Solar Power’s Benefits Increasingly Recognized by California Farmers

According to the Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA), America’s solar industry continues to expand at a record pace. California leads the way, with more than 25 GW of installed capacity. According to the SEIA, “the cost to install solar has dropped by more than 70-percent in the past decade.”

As the price of solar component declines, more California farmers are looking to solar energy. The National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) notes that solar costs continue to decrease for both “standalone photovoltaics and PV-plus-storage.” NREL graphs illustrate dramatic year-over-year cost reductions in solar equipment.

California farmers take advantage of these lower costs by embarking on various renewable energy projects. Some invest in large-scale solar installations. Others commit to the use of solar-powered irrigation systems.

Overview: Solar Energy and California Agriculture

A July 2019 article in the Los Angeles Times offers a detailed look at solar technology and California agriculture. The article profiles a Fresno-based grower of oranges and almonds that devoted 160 acres of unused land to a 20 MW solar project. Another 100 MW solar project will follow in the near future. Solar projects like these will help the state meet ambitious renewable energy goals. In 2018, the state set a 100-percent clean energy goal for 2045.

California agriculture and solar development are a good match due to the amount of land with poor soil and/or inadequate access to water. At the height of California’s drought, NASA, in collaboration with the USDA, estimated that farmers in the Central Valley left 1.03 million acres idle throughout 2015.

One report estimates that the San Joaquin Valley alone has almost a half-million acres of farmland that may be more suitable for renewable energy development than agriculture. Solar development is often easier on these lands than it is on ecologically sensitive inland deserts. In some areas, bighorn sheep roam the land as golden eagles soar above.

Many California growers oversee energy-intensive operations that benefit from on-site energy production. For example, Fruit Growers News profiled a grower who required more than $200,000 worth of electricity every year. Their operations include activities like hauling, shelling and processing almonds. The payback period for the grower’s solar installation was just six years.

Solar Applications in California Irrigation

Irrigation is a big deal in California agriculture. It accounts for approximately 80 percent of all water used by the state’s homes and businesses. Every advancement has a positive ripple effect across the economy. This includes the innovative technology driving solar-powered irrigation.

From 2014 to 2019, the State Water Efficiency and Enhancement Program (SWEEP) funded irrigation system improvements. The program saved water and reduced GHG emissions. Initially, the program was a response to the state’s extreme drought conditions prevalent at the time. Altogether, it funded more than 600 projects, many of them solar. Together, these deployments will deliver annual water saving equivalent to 50,000 Olympic-sized swimming pools. The projects also yielded an annual reduction of 75,000 metric tons of carbon dioxide, an amount emitted by 16,000 cars.

Growers are prime beneficiaries of solar-assisted irrigation. California is the nation’s leading producer of fruits, nuts and berries. According to Fruit Growers News, 2017 California’s revenue from all crops totaled $33.4 billion. Of that, fruits, nuts and berries brought in $19.7 billion.

Drip irrigation is already popular in areas with high temperatures and scarce water supplies. California’s record drought drove interest in drip irrigation. It eliminates much of the evaporation that occurs with sprinkler systems. It uses a precise mix of pipes, valves and hoses to deliver water right to a plant’s roots. This saves water and reduces fertilizer loss.

The California Climate & Agriculture Network (CalCAN) highlights various solar-powered irrigation opportunities:

  • Improved irrigation scheduling using soil, plant or weather-based sensors
  • Replace or convert fossil fuel pumps
  • Upgrade or convert to drip irrigation, micro-irrigation and low-pressure irrigation systems

Today, solar-powered pumps are increasingly used to supply water. And, solar-powered sensors are increasingly used to deliver it with less fuss and more precision than ever.

Solar-powered Sensors

In May, 2019, Forbes profiled a California startup focused on soil moisture monitoring. It manufactures solar-powered irrigation sensors fitted with soil probes. In the past, growers spent many hours driving from field to field to monitor irrigation needs. Now, it’s possible to do it from one’s computer or smartphone.

Decreased solar costs, innovative sensor technology and cloud-based communications are a perfect trifecta. The new technology is ideal for growers who want to take their irrigation systems to the next level.

In one case study involving a 40-acre test plot, a California vegetable grower deployed the sensors. Water use declined six percent. Also, greenhouse gas emissions declined five percent. The grower also saved fuel ordinarily required to pump water and power trucks used to check the fields.

