State Offering Grants For Renewable Energy Projects On Ag Land

The California Energy Commission is offering grants ranging from $25,000 to $350,000 to fund renewable energy projects installed on land with agricultural operations.

Applications for the Renewable Energy for Agriculture Program (REAP) will be accepted until 5 p.m. on March 5.

Applications and eligibility information is available on the commission’s website or go directly to https://bit.ly/2Hdjd05.

The site includes information about upcoming workshops on the program being held in Sacramento, Fresno and Imperial.

Fresno’s workshop is scheduled for 1 p.m. Jan. 28 at the San Joaquin Valley Air Pollution Control District office, 1990 E. Gettysburg Ave.

 

State Offering Grants For Renewable Energy Projects On Ag Land, By David Castellon, The Business Journal, January 17, 2019.

Commissioner Guzman Aceves: Low-income Valley towns get pilot projects for clean energy at 2,000 households

In California, we know climate change is real. We also know that methane and carbon emissions are some of the leading culprits in this accelerating change. And according to the state’s 4th Climate Assessment released last August, San Joaquin Valley residents as a result face more intense and frequent heat waves, increased and prolonged droughts, greater risks of natural disasters such as floods and wildfires and are more vulnerable to a number of likely public health threats.

San Joaquin Valley residents also face the most extreme energy burdens in the state, paying a much larger percentage of their income for energy. But there is another population in the San Joaquin even more burdened with high energy costs and direct, daily exposure to air pollution because — in this extraordinarily productive agricultural region — people live in communities and neighborhoods that haven’t had access to clean, affordable energy, relying instead on wood and propane to heat their homes and cook their food.

Last summer, at well-attended workshops in schools and gymnasiums in communities like Allensworth, Alpaugh, Le Grand, La Vina, Ducor, West Goshen and more, we heard from many of these residents.

We heard from hard-working people who endure icy showers and cold food when the propane or wood run out. We heard stories about people being manipulated and taken advantage of by unregulated propane suppliers. We heard stories about putting kids to bed cold and hungry because the fuel was gone. In this extraordinarily productive agricultural region, we heard about bad health and other impacts, particularly in winter when so many people don’t have clean energy options the rest of us enjoy.

Now, working with utilities regulated by the California Public Utilities Commission, we can finally offer about 2,000 San Joaquin Valley households cleaner and safer energy alternatives, and we can reach more families in the future.

At our last CPUC meeting of 2018, the commission approved a $56 million investment for pilot projects in 11 San Joaquin communities. In addition to the benefits from cleaner energy and healthier air, the program has a big economic development component. With more energy alternatives and infrastructure to deliver them, it should become easier to attract other investments, housing and jobs.

I am proud of the CPUC’s decision to bring cleaner, affordable energy to communities in California long unserved and overlooked. I am even prouder of these communities themselves, and of their tenacity and commitment. It has been a long road, and these pilots are just another step. But they will provide energy efficiency upgrades, electric heating, solar benefits, job training and more — while reducing energy costs and pollution.

When then-Gov. Jerry Brown signed Assembly Bill 2672 in 2015, the CPUC was directed to find ways to increase affordable access to energy for disadvantaged communities in the San Joaquin Valley. But we first had to identify eligible towns and households and meet with residents to determine which clean-energy strategies would work best. Collectively, we’ll learn from the different experiences as we move forward and seek to replicate the successes in other communities during the next phase of our still-open CPUC proceeding.

The pilots will allow eligible households to replace at no cost their propane- or wood-burning appliances with new energy-efficient appliances — either electric or natural gas — and will allow some minor home upgrades if necessary. The pilot communities will also benefit from a Community Energy Navigator program established to inform, engage and assist participating residents. And we’ll build in basic bill protections to ensure that energy costs do not go up for participants.

Everyone involved knows a lot of work remains. But we are excited about the positive impacts and value of investing in communities that have long been bypassed.

As California continues reducing methane or carbon emissions, we must also meet the challenge of our current heating needs — for water and for living and work spaces — with cleaner energy so no one is left behind. These pilot projects, in addition to improving the quality of life for several thousand residents, will give us the experience and reliable data needed to determine the best ways of continuing to reduce greenhouse gas emissions while also keeping monthly bills affordable for so many other hard-working Californians.

Martha Guzman Aceves was appointed to the California Public Utilities Commission by then-Gov. Jerry Brown in December 2016. She previously served as deputy legislative affairs secretary in the Office of the Governor, focusing on natural resources, environmental protection, energy and food and agriculture.

