Power to the People: County, city of Chico move forward to create alternative to PG&E

Come 2021, residents of the city of Chico and unincorporated Butte County will have a choice in regard to energy providers. That’s because they’re joining forces to create what essentially will be their own utility—just without the need to build infrastructure.

“It’s an opportunity to find a semblance of local control for electricity needs, plus cost savings,” said Mark Orme, Chico city manager. “Those are our two primary objectives, in conjunction with choice.”

It’s called a community choice aggregation (CCA), and it boils down to forming a joint powers authority to purchase energy based on a community’s needs and then sell it to residents, according to Brian Ring, assistant chief administrative officer for the county. PG&E would still provide the infrastructure, but the CCA would be able to determine where the energy is sourced (i.e., how much of it is solar or hydropower, etc.) and set competitive prices.

“There’s a lot more interest right now, especially because of the issues surrounding PG&E, including potential rate increases,” Orme told the CN&R. The Chico City Council voted to move forward with a CCA in December, he noted.

At its June 25 meeting, the Board of Supervisors followed suit. Other jurisdictions will be able to join, Ring said, but timing is key—there is a full calendar year of wait time after a proposal is submitted to the California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC). So, Chico and Butte County have till the end of December to finalize a plan. That entails, among other details, determining the makeup of a joint powers authority, plus outlining the amount of energy they anticipate needing. If approved by the CPUC, the CCA would launch in January 2021.

Butte County has been looking at the idea of a CCA since 2017, Ring told the board at its last meeting. A year ago, after hiring a consultant to crunch the numbers, it was found to be financially feasible—so long as at least the city of Chico was on board to ensure enough customers. Throughout California, CCAs have been growing in popularity, he added.

“There are 18 or 19 CCAs on the market [in California] right now,” Ring told the CN&R. “None have failed, all have been successful.”

Aside from giving the community a choice in energy providers—customers will be able to choose between sticking with PG&E and switching to the CCA—the model also offers an opportunity to provide cleaner energy. The CCA would choose among power sources and offer a variety of options to customers—from 100 percent renewable to much less, with costs matching accordingly.

“For a lot of folks, greener energy production is really something that they’re extremely interested in,” Orme said.

Plus, down the road, once revenues are generated, the CCA would be able to invest in local programs, including energy production, Ring told the CN&R.

“In the long run, the potential benefits of CCAs that we’ve seen are the ability, as they generate more revenue, to make interesting decisions to use those funds to keep costs down, [and] invest in programs that are unique and specific to the region,” he said. “Also, maybe you invest in your own energy program—such as solar. You get to get creative.”

One potential pitfall of a CCA is the continued reliance on PG&E for infrastructure, as chair Steve Lambert expressed at the supervisors meeting.

Ring said that PG&E would not be able to charge the CCA more than individual customers. He told the CN&R that the CCA also would not be liable for any of PG&E’s infrastructure. So, in the case of a future wildfire, for instance, the poles and wires still would be property of that utility.

“I trust our ability locally more than I trust PG&E,” Supervisor Tami Ritter, whose district includes parts of Chico, told the board. “I think local control is a good option, because … that money that we’re building into the reserve, it’s coming back to us versus going to shareholders for PG&E, which is the last place I want our money to go.”

 

Power to the people: County, city of Chico move forward to create alternative to PG&E, by Meredith J. Cooper, News Review, July 11, 2019.

Siskiyou County recognized for energy efficiency

County of Siskiyou has received $34,000 in wattsmart business incentives from Pacific Power for these projects. The energy-cost savings resulting from the projects reduce the county’s electric bill by more than $42,650 annually.

The County of Siskiyou was presented with a Pacific Power wattsmart Business Partner of the Year award on Tuesday, June 4, to recognize energy efficiency installed measures at county facilities. Pacific Power Regional Business Manager Monte Mendenhall attended the meeting to present the award.

He noted that since 2016, the County of Siskiyou has completed 11 energy-efficiency projects in partnership with Pacific Power. The county has been working through its buildings to upgrade to energy-saving LED lighting. Most of those upgrades have been from 4 lamp T8/T12 fluorescents to 2-lamp tubular LED replacements and de-lamping.

Some of the buildings benefitting from the upgrades include the Siskiyou County Library, the Siskiyou County Courthouse and Siskiyou County Road Department building.

In total, these projects yield nearly 285,500 kilowatt-hours a year of energy savings, enough to power approximately 27 typical homes in northern California for a year, Mendenhall said.

County of Siskiyou has received $34,000 in wattsmart business incentives from Pacific Power for these projects. The energy-cost savings resulting from the projects reduce the county’s electric bill by more than $42,650 annually.

