The Center’s Destiny Rodriguez Discusses Community Choice Efforts in Fresno

Community Choice Energy agencies are supporting their customers and communities across the state during this pandemic, offering millions of dollars in relief efforts in response to COVID-19. The City of Fresno could benefit from this model once implemented to utilize revenues for our own impacted residents and local businesses rather than waiting for aid. If the City of Fresno moved Community Choice forward, it could provide a stable revenue stream for any emergency needs or crisis that may come in the future. Destiny Rodriguez, Regional Community Relations for The Climate Center gives examples of how CCAs are being proactive during COVID-19 and where Fresno is in this process on Central Valley Talk, a local web based TV channel. Learn more about how you can become involved in making Community Choice Energy a reality for Fresno.

Community Choice Agencies are doing more than keeping the lights on

Things to consider as Fresno and Stockton assess the feasibility of community choice energy

The capacity of local governments to protect their residents and businesses in times of crisis is being tested all over California. Elected officials are now tasked with addressing each rippling impact COVID-19 is having on their communities. Beyond the public health crisis itself, shelter-in-place orders have left millions of people applying for unemployment and businesses struggling to, quite literally, keep the lights on.

For most counties and cities in California that have established community choice agencies (CCAs) – where local governments can purchase clean power at competitive rates on behalf of their residents and businesses – residential and commercial customers have been offered flexible payment plans, with assurance that the power won’t be shut off for nonpayment. CCAs work in partnership with the larger investor-owned utilities in the state that still own the lines that those electrons travel through. Impressively, these locally controlled, not-for-profit agencies have already been able to make a difference supporting the most vulnerable members of their communities at the most critical times.

East Bay Community Energy (EBCE) has earmarked an astonishing $1 million for community relief efforts in response to COVID-19 for the 12 East Bay communities it serves, along with $300,000 in grants for local community-based organizations. The agency also gave $70,000 to the Alameda County Food Bank and Meals on Wheels program, and has been soliciting donations from its largest customers with the goal of increasing that amount to more than $1 million by the end of April. “This is clearly a crisis time for residents and local businesses, and if EBCE has any resources available to help, then by all means that is what we’re going to do, and we’re doing it immediately,” said EBCE’s CEO, Nick Chaset. 

Valley Clean Energy (VCE), a joint powers authority between the City of Davis and Yolo County, has donated $2,500 to the Yolo Food Bank in the hopes that others will contribute as well. “VCE was created to support our customers and give back to the community,” said Mitch Sears, VCE’s interim general manager. “That mission is even more important as we go through times of crisis like the COVID pandemic.”

Silicon Valley Clean Energy is committing $10 million in COVID-19 relief funds to support lower-income customers; pay for resiliency improvements at community and emergency facilities; and launch training programs for electrical, plumbing and mechanical workers impacted by shelter-in-place orders. The agency is also lowering electric generation rates to 4% below those of Pacific Gas & Electric Co., which will result in an annual savings of $18 million to its customers.

Roughly 30,000 low-income customers in San Mateo County are receiving a $100 credit from their CCA, Peninsula Clean Energy. “In these unprecedented times, this credit will help those most at risk of losing their paychecks and financial stability, particularly our most vulnerable low-wage earners,” East Palo Alto Vice-Mayor Carlos Romero said.

Several Central Valley communities are considering implementing a CCA program. What a CCA in Fresno or Stockton looks like will be determined by local elected officials and community members, but it could pitch in to relief efforts in the community it serves. For example, the agency could support the boots on the ground delivering food to isolated elderly residents and helping homeless individuals move to safer locations. In constant contact with its customers, the provider could serve as a communications outlet to relay and receive critical information in emergency situations. 

Beyond supporting short-term relief measures, this new Central Valley public electricity provider could mold to the needs of the community through targeted programs in the months and years following the crisis. Case in point: after the devastating 2017 wine country fires in Napa and Sonoma Counties, Sonoma Clean Power offered its customers huge incentives for rebuilding their homes with safer, cleaner, and more resilient, energy-efficient building materials. 