The zero-maintenance, solar-powered sensors and soil probes are strategically placed at intervals across fields. There, they gather soil moisture data. The sensors’ ultra-low-power long-range radio (LoRa) signals use very little power. There’s a single small solar cell on each sensor. It powers the system, even in low light.

Data is securely beamed to a communications hub via a secure LTE wireless network. A cloud-based application automatically analyzes the information. The grower controls irrigation timing based on the information received. By stabilizing the moisture content of the soil, sensor-based irrigation systems can also increase yields.

Solar-powered Pumps

The Horticulture Innovation Lab at UC-Davis notes the advantages of solar-powered irrigation pumps. A solar-powered water delivery system cuts electricity costs and reduces labor requirements.

A grower can create a cost-effective system comprised of photovoltaic (PV) panels, drip irrigation kits and 12-volt pumps. An effective filtration system is also essential for efficient operation. Solar pumps are particularly effective in both remote and hilly settings.

The Horticulture Innovation Lab says a simple 50-watt solar panel can power a 12-volt pump. Such a pump is capable of moving 350-700 gallons of water per hour to a water storage tank. From there, gravity feeds the water to the drip irrigation system.

The system makes use of materials typically available from local suppliers. Examples include storage tanks, filters, irrigation tape/tubing, wiring, piping, valves and fittings.

Future Prospects for Solar

Three important trends will drive further adoption of solar technology by California’s growers. First, the declining cost of solar components and installation. Second, California’s ambitious clean energy goals. Third, advances in solar-powered sensor technology and solar-powered pumps.

A growing synergy of sensor technology, wireless communication, smartphone applications and cloud-based data storage bodes well for solar-assisted irrigation in the future.

Also, the Horticulture Innovation Lab intends to continue to promote solar-powered drip irrigation. The team there will test new components that will drive further solar system efficiency and cost-effectiveness.

Final Thoughts

At Fruit Growers Supply, we’ve been devoted to meeting the needs of California’s growers since 1907. We offer commercial irrigation expertise that may benefit your operation. We design and install cutting-edge irrigation systems for growers. Once your system is in place, look to us for maintenance, parts and repairs.

Fruit Growers Supply maintains convenient locations in Santa Paula, Woodlake, Porterville and Orange Cove. We can also recommend sources for photovoltaic (PV) panels and other solar equipment. For further assistance, please call or contact us today.

 

Solar Power’s Benefits Increasingly Recognized by California Farmers, by Fruit Growers Supply Staff, Fruit Growers Supply, August 19, 2019.

State Utilities Regulator Wants Customer Input About PG&E’s Proposed Rate Increase

The California Public Utilities Commission is holding forums around the state to get feedback from Pacific Gas & Electric customers about the company’s proposed rate hike. It’s a process most utilities undergo every three years.

PG&E is asking its regulator, the CPUC, to approve a rate increase that would add a billion dollars to the company’s revenue in 2020. The utility says the increase is to cover operating costs and to fund a wildfire safety program.

“I think, really, we’re having to pay for the cost of all these incidents that PG&E has had,” says Mary Curry, a Fresno resident who attended the meeting. “They can call it fire safety if they want to, but it’s us paying for fires that PG&E was negligent in taking care of.”

PG&E was found responsible for the Camp Fire last November that destroyed the town of Paradise and killed 85 people. The company has since filed for bankruptcy, but PG&E says the rate increase won’t fund claims related to that.

Curry says this is the second time she’s tried to protest a rate increase from PG&E.

“And I’m not sure it’s made a difference, but I keep doing it because somebody’s got to speak for us, you know?” says Curry. “We don’t have alternatives. If I had another company I could use, that would create some competition and I would use them.”

PG&E estimates the rate increase would add about ten and a half dollars a month to typical residential bills. If the regulator approves the increase, it could take effect next year.

State Utilities Regulator Wants Customer Input About PG&E’s Proposed Rate Increase, By Laura Tsutsui, KVPR, August 15, 2019.

Low on water, California farmers turn to solar farming

If California is to meet its goal of running on 100-percent clean electricity by 2045, fields that once grew hay are going to have to start producing electrons. That’s according to a new report from The Nature Conservancy that estimates the state will need to cover an area at least twice as large as Yosemite National Park with solar panels and wind turbines.

