Effort to improve Fresno air quality underway. Will district blow off committee’s vote?

On a recent evening, a group of frustrated adults sounded off inside the Boys and Girls Club gymnasium on Cedar Avenue in southeast Fresno.

“I’m really questioning what we’re doing here,” said one.

“I feel like my time is being wasted,” said another, speaking in Spanish.

“Treat us with respect,” added a third. “I feel like you’re not even taking what we’re saying into account.”

Welcome to the monthly meeting of the Community Air Protection Program local steering committee. Bring your ideas about how to clean up our polluted air with $80 million in state funding, and leave the pleasantries at the door.

Click here for full article.

Effort to improve Fresno air quality underway. Will district blow off committee’s vote?, by Marek Warszawski, The Fresno Bee, March 19, 2019.

Stockton City Council votes unanimously to pursue Community Choice Energy

Vote seeks grant and technical study

With one councilmember absent, the seven member Stockton City Council voted 6-0 at their March 19th council meeting to seek a grant offered by Sonoma Clean Power in order to fund a technical study on Community Choice Energy for that city.

Jim Parks of Valley Clean Energy delivered the main presentation and knocked it out of the park. “We’re mission driven and we deliver cost competitive clean electricity, consumer choice, price stability, local control, energy efficiency and greenhouse gas reductions.” He pointed out that since VCE is so new, less than a year old, it will take some time to build capacity to begin offering local programs.

Vice Mayor Dan Wright, instrumental along with Mayor Michael Tubbs in bringing the issue to the Council, stated “I originally became interested in this because of the climate crisis. As I have continued to learn more about it, I realize how much the potential for reinvestment in the local community can address many of the city’s problems.”

Jim Parks, Director of Customer Care & Marketing for Valley Clean Energy, addresses the Stockton City Council.

Key concerns and questions from all the council members revolved around risks to the city, whether the city should go it alone or join with the county or other cities in a joint powers authority, and uncertainty about the PG&E bankruptcy.

About ten community members came in support and five spoke to urge the Council to evaluate Community Choice. Jonathan Pruitt, speaking on behalf of Catholic Charities Environmental Justice Program stated that “we serve and work closely with Stockton’s disadvantaged communities. With a Community Choice program there is potential for innovative green energy projects to help those communities.”

Jonathan Pruitt of Catholic Charities addresses the City Council.

“This is a way for our Stockton citizens to engage and utilize more clean energy,” stated Margo Praus, a leader in several Stockton-based organizations including the Citizens’ Climate Lobby and the Sierra Club.

The video of the entire meeting agenda item is HERE and the Community Choice item begins at the 1:54:50 mark.

Stay tuned to the Clean Power Exchange for more news and updates on the development of Stockton’s Community Choice Energy agency.

Cummins to Provide the United States Postal Service with Eight Fully-Electric Vehicles in California

COLUMBUS, Ind.–(BUSINESS WIRE)–Cummins Inc. (NYSE: CMI) has begun delivering eight Cummins-powered all-electric vehicles to the United States Postal Service (USPS). The fully-electric Cummins PowerDrive equipped vans are expected to eliminate vehicle emissions and reduce fuel and maintenance costs.

The pilot program, made possible by a grant from the California Air Resources Board to the San Joaquin Valley Air Pollution Control District (SJVAPCD) and administered by CALSTART, will place the zero-emission vehicles in Fresno and Stockton. Cummins will also provide operator training, vehicle support and data collection to support the program.

“We’re excited to provide the US Postal Service with these fully-electric vehicles for demonstration and testing. Cummins has a storied history of providing dependable, quality innovations to help power a world that is always on,” said Julie Furber, Vice President – Electrified Power, Cummins. “This program demonstrates our ability to help customers do real work in the real world. Cummins is committed to continue as the leading power supplier in all the markets we serve. As infrastructure and customer demand evolve, we’ll have the right technology at the right time.”

The eight Cummins-powered vans will be in service by March 31, 2019. The vans have an all-electric range up to 85 miles with a full load on urban drive cycles typical of USPS collection vehicles. The direct drive architecture provides improved performance over the gasoline-powered version in critical areas of power and efficiency. The vans use the same charging system as passenger electric vehicles (SAE J1772 Level 2) and can reach a full charge in about eight hours, making overnight charging a viable option.

In 2017, Cummins announced its commitment to invest $500 million in electrification across many applications, markets and regions over a period of three years. Cummins Electrified Power business’ 200 engineers are solely focused on inventing electrified power solutions for its customers. In 2018, the company announced partnerships and collaborations with on- and off-highway OEMs who are working on electrification solutions in products ranging from bus to medium duty trucks, light commercial vehicles, excavators and drayage trucks.