 

Low-income Valley towns get pilot projects for clean energy at 2,000 households, by Martha Guzman Aceves, The Fresno Bee, January 11, 2019.

Community Engagement At Center Of New State Law On Air Protection

When it comes to monitoring air quality, we typically turn to air regulators, like the state and the local San Joaquin Valley Air Pollution Control District. But a recent state law is taking on a new strategy: Putting air quality in the hands of the community. And one person who’s excited about the opportunity is Southeast Fresno resident Lilia Becerril.

Becerril lives near the Fresno Fairgrounds and Vang Pao Elementary School. She likes it here, and she’s a kind of neighborhood career volunteer, working with local schools, and groups giving legal aid and tutoring services.

And so when she volunteered as a crossing guard a few years ago, it pained her to stop after just three weeks. “My throat was hurting,” she says, from so many cars passing by on a busy street and waiting outside the school. “When the cars were idling they released so much exhaust,” she says.

But it’s likely more than that, too. As we speak, she asks me if I can see a dark smoky cloud hovering a few blocks away. I ask her where it’s coming from. “I don’t know,” she answers, “but there’s smoke coming from everywhere, all the time, and we don’t know how we’re here breathing.”

Just a few blocks from Becerril’s home is heavy industry. Food distributors, warehouses, and lumber yards—many served by 18-wheelers and freight trains. She says her neighborhood feels trapped in the middle. “When the wind blows from different directions, it all comes toward homes,” she says.

She wishes she could know more about her air quality, so she’s gotten involved in improving it. As part of a new state law focusing on community air quality, South Central Fresno was selected as a priority area. And Becerril is on the steering committee, helping guide what happens here. “We want to be heard,” she says, “and we want this to be beneficial for everyone, not just certain communities.”

We know that air quality can vary from place to place, even within the San Joaquin Valley. But with only 38 air monitors among 10,000 square miles, air regulators are likely to miss trends happening on a local scale. For instance: We have an idea how many heavy-duty trucks traverse the state’s highways every month. But where and when do they bypass highways and release their exhaust in neighborhoods?

Enter AB 617. Like Becerril, the author, Los Angeles County Assemblywoman Cristina Garcia, also felt her community was being overlooked by regional policies. “We were forgetting communities like mine and communities like mine had been left behind all my life,” she says.

And so the law empowers residents, by selecting 10 focus communities across the state and establishing local steering committees. With it comes with $15 million for local grants to build air monitors and bolster community outreach. The idea is: With more data on local emissions, a galvanized community can hopefully guide air regulators in cleanup efforts.

Dave Warner is a deputy air pollution control officer with the Valley air district. Outside of AB 617, Warner says the district is primarily focused regionally. It also puts together an inventory of polluting industries and vehicles.

“We know what’s coming out of those pieces of equipment, but are there other things that we’re not aware of that we’re not controlling?” he asks. “This will be a fantastic way to find out.”

AB 617 could be a change of pace for an air district that’s been criticized for a lack of transparency. At a kick-off meeting in December, Fresno steering committee members complained the air district doesn’t educate the public enough on air pollution and its health impacts. In a letter, the air district also sent the wrong meeting date to Spanish-speaking residents, though it later corrected the mistake.

South Central Fresno and the Kern County city of Shafter are among the communities selected as the law’s first priority areas. Veronica Eady is assistant executive director of environmental justice at the California Air Resources Board, and she says the state knew it was critical to select regions with disadvantaged communities.

“The most noxious land uses tend to be in disenfranchised, low income communities and communities of color,” she says. Indeed, a high pollution burden does tend to track with other negative measures like poverty, unemployment, asthma and low birth weight.

“AB 617 as a law is basically an evolution of a civil rights moment,” says Ivanka Saunders, a policy coordinator with the non-profit advocacy group the Leadership Counsel for Justice and Accountability.

The Leadership Counsel and other Valley advocacy groups were awarded nearly $2 million in grants through AB 617. Saunders is also a member of the Fresno steering committee.

Though Saunders is optimistic, she says she’s concerned that AB 617’s Fresno region doesn’t include an area of Southwest Fresno that consistently ranks as the most environmentally burdened in the entire state. It’s Saunders’ hope that the steering committee will vote to expand and include that neighborhood.

Whether or not it does, Lilia Becerril is excited about representing her southeast neighborhood on the committee. “I’m the voice of my community,” she says, “sharing what my community is telling me.” Maybe soon, Becerril can shake the nickname she’s given her neighborhood: The Black Circle.