‒ Homes calculation based on:

862 kWh/month for the average California residential customer (2018 data).

862 x 12 months – 10,344 kwh/year

285,500/10,344 = # of homes

County of Siskiyou Administrator Terry Barber expressed, “As a small, rural, economically poor county, programs like this make it possible for us to modernize our facilities and stretch our scarce resources. We’re proud of our facilities team who used the program to improve lighting and employee safety at several facilities while lowering our overall utility operating costs for the County and taxpayers.”

Mendenhall stated, “We are excited to recognize County of Siskiyou as the wattsmart Business Partner of the Year for their leadership and commitment to realizing significant energy cost-savings. Pacific Power is always looking for ways to work with our business customers, big and small, to help power their bottom line while looking at the bigger picture. Programs like wattsmart give us an avenue to have a direct impact on business customers’ out-of-pocket energy costs while also doing something good for the environment through efficiency upgrades.”

Pacific Power’s wattsmart Business is available to commercial, industrial and agricultural customers in California for technical expertise and cash incentives to improve energy efficiency. For details on how to participate in energy-saving programs, visit bewattsmart.com.

 

County recognized for energy efficiency, by Danielle Jester, Taft Midway Driller, June 13, 2019.

Panels be gone: Butte County to pilot California’s new solar recycling program

As recycling coordinator for Butte County, Steve Rodowick appreciates steps residents take to reduce their impact on the environment. Solar-electric systems represent a significant step, reducing a household’s use of fossil fuels—in fact, starting next year, California will require rooftop solar for all new homes.

Thing is, panels don’t last forever. They generally have lifespans of 20 years; their effectiveness tends to diminish by 1 percent per year. They’re also subject to damage.

As older systems wear out, and more systems go up, the number of panels to dispose of multiplies.

The issue: Where to take them?

Though the state in 2015 reclassified solar panels from hazardous waste to universal waste—lessening restrictions for handling and disposal, on par with electronics—the California Department of Toxic Substances Control has not finalized regulations. The closest processing facilities are in Nevada and Texas.

Landfills and recycling centers don’t accept solar panels. Rodowick said installers frequently ask him, “What do we do with these?”

His answer applies to property owners, too: “What I can tell them right now is, ‘Sit on them, stockpile them, till things change.’ Currently it would be a huge expense to palletize, shrink-wrap and ship these as hazardous waste to whatever facility in the country would take them.

“These panels started to go on roofs 30-some-odd years ago; they’re coming off—so there’s a huge backlog of first-generation panels needing to be dealt with, and there’s no place to put them right now.”

Rodowick serves on the board of the California Product Stewardship Council (CPSC), an organization representing local governments and businesses seeking solutions to end-of-use problems such as this. Joanne Brasch, an industrial economist and scientist who’s special projects manager for the CPSC, said a survey recently conducted by the group found nearly 21 percent of Butte County residents plan to install solar systems in the next five years and just over 11 percent already have solar.

“Butte County is at the forefront, especially with all the houses that are going to be rebuilt [from the Camp Fire]—just so many more solar panels,” said Brasch, a Paradise native. “People want renewable energy, and it’s a great option—we just need to make sure, as we switch technological systems, we have the infrastructure and education for end-of-life management.”

Toward that end, Butte County is joining the city of Santa Monica in a pilot program for solar panel disposal.

The county, in conjunction with Oroville, received a grant from the California Department of Resources Recycling and Recovery (CalRecycle) to help the state move forward. A portion of the grant—which also promotes refillable propane cylinders—will be used to create surveys to determine the amount and types of solar panels in the county, as well as organize a take-back event where the county would accept and ship discarded panels.

Brasch anticipates the event occurring early next year. Rodowick, retiring in August after 16 years with the county, won’t be on the job at that point but plans to remain on the CPSC board.

Lance Klug, spokesman for CalRecycle, told the CN&R via email that “Butte County’s $100,000 grant project is just one example of the proactive steps California is taking to develop the infrastructure we need to safely manage solar panels and other emerging technologies. CalRecycle will continue to work alongside our state and local partners to pursue innovative solutions to [household hazardous waste] management that protect the health of Californians and their environment without creating undue burdens on local governments or ratepayers.”

Solar panels pose a disposal challenge because their components vary widely. Equipment from different manufacturers and eras contain vastly different materials. Some early models don’t even have a manufacturer’s identifier or serial number.

Opening up a panel, Rodowick said, can present “a big unknown.” Contents may include heavy metals such as chromium, selenium, lead and arsenic—“so they are indeed hazardous.”

