Goleta Commits to 100% Clean, Renewable Energy

Goleta has become the 51st city in the country to commit to transition to 100 percent clean and renewable energy.

The Goleta City Council this week unanimously approved a resolution to adopt a goal of 100 percent renewable electricity for all municipal facilities and community-wide electricity supply by 2030.

Additionally, at least 50 percent of electricity use by municipal facilities must come from renewable sources by 2025.

With its adoption of this resolution, Goleta joins Santa Barbara and Monterey as the third city on the Central Coast that has committed to transitioning to 100 percent clean, renewable energy.

“I’m proud that Goleta just adopted a 100 percent renewable energy goal by 2030,” said Goleta Mayor Paula Perotte. “This effort is an important and strategic first step to securing more, reliable, safe and economic

energy vital to our community’s long term prosperity and welfare.”

Earlier this year, Perotte joined the Climate Mayors organization (Mayors National Climate Action Agenda), pledging to work with other U.S. mayors to strengthen local efforts for reducing greenhouse gas emissions.

Goleta’s resolution is a major step towards achieving the city’s emission reduction goals set forth in Goleta’s Climate Action Plan.

In addition to establishing the 100 percent clean energy goal, Goleta also authorized participating in a solicitation by Southern California Edison, which will call for “energy efficiency, demand response, renewables, and energy storage, which will be deployed during times in which high energy consumption strains the distribution system.”

The city also authorized  investigating the feasibility of a city-wide Community Choice Energy program that could encourage more local renewable generation.

“Targets such as these assert the California Central Coast’s environmental leadership and send a message to state and federal agencies that our region embraces the rapid transition to renewable energy that we have seen over the last decade,” said Sigrid Wright, CEO/executive director of the Community Environmental Council.

“These goals are forward-thinking and have the potential to set a model for other communities,” Wright said.

“We salute Goleta for their leadership on 100 percent clean energy,” said Katie Davis, chair of the Sierra Club’s Santa Barbara Group. “To meet our international climate goals, we must transition away from fossil fuels to renewable sources of energy.

“Moving to 100 percent renewable energy isn’t just the right thing to do for our climate, it’s the smart thing to do for our local economy,” Davis said.

“Renewable energy costs have decreased dramatically and are now cost competitive with fossil fuels, and Santa Barbara County already has eight times more jobs in clean energy and energy efficiency than in the oil industry,” she said.

“The transition to 100 percent clean energy is represents a better and more prosperous path forward for our community,” Davis said.

Goleta joins several other cities across California to champion a clean energy future. Last week, Truckee became the 50th city in the country to commit to 100 percent renewable energy by 2030. Goleta’s commitment signals the growing support among local communities to power a cleaner, healthier future for all.

Goleta Commits to 100% Clean, Renewable Energy, by Stephanie Steinbrecher, Noozhawk, December 7, 2017.

Greenpower Event to Raise Awareness, Resources, Honor Leaders, for Monterey Bay Region Renewable Energy Alternatives

Greenpower — a movement to give communities local control, choice, and renewable energy alternatives — will host an event Friday to focus on its cause and honor those who have worked to get it on its feet.

“The goal is to raise awareness about us, what we do, what we’re working on, and to honor and recognize the people of the region in leadership roles,” said Benjamin Eichert, Greenpower director.

Caring for Our Common Home will be held Friday at Dos Suenos Stables, 300 West Carmel Valley Road in Carmel Valley from 5:30 to 7 p.m. For more information on the event, go to https://www.greenpower.ngo/events/caring-for-our-common-home

Greenpower is a movement to give communities local control over their energy production and lead the transition from greenhouse gas-emitting energy sources – like coal and oil – to locally produced green energy from renewable sources like solar, wind, and biomass, according to its website.

The Santa Cruz-based project was launched in 2016 by its nonprofit parent company, the Romero Institute, inspired by Pope Francis’ 2015 encyclical call to “care for our common home.”

“At Greenpower and the Romero Institute, we believe caring for the planet is not just environmental but spiritual,” said Eichert. “Romero is interfaith and focused on the faith community because people of faith understand the moral importance to address climate change.”

Eichert said Friday’s event will celebrate the efforts of local community leaders such as former State Senator and current Santa Cruz County Supervisor chair, Bruce McPherson, who will receive an award.

