Air Quality Solutions Include Community Electricity

The World Health Organization Report of 2015 statistics recently announced that the San Joaquin Valley has the worst air quality in the nation and also has the highest childhood asthma rates. Year after year in authoritative reports the San Joaquin Valley is named the dirtiest air basin in the nation. The pervasiveness of the trend can be partly explained by the fact that the industries that thrive in the Valley – agriculture and fossil fuel production – are our lungs’ worst enemies.

Since 2003, the Central Valley Air Quality (CVAQ) Coalition, a group of about 70 member organizations throughout the San Joaquin Valley has joined forces to strengthen air quality regulations at all levels, especially at the local air district. CVAQ members work to improve air quality because they are witness to the adverse health impacts on overburdened communities, brought on by air pollution.

Solutions

This April, CVAQ convened its members for the annual Coalition meeting. Each year the goal is to discuss the latest air quality issues, share technical information and political strategies, and also to talk about collaborative strategies for creating clean air in the Valley. Topics included sustainable agriculture, the Clean Air Act, and Community Choice energy.cvaq meeting

Sustainable Agriculture

CVAQ members discussed how they can advocate for sustainable agricultural practices and address air pollution from dairies and agricultural waste. Reducing agricultural pollution provides air quality and climate benefits, environmental justice issues that stand to benefit the poorest and most rural communities in the Valley. The group also discussed the potential to generate energy from the biomass industry for agricultural waste, in line with the State’s push for installing digesters and creating biofuel from dairies. CVAQ’s goal is to find solutions that help agriculture prosper while providing livable conditions for the four million residents of the eight-county Valley.

Clean Air Act

The Clean Air Act is currently under attack. The San Joaquin Valley Air District has launched a comprehensive campaign to change the rules to make it easier to meet air quality standards. Unfortunately, this won’t clean our air, nor will it turn the tide on our escalating childhood asthma rate. Creating political will proves the biggest challenge in clean air work. Valley leaders, including the fifteen city councilmembers and county supervisors that sit on the Valley Air Board, are heavily affiliated with the polluting industries. Agriculture and the oil & gas industry either fund their political campaigns or comprise a majority of their personal investments. There is no clear-cut path to move past this hurdle, but we continue to apply pressure and find new angles from which to approach the problem.

Community Choice

A rapidly emerging response to air pollution and the climate crisis was introduced to the Coalition by Woody Hastings, Renewable Energy Implementation Manager for the Center for Climate Protection. Community Choice is an energy model that, among other things, brings the sourcing and pricing of electricity under local control, and offers consumers a choice about their electricity service. Several communities in California that have launched Community Choice programs are enjoying significant local economic benefits as well as lower greenhouse gas emissions. All of them have higher percentages of renewable energy in their power mixes and lower greenhouse gases than the big utilities, with goals to continue the trend. Over time, the shift from fossil to renewable power will reduce the air quality impacts from fossil fuel extraction in the Valley. Furthermore, Community Choice agencies are currently exploring ways to support the electrification of the transportation system, eliminating tailpipe emissions.

In an interactive map of California depicting the various stages of Community Choice development across the state, CVAQ members noted the distinct lack of action in the Valley. Woody offered himself as a resource to help Valley leaders and residents learn more about Community Choice. Members were pleased to hear the Valley was not overlooked in the growth of this concept, as it can be in many progressive environmental projects. Other members saw the concept of Community Choice  as an opportunity to address the neglect of unincorporated communities. Many advocates in the Valley have served as a voice for unincorporated communities, which lack access to basic services, such as natural gas or drinkable water, or are disproportionately charged for such services.

“It won’t be a cake walk,” was Hasting’s initial response when advocates asked how we can overcome the challenge of political will in the Valley. The group was assured there will need to be a strong coalition of supporters, a lot of community education, and strategies that speak to the needs of each municipality.

More information and resources about Community Choice can be found on the new, Clean Power Exchange website. CVAQ is excited to begin a partnership with the Center for Climate Protection in this endeavor and we appreciate the Center’s commitment to remain inclusive and sensitive to environmental justice in the San Joaquin Valley.

Dolores Weller is the Executive Director of the Central Valley Air Quality (CVAQ) Coalition. She can be reached at dolores@calcleanair.org

Air Quality Lawsuit Adds to Oil Refinery’s Woes

An idle refinery in Bakersfield is stirring up trouble as residents fight to keep in inactive. The refinery has been issued a permit to restart and expand operations. However, due to a downturn in the economy and the price of oil, restarting operations may not be feasible. Residents and clean air proponents are fighting to ensure the plant stays closed.