That may seem like an ambitious ask, but the amount of California land devoted to renewable energy is already slated to grow exponentially. Part of the driving force is water scarcity: A state law now requires water regulators to figure out how to balance their accounts so that groundwater levels stop dropping. (For the past 50 years California has been pumping far more water out of the ground than filters back into aquifers.) To comply, farmers would have to stop irrigating at least half a million acres, according to a study by the nonpartisan Public Policy Institute of California.

Letting valuable land go unirrigated isn’t exactly appealing to many growers. But the Nature Conservancy report suggests a good chunk of that acreage could be used for solar and wind farms. The report states that between one-third and one-half of the space needed by the state for renewables could come from agricultural acres starved for water.

California farmers have already begun embracing solar panels. For some grow operations, installing a small number of solar panels has been a way to save on energy bills. A few years ago the Bowles Farming Company, near Los Banos, California, put up solar panels on four acres to partially offset the electricity needed for a new drip-irrigation system. “When we converted to drip we started to see increased costs because we’d gone from gravity-driven irrigation to pump-powered irrigation,” said Derek Azevedo, the executive vice president of Bowles. Azevedo said the investment is paying off, and the company is planning on erecting more panels.

Other farmers are converting much bigger sections of their land to solar farms. The Los Angeles Times recently listed a few of the major projects underway: There are plans to build the largest solar farm on earth on agricultural land, in California’s Central Valley. Maricopa Orchards, at the southern end of the Central Valley, is putting up 4,000 acres of solar panels, and setting aside 2,000 acres of habitat for kit foxes and burrowing owls, as environmental mitigation.

But for all the energy sense it makes to plant solar panels in sun-soaked agricultural areas, the Nature Conservancy notes that there may be pushback when it comes to the impact on native flora and fauna. Unless new solar operations are placed carefully, those miles of panels could destroy important habitat for wildlife, and cover some of the most bountiful farmland in the world.

Another potential roadblock: while planting solar panels where almond trees once bloomed could help defuse California’s looming water crisis, so far, most installations have gone up on cattle pasture and other types of land that offers low profits per acre, said Ellen Hanak, who directs the Water Center at the Public Policy Institute of California.

“A lot of it is going on non-irrigated rangeland,” she said. But if farmers will also have to stop growing on irrigated land to avoid overdrawing aquifers. Solar panels would make sense on about 9 percent of this idled land, according to the Public Policy Institute of California’s estimates.

But that’s not stopping several California ag bigwigs from jumping on the solar bandwagon. Lynda and Stewart Resnick, who control more farmland than anyone else in America, are building solar panels on the massive pomegranate, citrus, and nut plantations of their Wonderful Company, north of Bakersfield. The company should be able to make as much money selling solar power as it does selling almonds and pistachios within the next few decades, Steven Swartz, the company’s vice president of strategy, told the Times.

And a 20,000-acre solar farm — the largest in the world — is planned on the west side of the Central Valley, on land tainted with crop-choking salts, according to the Times.

And what about the rest of the acreage needed to meet California’s clean energy goals? The Nature Conservancy’s analysis suggests that, if it builds major transmission lines to other states, California could meet its energy needs without spilling into important wildlife habitat.

 

Low on water, California farmers turn to solar farming, by Nathanael Johnson, Grist, August 6, 2019.

California farmers are planting solar panels as water supplies dry up

Jon Reiter banked the four-seat Cessna aircraft hard to the right, angling to get a better look at the solar panels glinting in the afternoon sun far below.

The silvery panels looked like an interloper amid a patchwork landscape of lush almond groves, barren brown dirt and saltbush scrub, framed by the blue-green strip of the California Aqueduct bringing water from the north. Reiter, a renewable energy developer and farmer, built these solar panels and is working to add a lot more to the San Joaquin Valley landscape.

“The next project is going to be 100 megawatts. It’s going to be five times this size,” Reiter said.

Solar energy projects could replace some of the jobs and tax revenues that may be lost as constrained water supplies force California’s agriculture industry to scale back. In the San Joaquin Valley alone, farmers may need to take more than half a million acres out of production to comply with the Sustainable Groundwater Management Act, which will ultimately put restrictions on pumping.