About Cummins

Cummins Inc., a global power leader, is a corporation of complementary business units that design, manufacture, distribute and service a broad portfolio of power solutions. The company’s products range from diesel and natural gas engines to hybrid and electric platforms, as well as related technologies, including battery systems, fuel systems, controls, air handling, filtration, emission solutions and electrical power generation systems. Headquartered in Columbus, Indiana (U.S.A.), since its founding in 1919, Cummins employs approximately 62,600 people committed to powering a more prosperous world through three global corporate responsibility priorities critical to healthy communities: education, environment and equality of opportunity. Cummins serves customers in approximately 190 countries and territories through a network of approximately 600 company-owned and independent distributor locations and over 7,600 dealer locations and earned about $2.1 billion on sales of $23.8 billion in 2018. See how Cummins is powering a world that’s Always On by accessing news releases and more information at https://www.cummins.com/always-on. Follow Cummins on Twitter at www.twitter.com/cummins and on YouTube at www.youtube.com/cumminsinc.

About California Climate Investments

This USPS Zero-Emission Delivery Truck Pilot Commercial Demonstration is part of California Climate Investments, a statewide program that puts billions of cap-and-trade dollars to work reducing greenhouse gas emissions, strengthening the economy and improving public health and the environment—particularly in disadvantaged communities. The cap-and-trade program also creates a financial incentive for industries to invest in clean technologies and develop innovative ways to reduce pollution. California Climate Investment projects include affordable housing, renewable energy, public transportation, zero-emission vehicles, environmental restoration, more sustainable agriculture, recycling and much more. At least 35 percent of these investments are made in disadvantaged and low-income communities. For more information, visit www.caclimateinvestments.ca.gov.

Contacts

Jon Mills – Director, External Communications – Cummins
(317) 658-4540
jon.m.mills@cummins.com

Fresno City Council Holds Its First Workshop on Community Choice Energy

The Fresno City Council held its first public workshop on Community Choice Energy on Thursday, February 14th. Councilmember Luis Chavez sponsored the presentation and welcomed the presentation team, stating that he brought it forward in order to evaluate the how it might benefit the city and see if it would work for Fresno. Information sessions such as this are often the first step on the way to a city or county forming a Community Choice agency.

The presentation included Darrel Pyle, City Manager of Hanford, as well as Woody Hastings, Destiny Rodriguez, and Mike Dozier of the Clean Power Exchange program team. In addition to the presentation team, about 17 local Fresnans came to express their interest and support for Community Choice.

Darrel Pyle, City Manager of Hanford, shares Hanford’s interest and experience in Community Choice Energy with the City Council.

The councilmembers asked many good questions and it was clear that there is interest in continuing the evaluation. A recording of the Community Choice Energy Workshop can be found HERE. If you want to watch the video but have limited time, fast forward to the councilmember Q&A at about the 3:10:30 mark, that is when it gets more interesting!

Being that it was Valentine’s Day, community members showed their love by wearing I “heart” Community Choice Energy stickers.

If you missed the meeting on February 14th, that’s OK, and you can help keep up the momentum by writing your council representative a quick email letting them know you support their continued evaluation of Community Choice Energy for the benefits of consumer choice, local control, local economic benefits, and environmental benefits that such a program can bring to Fresno.

Stay tuned to CPX for news about future Fresno Community Choice Energy action!

Net-zero energy homes have arrived — and are shaking up the US housing market

In 2013 De Young Properties built a single-family house in central California that defied nearly three generations worth of homes the family business had constructed. It was a net-zero energy building — it had the potential to produce as much energy as it would consume in a year. De Young didn’t build another one for four years, but within that period the company refined its designs to be more energy-efficient and technology-focused and drove down costs.

“Energy bills tend to be pretty high and onerous, and you usually have to sacrifice comfort for your energy bill or your energy bill for comfort, and we saw an opportunity to advance in this realm and become a leader,” said Brandon De Young, executive vice president.

In 2017 De Young Properties started the process of constructing three communities near Fresno, California, with more than 140 single-family homes in three different communities that will have the same level of energy efficiency. So far the homebuilder has constructed half of the first community, Envision at Loma Vista, and is in the process of beginning the other two. The cost of each home is typically between $350,000 and $450,000 — and carries an additional $10,000 over the cost of De Young’s comparable non-zero energy properties.