The celebration will include special guest John Laird, California Secretary of Natural Resources, and honored guests, former Congressman Sam Farr and his wife Shary, Monterey County Supervisors Mary Adams, and Jane Parker, San Benito County Supervisor Robert Rivas, Salinas City Councilman Steve McShane, and Bishop Richard Garcia.

The Romero Institute, named in honor of Archbishop Oscar Romero of El Salvador, has combined public education, grass-roots organizing, and legal services to create social change, for over 30 years.

Greenpower works closely with the Catholic Church to install solar and increase energy efficiency in parishes, and through its organizational and educational work.

The project has helped to dramatically expand the scope of Monterey Bay Community Power – Monterey, Santa Cruz, and San Benito county’s Community Choice Energy program.

California is one of a handful of states that allow cities and counties to form publicly run alternative energy entities such as MBCP, which is poised to be the largest Community Choice Energy program in California.

Formed in March 2017, Monterey Bay Community Power is a joint powers authority, governed by a Policy Board and an Operations Board, each of which includes eleven members. All board meetings are open to the public, with agendas posted in advance, according to its website.

The community power entity was formed as a result of the work of its Project Development Advisory Committee which was formed in 2013 as a region-wide collaborative partnership of all 21 local governments including the tri-counties and all 18 cities located within their borders. The partnership also included Monterey Bay Unified Air Pollution Control District, Salinas Valley Solid Waste Authority and Monterey Regional Waster Management District.

“Greenpower is the ambassador for public education and outreach, educating the public about the program and its potential to quickly and dramatically reduce green-house gas emissions,” said Eichert.

The project’s director said San Luis Obispo County has shown an interest in possibly joining the MBCP.

There are eight CCE programs in California currently delivering electricity such as, Sonoma Clean Power, Lancaster Choice Energy, Redwood Coast Energy Authority, and Silicon Valley Clean Energy, and there are an additional nine programs slated for launch in 2018 including the City of Solana Beach, San Jose Clean Energy, Contra Costa County, and Los Angeles Community Choice Energy.

Greenpower Event to Raise Awareness, Resources, Honor Leaders, for Monterey Bay Region Renewable Energy Alternatives, by James Herrera, Monterey Herald, November 1, 2017.

 

Ventura County Will Explore Joining L.A. Venture to Create Renewable Energy

Ventura County officials will explore teaming up with Los Angeles County in a venture to produce renewable energy and slow down climate change, county supervisors decided Tuesday.

Under state law, local governments can establish their own organizations to generate and distribute power. The intent is to boost the amount of power produced from renewable sources, such as wind and the sun.

The option was one of several the Ventura County Board of Supervisors weighed now that a joint government-run program with Santa Barbara and San Luis Obispo counties does not appear to be feasible.

Senior Deputy Executive Officer Susan Hughes said the Legislature is requiring all energy producers to procure 33 percent of their energy from renewable sources by 2020. The goal is 50 percent by 2030, she said.

Those producers may either be the large utilities such as Southern California Edison or the local governments that establish alternative programs to produce power.

The Los Angeles County government is asking the officials in Ventura County to make a decision by Jan. 1, Hughes said. But the Ventura County supervisors were not ready to make a commitment until they were convinced that promises made by the larger county would materialize.

“I have to have the evidence in hand,” said Ventura County Supervisor Steve Bennett. “I have to be convinced it is reliable.”

Voting 4-0, the Ventura County Board of Supervisors asked County Executive Officer Mike Powers to return with a report on the potential for such an alliance and whether the Jan. 1 deadline could be moved to a later date.

Bennett along with Supervisors Linda Parks, Peter Foy and Kelly Long voted to direct Powers to conduct the investigation. Supervisor John Zaragoza was absent for the vote.

Parks was the strongest proponent of exploring the alliance with Los Angeles County.

“It does seem to be the big game in town,” she said.

The board is exploring the idea in the wake of a feasibility study that showed forming an energy program for the tri-counties area would not work under 24 different scenarios. Critics say the financial assumptions in that study were too conservative and have called for additional investigation

 Estimates showed startup costs would total $524 million to get to the mark of 33 percent and $575 million for the 50 percent mark, Hughes said.

She said Southern California Edison hit the 28 percent mark last year and is projected to achieve 41 percent by 2020. The giant utility is the only major provider of electricity in Ventura County.

Foy questioned why it made any sense to form an independent organization to sell energy when Edison is achieving those numbers.

“This sounds a little risky,” he said.