As Fresno and Stockton assess the feasibility of community choice energy, it’s worth considering the 30,000-foot view. The COVID-19 pandemic is a stark reminder that we ignore climate science at our own peril and early action saves lives. Establishing a CCA is one of many solutions for California to reduce greenhouse gas emissions significantly by 2022 and become carbon-negative by 2030, as outlined in the Climate Center’s Climate-Safe California campaign. With a recession almost certainly lingering, now is the time for local reinvestment and innovation, which is what CCA is all about. Forming a CCA would spur local job growth in an emerging renewable energy industry, retain local dollars in the local economy and return power to people to decide how their energy is produced. Let’s help make it happen.

Special Editor’s Note: For more on what CCAs are doing to respond to the public health crisis, please register for our May 19 webinar on this topic HERE

Fresno Celebrates 50th Earth Day Digitally

The first Earth Day, on April 22, 1970, activated 20 million Americans from all walks of life and is widely credited with launching the modern environmental movement. More than 1 billion people now participate in Earth Day activities each year, making it the largest civic observance in the world. 

On April 22, 2020 the California State University of Fresno’s Sustainability Club students partnered with The Climate Center in a Digital Earth Day for the community. The Sustainability Club had originally planned an on-campus Earth Day event, but because of the COVID-19 pandemic the event was cancelled. However, despite the COVID-19 challenges, the Sustainability club students were able to plan this webinar with seven presentations from local environmental organizations. The theme of the Digital Earth Day event was a focus on clean air, clean water and clean energy. Presentations included Central California Environmental Justice Network, Citizens’ Climate Lobby, Charge Across Town, The Climate Center, the Keishaun White’s Healthy Air Experiment, Central Valley Air Quality Coalition, and Tree Fresno. 

Click here to view the recorded event.

 

Links to presenter orgs:

CCEJN   https://ccejn.org/

CCL Fresno  https://citizensclimatelobby.org/chapters/CA_Fresno/

Charge Across Town  https://chargeacrosstown.org/

Kieshaun White’s Healthy Air Experiment https://theknowfresno.org/11/20/2018/the-kieshaun-white-healthy-air-experiment/ 

CVAQ  http://www.calcleanair.org/

Tree Fresno https://treefresno.org/

 

Introducing New Central Valley Based Intern Michael Mayfield

My name is Michael Mayfield and I am a new student intern at The Climate Center working on community outreach in the greater Fresno area.  Specifically, I have been working with Destiny Rodriguez to build a strong coalition of those in support of forming a Community Choice agency (CCA) in Fresno.

By connecting with community organizations and activist groups in the area, we are able to best understand how to coordinate efforts in order achieve our shared climate goals.  Moreover, by engaging with many stakeholders, we can effectively elevate the discussion of Community Choice Energy in the area.

I first became interested in climate resiliency as a student at Fresno State. As an undergrad, I studied environmental science and served as president of the campus Sustainability Club. In fact, I first found out about The Climate Center when Destiny Rodriguez gave an overview of the organization at one of our club’s meetings.

Since then, I have leveraged students and others to become civically engaged both on campus and in the Fresno Community. Representing The Climate Center, I have met with officials from city government, spoke at city hall, and worked to continue the discussion of a need for clean, resilient, and sustainable energy in the city of Fresno.

I recently obtained a B.S. in Environmental Science from Fresno State.  I am proud to announce that I will continue on with my studies to achieve an M.S. in Environmental Policy from The University of Johns Hopkins.

Introducing: Davis Harper, New Stockton Community Organizer

Advancing Community Choice Energy one conversation at a time

My name is Davis Harper, and I am a writer, organizer, and advocate for the sustainable practices necessary to protect the planet’s most vulnerable communities. I’m very excited to be the newest member of The Climate Center team as the Community Outreach Specialist for Stockton and San Joaquin County. My role at The Climate Center focuses on encouraging the city and county to establish a Community Choice Energy agency (CCA) to serve residents and businesses in the city and county with cleaner electricity at competitive rates. About twenty CCAs operate in California, and it’s high time that our community begin to enjoy the benefits other communities are experiencing.

My appreciation for nature started from a young age, growing up in a small valley town an hour-and-a-half west of Yosemite National Park and the Stanislaus National Forest.

At the time, the deceptive calm of a quiet Sierra meadow or trickling creek felt untouched – a forever moment that had been and would always be. It wasn’t until much later that I would start to understand the many threats to these places, which often seem to be grounded in ideals of economic development.

