shoreline to three nautical miles out. So even if the federal government approved a new oil well beyond that marker, the state could stop the oil from reaching land in California.

“So it’s going to be a lot harder if there are leases granted for oil drilling and oil production where there are not existing facilities to get land use approval to build onshore facilities. [It’s] something I think we can rally against and push back against, and something that the feds can not force,” says Stone.

Add to that, the California Coastal Commission would have a say in any proposed oil and gas leases, even in federal waters.

Each of the 22 states affected by this proposed expansion of offshore oil drilling will get one public hearing. California’s is February 8 in Sacramento.

KAZU reached out to the California Independent Petroleum Association, which released a statement favorable of the Trump Administration’s proposal. The statement, from Chief Executive Officer Rock Zierman, said in part, “California has the nation’s strongest environmental protections so it makes sense to meet our energy needs here under these strict standards, instead of relying upon more imported oil that is produced without these protections.”

 

Central Coast Reacts To Proposed Offshore Oil Drilling Plan, by Erika Mahoney, National Public Radio – KAZU, January 18, 2018.

Nuclear power receives its death sentence in California: Regulators vote to shut down Diablo Canyon

The last remaining nuclear power plant in California will begin shutting down operations in six years, after state regulators Thursday unanimously approved a plan outlining details of the closure.

“We chart a new energy future by phasing out nuclear power here in California,” Michael Picker, the president of the California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) said prior to the 5-0 vote. “We agree the time has come.”

The decision comes after the nuclear plant’s operator, Pacific Gas & Electric, in 2016 announced an agreement with a collection of environmental and labor groups to shutter the plant that has delivered electricity since 1985.

The utility said Diablo Canyon would be uneconomical to run in the near future because of changes in California’s power grid — specifically, the growth of renewable energy sources, increased energy efficiency measures and the migration of more customers from traditional utilities to community choice aggregation (CCA) for their local electricity needs.

Diablo Canyon had been the last remaining nuclear plant in the state, after the San Onofre Nuclear Generating Station closed its doors in January 2012 following a small radiation leak from a steam generator.

While California will soon have no nuclear plants in operation, there are 99 nuclear reactors operating in the United States.

Under Thursday’s decision, Unit 1 will close in 2024, and Unit 2 is scheduled for retirement in 2025, the years the federal licenses for the respective units expire.

Located on a bluff overlooking the Pacific Ocean in San Luis Obispo County, Diablo Canyon generates almost 18,000 gigawatt-hours of power each year, powering 1.7 million homes.

According to the most recent figures from the California Energy Commission, nuclear power accounted for 9.18 percent of the state’s power mix, without producing greenhouse gases.

Supporters of nuclear energy said closing Diablo Canyon will cause the state to use more natural gas — a fossil-fuel — in order to replace the electricity generated by the plant.

“I’m sorely disappointed the CPUC has neglected the ratepayers and the environment,” said Gene Nelson, government liaison with Californians for Green Nuclear Power. “Solar and wind cannot be counted on …They’re subject to random interruptions.”

Environmental groups hailed the decision, which was expected after 17 months of filings and debate among parties in the CPUC review, but were also concerned about what type of energy sources will be used to replace generation from Diablo.

“We really have to make sure that as we’re phasing out and getting rid of our nuclear power that we’re not replacing it with dirty and dangerous fossil fuels like natural gas and that we’re moving to a 100 percent, clean, renewable economy,” said Dan Jacobson, state director of Los Angeles-based Environment California.

Commissioners expressed confidence that won’t happen.

“There’s no retreat from our strong commitment to our GHG (greenhouse gas) reduction goals,” commissioner Cliff Rechtschaffen said.

As for which types of clean energy sources should be procured, commissioners left that up to an “Integrated Resource Plan” the CPUC has established for long-term power purchases.

Commissioners OK’d a proposed decision outlined by a CPUC administrative law judgethat would give PG&E less money than it wanted to keep staff and retrain the plant’s 1,500 employees as Diablo Canyon gets decommissioned.

PG&E originally wanted $363.4 million but the commission reduced that to $222.6 million. PG&E will receive $18.6 million from ratepayers for costs associated with licensing from the federal government’s Nuclear Regulatory Commission.

A number of parties in the case, as well as PG&E, proposed $85 million to compensate the community surrounding the plant for the loss of tax dollars that would accompany the closure of the facility.

But while commissioners acknowledged the plant’s economic effect on the area, they said questions involving tax dollars are the responsibility of the state Legislature to address.

“We are very disappointed that this program was not approved,” PG&E spokesman Blair Jones said, adding the utility will meet with the parties it worked with in 2016 to determine what do next.

Commissioner Liane Randolph said the decision to close Diablo Canyon would not pose a threat to grid reliability in California.

The ruling “moves California away from the era of nuclear power and toward an era of zero-carbon, renewable energy,” Randolph said.

Critics of the decision to close Diablo note that greenhouse gas emissions in the state went up after the San Onofre Nuclear Generating Station (SONGS) went offline. In-state generation of natural gas jumped from from 45.4 percent in 2011 to 61.1 percent in 2012.

In the most recent numbers from the California Energy Commission, in-state generation of natural gas was at 49.86 in 2016.

Commissioner Carla Peterman said the Diablo case offers policymakers a much smoother path to avoid an increase in fossil-fuel energy sources. While SONGS was abruptly shut down, Diablo Canyon will not begin to close for another six years.

“We have tools available now that we didn’t have several years ago,” Peterman said.

CPUC decided in November 2014 on a plan that charged SONGS customers $3.3 billion of the estimated $4.7 billion in costs related to the premature closing of the plant.

But it was later revealed that then-CPUC president Michael Peevey crafted the specifics of the the deal in a secret meeting at a hotel in Poland with an executive with Southern California Edison, the operators of SONGS.

Michael Shellenberger, a staunch advocate of nuclear energy and the president of the Berkeley-based think tank Environmental Progress, said the details of what happened at SONGS should have been resolved before the CPUC approved the closing of Diablo.

“Ratepayers are at risk of losing over $3 billion in the San Onofre ripoff,” said Shellenberger, who is running for governor as a third-party candidate and has pledged to reform the CPUC. “Carbon emissions will go up if they close Diablo.”

This story has been updated to add details of Thursday’s vote and quotes from Carla Peterman and Michael Shellenberger.

Nuclear power receives its death sentence in California: Regulators vote to shut down Diablo Canyon,  by Rob Nikolewski, The San Diego Union-Tribune, January 11, 2018.