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Central Valley Congressman Sponsors Legislation to Clean Up Valley Air

July 29, 2019 – WASHINGTON – Congresswoman Jahana Hayes (CT-05),  Jim Costa (CA-16), Senator Kamala Harris (CA), and Congressmembers Julia Brownley (CA-26), Jesús “Chuy” García (IL-04), Ann Kirkpatrick (AZ-02), Mike Levin (CA-49), Jim Himes (CT-04), and John Larson (CT-01) introduced H.R. 3973, the Clean School Bus Act. This legislation would provide $1 billion to help school districts across the country replace traditional school buses with electric ones. By reducing students’ exposure to diesel exhaust, the bill would significantly cut down on asthma-related health incidents, increase attendance, and provide long-term savings to school districts.

Every day, more than 25 million children and thousands of bus drivers breathe polluted air during their commute to school, which has a negative impact on student health and attendance, particularly for students with asthma and other respiratory conditions. The Clean School Bus Act would provide grants of up to $2 million for school districts to replace diesel buses with electric ones, invest in charging infrastructure, and support workforce development.

Rep. Costa said: “The San Joaquin Valley is home to some of the worst air quality in the nation, putting our residents at risk of developing serious illnesses. Children fare even worse when they breathe in the toxic fumes from buses every day on the way to and from school. The Clean School Bus Act has the potential to take 2500 buses off the road in our valley alone, a huge first step in tackling this problem. Supporting this bill continues my fight to find new and innovative ways to improve the air we breathe.”

Rep. Hayes said: “As a teacher, many of my students were chronically absent. What I discovered was disturbing. The number one reason students were absent was asthma-related hospital visits. Children should not have to trade their health for an education. I thank Senator Harris and my colleagues in the House for joining me in standing for America’s school children.”

Sen. Harris said: “Our children deserve a healthy environment to learn and grow—at school, at home, and everywhere in between. I’m proud to work with Rep. Hayes on the Clean School Bus Act, which will clean the air our students breathe and help fight the climate crisis. We must take action to protect our students.”

Rep. Brownley said: “Ensuring our nation’s children can live and learn in a healthy environment is of the utmost importance to me. Clean school buses will not only help ensure that the air our children breathe on the way to school is cleaner and free of harmful pollutants, but greener buses will also help transition our transportation systems towards 21st Century clean-energy technology that will help give our children a stronger and healthier future. I am proud to co-sponsor this legislation and look forward to working with Congresswoman Hayes to move this legislation forward.”

Rep. García said: “The Clean School Bus Act ensures children – especially those in diverse communities like the ones I represent – are not exposed to harmful, toxic fumes on today’s outdated school fleets. The safety of the air our children breathe while they ride a school bus is a matter of public health and common sense. Children deserve protection from the harmful particulates and fumes from today’s aging diesel fleet and they deserve a world without the looming threat of climate change. That’s why I am proud to join my colleague and former educator Rep. Jahana Hayes and Senator Kamala Harris in introducing this pro-health, pro-environment, and pro-school bus safety legislation.”

Rep. Kirkpatrick said: “Busing millions of children to and from school every day has a sizable impact on emissions nationwide. This is an investment not only in the health of our children, but in our long term environmental future. As a grandmother and former teacher, I am proud to work on legislation that addresses both family and environmental health.”

Rep. Levin said: “Those of us who grew up in Southern California remember the smog alerts and the grey air that would burn your lungs. We’ve made progress in addressing that pollution, but diesel exhaust from school buses are still contributing to asthma and other health problems among children. Transitioning to electric vehicles is a common sense step we need to take to protect our air and health, and I am proud to introduce the Clean School Bus Act with Congresswoman Hayes.”

Rep. Himes said: “This bill means cleaner air for all of us, but specifically for children who are around school buses every day.  Students with asthma and other reparatory conditions suffer the most because of air pollution, and investing in cleaner technologies to give them healthier, longer lives is the right thing to do. Thank you to Representative Hayes for leading this important effort.”

Rep. Larson said: “Buses powered by dirty fuel expose our children to pollutants every day, putting their health and their ability to learn at risk. This legislation is an investment in the future, supporting our students and our environment. As a former teacher and longtime supporter of clean energy buses, I applaud Representative Hayes for her leadership on this issue.”

The Clean School Bus Act is supported by the American Federation of Teachers, American Lung Association, League of Conservation Voters, National Education Association, Chispa – Clean Buses for Healthy Niños (Connecticut), Connecticut Fund for the Environment / Save the Sound, Connecticut Institute for Resilience & Climate Adaptation, Environmental Law & Policy Center, Green For All, Hispanic Access Foundation, Waterbury Youth Services, the San Joaquin Valley Air Pollution Control District and the California Association of School Transportation Officials (CASTO).