I can still recite parts of the speech I gave on restoring the Hetch Hetchy Valley in one of my first college courses. The flooding of the valley in 1923 was the first issue for me that highlighted the dominant reckless attitudes we’ve exhibited toward the environment over the past century. Open grasslands? Graze them. Pine forests? Clear cut and send them off to a mill. More than a thousand acres of wetlands and serene meadows with towering Ponderosa pines, vibrant wildflowers, mule deer, black bears and more? Looks like an opportunity to funnel water to San Francisco.

With that speech, a seed had been planted.

The environmental impacts of mining and cattle ranching and the dislocation of indigenous inhabitants from national forests and parklands were likely not reflected in my Freshman presentation. This was before my time at the University of California, Santa Cruz, where terms like “political ecology” and “environmental justice” were integrated into my vocabulary. After earning my B.A. in Environmental Studies in 2018, I took a job at a local newspaper in the Sierra Nevada foothills, reporting on environmental issues and local government.

The work has helped me contextualize the concept that no issue lives in a vacuum, which makes careful reporting all the more important. Consider the intersection of wildfire protection strategies, forest restoration initiatives, logging interests, community power dynamics, climate change and, among members of the public, a general paranoia that their house will be the next to go up in flames come summer. With each stakeholder introduced to the mix, compromises across what appear to be a convoluted tangle of agendas start to emerge.

The experience has ingrained in me the principle that global change starts one conversation at a time. Concepts that seemed too “big” or “complicated” to have an opinion about were starting to occupy my daily Google searches. Talks with elected officials, passionate community organizers, off-the-grid recluses and business owners – all of whom landed across the spectrum on local and regional political issues – helped paint a picture in my mind of a divided community with so much potential for unity.

Everyone’s worth hearing out, and they’re worth protecting, too.

In Stockton, I spent the summer of 2019 collaborating with Rise Stockton – a coalition of nonprofits and the City – on the City’s Sustainable Neighborhood Plan, a long-term framework meant to inform the City Council on viable avenues for shifting to sustainable development practices. The emphasis is on carbon sequestration and emissions reductions in lower-income communities. Some efforts to achieve that include urban greening initiatives, walkable and bikable transportation planning and the promotion and organization of worker-owned cooperatives to sell fresh produce to local residents.

As we face climate change and its cascading consequences, it’s more imperative now than ever to practice historical and cross-cultural empathy – to share and hear the stories of those who came before us. That’s how we’ll build lasting partnerships with the diverse range of stakeholders necessary for meaningful climate action.

It’s not enough to only consider the soundbites of a global 1°C increase since the Industrial Revolution – upticks in severe droughts, wildfires, hurricanes, flooding, and other natural disasters. Equally crucial are the quantifiable, albeit, quieter injustices on each other and the planet that we’ve mined, fracked, clear cut and sprayed pesticides on for more than a century.

Lower-income communities in the City of Stockton and the Central Valley, in general, endure some of the worst air quality in the state.

We can’t let fears of changing marketplaces scare us away from breaking cycles we’ve known for decades to be impacting air, soil and water quality all over the world.

Advancing Community Choice Energy in Stockton and San Joaquin County will put power into the hands of community members to determine where their energy comes from and keep local dollars circulating in the local economy. It’ll take a commitment from the city and other community leaders to embrace Community Choice, and I hope to encourage those conversations and continue building momentum for this necessary transition.

I’m excited to grow, educate, and share positivity and hope in my work with The Climate Center and make some new friends along the way.

California adopts first air pollution measures targeting local emissions in Central Valley

Anabel Marquez was on her way to church one day when she saw a group of people heading to a meeting. She asked what the meeting was about, and they said pesticides.

She was intrigued.

“Everything they said, I lived it,” Marquez said in Spanish.

Marquez, who lives in Shafter, 20 miles northwest of Bakersfield, said she knows and has heard about many people who have been sickened from pollution. Looking around the community she has lived in for nine years – surrounded by oil fields, dairies and agriculture – Marquez said there are many things that may have caused the illnesses.

“We don’t have to fight over who contaminates more or who contaminates less. We have to be conscious that everything contaminates,” Marquez said. “It’s not about who does it more and who does it less.”