“There’s been no tracking of what manufacturer produces what type of panel,” he added. “Some are relatively benign, some aren’t; nobody knows which are which.”

CalRecycle and the CPSC hope the pilot program sheds light on what panels are prevalent. Butte County will act as the rural, Northern California sample; Santa Monica will exemplify urban, Southern California municipalities. Brasch’s team will tally the general type of panel returned at each location’s takeback event.

“We’ll know when the time comes closer how crazy it will be,” she said. “Will we get thousands of people, [to] where we have to turn them away? Will we only get a few hundred, to where we’re trying extra hard to fill our truck?

“At this point, we’d rather fill the truck, have too many and find another way to ship the extra.”

Surveying in advance will help with the forecast. Brasch also is hosting a webinar on the program today (see infobox). Rodowick is optimistic about the prospects.

“There’s probably a tremendous amount of electronic waste recyclers currently out there who’d be more than willing to take on the task of recycling these panels; however, currently, they’re not allowed to,” he said. “If there’s money to be made, we’ll have companies out there willing to do it compliantly.”

 

Panels be gone: Butte County to pilot California’s new solar recycling program, by Evan Tuchinsky, News Review, June 13, 2019.

Placing power lines underground is an expensive way to reduce fire danger

The worst fire in California history took off at a spot notorious for its intense winds.

The gusts — some topping 100 mph — blow down the Feather River Canyon each fall. They push into the town of Paradise with force, powered by high-pressure air parked over the Great Basin that moves through this narrow corridor of the Sierra Nevada.

In November, the winds blasted through the canyon with warm, dry air at sunrise. Power equipment owned by Pacific Gas & Electric Co. failed, sparking a fire that killed 85 people and destroyed most of the town of Paradise in a matter of hours.

This week, PG&E announced it would rebuild Paradise’s power system underground. The process is expensive and speaks to the huge challenges facing California utilities after a series of destructive fires, experts say.

Utilities have been blamed for starting more than 2,000 fires in the last few years, including the Camp fire in Paradise, the wine country infernos and the Thomas fire, which blackened 281,893 acres in Ventura and Santa Barbara counties in 2017.

“It didn’t used to be so dangerous,” said Michael Wara, director of Stanford University’s climate and energy policy program. “What’s become different in California is we have existing high fire risk — we’ve had it forever — we’ve been suppressing fire [for decades] pretty effectively, and we’ve built up all this valuable real estate and put people where the fires burned, and it’s all coming to a head.”

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As California Wildfire Season Looms, Finding Tree Trimmers Is a New Problem

OAKHURST, Calif. — Pacific Gas & Electric has a big problem. Its equipment keeps coming into contact with dry trees and shrubs and starting devastating wildfires. So the company is scrambling to trim or cut down hundreds of thousands of trees across its vast Northern California territory.

But it has another problem: finding people to do that work.

Beyond the tight labor market, there is the challenge of enlisting a certain kind of worker for the difficult and dangerous job. To trim trees well, especially the 200-footers in the Sierra Nevada forests, contractors must be strong and agile, and able to handle fear and adrenaline surges.

When all goes well, “it’s like Cirque du Soleil up in the trees,” said Jose Mercado, founder of the Hispanic Arborist Association, who climbed trees professionally for more than two decades near Los Angeles. “You’re in the best physical condition of your life.”

When things go wrong, the consequences can be deadly. Since 2017, the Labor Department has tracked 127 deaths related to tree work nationally, including 20 in California. Among the top causes of injury or death are strikes by branches, electrocution and falls.

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Free workshops on energy efficiency for home and business

Energy Savings Solutions is a series of free educational workshops in Grass Valley starting this spring.

Offered will be cost-effective strategies for conserving energy and water at their home or business while still maintaining comfort.

In conjunction with the Grass Valley Energy Action Plan approved last fall, the aim of the workshop series is to educate and inspire community members to take action to reduce their energy consumption while saving money and benefiting the environment. Attendees will leave the workshop with practical, cost-effective strategies for conserving energy and water.

The events will be held on Wednesday, May 1, and Monday, June 3 from 6 p.m. to 7:30 p.m. at the Grass Valley Courtyard Suites.

The workshops are taught by engineers and industry experts and will focus on three core areas of energy efficiency: water heating efficiency, building efficiency, and heating and cooling. The first workshop on water and energy efficiency will be led by Gary Klein, an energy conservation expert, who worked 25 years at the California Energy Commission.