Luke Tonachel (Clean Vehicles Director, Natural Resources Defense Council): “Our children deserve clean, pollution-free rides to school. Congress should act on this measure soon to accelerate the deployment of electric school buses, which will help ensure our children have clean air and a healthy climate.”

Michelle Romero (National Director, Green For All): “Tailpipe emissions from diesel buses put the health of our kids and communities at risk of asthma, cancer, and pollution-related disease. It’s time we put our kids on buses going forward to a clean energy future, which is why Green For All is proud to support Representative Hayes’s Clean School Bus Act. Not only would this bill help schools transition to zero-emission electric buses, it would prioritize those serving low-income neighborhoods to help give every kid a clean, safe ride to school.”


Congressman Costa serves on the House Natural Resources Committee and has been committed to reducing pollution and improving Valley air quality through efforts like  the Diesel Emissions Reduction Act (DERA). He was also instrumental in the creation of the San Joaquin Valley Pollution Control District (SJVPCD).
Source: Congressman Jim Costa

Central Valley Congressman Sponsors Legislation to Clean Up Valley Air, Sierra Sun Times, July 29, 2019.

Chevron spills 800,000 gallons of oil and water in Kern County canyon

California authorities said Friday that crews are beginning to clean up a massive oil spill that dumped nearly 800,000 gallons of oil and water into a Kern County canyon, making it larger — if less devastating — than the state’s last two major oil spills.

The seep, which has been flowing off and on since May, has again stopped, said Chevron spokeswoman Veronica Flores-Paniagua, with the last flow Tuesday.

She and California officials said the spill is not near any waterway and has not significantly affected wildlife.

Chevron reported that 794,000 gallons of oil and water have leaked out of the ground where it uses steam injection to extract oil in the large Cymric Oil Field about 35 miles west of Bakersfield. The steam softens the thick crude so it can flow more readily — a different process from fracking, which breaks up underground layers of rock.

About 70% of the leaked fluid is water, Chevron said, meaning about 240,000 gallons of the mixture is oil.

Read more

Solar firms heating up in the Valley

TULARE COUNTY – More renewable power will be flowing to community-based power providers across the state from new solar and wind farms heading to construction in the San Joaquin Valley. These are typically new customers for Valley solar and wind developers who in the past had to depend on power purchases from reluctant utility companies.

Just announced- the East Bay Community Energy (EBCE) board of directors has approved two power purchase agreements for a combined 157.5 megawatts from new wind and solar facilities, along with 30 megawatts of battery energy storage.

EBCE, a Community Choice energy Aggregation program serving most of Alameda County, approved the following contracts: a 20-year agreement to purchase 57.5 megawatts of wind from the Altamont Winds project in Alameda County and a 20-year agreement to purchase 100 megawatts of solar and 30 megawatts of energy storage from the Sonrisa Solar Park in Fresno County. In addition they have announced a preliminary deal to buy 56MW of solar energy from a proposed project in Tulare County called Luciana Solar.

Proposed new Central Valley utility-sale solar projects are more frequently selling their power to nearby Community Choice energy aggregators versus power sales to traditional utilities like SCE or PG&E. There are now 19 not-for-profit Community Choice Aggregation (CCA) programs operating in California and the market is growing as more communities are deciding to adopt this form of electricity distribution. Hanford for example, is considering becoming a CCA.

In this case, Alameda-based EBCE is a not-for-profit public agency that operates a Community Choice Energy program for Alameda County and eleven incorporated cities, serving more than 550,000 residential and commercial customers throughout the county.

Another example of the trend, just last year Japanese-owned Solar Frontier Americas was the winning bidder in two processes  acquiring a not-yet-built 56 megawatt project in Tulare County called Luciana and the proposed 210 MW Mustang Two solar project in Kings County from Canadian Solar’s development business Recurrent Energy. The deal was announced in December.

Located on 1,400 acres in Kings County, California, the Mustang Two project is expected to be operational in 2020. The project will then be operated by Solar Frontier Americas’ growing independent power producer business. Once this project is operational, the energy generated by the solar power facility will be split between two long-term power purchase agreements: Peninsula Clean Energy (the community choice energy agency which serves San Mateo County) is contracted to receive 100 MWac, and the Modesto Irrigation District will acquire 50 MWac. The combined energy generation will power 37,500 homes with clean electricity.