Bennett said he didn’t want to close the door. He saw it as “good government” if the county could come up with an appropriate competitive model to Edison that would provide lower rates and a speedier conversion to renewable energy.

L.A. County has invited southern Santa Barbara County and Ventura County to participate in the energy venture proposed for more than 1 million residents of unincorporated Los Angeles County. It has also invited 84 cities in Los Angeles County to participate.

Officials from Santa Barbara County said they are exploring joining the Los Angeles County venture, but also are investigating the potential for a small model of their own.

Ventura County Will Explore Joining L.A. Venture to Create Renewable Energy, by Kathleen Wilson, Ventura County Star, October 25, 2017.

Santa Barbara Gives Community Energy Plan Another Look, Pursues Local Energy Plan

The Santa Barbara City Council on Tuesday voted to take another look at the costly Community Choice Energy plan, and also develop a local strategic energy plan to help increase renewable energy options.

The vote was 5-1, with councilman Frank Hotchkiss voting No. Mayor Helene Schneider was absent.

“This is the right direction,” said Councilman Gregg Hart. “We need to pursue both of the things at the same time.”

Hart said the end game is clear.

“We need to have energy created on the South Coast, energy that is renewable, clean, non-polluting and cheap for customers,” Hart said. “We need to achieve the goal that we have, to provide distributed local energy on the south coast. We have to figure out how to do that.”

It will cost the city about $15,000 to have the feasibility study re-examined by the Advisory Working Group’s selected consultant, and up to $50,000 to procure the services of another peer reviewer to look at the possibilities.

A study involving 11 jurisdictions across the Tri-Counties found that a regional community choice energy program is not viable because it would not be financially competitive with Southern California Edison.

Community Choice Energy allows the state’s cities and counties to choose their sources of electrical power and to set their own rates. The program’s goal is to give consumers a more competitive rate and greener options, than what the large utility companies provide.

The local governments could purchase electricity from renewable sources, and they would be delivered through existing utility transmission lines.

Nine Community Choice Energy programs are operating in the state. But the local study found that a regional or stand-alone Santa Barbara program would not provide competitive rates or remain financially solvent.

Although other CCE programs exist throughout the state, Santa Barbara is unique because of its location, and because residents get their power from both Southern California Edison and Pacific Gas & Electric.

In addition to taking another look at the plan, the council plans to develop an Energy Strategic Plan for the city.

The plan would identify and aggregate critical parcel, financial and technical data as well as develop site-specific conceptual plans that would position the city to respond to opportunities for funding and development of generation, storage or efficiency opportunities as they arise, according to a city staff report.

Tom Widroe, president of conservative group “City Watch,” opposed the idea.

“It feels like a scam to me,” Widroe said. “What is the outcry for this. This doesn’t seem to make financial sense at all. It just seems like a bad idea to have staff go back and look at it again.

Councilman Hotchkiss was the sole no vote.

He put Matt Fore, senior assistant to the city administrator, on the spot, asking how much time he has spent work on the CCE project. Fore responded about “two years.”

“You are a bright guy,” Hotchkiss said. “Why would you put more of your time and energy on this when you have other things to do?”

Fore said it was a council policy decision on whether to move forward.

“You have done a huge amount of work here and it is hard for me to shoot it down, which I won’t, but I don’t think you should do much more,” said Hotchkiss, who is running for mayor. “We are trying to push water up hill, and I understand it is a political choice, but not one I would make.”

Murillo, another mayoral candidate, responded directly to Hotchkiss at the meeting.

“The CCE is worth pursuing, Mr. Hotchkiss,” Murillo said. “It was a huge part of our climate-change action plan. The community is very excited about renewable energy.”

Santa Barbara Gives Community Energy Plan Another Look, Pursues Local Energy Plan, by Joshua Molina, Noozhawk, October 31, 2017.

Tipping Point for Natural Gas: Huge Project Canceled in California

So … that was fast. US natural gas stakeholders barely had time to congratulate themselves for pushing coal out of the power generation market, and it looks like karma is already getting the last laugh. Low-cost renewable energy is beginning to nudge natural gas aside. In the most recent and striking development, California’s massive 262-megawatt Puente gas power plant proposal has been shelved, perhaps permanently.

Electricity Consumers Push Back On Natural Gas

Silver Strand Beach via City of Oxnard, California

Reporter Ivan Penn of the LA Times has the scoop on the Puente project, and he teases out several powerful forces at work against natural gas.