The homebuilder’s early investment in zero-energy construction was prescient. If you buy a new house in California within the next few years, there’s a good chance it will be built along similar lines. In December, California instituted a new requirement that calls for most new homes and multi-family residential buildings up to three stories high to include solar rooftop panels beginning in 2020. Depending on the specifics of the design and the residence’s energy consumption pattern, solar panels could produce all the electricity needed for the home. The state’s ultimate goal is to produce net-zero energy homes that reduce the state’s carbon footprint and make buildings energy self-sufficient.

California is one of the world’s largest economies

This is the first time a state has built this requirement into its code, but similar regulations exist in cities like Tucson, Arizona, as well as the City of South Miami, the first introduced in Florida. Renewable energy mandates like residential rooftop solar come at a time when California has faced an unprecedented series of wildfires, with at least some of the natural disasters linked to more extreme weather patterns in an era of climate change.

The Net-Zero Energy Coalition estimates the U.S. has only 5,000 net-zero energy single-family homes and over 7,000 net-zero multi-family homes. That number could expand in 2020 to over 100,000 net-zero energy homes, based on the average annual new home constructions in California.

“California by itself is one of the largest economies in the world,” said Jacob Corvidae, a principal at the Rocky Mountain Institute. “What happens there has some impact, and it’s going to be an impact that has an effect on the rest of the country because they’re going to be figuring out ways to make solar cheaper and that scale will help bring down the cost.”

Workers install solar panels on the roofs of homes under construction south of Corona, California. The California Energy Commission in May 2018 adopted new energy building standards requiring solar panels for virtually all new homes built in the state starting in 2020.

In 2013 De Young Properties built a single-family house in central California that defied nearly three generations worth of homes the family business had constructed. It was a net-zero energy building — it had the potential to produce as much energy as it would consume in a year. De Young didn’t build another one for four years, but within that period the company refined its designs to be more energy-efficient and technology-focused and drove down costs.

“Energy bills tend to be pretty high and onerous, and you usually have to sacrifice comfort for your energy bill or your energy bill for comfort, and we saw an opportunity to advance in this realm and become a leader,” said Brandon De Young, executive vice president.

In 2017 De Young Properties started the process of constructing three communities near Fresno, California, with more than 140 single-family homes in three different communities that will have the same level of energy efficiency. So far the homebuilder has constructed half of the first community, Envision at Loma Vista, and is in the process of beginning the other two. The cost of each home is typically between $350,000 and $450,000 — and carries an additional $10,000 over the cost of De Young’s comparable non-zero energy properties.

The homebuilder’s early investment in zero-energy construction was prescient. If you buy a new house in California within the next few years, there’s a good chance it will be built along similar lines. In December, California instituted a new requirement that calls for most new homes and multi-family residential buildings up to three stories high to include solar rooftop panels beginning in 2020. Depending on the specifics of the design and the residence’s energy consumption pattern, solar panels could produce all the electricity needed for the home. The state’s ultimate goal is to produce net-zero energy homes that reduce the state’s carbon footprint and make buildings energy self-sufficient.

California is one of the world’s largest economies

This is the first time a state has built this requirement into its code, but similar regulations exist in cities like Tucson, Arizona, as well as the City of South Miami, the first introduced in Florida. Renewable energy mandates like residential rooftop solar come at a time when California has faced an unprecedented series of wildfires, with at least some of the natural disasters linked to more extreme weather patterns in an era of climate change.

The Net-Zero Energy Coalition estimates the U.S. has only 5,000 net-zero energy single-family homes and over 7,000 net-zero multi-family homes. That number could expand in 2020 to over 100,000 net-zero energy homes, based on the average annual new home constructions in California.

“California by itself is one of the largest economies in the world,” said Jacob Corvidae, a principal at the Rocky Mountain Institute. “What happens there has some impact, and it’s going to be an impact that has an effect on the rest of the country because they’re going to be figuring out ways to make solar cheaper and that scale will help bring down the cost.”

In 2017, the U.S. Department of Energy estimated about 39 percent of the total energy consumed in the country was in the residential and commercial sectors. A majority of the energy was produced by fossil fuels like coal, petroleum and natural gas.

Net-zero energy and zero energy-ready homes — which can be zero energy if solar panels are installed or their capacities are increased — are built to be more energy efficient than a typical building. This includes adding extra insulation, high-quality windows, LED lighting, low-flow water fixtures, heat-reflecting roof tiles and energy-efficient appliances that, when combined, reduce the amount of energy the house consumes.