 

Community Engagement At Center Of New State Law On Air Protection, by Kerry Klein, Valley Public Radio, January 8, 2019.

Tulare County towns to get energy upgrades through grants

Five Tulare County low-income towns will get state funds to install gas and or electric lines and appliances.

Approved this month by the California Public Utilities Commission, the program will fund a pilot effort to replace propane and wood-burning appliances with either natural gas — including line extensions — or all electric appliances for 11 disadvantaged communities in the San Joaquin Valley.

Five of the communities are in Tulare County including Allensworth, Alpaugh, Seville, Ducor and West Goshen.

The average household annual income across the 11 communities is $31,214 per year, with the lowest being $20,700 per year in West Goshen.

Many of the dwellings in these towns — 70 percent of them — lack access to natural gas and are single family homes. About 100 mobile homes and 100 multi-family units also lack access to natural gas.

More than half of the homes are owner-occupied.

Roughly 900 homes in Alpaugh, Fairmead, Lanare, La Vina, Le Grand will be eligible for an electrification project with community solar discount components by a to-be-selected third-party project administrator with a $25.7 million investment.

More than 300 homes in Allensworth, Cantua Creek, and Seville will be eligible for an electrification project with community solar discount components to be administered by Pacific Gas an Electric Company with a $9.6 million investment.

Nearly 450 homes in California City, Ducor, and West Goshen will be eligible for an electrification project with community solar discount components to be administered by Southern California Edison with a $15,411,008 investment.

Altogether, the Commission approved more than $50 million for Pacific Gas & Electric, Southern California Edison, and third parties to launch clean energy electrification pilots in 11 communities.

These pilot programs will save families roughly $1,500 per year by improving household energy efficiency and replacing fossil fuel-powered appliances, like propane furnaces and water heaters, with advanced electric appliances.

The clean energy electrification pilots approved this month will improve indoor air quality, lower energy bills, and enhance comfort and climate resiliency with no cost to the residents.

Unlike gas and propane appliances that produce harmful indoor air pollution, electric appliances can operate efficiently without polluting homes.

Residents who opt for a controllable heat pump water heater could see even higher savings by heating water during off-peak periods when electricity is lower cost. The electrification pilots are also cost-effective when compared with gas, allowing more homes to be served with a lower overall program budget.

For example, efficiency upgrades and electrification are estimated to cost $17,000- $35,000 per house, whereas outfitting homes with gas will cost on average $49,000 per home.

Advanced electric appliances like heat pumps allow residents to efficiently heat and cool their homes.

This will improve health and comfort, and help residents weather the temperature swings that will worsen with a changing climate.

The investment total will be more than $56 million.

PG&E and Southern California Edison will help administer the projects designed to connect them to natural gas lines and provide them with energy-efficient appliances.

The program is expected to save families, about 1,600 low-income households, about $1,500 per year each.

Supporters say that these low-income communities suffer some of the worst pollutions in the state and should participate in the statewide move toward clean and affordable energy.

 

Tulare County towns to get energy upgrades through grants, by John Lindt, Visalia Times Delta, December 25, 2018.

California’s Fertile Valley Is Awash in Air Pollution

The San Joaquin Valley is the land of Big Agriculture. Stretching 250 miles from Bakersfield in the south to Stockton in the north, the San Joaquin comprises the southern two-thirds of the storied Central Valley, a plowed-over promised land covering seven million acres of irrigated fields that generate more than $17 billion a year in crops—with the vast majority coming from three San Joaquin Valley counties. In sum, the region supplies a quarter of the food on American plates.

It is also awash in air pollution. Millions of beef and dairy cattle, millions of acres of dusty crops, and the truck traffic to support these mega-operations generate fine airborne particles that linger and swirl in what is, in effect, a gigantic, pollution-trapping bowl bounded by mountains. Add in prolific use of wood stoves and barbecue pits, the second-hand smog blowing into the valley from cities to the west and the north, and emissions from some of the densest oil fields in the lower 48 states, and the result is some of the worst air pollution in the nation.

California’s recent record-breaking forest fires only worsen the mix.

In Kern County, at the southern reaches of the valley, particulate pollution registers in the unhealthy range an average of 40 days a year, according to the American Lung Association’s (ALA) 2018 State of the Air Report. Concentrations of PM2.5—microscopic particles 2.5 micrometers or less in diameter that can pass through the lungs into the bloodstream to cause respiratory problems, heart disease, and strokes—averaged 17 micrograms per cubic meter of air annually between 2015 and 2017, exceeding the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s annual target level of 12.

