Town of Truckee receives Silver Beacon Award

The Town of Truckee has been awarded a 2019 Silver Beacon Award by the Institute for Local Government for efforts made toward sustainability.

The annual Beacon Awards recognize the measurable achievements of towns and cities that are working to address climate change through reductions of greenhouse gases, electric and natural gas savings, and other activities involving sustainability and use of best practices.

“For more than 10 years, the Beacon Program has encouraged, supported and recognized voluntary action by local governments throughout California to address climate change, promote energy innovation and create more sustainable communities,” a letter to the town announcing the award stated. “Dedication from local governments such as yours are truly making a difference.”

The honor is Truckee’s first full Beacon Award. In 2018, four other towns and cities in California received Silver Beacon Awards and two received gold awards.

“The overall award is attributed most entirely to the Truckee Donner Public Utility District because of their renewable portfolio purchasing. They are going out to market and buying clean energy solutions for our community,” said Town of Truckee Administrative Analyst II Nicholas Martin.

“Their customers speak to their board, and their board has heard loud and clear that a priority of our community is to have renewable energy. And so they have made that a large priority in how they procure their power. That makes up a huge chunk of those emission reductions in the community.”

Community greenhouse gases were reduced by 33%, according to information supplied to the Institute for Local Government, which qualified as platinum level in the four areas of accomplishment required to receive a Beacon Award. The town reached gold levels for a 12% reduction in agency greenhouse gases and an agency energy savings of 13%.

“Some of those activities include a handful of energy efficiency retrofit projects that we have done and will be doing this year on our own town facilities,” said Martin. “There’s almost 100,00-kilowatt hours in savings that we will be implementing and have already implemented at town hall, at our corporation yard, and other facilities that the town owns.”

The town also reached a silver level for natural gas savings of 6%, which Martin said were due to boiler insulation projects and other projects related to heating.

‘SMALLER ACTIONS … BIG IMPACTS’

Last year, the town received a silver level spotlight award for sustainability best practice activities. This year, Truckee moved up to a gold level spotlight award, partially due to bringing in a consultant team, which produced a strategic energy plan that included $300,000 worth of recommended energy efficiency actions. The town budgeted $240,000 to implement those improvements in the 2019-2020 fiscal year.

Other activities that bought Truckee up to a gold level included partnering with regional agencies to produce the Tahoe-Sierra Stormwater Resource Plan, launching of the Keep Truckee Green website, replacing streetlights along Brockway Road with solar-powered lights, installation of roundabouts to improve traffic flow, the town’s involvement in preserving the Truckee River corridor and Donner Lake, and several others.

“This year, one of (town council’s) top priorities, right along with housing, is addressing climate change at a local level and how we can become a more sustainable town. Their guidance and leadership put staff in the direction where we could go to work on theses good projects,” said Martin.

“We’re a small jurisdiction, so sometimes smaller actions can have a bigger impact.”

 

Town of Truckee receives Silver Beacon Award, by Justin Scacco, Sierra Sun, September 13, 2019.

Another California County May Want to Buy Piece of Bankrupt PG&E

A rural county near Sacramento is joining the list of California communities that are interested in seizing pieces of bankrupt utility giant PG&E Corp.

On Friday, a public power agency serving Yolo County said it would examine the possibility of buying out PG&E’s local poles and wires. “Exploring the feasibility of this option is the responsible thing to do for our customers,” said Tom Stallard, board chairman for Valley Clean Energy. “And the timing of this opportunity is unique.”

No sooner had PG&E filed for bankruptcy in January, facing an estimated $30 billion in wildfire liabilities, than San Francisco officials started studying buying out the company’s equipment within their city — PG&E’s hometown. San Francisco hasn’t yet decided whether to make PG&E an offer.

In California’s Central Valley, an irrigation district that has tried in the past to buy PG&E’s local equipment or seize it through eminent domain, the South San Joaquin Irrigation District, also is considering a bid. And the mayors of San Jose and Oakland, California, joined San Francisco Mayor London Breed in opposing state legislation that made it more difficult to buy a piece of the company.

 

Another California County May Want to Buy Piece of Bankrupt PG&E, by David R. Baker, Bloomberg, August 9, 2019.

PG&E hosts series of northern California open houses as threat of extreme weather looms

Pacific Gas & Electric has hosted about 23 open house discussions with the public around the North State, said Brandi Merlo, media spokesperson for the company’s northern California region.

Tuesday evening an event was held at Grass Valley’s Foothills Event Center. Wednesday included a talk in Auburn, and Thursday PG&E representatives were engaging people in Placerville. Around 100 people attended each event.