One key element is consumer pushback. At first glance, the proposal doesn’t seem overly controversial. The proposed plan, a project of NRG Energy, does not involve constructing a new facility. It would have replaced two existing gas units at the company’s existing Mandalay power generation facility in Oxnard, California.

All things being equal, the proposal would provide at least some degree of environmental benefit, because the new units would use 80% less water for cooling than the existing ones.

However, criticism of the new gas project was intense. Penn sums it up: earlier this month, a two-member review committee of the California Energy Commission took the rare step of issuing a statement recommending that the full Commission reject the plans after receiving “hundreds of messages protesting the project as another potential pollution threat to a community already overwhelmed by electricity-generating plants.”

The Rates Are Too Damn High

Aside from concerns about local air quality, Penn also cites an LA Times investigation indicating that the state’s energy policy has over-estimated the demand for natural gas power plants, resulting in artificially high rates:

“The commissioners’ recommendation followed Los Angeles Times investigations that showed the state has overbuilt the electricity system, primarily with natural gas plants, and has so much clean energy that it has to shut down some plants while paying other states to take the power California can’t use. The overbuilding has added billions of dollars to ratepayers’ bills in recent years.”

According to Penn, NRG officials maintain that older plant retirements by 2021 make replacement imperative to build up now.

At current costs, local ratepayers won’t get much relief if old power units are replaced with wind or solar.

My Beach, My Choice

Land use issues and environmental justice issues also come into play. NRG’s Mandalay power generation facility is located on the beach, and as NRG acknowledges, in 2014 the City of Oxnard enacted a moratorium on coastal development.

That complicates development plans within the power plant site, though NRG emphasizes that the final decision rests with state-level regulators.

Among those objecting to the plant from outside the local community is billionaire investor Tom Steyer, who co-authored an op-ed about the proposed facility raising the environmental justice issue:

“…in our state, not all beaches are created equal. That becomes painfully clear if you drive 50 miles north of Los Angeles to Oxnard, where the beaches have been seized by corporate polluters, marred by industrial waste and devastated by three fossil-fuel power plants that sit along the shoreline.

“Oxnard has more coastal power plants than any other city in the state, and not coincidentally, its population is predominantly Latino and low-income….”

Oxnard residents — and no doubt, real estate developers — are looking forward to transitioning coastal property out of industrial use altogether. Here’s LA Times reporter Dan Weikel on that topic:

“Many residents of this predominantly Latino city with a population of 205,000 say they are fed up with the degradation. Their growing dissatisfaction with the condition of large sections of beach has coalesced into an effort to deindustrialize and restore the shoreline of this city that is framed by Ventura and Camarillo and wraps around the town of Port Hueneme.”

So, What’s The Solution?

The Puente project has been suspended, not canceled. However, chances of revival are slim. Although the most recent study affirms that renewable energy is a more expensive choice currently, Steyer points out that the redevelopment of Oxnard’s beachfront could be balanced out by new economic activity related to tourism and recreation.

That opens up a whole ‘nother can of worms, as waterfront development typically drives up the cost of housing, squeezing former residents to outer rims with longer commutes and fewer resources.

Sticking to the energy cost issue, the basic problem comes down to local energy vs. long distance transmission.

NRG makes the case that local energy generation is more reliable. That’s a fair assessment as a general principle, as the old model of centralized power plants falls out of favor. Local and on-site generation is becoming a consensus argument among energy experts, regardless of the power source.

On the other hand, the risk involved in transmitting electricity from remote wind farms and solar power plants could be offset by local storage sites, where the growing microgrid movement would come into play.

New tools for financing energy efficiency improvements could also help tamp down local energy demand and ease the way for a more interactive grid that enables consumers to tweak their electricity consumption to help prevent outages.

Cities like Oxnard can also tap into a growing renewable energy knowledge base that leverages local opportunities for renewable energy development and energy efficiency improvements.

Most of all, the Trump administration’s willy-nilly approach to oil and gas development — for example, a new proposal involving drilling along the Pacific coast — raises the stakes for citizens far outside of the communities dealing with local land use issues, leading to a groundswell of support for alternatives.

Tipping Point for Natural Gas: Huge Project Canceled in California, by Tina Casey, Clean Technica, October 23, 2017.