On Thursday night, Marquez joined other San Joaquin Valley residents celebrating a historic step taken inside the Shafter veterans hall.

The California Air Resources Board met there following a tour in Shafter and another earlier in the day in south Fresno. After several hours, and at times battling over details and ideas, the board approved plans for both communities that outline ways to reduce emissions, including working with local industries.

Read more: https://www.fresnobee.com/news/local/article240319891.html

California adopts first air pollution measures targeting local emissions in Central Valley, by Cresencio Rodriguez-Delgado, The Frenso Bee, February, 15, 2020.

Fresno Is Weighing Community Choice Aggregate Energy, Giving Residents Options For Their Utilities

Editor’s note: Destiny Rodriguez of The Climate Center is referred to in this interview as Destiny Martinez. This is incorrect. 

In most Central Valley communities, there’s only one electric and gas utility. For most of the San Joaquin Valley, it’s Pacific Gas and Electric; if you live in the southeast region, the utility might be Southern California Edison. And unless you have solar panels to offset some of the cost, you have no control over the rates set, which are proposed by the utility and approved by the California Public Utilities Commission. Over the last few months, the City of Fresno has been considering an alternative to PG&E called community choice aggregate energy, or CCA.

Fresno Councilman Luis Chavez has already voiced his support for the program, which allows municipalities to have more control over where energy comes from, and how much it costs. However, the council is a long way from making a final decision on whether to adopt the program.

First the council has to complete a technical study, which will help determine the costs of CCA.

Listen to the interview above to hear an overview of CCA, and how Fresno lawmakers are considering if it’s right for the city.

Fresno Is Weighing Community Choice Aggregate Energy, Giving Residents Options For Their Utilities, By Laura Tsutsui, Valley Public Radio, September 27, 2019.

CalCom Energy’s $100M Fund Targets Farms for Solar-Battery Systems

In California, it’s not just vulnerable families and critical services that could use battery-backed solar systems to ride through wildfire-prevention power outages. Farms also have critical energy needs, like pumping water to crops on set schedules, or chilling them after harvest, that could face significant disruption under the state’s new wildfire prevention regime.

CalCom Energy, a long-time solar and energy services provider for California’s agricultural sector, thinks it has a solution. This week, the Fresno-based developer launched a $100 million Agriculture Energy Infrastructure Fund, aimed at combining low-cost solar power-purchase agreements with the backup power of energy storage.

The fund, developed in partnership with Symbiont Energy and Live Oak Bank, marks CalCom’s first foray into owning the systems it develops, David Williams, CalCom’s chief commercial officer, noted in Wednesday’s press release. But it’s far from CalCom’s first foray into solving the farm-specific energy challenges facing its customers in the state’s Central Valley.

Since its 2012 founding as CalCom Solar, the Fresno, Calif.-based company has developed more than 200 megawatts of clean energy projects, largely solar projects for farms and water districts. In fact, it’s one of the largest commercial solar developers in the territory of Pacific Gas & Electric, the Northern California utility now in bankruptcy reorganization under the weight of tens of billions of dollars in liabilities from deadly wildfires started by its power lines in 2017 and 2018.

Like many California solar developers, energy storage is playing an ever-increasing role in CalCom’s projects, leading it to rebrand as CalCom Energy last year. Changes to California’s net metering regime, including time-of-use (TOU) rates that reduce the value of midday energy and increase its cost in late afternoon and evening hours, have an outsize effect on commercial solar projects like CalCom’s that rely on meter aggregation for valuing their production.

CalCom also provides metering and billing analysis through its Energy Services management platform, to allow its customers to better manage how they consume electricity in relation to their solar-generated and battery-stored resources. For example, big Salinas Valley grower and shipper D’Arrigo Bros. of California, which has installed about 5.5 megawatts of solar PV through CalCom, has also added two 520-kilowatt batteries at its central cooling facility, to reduce demand charges, shift energy to different TOU periods, and provide backup power to critical loads.

But batteries have become even more critical under the much-expanded wildfire prevention “public safety power shutoff” regimes put in place by PG&E and other California utilities under state regulatory mandate this year. Agricultural customers are huge electricity users, largely to move water — pumping and treating water uses roughly one-sixth of the state’s electricity supply.