“We want customers to come out,” said Merlo. “We want to answer their questions one-on-one.”

These open houses have occurred as growing caution of extreme weather and wildfire increases.

Merlo said the company wants to inform customers of its three general safety tactics, including monitoring and intelligence, system hardening (adding coded wire) and enhanced clearance work.

“It’s just built upon stuff we’ve done previously,” said Merlo.

In the event of a possible wildfire, the company provides 48 hours of notice before cutting power, including notifications via phone, text and email, said Merlo.

For “medical baseline” customers, who need electrical power to live, PG&E must have a response from those customers. If they don’t, it sends a vehicle to their home.

Merlo said the company hopes to establish “community resource centers” that act as cooling stations with electrical outlets in areas where power has been shut off.

CONTEXT

The open house talks come amidst much recent news concerning PG&E.

In January the utility company filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy in the Northern District of California, citing that it could not afford $30 billion in liabilities from wildfire damage in 2017 and 2018.

After investigating California’s deadliest wildfire, Cal Fire officials said electrical lines owned and operated by PG&E in the Pulga area were responsible for the Camp Fire’s cause, according to NPR reporting. In May, PG&E CEO Bill Johnson told the Associated Press that he “made the assumption” that PG&E equipment was responsible for the Camp Fire.

This month, state legislators passed Assembly Bill 1054 to compensate victims of recent wildfires. The legislation creates a $21 billion fund, half of which is financed by ratepayers, the other half by utility investors.

The fund will provide compensation to people affected by damage caused by extreme weather events linked to PG&E.

State Sen. Jerry Hill, who called the utility company “corrupt,” came out in support of state Assembly Bill 1054, saying it intends to hold PG&E, among other utility companies, accountable for wildfire damage over the past two years. The bill also would cap ratepayers’ contributions to the fund.

Thursday, PG&E said it will pay $4.8 billion into the new fund once it is no longer in bankruptcy, in addition to $193 million per year, according to the Associated Press.

While there was no mention of investment in renewable energy as part of PG&E’s media advisory regarding its open house talks, the company says it’s exploring clean energy, according to a June 2018 report. In 2017, its power sources were 33% renewable.

In 2015, California lawmakers passed Senate Bill 350, requiring the state to increase its renewable electricity goal to 50% by 2030. To facilitate the process, lawmakers mandated utility companies, like PG&E, develop integrated resource plans detailing how they will “meet their customers’ resource needs, reduce greenhouse gas emissions and ramp up the use of clean energy resources,” according to the California Energy Commission.

PG&E’s website claimed the company to be “well on our way” to meeting the guidelines set by the bill.

With the passage of Senate Bill 100 in September 2018, California lawmakers moved closer to relying on renewable energy sources, mandating the state rely on 50% of its energy to stem from renewables by 2026, 60 percent by 2030, and 100% of its energy to come from carbon-free sources by 2045.

Contact Sam Corey at 530-477-4219 or at scorey@theunion.com.

 

PG&E hosts series of northern California open houses as threat of extreme weather looms, by Sam Corey, The Union, July 26, 2019.

Tensions run high at PG&E rate hike meetings

CHICO — It was standing room only at the Butte County Association of Government Chambers on Thursday, while the California Public Utilities Commission heard public comment on Pacific Gas & Electric Corp.’s request to charge its customers nearly $2 billion more over the next three years.

The utility company says it plans to use the money to help pay for wildfire safety improvements and other costs.

“The 2020 GRC proposal, which is the focus of Thursday’s public participation hearings, does not include costs associated with the 2017 and 2018 wildfires, said PG&E spokeswoman Kristi Jourdan in an email the day before the meeting. “PG&E has the authority to track costs from these fires, including costs associated with repairs, restoration, damages and third-party claims, in memorandum accounts but would have to seek authorization from the (public utilities commission) through a separate application to recover those costs.”

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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.

Solar sales in Chico break records, concerns about PG&E rates rise

CHICO — More energy customers are switching to solar every year in Butte County, and numbers are especially high this year in Chico after the Camp Fire, according to PG&E and local solar companies.

More customers had already made the switch by June than in the last two years. The increase reflects the push for solar and the growth of the market nationwide.

The U.S. Burea of Labor Census reported that by 2026, employment for solar installers is expected to grow 105% — much faster than the average for most other occupations. The Yale School of Forestry & Environmental Studies reported that 2.5 gigawatts of solar capacity were installed in the first quarter of 2018, an annual growth of 13% and accounting for 55% of all new U.S. electricity capacity for the period, according to GTM Research and the Solar Energy Industries Association.

Although solar installs are nothing new across the state, the numbers have seen especially impressive jumps in Chico in the last decade.

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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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