Real-World Experience

Based on the Community Choice Aggregation (CCA) law passed by the state Legislature in 2002, Community Choice Energy programs started taking off in 2010 and are now rapidly proliferating. Community Choice programs have empowered local communities to decide where their electricity comes from and enhanced the economic vitality of the regions where they have been established. There is not much question about where power generation in California is heading: away from centralized investor-owned utilities and toward Community Choice and its ability to offer communities local control, more renewable energy at competitive rates, and the investment of revenue generated to benefit local residents and businesses.

Central Coast Power, a consortium of local governments in San Luis Obispo, Santa Barbara, and Ventura counties, formed in 2015 to explore the feasibility of a Community Choice program. The consortium commissioned a tri-county feasibility study from consulting firms Willdan Financial Services and EnerNex. The study examined eight different geographical scenarios for the region with energy mix scenarios for 33 percent, 50 percent, and 75 percent renewable energy, comparing likely CCA costs with the rates of the two utilities serving the three counties.

On Sept. 12, the Willdan/EnerNex study was released. It concluded, in every scenario, that a CCA program is not economically feasible and would cost ratepayers more than utility-provided power.

MRW & Associates, contracted to conduct a peer review of the study, pointed to half a dozen “areas where the draft study was potentially overly conservative or made questionable assumptions that might explain why its conclusion was negative while others have been affirmative.” These red flags ranged from the fact that the study failed to “reflect the most recently reported contract prices for renewable energy and does not reflect the general downward trend in renewable prices seen over the past few years” to a failure to “account for the proposed dramatic uncontested reductions” in the fees utilities charge CCA programs for billing services.

Energy experts elsewhere have elaborated on the study’s fatal error: using old data on the cost of renewable energy to project future renewable energy costs for Community Choice programs. The report pegs those costs at 8.8 cents per kWh (kilowatt hour). But recent utility contract prices have been averaging about 6 cents per kWh. That’s a 47 percent difference.

The report’s price projections relied on a chart by the California Public Utilities Commission listing average energy contract prices over the years. “Every year of price data going back to 2005 in that chart drags this long tail of all the contract prices from earlier years, rather than the price only for contracts signed in each year,” says energy consultant Robert Freehling. “By creating this cumulative snowball of past prices for each year of data, the CPUC creates what in financial analysis is called a ‘lagging indicator’—in this case an extreme lagging indicator—where each year in the chart actually reflects prices from years earlier.”

This error by itself would be enough to lead to the conclusion that a Community Choice program is uneconomical.

On Oct. 3, the Santa Barbara County Board of Supervisors voted to do a more in-depth peer review of the study that re-examines some of its fundamental assumptions.

Beyond the realm of clashing consultants, reality has already refuted the study’s “not economically feasible” conclusion. As the peer reviewers note, the study’s conclusions contradict other recent CCA technical studies, but Community Choice has already made its own case for itself in the real world, via MCE Clean Energy, launched in 2010 in Marin County; Sonoma Clean Power, launched in 2014 serving Sonoma and Mendocino counties; and many more programs now established or coming online including Redwood Coast Energy Authority, Apple Valley, and Silicon Valley Clean Power.

“Community Choice has proven to be cost-effective in both PG&E and SCE territories,” said Samuel Golding, president of Community Choice Partners. “Willdan and EnerNex insist it’s wildly more expensive. Which is more likely to be wrong: a consultant’s spreadsheet or real-world experience?”

Golding is candid in his assessment of where the study went wrong. “Beyond the outdated renewable power cost assumptions or the failure to understand the basic rules for how the agency would be charged for electricity on the wholesale market, their model is missing half the math. It doesn’t capture the key regulations that impact Community Choice energy agencies in the real world or how the utilities’ rates should be forecasted. This study is a poster child for all the reasons why we strongly advise communities to avoid relying on consultants for this sort of modeling. Redwood Coast CCA bypassed the consultants, brought in a nonprofit owned by public power utilities, and launched a successful CCA in less time than this study took to get it all wrong. Staff should reject this study, call up Redwood Coast for advice, start relying on proven experts, and get on with it.”

For SLO County and northern Santa Barbara County, here’s the most important correction made by the MRW peer review, analyzing a “middle of the road” (50 percent renewable energy) Community Choice scenario: A corrected model with revised assumptions resulted in lower rates and a cleaner energy mix than PG&E.

San Luis Obispo County’s Board of Supervisors and city councils shortly will be presented with the Willdan study—and, one hopes, the MRW peer review of that study—as they ponder the answer to the question, “Should we proceed with a Community Choice program?”