In fact, water treatment plants and other water infrastructure are among the classes of “critical services” that have been earmarked for special treatment under the California Public Utilities Commission’s latest revisions to the Self-Generation Incentive Program, which also included $100 million in incentives for disadvantaged or medically vulnerable customers who live in high-fire-threat parts of the state.

But farmers are also dependent on steady and reliable electricity to meet water-pumping schedules that are often fixed by law, or by the needs of its crops and the growing season. Solar-plus-storage projects that promise to reduce overall electric bills, as well as provide backup power, are becoming a far more attractive option than installing expensive and polluting backup generators to insure against a crop-ruining power outage.

 

 CalCom Energy’s $100M Fund Targets Farms for Solar-Battery Systems, by Jeff St. John, Greentech Media, September 26, 2019.

CalCom Energy’s $100M Fund Targets Farms for Solar-Battery Systems

In California, it’s not just vulnerable families and critical services that could use battery-backed solar systems to ride through wildfire-prevention power outages. Farms also have critical energy needs, like pumping water to crops on set schedules, or chilling them after harvest, that could face significant disruption under the state’s new wildfire prevention regime.

CalCom Energy, a long-time solar and energy services provider for California’s agricultural sector, thinks it has a solution. This week, the Fresno-based developer launched a $100 million Agriculture Energy Infrastructure Fund, aimed at combining low-cost solar power-purchase agreements with the backup power of energy storage.

The fund, developed in partnership with Symbiont Energy and Live Oak Bank, marks CalCom’s first foray into owning the systems it develops, David Williams, CalCom’s chief commercial officer, noted in Wednesday’s press release. But it’s far from CalCom’s first foray into solving the farm-specific energy challenges facing its customers in the state’s Central Valley.

Since its 2012 founding as CalCom Solar, the Fresno, Calif.-based company has developed more than 200 megawatts of clean energy projects, largely solar projects for farms and water districts. In fact, it’s one of the largest commercial solar developers in the territory of Pacific Gas & Electric, the Northern California utility now in bankruptcy reorganization under the weight of tens of billions of dollars in liabilities from deadly wildfires started by its power lines in 2017 and 2018.

Like many California solar developers, energy storage is playing an ever-increasing role in CalCom’s projects, leading it to rebrand as CalCom Energy last year. Changes to California’s net metering regime, including time-of-use (TOU) rates that reduce the value of midday energy and increase its cost in late afternoon and evening hours, have an outsize effect on commercial solar projects like CalCom’s that rely on meter aggregation for valuing their production.

CalCom also provides metering and billing analysis through its Energy Services management platform, to allow its customers to better manage how they consume electricity in relation to their solar-generated and battery-stored resources. For example, big Salinas Valley grower and shipper D’Arrigo Bros. of California, which has installed about 5.5 megawatts of solar PV through CalCom, has also added two 520-kilowatt batteries at its central cooling facility, to reduce demand charges, shift energy to different TOU periods, and provide backup power to critical loads.

But batteries have become even more critical under the much-expanded wildfire prevention “public safety power shutoff” regimes put in place by PG&E and other California utilities under state regulatory mandate this year. Agricultural customers are huge electricity users, largely to move water — pumping and treating water uses roughly one-sixth of the state’s electricity supply.

In fact, water treatment plants and other water infrastructure are among the classes of “critical services” that have been earmarked for special treatment under the California Public Utilities Commission’s latest revisions to the Self-Generation Incentive Program, which also included $100 million in incentives for disadvantaged or medically vulnerable customers who live in high-fire-threat parts of the state.

But farmers are also dependent on steady and reliable electricity to meet water-pumping schedules that are often fixed by law, or by the needs of its crops and the growing season. Solar-plus-storage projects that promise to reduce overall electric bills, as well as provide backup power, are becoming a far more attractive option than installing expensive and polluting backup generators to insure against a crop-ruining power outage.

 

CalCom Energy’s $100M Fund Targets Farms for Solar-Battery Systems, by Jeff St. John, Greentech Media, September 26, 2019.

San Joaquin plan would equip all churches with solar power to transition diocese off fossil fuels

San Joaquin has a goal: to become The Episcopal Church’s first solar-powered diocese.