“Residents of Bakersfield breathe some of the most polluted air in the nation, thanks to a confluence of vehicle exhaust, industrial operations, and stagnant valley air. In an effort to combat pollution, air quality advocates are now targeting a potential source of emissions that, at the moment, is not even operating.”

Air Quality Lawsuit Adds to Oil Refinery’s Woes, by Kerry Klein, Valley Public Radio, May 20, 2016.

Life in San Joaquin valley, the place with the worst air pollution in America

Air quality in the San Joaquin Valley has been identified as some of the worst in the nation according to the World Health Organization. This article explores the social, economic, political, and geographical issues impacting quality of life in the Valley.

“The United Nations’ health agency linked Visalia and Porterville, two small cities 30 miles apart in the San Joaquin valley, to identify the US’s dirtiest urban center.”

Life in San Joaquin valley, the place with the worst air pollution in America, by Rory Carroll, The Guardian, May 13, 2016.

 

First Biofuel Facility Running on Renewable Heat Generated On-Site

This is the world’s first biofuel facility that runs entirely on renewable energy generated on-site. They produced 20 million gallons of fuel last year, and plan to continue the same level of production into the future.

“Near the Fresno/Kings county line at Biodico’s Westside Facility at Red Rock Ranch, the world’s first biofuel production facility that operates entirely on renewable heat and power generated on-site, went online late last year. They produce 20 million gallons of biodiesel per year with multi-feedstock.”

Kings County: Taking the pulseThe Sentinel, May 12, 2016.

Fresno On Path To Becoming An Advanced Energy Community

The California Energy Commission has awarded the Fresno Local Government Commission $1.5 million to create an integrated clean energy market to serve the Fresno community. The project will focus on Downtown Fresno, the Blackstone Corridor, and the neighborhoods surrounding those areas.

The two-year project will result in greater electricity reliability for the community and lower costs for ratepayers by identifying high-leverage energy efficiency, clean transportation and renewable-energy opportunities; matching projects with funding mechanisms; and tracking resource savings to spur further investment in clean-energy projects such as solar panels, water and energy-friendly landscaping, and electric-vehicle charging stations.”

Fresno On Path To Becoming An Advanced Energy CommunityPublic Technologies Inc., May 17, 2016.

A Spark of Change in Fresno

Fig Garden-EV Parking

EV parking at Fig Garden shopping center

The City of Fresno is situated in the heart of California’s agricultural powerhouse the San Joaquin Valley, and is often viewed as the economic capital of the area. Despite its importance and continual growth, the state’s fifth largest city struggles with some of the worst air pollution in the country.

To address this issue, the city is taking a look at its transportation sector. A significant amount of the San Joaquin Valley’s main sources of air pollution, including Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs), and Nitrogen Oxides (NOx), can be attributed to emissions from passenger vehicles. Promoting the benefits of electric vehicles, in conjunction with renewable energy, is a viable way that the city can reduce air pollutants.

Fresno hopes to encourage the use of electric vehicles (EVs) by expanding charging stations throughout the city, with the goal of making them as ubiquitous as gas stations. In the past year, the city has unveiled multiple EV charging stations in different location. In 2015, the city approved charging stations from NRG Energy’s eVgo program to be placed at two popular shopping areas: three for customers at the Fig Garden Village, a popular shopping plaza that houses a Whole Foods Market, and three for public use at Fashion Fair Mall. Payment for charging at these locations is made through the eVgo’s payment program via an app. Also during this time, the Fresno Area Hispanic Foundation, in alliance with the San Joaquin Valley Electric Vehicle Partnership and NRG eVGo, installed four charging stations in the downtown area through grant funding.

In the summer of 2015, California State University, Fresno announced the installation of six charging stations on campus for use by students, staff, and the public. The stations are situated in a parking with solar panels that produce 20% of energy for the college. Obtained through grant funding from the California Energy Commission, charging costs at the campus stations is at a reasonable $1 per hour flat rate.

In January of 2016, electric car maker Tesla unveiled ten Supercharging stations along Highway 99 in Northwest Fresno. Located at the El Paseo shopping center, the Supercharging stations are the first of their kind in the area, and incentivize travelers to stop in Fresno and charge their vehicles.