Their answer should be yes.

Real-World Experience, by Andrew Christie and Katie Davis, New Times San Luis Obispo, October 12, 2017.

Seize the Future

Opinion

By now, you may have heard about Community Choice Energy (CCE) programs. CCE programs offer residents and businesses a choice of who they purchase their electricity from. CCE programs also empower local governments to control electricity purchasing decisions for the benefit of their communities rather than ceding that control to the state’s investor-owned utilities. There are eight CCE programs currently operating in California (Sonoma Clean Power, Monterey Bay Community Power, Silicon Valley Clean Energy, Lancaster Choice Energy, and others), with 10 more launching in 2018, and at least 17 additional jurisdictions exploring and/or in the planning stages.

You may have also heard that San Luis Obispo, Santa Barbara, and Ventura counties are exploring the possibility of creating our own Tri-County CCE program. Over the last few years, we conducted a feasibility study to evaluate many scenarios to inform the best way forward. The results of the study, which were released in early September (see “Power down?” Sept. 21), determined that a program across the three counties was unfavorable since it would have to cross two different utility companies’ territories. However, the results of the study showed that a program in San Luis Obispo County had potential.

I think Community Choice Energy is an opportunity worthy of continued exploration. Here’s why:

Economic benefits: The economics of solar, batteries, and electric vehicles are improving rapidly, putting us on course in the next few years to replace the fossil fuels currently powering our homes, businesses, and transportation with renewably sourced electricity. By working in partnership with our neighboring communities, a CCE program can act as an economic engine to speed up the renewable energy transition and help to bolster our economy post-Diablo Canyon. Furthermore, CCE is an opportunity for us to reimagine our partnership with PG&E, who will be a critical ally helping us build the smart grid necessary to achieve 100 percent renewable electricity.

Environmental benefits: CCEs enable local governments to leverage the purchasing power of its residents and businesses to both purchase and generate electricity for the community from clean sources such as wind and solar. A higher percentage of renewable electricity means we are reducing our impact on the environment from fossil fuels and greenhouse gas emissions, helping to combat the harmful effects of climate change.

Community benefits: CCEs have been proven to offer electricity at competitive rates with more renewable energy. Sonoma Clean Power, serving Sonoma County communities, has reported cheaper rates and higher renewable energy content than the investor-owned utilities, saving customers more than $50 million since its start in May 2014. Additionally, revenues generated from the sale of electricity can be invested back into the community to support our net-zero vision and values. For example, we can fund energy efficiency to make our homes and businesses more comfortable and affordable, incentivize electric vehicles and build charging stations, and install local solar. These investments translate into good paying jobs that support our communities and strengthen our economy.

Speaking of jobs and the economy, on Oct. 19, the SLO Chamber of Commerce is hosting a forum to talk about becoming a net-zero community. This event will feature leadership from the Republican-led city of Lancaster located in Southern California. Lancaster is trailblazing the way to net-zero energy all while saving money and driving economic development. At the center of their achievements are innovative community development policies and Lancaster Choice Energy, their own CCE program.

The City Council will consider the potential benefits of a CCE program for SLO and potential paths forward at a hearing on Dec. 5. I encourage you to get engaged in this conversation—come to the chamber’s Becoming a Net-Zero Community event; give the City Council feedback.

With a forward-thinking council, supportive staff, an engaged community, and perfect weather, we are well set up to be a leader in the renewable energy future. We can create the jobs we need and the future our children demand while being fiscally responsible. Now is the time. It wasn’t too long ago that many would have suggested that a 100 percent clean energy future was impossible. Now we can make the impossible the inevitable.

Seize the Future, by Heidi Harmon, New Times San Luis Obispo, October 5, 2017.   

Is An Alternative Energy Choice Too Expensive for Santa Barbara?

A study on the prospect of government-run energy in Santa Barbara, Ventura, and San Luis Obispo counties found the program would not be economically feasible. “We’re different,” Jen Cregar, project supervisor with Energy & Sustainability Initiatives, told the Santa Barbara County supervisors. “We are not the same as everyone else.”

Though the so-called Community Choice Energy program would result in lower greenhouse-gas emissions, Santa Barbara customers could expect their electricity bills to be $16-$23 more every month, the study found. Part of the problem, Cregar explained, is that the region has two electricity providers, Southern California Edison and PG&E, each with different rates and billing systems. But the majority of the supervisors were not convinced and voted for additional analysis. “I am disappointed like many of you are,” Wolf said. “[But] I’m not giving up on this.”