These CCAs, and other non-profit community-based energy providers including the East Bay group EBCE are eager for renewable energy their customers want as California moves to 100% renewables by 2045.

Wind farm to replace 569 older turbines

The Alameda group also looks to phase out fossil fuel power plants and older renewable technology. The Summit Wind Project located in  Altamont Pass near Livermore is located within EBCE’s territory and reflects the community choice provider’s commitment to invest in local, clean energy resources and deliver local benefits they say. The project will entail repowering (replacing) a former Altamont Pass wind farm which consisted of older less efficient wind turbines with ones that are state-of-the-art. San Diego-based Salk LLC will build the new wind farm and sell the energy to the East Bay customers. The 55-MW wind farm is just 35 miles outside Oakland.

Completion and operation of the Summit Wind Project is planned for late 2020. The repowering project will replace 569 one-hundred-kilowatt turbines with 23 modern turbines. Once completed, the repowered wind farm will generate more than 60 percent of its power for Alameda County during peak hours, including the afternoon and high-demand summer months, producing enough clean energy on average to power about 30,000 homes per year.

“More and more, communities want to aggressively address climate change and reducing the use of fossil fuels in our power mix is a big part of that. EBCE is adding new renewable energy generation capacity to the grid that will, in time, serve to phase out our reliance on fossil fuel while also stabilizing our energy costs,” said County Supervisor and EBCE Board Chair, Scott Haggerty.

Renewable energy will also replace fossil fuel now in the heart of Oakland. On June 5, the EBC board approved a contract with Vistra Energy to receive resource adequacy capacity from a 20 MW battery energy storage project that is currently planned to be built as a  partial replacement for an aging, fossil fuel-fired power plant located in the heart of Oakland.

A boom in Valley-based projects

Spokesperson for the Alameda group Annie Henderson says demand for renewable power “is just exploding much faster than state mandates” require because of the proliferation of community-based power providers from LA to the Bay Area  “It is happening much faster than before” she says, noting her Alameda group will be announcing more power purchases from other new San Joaquin Valley solar projects in July.

The Alameda board also gave a green light to a 56MW solar PPA with Solar Frontier Americas for Luciana Solar to be located in Tulare County. The project will be built in southern Tulare County located near Richgrove along Highway 65 says county planner Mike Washam, new to an already operational 20MW solar farm.

Next door in Fresno County the Sonrisa Solar Park project will produce 100MW of solar energy and 30MW of energy storage for  a partnership of Spanish and Portuguese-based utilities who are busy doing renewables in the U.S.

The Sonrisa Solar Park project now owned by EDPR will be located near Tranquility in Fresno County. Construction on the Sonrisa Project will begin in December 2021 and be operational in 2022. It will be EDPR’s first large scale renewable project with storage.

EDPR is already one of the world’s largest wind energy producers and also wants to develop wind energy off the California coast. The company’s footprint in the state includes three phases of the Rising Tree Wind Farm in Kern County as well as two phases of the Lone Valley Solar Park in San Bernardino County.  These projects produce enough clean electricity to annually power more than 101,000 average California homes.

The combination of solar with energy storage system was designed to increase efficiency and provide greater balance in energy supply, says the company.

 

Solar firms heating up in the Valley, by John Lindt, The Sun Gazette, July 10, 2019.

Franklin Energy Launches Innovative Energy Efficiency Pilot Using Online Gamification

Franklin Energy, a leading provider of energy efficiency and grid optimization solutions, announced today that they are launching the Home Energy Rewards Program, an online, reward-style energy efficiency program, to residential Pacific Gas and Electric Company (PG&E) customers.

The pilot program will be launched to a select number of residential customers in San Joaquin and Contra Costa counties. To be eligible for the pilot customers must be single-family residents who have lived in their homes 14 months prior to enrollment and are not participating in any other PG&E program.

Unlike typical energy efficiency programs, the Home Energy Rewards Program rewards customers based on the amount of energy they save – the more they save, the more points they earn. The more points they earn, the higher value gift card they can redeem.

Participating customers earn points right away when they establish their online account, then earn additional points for completing an online Home Energy Assessment. Based on that assessment, the customer receives personalized tips and recommendations for saving energy at home. As customers complete those energy-saving actions, their energy use goes down, resulting in additional reward points.