On the outside, the houses are built to optimize energy efficiency with significant airtight construction and economical roofs, walls, windows and foundations, said Sam Rashkin, Chief Architect of the Building Technologies Office in the Department of Energy’s Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy. These technologies also allow for better temperature regulation, low-humidity, less noise and minimize exposure to dangerous pollutants.

There is no one-size-fits-all design for zero-energy homes. In De Young’s housing market, the modern style — homes you might find on a Google search with flat walls and a box-like look — are not as prevalent, so the company configured the homes to come in an array of styles, such as cottage, modern-farmhouse, and Italian-inspired variations.

“You don’t have to do it that [modern] way. We found out that you can build a zero-energy home that looks just as beautiful as any other home,” De Young said.

Costs of going zero energy

California commissioners anticipate the new mandate will add $40 more to a monthly mortgage payment, but with an $80 return on heating, cooling and lighting over a 30-year term. The upfront cost to a single-family house will be approximately $9,500 with savings of $19,000 over 30 years.

Ann Edminster, a board member of the Net-Zero Energy Coalition and a green building consultant, argues that people shouldn’t be thinking of the upfront costs in isolation. Home buyers can make decisions in a house’s design that offset the additional costs for net zero-energy upgrades, such as sacrificing decorative housing elements.

“It’s the same thing as asking for a roof rack on your car. You’re going to pay extra,” Edminster said, referring to design choices homeowners already make which result in higher costs, and in some cases, less energy efficiency.

In De Young’s case, making a home energy efficient usually costs an additional $10,000 before adding solar panels, which makes the home zero energy. Purchasing a solar system outright could add between six to 12 percent to the price, De Young said. The company has a partnership with Tesla which offers zero-down leases on its solar panels, among other financing options. In 2017, 41 percent of residential solar was owned by a third-party, which includes monthly leases and power purchase agreements, or PPAs, that allow customers to pay per kilowatt-hour of generation.

Charles Kibert, a professor at the University of Florida’s College of Design, Construction and Planning, said there are some drawbacks to relying on solar. The panels require ample roof space, a certain orientation that allows for optimum energy production and consistent weather conditions.

“All those factors put together and my experience is that you have to try really hard to have a net zero home,” Kibert said, adding that how people manage their home is a big factor. “Living behavior every day drives energy consumption pretty reliably.”

Problems with the grid

The issues go beyond individual homes to the grid itself.

Kibert said there are two methods for reducing the carbon footprint beyond zero-energy homes: a low-carbon grid and better renewable energy storage. The current method of generating energy for most grids still depends on fossil fuels, but he said a few have moved to renewable energy like hydropower. California is far ahead of many U.S. states with its utilities already producing between 30 percent to 40 percent of energy from renewable sources.

Storing produced renewable energy remains costly, which is why people remain connected to the grid.

“If you had storage in your home and you were careful about your energy consumption, you would be effectively off the grid,” Kibert said. “You wouldn’t have to worry about it, but storage is expensive.”

Tesla’s Powerwall home storage solution has a cost of roughly $7,000 per unit. Tesla recommends two units for a home to be powered 100 percent with renewable energy and have at least 24 hours of power during a utility outage, which brings the total cost to over $14,000 — excluding installation costs that range from $1,000 to $3,000, according to the company.

Edminster said it is clear that the grid will not be disappearing anytime soon. The California mandate only requires homes to meet a higher level of efficiency and use solar, but that doesn’t mean residents won’t be able to use gas from the grid — it only offsets electricity use.

She said we are much further along in building energy-efficient homes than energy-efficient grids. “The efficiency side is pretty dialed in so that if someone felt like being zero-net energy by placing solar panels on their roof they probably would be pretty close to being zero-net energy.”

Zero-energy homes highlight a commitment to efficiency and the effort to reduce individual energy consumption. Ultimately, the objective is to find a healthy, reduced level of energy consumption. “What we really want is at the level of the social fabric to have our energy consumption to be met by renewable sources,” Edminster said. “That’s the big goal.”

 

 

Net-zero energy homes have arrived — and are shaking up the US housing market, by Noah Higgins-Dunn, CNBC, February 14, 2019.

California’s Governor Warns Climate Change Pressuring Utilities

California Gov. Gavin Newsom delivered his first State of the State address Feb. 12 before a joint session of the California Legislature. It was wide-ranging, with Newsom talking early in the speech about “the tough calls we must make together on rail, water, and energy.” According to the prepared text on the governor’s website, he promised to cut back on the state’s high-speed rail project.