PM2.5, says John Bachmann, a former EPA official who helped develop the first national air quality standards for fine particles “appears to be the biggest source of air pollution-related health effects in the world.” The ALA attributes as many as 1,300 premature deaths each year to the noxious air here — alongside countless emergency room visits, lost days of school and work, and other public health impacts that cost the San Joaquin Valley as much as $11 billion each year. The problem is especially acute for the one in six children in the valley who the organization estimates now suffers from asthma.

It’s a burden that Shirley Hinslea, a resident of Kern County, knows well. Hinslea diligently checks for air quality information every day before deciding whether her 6-year-old daughter Kira, who suffers from severe asthma, can leave their home without a mask.

“It’s pretty bad,” she said, “when I can’t let her outside to play.”

Steve Brown of theNational Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Earth System Research Laboratory describes the valley’s most prominent pollution cocktail as a simple equation: “[It’s] cows plus cars,” he said.

At Harris Ranch, the largest feedlot in the valley, 100,000 head of cattle stand shoulder to shoulder under metal awnings on 800 barren acres surrounded by a chain-link fence topped with razor wire. Meanwhile, Harris Ranch trucks drive, collectively, 6,000 miles a day to haul upwards of 60 loads of feed to the cattle lots. Along their route through the valley, the trucks release nitrogen oxides (NOx) from their tailpipes, which react in the air to form nitric acid. Once in the air, molecules of nitric acid combine with molecules of ammonia gas rising from cow manure and urine on the feedlot to create ammonium nitrate. Ammonium nitrate, according to the California Air Resources Board, accounts for more than half of the region’s PM2.5 on the area’s most polluted days.

Efforts to curb the noxious chemical combination have a long history, and while strides have been made, progress has been slow and halting. Frank Mitloehner, an air quality specialist with the University of California, Davis who studies issues related to livestock production, suggested that dairymen can reduce ammonia emissions by feeding cattle a diet with optimal levels of protein—although that’s difficult to achieve because farmers tend to err on the side of overfeeding rather than run the risk of supplying the cows with too little protein. Better manure management, promoted in part by local regulations designed to reduce volatile organic compounds—a class of pollutants arising from all manner of products and processes, from paints and varnishes to cleaning solvents, fuels, cosmetics, and cow dung—has also reduced ammonia emissions per cow, according to Paul Sousa, director of environmental services and regulatory affairs with the Western United Dairymen, a trade association representing dairy farmers in California.

Such adaptations, however, are modest when compared to the size and scope of the overall pollution problem. John Capitman, the executive director of the Central Valley Health Policy Institute at California State University, Fresno and a member of the Governing Board of the San Joaquin Valley Air Pollution Control District, suggests that balancing pollution control regulations and the interests of businesses and farms is an ongoing battle. “Every place there is a technological fix,” Capitman said, “the tendency is not to insist on it unless there is an incentive.” (A proposed rule signed last month by EPA head Andrew Wheeler would exempt industrial farmers from reporting animal waste emissions to local communities, potentially providing them with even less motivation to tackle the problem.)

From 1998 to 2008, Harris Ranch tested out cleaner-burning natural gas trucks for hauling feed, but Patrick Smith, corporate transportation director for Harris, said the trucks were too heavy and the maintenance costs were a killer, so the ranch went back to diesel. A couple years ago, the company got a grant to try out an electric vehicle for work on the lot, but according to Smith, there was one software glitch after another at the start. “At the end of the day, we have to get our job done,” Smith says. “Or else we aren’t economically sustainable.”

Still, Smith adds that the company recognizes the impact that its operation has on air quality and is still considering replacing a third of its fleet with trucks fueled by low-emission natural gas, which emit only a tenth of the NOx produced by diesel-powered trucks. The company could receive about $2 million dollars from a combination of government grants and incentives to defray the cost of purchasing new, less polluting trucks, though that remains just a fraction of the total cost of such an ambitious substitution.

“We are trying to do our part,” Smith said.

California also produces 80 percent of the world’s almonds, most of which come from 900,000 acres in the eight counties of the San Joaquin Valley. During the harvest, convoys of farm machinery take to the orchards to shake the almonds from the trees and then blow and sweep the fallen nuts into piles, kicking up massive clouds of dust and debris in the process.

On an August afternoon, with the almond harvest in full swing at an orchard near Shafter, a city northwest of Bakersfield, the PM2.5 reading on a hand-held meter recorded 142 micrograms per cubic meter of air—four times the EPA’s daily standard. Overall, dust from farm activities and other disturbances accounts for up to 15 percent of the total PM2.5 in some parts of the region, according to data from the air resources board. Less dusty harvest methods exist, but they, too, require expensive investments in new machinery.