Customers can also receive a free kit filled with energy-efficient products, deep discounts on smart thermostats, rebates for qualifying smart thermostat installations, and free home energy reports—all designed to reduce their energy use, earn points and lower their utility bill.

The Home Energy Rewards Program is backed by NGAGE™, Franklin Energy’s proprietary technology platform for utilities to connect with customers and enable participation in utility programs throughout every user’s unique journey. NGAGE™ makes communications with customers simple, while increasing program engagement through personalized recommendations and integrated rewards. The platform also provides utility’s reporting and analytics from an integrated data set and supports partners like trade allies and retailers with customized implementation tools.
Customers can check their eligibility to participate in the pilot by visiting homeenergyrewards.com or calling 855-314-9967.

About Franklin Energy
Franklin Energy delivers, facilitates and implements flexible energy efficiency and grid optimization programs that enable utilities to achieve their highest-priority goals. The company’s integrated in-house services and proven software provide deeper personalization and insights for utilities, their customers and their partners alike. Franklin’s NGAGE™ platform is a scalable end-to-end solution that seamlessly integrates utility portfolio programs into a single web-based user interface for more efficient portfolio administration and more effective customer engagement. The company is celebrating its 25th year serving the utility industry, with solutions implemented by more than 1,000 experts in more than 60 offices across more than 25 states and provinces.

The Home Energy Rewards Program is funded by California utility customers and administered through PG&E under the auspices of the California Public Utilities Commission. The program is implemented and managed by Franklin Energy and their authorized representatives.

 

Franklin Energy Launches Innovative Energy Efficiency Pilot Using Online Gamification, Press Release, PR Vision, July 8, 2019.

Local and state efforts to electrify our vehicles will yield great benefits for everyone

 By Destiny Rodriguez

When I think of banks, I don’t think of these institutions as supporting pollution-free transportation or lowering greenhouse gas emissions and improving local air quality. However, Beneficial State bank is doing all three of these things by promoting clean vehicles in the Fresno area and throughout the Central Valley.

On June 11, 2019, Beneficial State bank invited me to attend their electric vehicle (EV) charging station ribbon cutting. The bank installed 10 new (EV) chargers available to the public. This project was funded by CALeVIP through the California Energy Commission. Center for Sustainable Energy manages the program locally.

The ribbon cutting garnered interest and attendance from the San Joaquin Valley Air Pollution Control District, local nonprofits, businesses, government and environmentalists alike. Supervisor Buddy Mendes spoke in support of this change sweeping across the nation, and how Fresno is now getting on board. Beneficial State bank is hopeful their example will lead to other business institutions offering (EV) charging for the area.

Gustavo Occhiuzzo, CEO for Green Commuter, cutting the ribbon during the ceremony.

“It takes a village to produce an electric vehicle ecosystem, there are a lot of moving parts here. It is not enough to just have the vehicles, we have to have the charging infrastructure so that everyone can benefit from electric transportation,” said Patty Monahan, Commissioner for the California Energy Commission.

Community Choice Energy could essentially help this effort for the Central Valley, as it also promotes clean energy to help reduce greenhouse gas emissions and to overall improve our air quality. It is inspiring to see these changes as a resident, and I am hopeful for what this means for our valley.

While these local efforts are key, state efforts are probably even more important. At the Center for Climate Protection, we are working to build a coalition to usher in a clean car revolution via sound policy at the state level. We were encouraged to see that the California Air Resources Board may be allocating money to creating a plan to transform our transportation system to all-electric vehicles at the speed necessary to meet our state greenhouse gas emission goals.

With both local and state efforts, we are optimistic that together we can implement the policies we need to avoid the worst impacts of climate change and at the same time, build a thriving green economy that serves everyone.

Does Fresno Need To Make An Energy Choice?

In the Fresno area, more than 750 manufacturing businesses use the bulk of electricity directed here by Pacific Gas & Electric, but the cost of that energy is among the most expensive in California, said Mike Betts, president and CEO of the Betts Co., a south Fresno manufacturer of industrial springs and truck accessories.

In fact, he noted that manufacturers here pay up to 40% percent more than manufacturers in coastal California.

“We’re also paying three to five times more for energy than other states, like Texas and Oklahoma. Manufacturing pays the bulk of the cost for the energy,” Betts said to the small audience attending the Fresno Community Choice Energy Business Forum June 5 at the Central Valley Community Foundation headquarters in Fresno.