“I have nothing but respect for Governor Brown’s and Governor Schwarzenegger’s ambitious vision. I share it. And there’s no doubt that our state’s economy and quality of life depend on improving transportation,” he said. “But let’s be real. The project, as currently planned, would cost too much and take too long. There’s been too little oversight and not enough transparency. Right now, there simply isn’t a path to get from Sacramento to San Diego, let alone from San Francisco to LA. I wish there were. However, we do have the capacity to complete a high-speed rail link between Merced and Bakersfield.

“I know that some critics will say this is a ‘train to nowhere.’ But that’s wrong and offensive,” Newsom continued. “The people of the Central Valley endure the worst air pollution in America as well as some of the longest commutes. And they have suffered too many years of neglect from policymakers here in Sacramento. They deserve better. High-speed rail is much more than a train project. It’s about economic transformation and unlocking the enormous potential of the Valley.”

He promised to continue regional projects north and south and to finish Phase 1 environmental work. “We’ll connect the revitalized Central Valley to other parts of the state, and continue to push for more federal funding and private dollars. But let’s just get something done,” he said. “For those who want to walk away from this whole endeavor, I offer you this: Abandoning high-speed rail entirely means we will have wasted billions of dollars with nothing but broken promises and lawsuits to show for it. And by the way, I am not interested in sending $3.5 billion in federal funding that was allocated to this project back to Donald Trump. Nor am I interested in repeating the same old mistakes. Today I am ordering new transparency measures. We’re going to hold contractors and consultants accountable to explain how taxpayer dollars are spent – including change orders, cost overruns, even travel expenses. It’s going online for everybody to see. You’re also going to see some governance changes, starting with my pick for the next chair of the High-Speed Rail Authority, Lenny Mendonca, my Economic Development director. Because, at the end of the day, transportation and economic development must go hand in hand.”

Newsom commented on the PG&E bankruptcy, saying, “We are all frustrated and angry that it’s come to this. PG&E didn’t do enough to secure dangerous equipment or plan for the future. My administration will work to make sure PG&E upholds its obligations. I have convened a team of the nation’s best bankruptcy lawyers and financial experts from the energy sector. They will work with my strike team to develop a comprehensive strategy that we will present within 60 days. We will ensure continued access to safe affordable power. We will seek justice for fire victims, fairness for employees, and protection for ratepayers. We will continue to invest in safety, and we will never waver on achieving the nation’s most ambitious clean energy goals.

The governor then pointed out that climate change is putting pressure on all of California’s utilities, public and private, and that two recently had their credit ratings downgraded. “This pressure comes at a time when the entire energy market is evolving. From roof-top solar and wind generation to smart grid technologies. From Community Choice Aggregators to direct access service. More and more of our electricity now is procured outside of investor-owned utilities,” he said. “Regulations and insurance practices created decades ago didn’t anticipate these changes. We must map out longer-term strategies, not just for the utilities’ future, but for California’s energy future, to ensure that the cost of climate change doesn’t fall on those least able to afford it.”
California’s Governor Warns Climate Change Pressuring Utilities, by Environmental Protection Staff, Environment Protection, February 14, 2019.

California’s $5 Billion Clean-Air Plan Lacking One Thing: Money

Cleaner burgers and electric ATVs are all part of California’s ambitious $5 billion plan to clean up the San Joaquin Valley’s notoriously polluted air. Now the problem is figuring out how to pay for it.

The state has identified only about $1.1 billion in funds for the initiatives, plus another $900 million in local, state, and federal programs.

State officials estimate a $149 million funding gap in 2019 and a $495 million funding gap annually for years 2020 to 2024 if funding remains unchanged.

“This is an ongoing problem,” California Air Resources Board Chairwoman Mary Nichols said of the plan, approved by state regulators Jan. 24.

California is thinking as big as electric buses and as small as your hamburger as it looks at all the possibilities to cut fine particle and nitrogen oxides pollution, which aggravate breathing conditions like asthma. Exposure to particulate matter is blamed for 1,200 premature deaths annually.

The plan includes replacing 33,000 trucks by 2024, getting restaurants to upgrade underfire charbroilers that spew emissions when grilling burgers, using electric all-terrain vehicles, reducing agricultural burning, and replacing wood-burners.

It represents a new level of cooperation between San Joaquin Valley Air Pollution Control District, agriculture, industry, and state officials, Nichols said. California estimates the Valley would meet federal air quality standards by 2024 under the plan.