Almond trees become less productive after a certain age, so growers need to replace thousands of acres of old trees each year with new plantings. Traditionally, those trees would have been hauled into piles and set aflame. Air regulations in the valley had mostly eliminated that option by 2011, but weather conditions in recent years have forced officials to allow many farmers to burn again. Grinding old trees into wood chips and offsetting the cost by selling them to biomass energy companies to generate electricity has also grown more difficult due to increasing emphasis in the state on zero-emissions energy sources. Reincorporating wood chips into the soil can lead to more productive orchards and less pollution according to research conducted by the University of California Cooperative Extension, but costs as much as $1,000 an acre.

Heavy use of nitrogen fertilizer also contributes a third of the nitrogen oxides in California air, according to recent research in the journal Science Advances. And the San Joaquin Valley has some of the heaviest fertilizer use in the state.

Says almond grower Tom Frantz of the air pollution generated by his crop: “I don’t feel too good about it.”

Hemmed in by mountain ranges on three sides, the valley’s geography, and perhaps its politics, are at the root of both its fertility and its pollution troubles. In wintertime, a layer of warm air traps cooler, smog-filled air close to the ground, a phenomenon known as a temperature inversion. In addition to particle pollution, the toxic soup inhaled by valley residents also includes ozone and volatile organic compounds.

The San Joaquin Valley Air Pollution Control District estimates that 27 percent of emissions at the north end of the valley are blown in from the San Francisco Bay Area and the Sacramento Valley. Forest fires—California is currently experiencing the most destructive in its history—ratchet up the particulate pollution even more. And then there are the oil fields. From the lookout at Panorama Park in Bakersfield, hundreds of pumpjacks are visible bobbing up and down, some of them on properties abutting residential neighborhoods. With more than 9,000 wells on just 10,000 acres, the Kern River Oil Field is one of the densest in the nation, and Kern County as a whole accounts for about 70 percent of California’s oil production.

Most of the light oil has already been tapped over the last century, so San Joaquin Valley oil wells tend to produce some of the thickest, dirtiest petroleum in the nation. To bring up the more viscous remaining oil, drillers burn natural gas to create steam, which they inject into the wells. This process, according to the state emissions inventory, accounts for roughly 4 percent of the valley’s particulate pollution.

Still, while the southern part of the valley is less than 100 miles from downtown Los Angeles, its politics are more Kansas than California. Republican congressman Devin Nunes, a longtime global warming denier and foe of environmental regulation, just won re-election to represent a district that covers a large swath along the east side of the valley. Local regulators, meanwhile, historically have been sympathetic to agricultural interests.

Last year, Seyed Sadredin, who recently retired as head of the San Joaquin Valley Air Pollution Control District, went before Congress to ask for a reprieve for the valley from requirements of the Clean Air Act. Federal sanctions could have cost the region up to $2.5 billion in federal highway funds and fines, and new businesses would have been allowed to open or expand only if they could offset their emissions.

“If federal sanctions are imposed” Sadredin argued, “the impact will be devastating on valley residents.”

Ammonium nitrate—that cows-plus-cars combination of ammonia emissions from manure and nitrogen oxides from tailpipes—remains the valley’s biggest problem. The San Joaquin Valley Air Pollution Control District argues that it makes more sense to regulate cars than cows. Local authorities, however, have limited power to rein-in nitrogen oxide emissions. Such regulations are largely the purview of state and federal governments, which set emissions standards for vehicles.

Nitrogen oxide emissions from passenger vehicles declined steadily in the 2000s, but then leveled off. About half of the NOx emissions in the district come from heavy-duty trucks. Although California implemented new rules for diesel truck emissions in 2012, only 29 percent of the fleet uses the cleanest technology. In a state with the strictest air quality rules in the nation, there’s still no smog check for big rigs.

The Air District could establish new emissions tests to force farmers to upgrade polluting tractors and other farm equipment that fall into their purview. Or it could restrict nitrogen fertilizer, which also produces NOx. But Manuel Cunha, a longtime agriculture lobbyist and head of the powerful Nisei Farmers League, argues that farmers can’t afford too many new regulations unless they are accompanied by taxpayer-funded subsidies. “You can have all the air you want, but if you don’t have food, what have you got?” he said. “You going to trust a third-world country for your food?”