The Diocese of San Joaquin, located in California’s Central Valley and Sierra Nevada, has 22 faith communities and an abundance of sun. This year, it put in motion plans to bring solar panels to all or nearly all of those communities. By the end of 2020, Bishop David Rice hopes those solar panels will be installed and generating enough power to offset the energy usage of all Episcopal properties in the diocese.

“There’s a real yearning in the Central Valley and the High Sierras to ensure that our part of The Episcopal Church is giving real care to creation, and we see this solar project as an extension of that,” Rice said in an interview with Episcopal News Service.

By providing space on their roofs or lots for solar power generation, the churches also may save a bit on their energy costs, but more importantly, the project is structured so that third-party developers will cover the expense of transitioning the diocese off fossil fuels. Rice also hopes that San Joaquin’s example will lead other dioceses to pursue similar projects tailored to their local environments.

Few environments in the United States are as full of sunshine as the Diocese of San Joaquin. Cloudy days are the exception in the region. Fresno, the largest city in the diocese, boasts an average of 267 days a year with clear or partly cloudy skies, according to the National Centers for Environmental Information, which ranks Fresno as the country’s seventh sunniest major city. Sunshine is particularly abundant in the summer months.

Given those conditions, solar power already is a significant part of the region’s landscape, with buildings from churches to schools to warehouses topped with panels. Cal Harling, a renewable energy consultant hired by the diocese, said San Joaquin’s plans are more ambitious than most.

Other churches have invested in solar, Harling said, “but I’m not sure they’ve done it on the level that San Joaquin is thinking about. It’s an approach that, quite frankly, large commercial companies use.”

Think of a retail chain like Walmart or Home Depot deciding to outfit all its warehouses with solar panels, he said. Harling is approaching the diocese’s needs in a similar way, negotiating financing with the diocese’s solar power partners for a regional project, as opposed to having individual congregations make their own panel purchases.

Harling explained to ENS that it is based on the general principle that all partners in the development bring something to the table: The diocese provides a location for the solar panels. A developer and financer commit to funding and installing the panels. A utility agrees to acquire the energy generated by the project for a certain rate over a period of time, usually 20 to 30 years, since solar panels begin degrading as they age beyond that, Harling said.

“Everybody gains value out of it,” he said.

One of the catalysts for San Joaquin’s project was The Episcopal Church’s Creation Care Pledge, in which more than 1,000 people during Advent and Easter committed to taking actions to improve or preserve the environment. While that call to action was “stirring the hearts” in Rice’s diocese, he and others there saw solar power as one way to do more.

“This seemed to be a faithful, natural next step for us,” Rice said. “There’s a lot of sun here.”

Harling, who knew the diocese’s chancellor, began discussing solar options with diocesan leaders early this year and was asked to draft a proposal outlining his approach to financing a diocese-wide solar project. He presented his proposal to the Diocesan Council in June and received approval to conduct a feasibility study at each of the diocese’s locations.

Each location is unique. St. Paul’s Episcopal Church in Bakersfield – only 93 cloudy days a year – already has solar panels on-site. The panels were installed on a shade structure built last year over part of the congregation’s parking lot.

“It’s a great use of the space,” said the Rev. Luis Rodriguez, priest-in-charge at St. Paul’s. “People are excited about it. I think there’s a sense of responsibility, global responsibility, and I think that feels good to people.”

Other congregations may only have limited space in which to install new panels, but even smaller components will generate renewable power. Taken as a whole, Harling determined that installing solar panels across diocesan properties could generate close to a million kilowatt hours of power in a year, the equivalent of a 600-kilowatt power system, Harling said.

With that much power, it’s possible that the diocese will reduce its reliance on fossil fuels to zero, he said.

Rice is pushing the diocese to move fast in implementing the project. The diocese’s Episcopal Conference Center near Yosemite National Park in Oakhurst is a large property with significant room for solar panel coverage. St. James Episcopal Cathedral in Fresno is another prime site for solar installation.

“There’s a sense of urgency for us to get on this,” Rice said, adding that clean energy is not just a political issue for the church. “This is about faith for us.”

– David Paulsen is an editor and reporter for Episcopal News Service. He can be reached at dpaulsen@episcopalchurch.org.

 

San Joaquin plan would equip all churches with solar power to transition diocese off fossil fuels, by David Paulsen, Episcopal News Service, September 10, 2019.