Show Me the Money

Nayamin Martinez, director of Central California Environmental Justice Network, said she was concerned about the funding. People working in the farm fields need protection now.

“What is going to happen if the $5 billion cannot be found?” she said. “If you rely on money that is hypothetical, you are going to be in trouble without a Plan B.”

The office of Gov. Gavin Newsom (D) didn’t respond to a request for comment, and Assemblymember Phil Ting (D), who chairs the budget committee, said it was too soon to comment on the air board plan and funding the legislature could authorize.

The plan calls for $3.3 billion to replace 33,000 trucks, $1.4 billion to replace or refurbish 12,000 farm vehicles, and $170 million to reduce emissions from off-road vehicles.

Newsom’s proposed budget includes only $25 million to replace agriculture equipment, making it a challenge for farmers, California Farm Bureau Federation Senior Policy Advocate Noelle Cremers said.

“This will not be easy to achieve,” she said. “Replacing 12,000 tractors by 2024 will require yeoman’s work, but that does not mean we are not committed to that goal.”

Another $134 million in incentives are needed to get people to replace commercial underfired charbroilers, residential wood-burning fireplaces and heaters, and internal combustion engines that agricultural operations use.

“We have growers who are clamoring for these incentives,” Samir Sheikh, executive director of the San Joaquin Valley Air Pollution Control District, said. “There’s a lot of interest in these programs.”

He predicted the valley will meet its goals even if the state can’t find all of the money for some of the incentive programs it envisions. As technology advances, more clean equipment is purchased and people participate, he thinks the reduction effects will be magnified.

“There are already pots of funding that have been helping and we’re going to have to keep growing those pots,” Sheikh said.

Too Many Inhalers

That California Air Resources Board is digging so deep to replace burger grills is a sign of how bad air quality is and the lengths to which the state will go to remove any pollution sources, said John Walke, clean air director for the Natural Resources Defense Council in Washington.

“I think that is a testament to the serious air problem San Joaquin Valley faces,” he said. “That’s reaching down to smaller sources.”

However, some environmental advocates would have liked the state to go even further

While the plan is a step forward, it could be more stringent in terms of reducing pollution, according to Rocky Rushing, a senior policy advocate with Coalition for Clean Air.

“There are too many children that rely on inhalers,” he said. “There are too many deaths that are occurring.”

 

California’s $5 Billion Clean-Air Plan Lacking One Thing: Money, by Emily C. Dooley, Bloomberg Environment, February 6, 2019.

 

California’s New Air Pollution Solution

Two years ago, the World Health Organization identified the San Joaquin Valley in California, an agricultural area between Los Angeles and San Francisco, as having the nation’s worst air pollution. At the time, a reporter from The Guardian was sent out to talk to laborers in the region who worked outdoors. To his surprise, most of them shrugged off the news. Several workers recounted suffering from coughs and other health problems, but they had bigger concerns than bad air: feeding their families and paying the rent.

Some metro areas in the San Joaquin Valley rank among the poorest in the state and nation. When asked about possible remedies, one worker interviewed didn’t suggest robust pollution reduction measures, but masks and gloves. Nevertheless, by the end of this year California will be embarking on an ambitious project that goes well beyond masks and gloves to reduce the region’s pollution.

In December, the state Public Utilities Commission (PUC) voted to approve a new pilot program in 11 disadvantaged communities in the San Joaquin Valley. More than 1,800 homes will have their propane and wood-burning appliances replaced with mainly high-efficiency electric heat pumps, cooktops, washing machines and other energy-efficient upgrades free of cost.

The $50-million, five-year pilot will put the PUC in compliance with a 2015 California law that mandates that the state connect low-income communities — where propane and wood-burning heating systems contribute significantly to the region’s terrible air pollution — to natural gas or electricity. “This pilot program is the initial step,” says Merrian Borgeson, a senior scientist with the climate and clean energy program at the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC). “The intention is to learn what works and what doesn’t. If the pilot is successful, it could be rolled out to 170 disadvantaged communities in the region.”

The undertaking is a first in California and likely the nation. There has been nothing this comprehensive to electrify homes in low-income communities, according to Borgeson. Until now, she says, there have been some smaller-scale low-income programs that focus on weatherization and offer some support for electrification. Maine, for instance, has a program for income-eligible homeowners that covers 80 percent of the installation of a ductless heat pump and requires that participants take part in a home energy assessment. California has a low-income weatherization program for multifamily dwellings. “Most weatherization programs install new windows or seal up air ducts,” says Borgeson. “But to do a full change of all equipment in someone’s house, I don’t know of any program like that.”