And yet, even as she worries about her daughter’s health, Hinslea—who was born and raised in the San Joaquin Valley—says she understands the difficult economic choices that animate the region.It’s just one of the many tradeoffs that unfold year-in and year-out across this productive region—tradeoffs that leave Shirley Hinslea on the constant hunt for strategies to prevent her daughter Kira’s asthma attacks. The nonprofit Central California Asthma Collaborative recently installed an air monitor next to the family’s front door, so that Hinslea won’t have to rely on the Air District’s time-delayed data—gathered from a monitor about 25 miles away—to be delivered to her phone.

“I grew up with farmers,” she said. “They have to have a livelihood.”

 

California’s Fertile Valley Is Awash in Air Pollution, by Brendan Borrell, Mother Jones, December 10, 2018.

Pilot project aims to clean air inside Valley homes during winter months

As winter approaches, we begin to spend more time indoors, cranking up the heat and gathering in the kitchen to prepare holiday meals to enjoy with family and friends.

What we often forget in this festive season is that, in many homes, the appliances that make these moments warm and comforting — like heaters, water heaters and stoves — run on fossil fuels that produce toxic pollutants like nitrogen dioxide, carbon monoxide and ultra-fine particles, as well as formaldehyde and acetaldehyde, all of which are harmful to our health.

The California Air Resources Board warns that cooking emissions from gas and propane stoves are associated with increased respiratory disease — and up to 70 percent of homes with these stoves exceed the EPA clean air recommendations. Young children and people with asthma are especially vulnerable, with recent research suggesting gas stoves are responsible for 12 percent of childhood asthma cases. That’s a striking figure when you consider that the San Joaquin Valley has the highest rate of pediatric asthma in the country, with one in six children struggling to breathe.

Utilities offer free home safety checks and tips each season to help reduce the risks that these common household appliances pose, and at the Central California Asthma Collaborative, we’re dedicated to helping families access healthier home and school environments. But, what if we didn’t have to worry about the health impacts of keeping our families warm and fed during the holiday season?

For nine San Joaquin Valley communities — Allensworth, California City, Cantua Creek, Ducor, Fairmead, Le Grand, La Vina, Seville and West Goshen — this may soon become a reality. On Wednesday, the Public Utility Commission will vote on a proposed pilot program to provide healthier heating options for communities currently using propane and wood. If the pilot goes ahead, more than 1,600 households in the San Joaquin Valley will receive advanced energy efficiency upgrades and cutting-edge, all-electric appliances powered by clean energy, creating some of the heathiest homes that have ever existed.

These upgrades will be provided free of cost — and the transition to all-electric, clean energy homes will save residents considerable cash on monthly energy bills, up to $150 per month and nearly $2,000 a year for some households. That’s money that families can invest in other areas of their life. This is important because low-income families spend a higher percentage of their income on energy bills, often more than twice as high as middle-wage earners, and more than three times as high as high-income families. At the Association for Energy Affordability, where we provide similar upgrades for families across the state, we’ve witnessed firsthand how programs that deliver energy savings improve quality of life.

The pilot will also help slash carbon and other air pollution that contribute to climate change and poor air quality. This is important for the San Joaquin Valley, which is already subjected to dangerous levels of outdoor air pollution. With this help from the PUC, our homes can be a place of respite from dirty air and not another health risk. Homes and buildings are responsible for 25 percent of California’s greenhouse gas emissions, and burning gas and propane in homes and buildings contributes over half of this pollution. In addition, gas is made up of over 90 percent methane, a greenhouse gas that is up to 88 times more potent than carbon dioxide. Replacing old appliances with clean, electric ones will help slash methane pollution, moving the state closer to meeting our climate goals while cleaning up local air.

We hope this pilot program can bring relief to some of the Valley’s hardest hit families, especially their children who suffer most from air pollution. While there are steps we can take to reduce exposure to indoor air pollution from gas powered appliances, the best prevention is moving to healthier, all-electric homes powered by clean energy.

This pilot is a critical part of building California’s clean energy future, and we urge the PUC to approve this program. By building on this experience in the broader San Joaquin Valley and across the state, we can create a map for healthier, more affordable communities. The best gift is peace of mind, and we look forward to a holiday season in which all Californians have access to healthy homes.

Kevin Hamilton is the chief executive officer of the Central California Asthma Collaborative, which is dedicated to reducing the burden of chronic respiratory disease across the San Joaquin Valley. Nick Dirr is director of programs for the Association for Energy Affordability, a leading provider of technical services for energy efficiency in buildings dedicated to fostering and maintaining affordable and healthy housing, with special focus low-income communities.