Looking ahead, the potential for growth is promising. On June 9, 2015, State Treasurer John Chiang announced the Electric Vehicle Charging Station Financing Program, which provides incentives to businesses and landlords who install EV charging stations for their employees, customers, and tenants. Participants will receive a rebate of up to 15%. More information on the program can be found here.

Time will tell if the recent expansion of charging stations will spur demand for electric vehicles in the area. Fresno’s investment in electric transportation shows its commitment to reducing greenhouse gases and air pollution, and positions the city as a leader to transition away from fossil fuel programs and towards alternative, green energy.

Such a shift in fuel demand would provide the perfect opportunity to revive a serious discussion about Community Choice Energy for the area. Community Choice is an energy model tha gives local agencies control over the sourcing and pricing of their electricity. Programs currently exist in Marin and Sonoma Counties, and the cities of Lancaster and San Francisco. These communities are saving homeowners and businesses millions of dollars, generating local jobs, keeping money in their communities, and significantly reducing greenhouse gases. It’s time for Fresno to take another close look at the benefits of Community Choice.

 

Retired Farmland across the Central Valley Making Way for Renewable Energy

The Central Valley is expected to become a major source of solar power for the state.

Thousands of acres of solar farms and being built on unused farmland.

Solar panels in the valley are producing electricity for use around the state. The electrical energy generated by this solar farm near Kettleman City is being purchased by the city of Palo Alto because it’s clean and renewable.

“Well, the city has a pretty long history of pursuing environmental sustainability, including, to meet its climate protection goals,” Catherine Elvert with the city said. “And in 2013, the city adopted a carbon neutral electric supply portfolio which is really revolutionary.”

In addition to being cleaner, the city of Palo Alto’s focus on renewable energy is also cheaper. Residents here pay among the lowest energy rates in the state.

“Solar is a free energy resource and the cost for building and installing solar continues to decline,” Elvert said. “It’s becoming more and more cost-effective.”

Retired farmland on the west side of the San Joaquin Valley is proving to be an ideal location for solar farms.

“Solar in Kings County is a great opportunity because of the existing contamination of the land that results from the lack of a drainage system and inadequate water supplies,” farmer Daniel Kim said.

Since the land has been developed, it is less environmentally sensitive than desert areas where other large solar projects are being built, about 50 thousand acres in the Central Valley are slated for solar power plants.

“We expect the market to be California and the western United States,” Kim said. “I think there is a tremendous appetite for clean renewable energy in these markets.”

Retired Farmland across the Central Valley Making Way for Renewable Energy, by Gene Haagenson, KFSN, May 16, 2016.

 

 

New CA report: most rooftop solar being installed in middle-income neighborhoods

The cost of installing solar is falling and Californians of all income levels are now installing solar in their homes. For the first time ever though, middle and low income homeowners are making up the majority of those new installations.

“Kevala also analyzed city and county-specific installation data. In Fresno County, long known as a leader in solar deployment per capita, zip codes with median incomes of $40,000 – $55,000 consistently represent roughly half of solar deployment, including this year. Furthermore, Fresno County saw a recent incline in deployment of solar in the lowest income group (<$40,000), which now surpasses the two highest income brackets in the county.”

New CA report: most rooftop solar being installed in middle-income neighborhoods, by Susannah Churchill, Vote Solar, December 2, 2015.

Central California Almond Growers Association Announces Completion of 1MW Solar System

The Central California Almond Growers Association has installed a 1MW solar system in its Kerman, CA facility.

“CCAGA’s new solar array will produce approximately 1,845,800 kWh of electricity annually for the association, the equivalent of reducing 1,403 tons of carbon dioxide (CO2) — equal to the emissions of over 1.3 million pounds of coal burned annually. CCAGA is also poised to save more than half of their Kerman — K-3 facility’s electricity costs annually with the implementation of the solar project.”

Central California Almond Growers Association Announces Completion of 1MW Solar System, by MARKETWIRED, SYS-CON Media, Inc, May 10, 2016.

Opportunities, Empowerment: SJ Supervisor Candidates Speak on Top Concerns

Candidates for the District 1 seat in San Joaquin County debate, and aside from water, job creation and community empowerment are priorities.

“The five candidates answered a handful of questions posed by the League of Women Voters of San Joaquin County, the Stockton Chamber of Commerce and the Associated Students of San Joaquin Delta College.”

Opportunities, empowerment: SJ supervisor candidates speak on top concerns, by Wes Bowers, recordernet.com, May 2, 2016