Simply put, Community Choice Energy seeks to allow local governments to purchase bundled energy and sell it to customers while at the same time creating renewable energy. “This is happening everywhere. We should not be left behind,” charged environmental activist Katie Davis, adding that many real-world examples contradict the study’s conclusions. In fact, nine programs are already up and running in California. Nine speakers echoed Davis’s optimism and asked for more thorough review of the 2,000-page report. “Rarely do I stand before you and ask you to slow down,” added Sigrid Wright, president of the Community Environmental Council.

The study found that in North County, where PG&E provides power, Community Choice Energy could be feasible. But, Cregar explained, state law mandates that the county offer Community Choice Energy to all residents or not at all. Ironically, conservative North County supervisors Steve Lavagnino and Peter Adam both voted against more review. Adam joked he almost wanted to vote for more exploration so he could watch the effort fail.

Is An Alternative Energy Choice Too Expensive for Santa Barbara?, by Kelsey Brugger, The Santa Barbara Independent, October 5, 2017.

Puente Alternatives Cheaper Than Gas Power Plant

Renewable energy alternatives are technically and economically superior to the proposed gas Puente Power Project in Oxnard.

The Ventura County Taxpayers Association’s guest commentary supporting the Puente gas plant in the Sept. 8 issue of the Business Times contained inaccurate and misleading information.

It’s true that a recent California Independent System Operator (CAISO) study concluded that alternatives to both the Puente gas plant and the nearby Ellwood gas plant would be costly, but CAISO was using 2014 prices for energy storage, which has come down more than 10 percent per year since then. By 2018, storage is expected cost less than half of what it did in 2014.

In addition, CAISO did not model a solar+storage solution, which would bring the price down even further and allow the project to benefit from the 30 percent Investment Tax Credit. CAISO overestimated costs for demand response, too.

The Clean Coalition recently released its own study and model, reflecting up-to-date costs and showing that the Puente and Ellwood gas plants could be replaced far more cost-effectively by using solar+storage.

Specifically, the Clean Coalition found that upfront costs to install a solar+storage solution would be $267 million compared to $299 million for the Puente gas plant. Solar+storage, the Clean Coalition found, could replace both Puente and Ellwood for approximately $406 million in upfront costs — less than half CAISO’s $1.1 billion figure.

Further, the costs of operations, maintenance and fuel would add over $870 million to Puente’s price tag over 30 years. For solar+storage, powered predominantly by the sun, comparable costs would be $462 million. These numbers don’t account for the human and environmental health costs of polluting gas plants like Puente.

The CAISO study did determine that a solar+storage solution can cost-effectively meet the grid reliability needs in the Moorpark sub area, in lieu of the proposed Puente gas plant. The CAISO study is deficient, however, in its cost assumptions and analyses for the clean alternative to the Puente gas plant.

Because of CAISO’s shortcomings, the Taxpayers Association’s commentary referred to significantly erroneous figures associated with renewables-driven alternatives to gas plants.

Furthermore, the Taxpayers Association harped on the fact that Puente would create jobs while failing to mention this is also true of clean energy alternatives. Solar and wind industries are creating jobs 12 times faster than the rest of the U.S. economy. A solar+storage project to replace Puente would mean good local jobs.

The Taxpayers Association’s commentary was also misleading in its dismissal of “yet-to-be-developed battery storage.” Projects are in place today that are taking advantage of current storage technology.

Tesla’s 17 megawatt (MW) solar + 52 megawatt-hour (MWh) storage facility on Kauai can store enough solar energy to power 4,500 homes through the night, making solar dispatchable when it is needed rather than only when the sun is shining.

AES’ scalable 28 MW solar + 100 MWh storage facility, also on Kauai, will provide 11 percent of the island’s electricity needs starting next year, at a game-changing 11 cents per kilowatt-hour for dispatchable solar.

Hence, the proposed Puente gas plant is primed to be obviated with a far more cost-effective solar+storage approach.

Another benefit of a solar+storage solution is that it could be brought online more quickly than the Puente gas plant. The Clean Coalition has designed a game-changing feed-in tariff (FIT) that includes a market responsive pricing mechanism to ensure best value for ratepayers, along with dispatchability to incentivize energy storage.