Pilot project aims to clean air inside Valley homes during winter months, by Kevin Hamilton And Nick Dirr, The Fresno Bee, December 2, 2018.

Path To Zero Net Energy for California Residential

The future of homebuilding and its alignment with California’s advanced energy goals took center stage a couple of weeks at A Path to Zero Net Energy Symposium held at Fresno State University. University students from related fields joined homebuilders, real estate agents, urban planners and government officials for a discussion on everything from ZNE building science technology, policy updates and ZNE market value to decarbonization in California and advancements to California’s electrical grid.

The symposium was led and moderated by Fresno State faculty representing three disciplines linked to Zero Net Energy (ZNE). Commissioner Andrew McAllister of the California Energy Commission (CEC) delivered the keynote address.

“To reach California’s ambitious climate and energy goals, we must push past status quo thinking to get the most out of each construction investment,” said Commissioner McAllister, California Energy Commission’s lead on energy efficiency and buildings. “This extends to not only residential construction, but also commercial construction and renovation of State buildings. To get the high level of performance we need from our buildings, each project must apply the most up-to-date clean technologies and practices, taking care to achieve long-lasting, quality installation.”

For a home to be considered ZNE, it must be exceptionally energy efficient and designed with the potential to produce – through renewable energy sources – as much clean energy as it consumes in a year.

Among the presentations were discussions of the real-world experiences of moving ZNE from custom and one-off installations to mainstream production by Garth Torvestad, senior technical consultant for ConSol, and Brandon De Young, executive vice president, De Young Properties. The companies have partnered to build and study over 100 ZNE homes in Clovis, CA, making up the two largest single-family ZNE subdivisions in the state. The symposium included a tour of the De Young SmartHome Experience Center highlighting the company’s effort to expand public education on the benefits of ZNE construction both financially and environmentally.

Read more about the symposium here: Central Valley Leads California’s Green Homebuilding Education with A Path to Zero Net Energy Symposium!

 

Path To Zero Net Energy for California Residential, by Staff, EC & M, November 29, 2018.

Council begins to explore Community Choice Aggregation

HANFORD — The Hanford City Council met Nov. 20 and held a public hearing on a proposed ordinance to establish a Hanford Community Choice Aggregation implementation plan and statement of intent.

In a 4-1 decision, with Councilwoman Diane Sharp being the only “no” vote, Council decided to start the process of establishing a program plan and statement of intent.

During the public hearing, City Manager Darrel Pyle said the concept of Community Choice Aggregation was signed into law in 2002 and grants California Cities the right to combine the electricity load of its residents and businesses into a community-wide electricity aggregation program.

Right now, Pyle said most of Hanford is served by Southern California Edison, but the Industrial Park is served by Pacific Gas & Electric.

He said under a Community Choice Aggregation program, the incumbent utility — Southern California Edison or PG&E — continues to be responsible for electricity delivery and transmission, owning and maintaining the power and transmission infrastructure, reading the meter, and billing and collecting from customers.

The staff report on the issue said the only change under the program is that power consumed by customers is purchased by the Community Choice Aggregation, with the revenues collected staying in the city to benefit the citizens and businesses.

Pyle said a technical study that was conducted said Hanford customers would receive and increased opportunity to choose the type of electricity they prefer to come into their home, like renewable energy or a lower-cost option.

In addition to the financial benefits, he said the Community Choice Aggregation structure results in the Hanford City Council having full control of rate setting, budget approval, policy setting and program direction.

Officials said any Hanford customers who wish to stay with the incumbent utility provider have the ability to opt out of the Community Choice Aggregation.

“What we’re offering here is competition,” Vice Mayor Sue Sorensen said.

An additional fund would be established in the city’s budget and operate like the water or sewer fund, with reserves that would not affect the general fund, Pyle said.

Sharp said she felt like the city has enough on its plate and she didn’t feel comfortable with the level of risk going into this new business, but Council members like Sorensen and Mayor David Ayers said they were interested in the possibilities available in providing different options to residents and would at least like to begin moving forward at this point.

A motion made by Sorensen to begin the process of establishing an implementation plan and statement of intent was passed with support from Ayers and Council members Martin Devine and Justin Mendes.

Due to the many steps involved, if the council continues to pursue the option — which they are not obligated to do — anticipated implementation is not expected until May 2020 or later.

Town hall meeting

A town hall meeting that was previously scheduled to take place tonight, Nov. 27, to discuss a proposed homeless service center in downtown Hanford has been canceled.