The effort comes as the state seeks to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from residential and commercial buildings by 40 percent below 1990 levels by 2030. Homes and buildings are responsible for 25 percent of California’s greenhouse gas emissions, according to a report commissioned by the NRDC last fall. More than half of that pollution is the result of burning gas and propane. The report concludes that if a third of California’s buildings switched to clean electric space and water heating technology by 2030, heating emissions would fall by 7 million metric tons per year. That’s equivalent to taking 1.5 million cars off the road.

While how much air pollution and greenhouse gas emissions will be cut under the pilot hasn’t been estimated, the program is expected to save participating households about $1,500 in energy costs each year. The initial purpose of the pilot was to save customers money on their energy bills in these disadvantaged communities, says Borgeson. Mandating electric appliances where feasible came in later. “Low-income communities can’t always be last in line,” she says. “We need to make energy-efficiency programs work for everyone. If we don’t address low-income communities earlier in the process, we’re never going to reduce climate and air pollution. We’ll never get at the overall problem.”

California’s New Air Pollution Solution, by Elizabeth Daigneau, Governing, February 2019.

San Joaquin Valley’s air ranks among worst in U.S. This plan promises to improve it by 2024

The California Air Resources Board this week approved a plan to reduce air pollution in the San Joaquin Valley and hopefully meet federal air regulations that aren’t being met.

The plan is key because Valley cities consistently rank among the worst ozone and soot-filled areas of the nation.

With $5 billion in incentives for residents and various businesses, the clean air plan tackles reducing fine particulate matter — called PM2.5 — generated from gas and diesel vehicles, wood burning and dust.

Under the plan, officials hope air quality in the Valley will meet federal standards by 2024. Currently, the Valley is classified as a “serious non-attainment” area for four federal standards.

“The adoption of this plan is the next step in our clean air journey that will require continued support from all Valley sectors and significant investment at the state and federal level,” said Samir Sheikh, the executive director and air pollution control officer for the San Joaquin Valley Air Pollution Control District.

“The district will continue its work with residents, businesses and agencies throughout the San Joaquin Valley to implement this clean air plan and continue to improve quality of life for all Valley residents.”

The air district is a public health agency covering the Valley from San Joaquin County to Kern County that aims to improve the health and quality of life for residents through air quality management.

The plan was unanimously approved during a Thursday meeting in downtown Fresno, where health advocates and residents urged the board to approve the plan, but also questioned where the $5 billion would come from.

Although the plan says that federal and state funding sources have been identified, allocations to the San Joaquin Valley have yet to be determined.

“With this money, there’s a good down payment leftover as a sort of final gift from (former) Governor (Jerry) Brown,” said Kevin Hamilton, CEO of the Central California Asthma Collaborative.

“We have to line up with some of us in the environmental justice community and work with our industry partners and agencies locally to make the case to the new governor that this money is necessary to protect the health of children in the San Joaquin Valley.”

The plan outlines incentive money needed through 2024 for things such as clean fuel trucks and buses, agriculture equipment, off-road equipment, commercial charbroilers, replacing residential wood burning devices and internal combustion engines used for ag operations.

Further restrictions will be placed on residential wood burning devices and fireplaces, but incentives will be available to convert heating to natural gas.

New rules will be introduced under the plan to reduce air pollution from industrial sources such as broilers, steam generators, internal combustion engines, glass manufacturing facilities and more. New strategies also will be used to reduce emissions from commercial restaurants using charbroilers.

New grants for residents will be available for electric vehicles and replacing gas mowers. Incentives also will be available for businesses to replace heavy duty trucks, ag equipment lawn and gardening equipment and more, according to the plan.

The plan and Sheikh were praised for an increased level of community engagement, compared to a 2016 plan which had to be resubmitted with the new, 2018 plan.

“This plan is the result of a cooperative effort among air quality regulators at the local and state level, members of the community, and industry,” said Richard Corey, the CEO of the Air Resources Board.

 

San Joaquin Valley’s air ranks among worst in U.S. This plan promises to improve it by 2024, by Brianna Calix, The Fresno Bee, January 25, 2019.

PG&E bankruptcy could put squeeze on millions of dollars for Valley counties

Pacific Gas & Electric’s planned Chapter 11 bankruptcy is intended to help the embattled utility company reorganize debts and possibly reduce its financial exposure to lawsuits for damages from devastating wildfires in northern California.