Energy choice

Community Choice Energy — more commonly referred to as “Community Choice Aggregation” (CCA) — is a program California lawmakers approved in 2002 allowing cities and counties to individually or jointly purchase electricity on their own, allowing them to control prices and choose the source.

Currently, there are 19 CCAs, most in coastal and southern areas of the state, and Hanford is in the process of forming the Valley’s first CCA, while a proposal to fund a $60,000 research project to determine the pros and cons of forming a Fresno CCA has been included in the city’s budget proposal the city council has been hashing out this week.

Right choice for Fresno?

“The two big things I think will be very beneficial to Fresno in looking at securing the possibility of this in the future is, one, it will allow us to shape and really route the energy the way we want it to,” said Fresno City Councilmember Luis Chavez, who put forth the CCA study proposal and spoke at the June 5 event.

Though the study hasn’t been funded yet, Chavez said he believes forming a local CCA could provide savings for the low-income residents of his district, as well as savings that could serve as incentives for manufacturers to stay or locate here.

PG&E maintains a role

If a CCA is formed, it wouldn’t mean Fresno is getting into the energy business — at least not fully. While CCAs decide from where to purchase electricity and the rates charged to customers, distribution is still provided by the electrical utilities — PG&E among them — along with maintaining electrical poles and wires and other tasks to maintain the electrical grid.

As such, the utilities charge their own separate rates for their services, as well as handing the billing for themselves and the CCAs.

Besides being a speaker at last week’s event, Betts, who also is president of the San Joaquin Valley Manufacturing Alliance, said he also was there to learn about CCAs and share that information with other Valley manufacturers to decided if they favor forming a Fresno CCA.

Rate hikes in the future

He said manufacturers are worried their energy costs are going to go up soon — perhaps considerably — as PG&E seems likely to have to pay billions of dollars in damages for its equipment reportedly causing a series of California wildfires in recent years, among them the devastating Camp Fire that destroyed more than 21,000 homes in parts of six counties in Northern California.

In April, the utility asked the state Public Utilities Commission (PUC) permission for a rate hike estimated to cost residential customers about $22 more a month.

For manufacturers and other heavy energy users, cold storage businesses among them, the extra costs could be in the thousands or tens of thousands of dollars.

Rate flexibility

While CCAs can’t prevent the utility’s hikes for distributing power, they could set their own rates low enough to somewhat offset the PG&E hikes.

In addition, Betts said, the CCAs that have formed have programs to help customers, which have included funding electric vehicle charging stations and others to offset some of the costs to buy electric vehicles.

“We want to know more about those programs — all of them — to understand the positive impacts not only [for] a business but on homeowners.”

Distribution practicalities

Officials with Santa Rosa-based Center for Climate Protection, which organized last week’s Fresno event, have noted that an important part of what CCAs do is choose from where they buy energy and how much of it comes from renewable sources — wind generators, solar, etc. —though in actuality even if contracts are signed with wind generator plants in the California desert and solar farms up north, that electricity wouldn’t go to customers in the client cities or counties. Instead, the electricity is directed into the electrical grid, from which all customers pull their electricity, and they’re charged for it at their set rates.

Right to opt out

Individual customers in any CCA have the right to opt out and get their services entirely from the utilities at their rates.

For his part, Chavez said even without a local CCA study, he believes one here could save residential and business customers money, because it would foster competition among energy suppliers, and the electrical utilities no longer would be alone shopping among power providers.

“And everybody knows, when you have competition, that causes prices to go down,” he said in an interview.

Summer stress

He said a major reason for the Valley’s higher rates compared to other parts of the state is that it gets so hot here in the summer months that electrical systems work harder due to the added demand from cooling homes and businesses, adding to the costs of running and maintaining electrical systems here.

Those added energy costs could determine whether some businesses stay or locate here, so it’s particularly important to find ways to reduce local electricity costs, he said.

Betts agreed, noting that part of the reason Hanford is forming a CCA is to offer Faraday Future, the electric car plant under development in the city, a break on its energy costs and to create an incentive to draw other businesses into the city.

“Industry, all of us, are very concerned about the environment, but I think we need to be realistic about what’s most important — good-paying jobs. And we don’t want to be scaring industry away from here. We want industry to want to come and invest here … and exorbitant energy costs will drive people from here,” Betts said.

 

Does Fresno Need To Make An Energy Choice?, by David Castellon, Fresno Business Journal, June 25, 2019.