This innovative FIT is designed to procure and deploy cost-effective renewables+storage much more quickly than auction processes, which are burdened by excessive preparation requirements, transaction costs and failure rates. A well-designed FIT would bring solar+storage online far faster than the Puente gas plant could be built and well ahead of the 2020 need for these resources.

Solar+storage is already providing reliable, clean and affordable energy in communities around the country. It creates jobs and stimulates the economy, while protecting human and environmental health.

Let’s take this opportunity to move the Oxnard community into the clean energy future — which is here already.

• Carmen Ramirez is mayor pro tem of Oxnard. Craig Lewis is executive director of the Clean Coalition.

Puente Alternatives Cheaper Than Gas Power Plant, by Carmen Ramirez and Craig Lewis, Pacific Coast Business Times, September 29, 2017.

A 100 Percent Clean-Energy Future Is Possible for SLO

Harmon

San Luis Obispo Mayor Heidi Harmon (Tribune file)

By now, you may have heard about Community Choice Energy programs.

CCE programs allow residents and businesses to choose their electricity provider, and they empower local governments to control electricity purchasing decisions for the benefit of their communities, rather than ceding that control to the state’s investor-owned utilities.

There are eight CCE programs operating in California (including Sonoma Clean Power, Monterey Bay Community Power, Silicon Valley Clean Energy and Lancaster Choice Energy), with 10 more launching in 2018, and at least 17 additional jurisdictions exploring and/or in the planning stages.

You may have heard that San Luis Obispo, Santa Barbara and Ventura counties were exploring the possibility of creating a tri-county CCE program. Over the past few years, we conducted a feasibility study to evaluate many scenarios to inform the best way forward. The results of the study, which were released in early September, determined that a program across the three counties was unfavorable since it would have to cross two different utility company territories. However, the study showed that a program in San Luis Obispo County had potential.

I think Community Choice Energy is an opportunity worthy of continued exploration. Here’s why:

Economic benefits

The economics of solar, batteries and electric vehicles are improving rapidly, putting us on course in the next few years to replace fossil fuels currently powering our homes, businesses and transportation with renewably sourced electricity. By working in partnership with our neighboring communities, a Community Choice Energy program can act as an economic engine to speed up the renewable energy transition and help to bolster our economy post Diablo Canyon. Furthermore, CCE is an opportunity for us to reimagine our partnership with PG&E, who will be a critical ally helping us build the smart grid necessary to achieve 100 percent renewable electricity.

Environmental benefits

CCEs enable local governments to leverage the purchasing power of residents and businesses to both purchase and generate electricity for the community from clean sources such as wind and solar. Higher percentage of renewable electricity means we are reducing our impact on the environment from fossil fuels and greenhouse gas emissions, helping to combat the harmful effects of climate change.

Community benefits

CCEs have been proven to offer electricity at competitive rates with more renewable energy. Sonoma Clean Power, serving Sonoma County communities, has reported cheaper rates and higher renewable energy content than the investor-owned utility, saving customers over $50 million since its start in May 2014. Additionally, revenues generated from the sale of electricity can be invested back into the community to support our net zero vision and values. For example, we can fund energy efficiency to make our homes and businesses more comfortable and affordable, incentivize electric vehicles and build EV charging stations, and install local solar. These investments translate into good paying jobs that support our communities and strengthen our economy.

Speaking of jobs and the economy, on Oct. 19, the San Luis Obispo Chamber of Commerce is hosting a forum, Becoming a Net Zero Community. This event will feature leadership from the Republican-led city of Lancaster located in Southern California. The city of Lancaster is trailblazing the way to net zero energy while saving money and driving economic development. At the center of the city’s achievements are innovative community development policies and Lancaster Choice Energy.

The San Luis Obispo City Council will consider potential benefits of a CCE program and potential paths forward at a hearing on Dec. 5.

I encourage you to get engaged in this conversation. Come to the chamber’s Becoming a Net Zero Community event on Oct. 19, and give the council feedback on Dec. 5.

With a forward-thinking council, supportive staff, an engaged community and perfect weather, we are well set up to be a leader in the renewable energy future. We can create the jobs we need and the future our children demand while being fiscally responsible.

Now is the time. It wasn’t too long ago that many would have suggested that a 100 percent clean energy future was impossible. Now we can make the impossible the inevitable.

Heidi Harmon is mayor of San Luis Obispo.

A 100 Percent Clean-Energy Future Is Possible for SLO, by Heidi Harmon, The Tribune, September 28, 2017.