But the effects of the financial maneuver, expected to be filed in a federal bankruptcy court next week, could be felt far beyond the areas scorched by the 2017 and 2018 fires.

PG&E’s bankruptcy could potentially put a cash-flow pinch on hundreds of millions of dollars in property taxes to counties across the state. That’s money cities and counties use to help provide basic services to their residents.

While obligations such as property taxes typically aren’t excused or “discharged” by bankruptcy, “we won’t actually know until this goes to court what will be decided,” said Oscar Garcia, Fresno County’s auditor-controller / treasurer-tax collector.

PG&E is one of the largest private landowners in California, at about 160,000 acres. Its statewide property tax obligations in 2017-18 amounted to more than $461.8 million.

Fresno County received more than $30.3 million in property taxes from PG&E in 2016-17, and another $33.6 million in 2017-18. Only three other California counties in which PG&E owns property got more in property taxes from the company. In Fresno County, PG&E’s property taxes represented 3.55 percent of all property taxes allocated to the county by the state Board of Equalization.

The last time PG&E filed for bankruptcy, in 2001, “they filed a request with the tax collector to waive the penalties” for late payments, Garcia said. “They split their payments and eventually got caught up.”

Garcia said county tax collectors across the state will keep a watchful eye on PG&E’s bankruptcy filing. In federal bankruptcy courts, debtors strive to reorganize their debts under a plan that ultimately must be approved by a judge.

“We won’t know where we are in the pecking order (of creditors), if you will,” he added. “As far as we’re concerned, we’re still at the top, but you never know what a bankruptcy judge will decide.” Garcia said the county could dip into reserves if tax payments from PG&E are delayed during the bankruptcy process.

Across Fresno, Kings, Madera, Merced and Tulare counties, property taxes from PG&E added up to nearly $50 million in 2017-18, up from $44.7 million a year earlier.

“We expect to continue meeting our tax and similar obligations to cities and counties as normal, following the Chapter 11 filing,” Nauman told The Bee.

According to information from the state Board of Equaliztion, PG&E’s property taxes represent an even bigger slice of the revenue pie for some counties than in Fresno: about 5.2 percent of all property taxes in San Luis Obispo County, more than 11 percent in Plumas County, and almost 21 percent in Colusa County.

Property taxes aren’t the only funds that PG&E pays to local governments. The company also has franchise agreements with about 300 California cities and counties to operate and maintain gas and electric lines under streets and highways. Statewide, franchise and other taxes added up to about $170 million in 2017, according to the utility’s annual report.

Fresno County’s share of franchise fees from PG&E is expected to be about $21 million and would be due in April, after the utility files for bankruptcy, Garcia said. “We’re a little concerned,” he said. “Hopefully we will go ahead and be able to collect, but when that’s going to be isn’t so sure.”

For the city of Fresno, franchise fees from PG&E added up to more than $5.3 million in 2017-18, according to city spokesman Mark Standriff. That was more than one-third of all of the franchise fees the city received that year from the utilities using its rights of way, including cable and telephone companies.

What about the employees?

In addition to its property holdings throughout the state, PG&E employs about 23,000 workers, according to the utility’s 2017 annual report. The utility’s Fresno and Yosemite divisions combined have 3,241 employees, from hydroelectric, electric and gas operations workers to employees who deal with customer service, service planning, engineering, vegetation management, environmental and corporate affairs tasks.

Unlike federal workers who have either been furloughed or ordered to work without pay during the government shutdown, Nauman said PG&E’s workers likely won’t be affected by their employer’s bankruptcy.

“Employees should continue to come to work on the same schedule and remain focused on their job responsibilities while putting safety first,” Nauman said. “During this process, we expect that our operations will continue without disruption … and our employees will continue to be paid and receive healthcare benefits as usual.”

Among PG&E’s extensive hydroelectric facilities in Fresno County are the large Helms hydroelectric project and its two reservoirs, Courtright and Wishon, as well as other smaller power plants.

The utility’s Fresno division – which covers most of Fresno and Kings counties and part of Tulare County – also has a distribution control center, a customer contact center, a regional management center and numerous customer offices and service centers scattered throughout the Valley, said Matt Nauman, a PG&E spokesman.

PG&E’s Yosemite division, which covers part of western Fresno County and much of Madera, Merced, Mariposa, Stanislaus and Tuolumne counties, has some hydroelectric facilities, customer service offices and service centers as well, Nauman added.

 

PG&E bankruptcy could put squeeze on millions of dollars for Valley counties, by Jim Sheehan, The Fresno Bee, January 22, 2019.