Ayers said out of respect for the three new council members that were recently elected, he requested the meeting be postponed until the three new members are situated on the dais. He said after that point, the new council can decide when the meeting is to be held.

“They’re going to be the future decision makers,” Ayers said.

There was a general consensus from the rest of council to go ahead and postpone the town hall meeting.

“As we carry forward, I think it’s going to be important that we carry forward with that team that will be making those decisions for the next two years,” Sorensen said.

In the meantime, escrow has not been opened on the proposed building and Pyle assured Council that nothing will be happen until after a town hall meeting is conducted.

 

Council begins to explore Community Choice Aggregation, by Julissa Zavala, Hanford Sentinel, November 27, 2018.  

Hanford to Hold Public Hearing on Adopting Community Choice

HANFORD — Despite the Thanksgiving holiday around the corner, the Hanford City Council will still meet Tuesday night to hold a public hearing.

In addition to the consent calendar, items of which are considered routine and are voted on in one motion, Council only has one public hearing and no other items of new business on its agenda for the night.

The public hearing is on a proposed ordinance to establish a Hanford Community Choice Aggregation and approving implementation plan and statement of intent.

This type of plan combines the electricity load of its residents and businesses into a community-wide electricity aggregation program, known as a Community Choice Aggregation program.

According to the city staff report, under a Community Choice Aggregation program, the incumbent utility — Southern California Edison or Pacific Gas & Electric — continues to be responsible for electricity delivery and transmission, owning and maintaining the power and transmission infrastructure, reading the meter, and billing and collecting from customers.

The staff report said the only change under the program is that power consumed by customers is purchased by the Community Choice Aggregation, with the revenues collected staying in the city to benefit the citizens and businesses.

In addition to the financial benefits, the staff report said the structure results in the Hanford City Council having full control of rate setting, budget approval, policy setting and program direction.

During the public hearing, Hanford residents will have an opportunity to voice their concerns or support of the city moving forward with this plan.

Before the regular meeting, Council will hold a study session to discuss both reorganization in the Hanford Fire Department and a draft of the Kings County Association of Government’s Regional Active Transportation Plan.

 

Public hearing on Council agenda, by Julissa Zavala, Hanford Sentinel, November 17, 2018.  

Fresno Community Workshop a Success

Call for a Fresno evaluation of Community Choice Energy loud and strong

A diverse group of Fresno community leaders, residents, businesspeople, and representatives from various organizations and institutions gathered for a workshop on November 13th to learn about Community Choice Energy, share information, and ask questions. The event, co-hosted by the Center for Climate Protection and the Fresno Economic Opportunities Commission, took place at the Nielsen Conference Center in Fresno.

Elizabeth Jonasson of Fresno EOC welcomed the attendees and offered Fresno EOC’s perspective on the potential economic benefits of local energy resource development. She was followed shortly thereafter by the Center’s Barry Vesser who asked for a moment of silence for the victims of the most recent firestorms, smoke from which was very evident in the Valley.

The presentation highlight was a summary of the progress being made in nearby Hanford on Community Choice Energy by Hanford City Manager Darrel Pyle. Hanford, located just 32 miles south of Fresno in adjacent Kings County, has completed a technical study and is preparing to undertake its implementation plan. Hanford until recently was the only city in the Central Valley with a formal evaluation underway. It has been joined recently by the city of Stockton where the Legislative Committee of the City Council held a hearing on Community Choice on November 5th.

About 30 workshop attendees helped give substance to the evening with their great questions.

The Center’s Destiny Rodriguez and LaTisha Harris also chimed in on the presentation, but the real highlight of the evening was the dynamic and probing questions posed by the attendees. The Fresno community is challenged by many economic and environmental problems and although Community Choice is not a panacea, many of the opportunities that it presents were explored in depth.

Attendees also had some fun with a “wall of choices” where they were able to highlight their favorite aspects of a clean energy economy advanced by Community Choice.

Dolores Barajas, Executive Director of the Central Valley Air Quality Coalition with her not-so-surprising choice of priorities for a future Fresno Community Choice Energy program.

The first step for the city of Fresno is for the City Council to schedule an informational study session so that they can hear from their peers in the nineteen operational Community Choice agencies and take their time to ask questions collectively in a public setting.

For information and to stay up to date about future activities in the Central Valley, sign up for CPX E-News San Joaquin Valley HERE, and visit the dedicated Central Valley page HERE.

Professor Alex Sherriffs, of CSU Fresno and UCSF School of Medicine highlights health.