His broad scope of knowledge includes regional water budgets and distribution on the macro-scale to plumbing and water heating on the building level. Another workshop leader is mechanical engineer Ray Darby, an expert in energy efficiency and solar energy, who has worked in the field since 1980 in many areas such as the construction of solar and energy efficient building installations.

In November 2018, Grass Valley approved the city Energy Action Plan. The plan includes an analysis of energy use within the city limits and the development of guidelines to advance energy conservation efforts and to promote renewable energy adoption in Grass Valley.

“The Energy Action Plan is a community-oriented, multi-year plan to reduce Grass Valley’s natural gas and electricity usage by 29 percent and 36 percent respectively, and will save the community over $10 million over the course of 15 years,” said Simone Cordery-Cotter, an AmeriCorps CivicSpark Climate Fellow at Sierra Business Council. Cordery-Cotter is one of the leading coordinators of the Energy Action Plan working group, a grassroots coalition of local businesses, non-profit organizations, and community members trying to raise awareness and to implement the plan.

Members include representatives from Sierra Business Council, the Grass Valley Chamber of Commerce, Sustainable Energy Group, Nevada City Climate Change Coalition, and Cal Solar Electric.

Energy Savings Solutions, a project led by Renata Langis, is one of the outcomes of this collaborative effort of community members, businesses, and industry experts. Shortly after the Action Plan was approved, Langis joined the working group and got inspired to organize public workshops to engage a larger audience in discussion and action about energy conservation.

For more information about the Energy Savings Solutions Series, please contact Renata Langis at 530-588-3220 or rnlangis@gmail.com or visit the Facebook page.

KNOW & GO

WHAT: Free Energy Savings Solutions workshops

WHERE: Grass Valley Courtyard Suites, 210 North Auburn Street, Grass Valley

WHEN: 6 p.m. to 7:30 p.m., Tuesday, May 1 and June 3,

INFO: Please contact Renata Langis at 530-588-3220 or rnlangis@gmail.com.

 

Free workshops on energy efficiency for home and business, The Union, March 31, 2019.

Power companies want to dodge clean energy goals by counting in old dams

California power companies have an appealing but flawed argument with the state’s goal of 100% clean energy by 2045. They want existing dams that churn out carbon-free electricity to count toward that mark, making it easier and cheaper to meet their climate-friendly obligations.

A pending bill, SB386, sounds narrow and focused, but it’s not. It would allow the Modesto irrigation district that operates Don Pedro Dam astride the Tuolumne River to total the cranked out electricity toward its renewable energy quota. That exemption would mean less need to buy juice from solar, wind and other green sources and save money for ratepayers.

It’s a pitch that power companies have made for years but without success. Why? Because such an exemption would hamstring the growth of renewables in a state with the nation’s dirtiest air. Green sources need to expand, not stall out. A loophole for dam operators will chip away at the overall goal. Regulations also soften the financial pressure on power firms by limiting the expense of buying clean energy.

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Nevada City presentation: cutting carbon via the marketplace

A workshop on carbon pricing marketplace strategies will take place at 7 p.m. on May 16 in the Community Room of the Madelyn Helling Library in Nevada City. Donations are welcome. Scientists estimate that the world has around 12 years to get control of greenhouse gas emissions to avoid the worst consequences of the climate crisis. We must curtail our use of the fossil fuels that are pervasive throughout our economy. Our choices appear stark — start paying now, or likely pay much more later in terms of health, safety and economic impact.

But increasing the cost of fossil fuels will impact the economy, so how can this cost impose the least burden to consumers? Ideas and opinions abound, and soon citizens will evaluate the political candidates and their platforms on the climate crisis to decide whose approach is most sensible.

This workshop explores carbon pricing marketplace strategies in place now and the results. Have greenhouse gases been reduced, and by how much? Has it had a negative or positive impact on taxpayers and the economy? What current legislative proposals might be effective in cutting carbon use?

Three guest speakers who are well-versed in climate-related topics will provide a fact-based overview of the existing California Cap and Trade system and British Columbia, Canada’s Fee and Dividend system. A U.S. proposal, the Energy Innovation and Carbon Dividend Act introduced into Congress this year, will also be summarized.

Following the overview, the audience is encouraged to participate in a facilitated discussion on the material covered as well as other possible approaches.

Speakers will include:

Ray Darby, founder of the Sustainable Energy Group in Nevada County. He is an energy engineer who has worked over 10 years with the California Energy Commission as well as 30 years in private business on energy research and design, standards and installation of energy systems.

Renata Langis, a member of the Working Group supporting the City of Grass Valley’s Energy Action Plan (EAP). The group is a coalition of local businesses, nonprofit organizations, and community members helping to implement the Plan’s road map for accelerating energy efficiency, water efficiency, and renewable energy efforts. Current members include representatives from Sierra Business Council, the Grass Valley Chamber of Commerce, Sustainable Energy Group, Nevada City Climate Action Now, and Cal Solar Electric.

Bob Miller, a volunteer with the Nevada County chapter of Citizens Climate Lobby who speaks locally on the Energy Innovation and Carbon Dividend Act. Doors open at 7 and the program begins at 7:15 p.m. Donations are welcome. For more information contact Debbie Gibbs at 530-272-4994 or debgibbs2020@gmail.com.

 

Nevada City presentation: cutting carbon via the marketplace, by Debbie Gibbs, The Union, May 9, 2019.

Trump plan for fracking 1 million acres in California bad for Yosemite, opponents say

The Trump Administration announced a plan this week to open up more than 1 million acres of land to fracking — a plan environmentalists argue could affect protected national parks.

The Bureau of Land Management released an environmental impact statement on Thursday that considers new oil and gas development on 1.6 million acres across central and Southern California, neighboring Yosemite, Kings Canyon and Sequoia national parks. among other sites.

The bureau has not issued any fracking leases since a 2013 court ruling that the agency had violated the National Environmental Policy Act without first considering environmental impacts.

National parks and the Central Valley already suffer from poor air quality and fracking would only pile onto that problem, according to Mark Rose, National Parks Conservation Association’s Sierra Nevada field representative.

“The risks posed to our national parks by further oil and gas development — particularly these iconic treasures that helped to inspire the modern-day conservation movement — is saddening to say the least,” he said.

The planning area is located in Fresno, Kern, Kings, Madera, San Luis Obispo, Santa Barbara, Tulare, and Ventura counties

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A sustainable Truckee: town working toward 100 percent renewable energy goal

Truckee is moving closer towards its sustainability goals with preliminary plans on how to power town facilities with 100% renewable electricity by 2020. However, town staff is still on a tight deadline.

In November 2017, the town council adopted its 2020 goal, as well as intentions to power the community with 100% renewable electricity and reduce community greenhouse gas emissions 80% by 2040.

According to Town Manager Jeff Loux, the town has spent around $16 million on sustainability projects over the last five years. These included sidewalk improvements and the addition of bike lanes, as well as energy efficiency projects.

To meet the 2020 goal, the staff must figure out exactly what 100% renewable energy means for the town. Potential interpretations of the goal include the town installing solar energy to cover 30 to 40% of the non-renewable energy electricity the town uses though Truckee Donner Public Utility District or utilizing solar to cover 100% of its electrical use.

According to Nick Martin, administrative analyst for the town, half of his time as a town employee is allocated towards sustainability activities.

“We’re making a commitment to this,” he said. “We have the skills that we need and now we have the allocation to really do good work for the town.”

IDENTIFYING OPPORTUNITIES

Last year the town hired ARC Alternatives, a clean energy consulting firm, to determine potential upgrades the town could make.

The firm set forth $300,000 worth of recommended energy efficiency projects including replacing the current exterior and interior lighting on town facilities and replacing older heating, ventilation and air conditioning systems. Their report suggested that the projects would save $36,000 per year on energy costs. In recent years the town has upgraded to LED lighting as opportunities have presented themselves through regular maintenance.

“The town has been doing a really good job as they do maintenance doing upgrades,” said Russell Driver of ARC Alternatives.

The firm also found up to $4.8 million in potential solar generation projects at town sites including the corp yard, animal shelter, town hall, the train depot, and the old corp yard.

“As we define the town goal, this will significantly define what projects the town decides to take on,” said Gillian Greenberg, sustainability specialist for the town of Truckee, of ARC’s report.

Truckee Donner Public Utility District currently offers up incentives for commercial customers upgrading to energy efficient operations, granting $10,000 per customer. At its latest meeting, the district’s board of directors approved up to $60,000 worth of incentives for the town, one incentive per project site.

“I think the town has a real role to play in terms of leadership on this issue,” said Council Member David Tirman.

While council members agreed the town should carry the torch, they also recognized the need for more community outreach.

“What I’d like to see is engagement in the community,” said Council Member Anna Klovstad. “While the town can have a huge impact what we really need is a community response.”

Hannah Jones is a reporter for the Sierra Sun. She can be reached at 530-550-2652 or hjones@sierrasun.com.

 

A sustainable Truckee: town working toward 100 percent renewable energy goal, by Hannah Jones, Sierra Sun, April 13, 2019.