California’s ambitious clean energy mandate of 100% zero-carbon electricity by 2045 (SB 100) will require renewable energy development to increase significantly over the next two decades. These infrastructure investments, essential to removing carbon from California’s economy, will require a significant amount of land.
Local community choice aggregators (CCAs) are leading the charge when it comes to investing in the new clean energy resources the state will need to meet its SB 100 goal. CCAs to date having signed long-term power purchase agreements totaling more than 3,600 megawatts with new-build solar, wind, geothermal, and energy storage facilities. A key question is how are CCAs ensuring a power project delivers multiple benefits for air, water, and nature while avoiding impacts to environmentally sensitive lands and species?
The California Community Choice Association (CalCCA) hosted a July 31 webinar that focused on this very important question, with speakers from The Nature Conservancy and Clean Power Alliance (CPA), California’s largest CCA. The webinar, “Integrating Environmental Stewardship Principles into Power Procurement,” highlighted TNC’s work on low-impact clean energy deployment and CPA’s approach to integrating environmental stewardship into clean energy procurement.
Purchasers of electricity, such as CPA, are uniquely positioned to drive the market toward procuring renewable electricity from low-impact areas. By integrating criteria to minimize impacts to land and habitat into electricity procurement, buyers can advance their energy, climate, and conservation goals, while also reducing business risks.
CPA serves approximately 1 million customer accounts in 32 communities in Los Angeles and Ventura Counties. To date, CPA has approved 10 long-term clean energy contracts totaling about 1,000 megawatts (MW) of solar, wind, and energy storage resources. The aggregator is continuing to procure additional resources to meet the needs of its customers and state energy mandates. Renewable and zero-carbon energy facilities, and the electric lines that carry the electricity, can spread across thousands of acres, and if not put in the right places, can alter pristine natural lands and wildlife habitat, inhibit the ability of those lands to store carbon, and extract water from arid landscapes. Fortunately, as compared to conventional energy sources, renewable generation has the potential to harness large amounts of energy and reduce impacts on land, water, human health, and climate, through better siting in places such as rooftops, parking lots, and lands with fewer natural resources – low-impact areas.
A study by The Nature Conservancy and Energy & Environmental Economics (E3) analyzed multiple pathways to achieve California’s clean energy targets by mid-century while limiting the impacts of energy development on natural and agricultural landscapes. The study found that between 1.6 to 3.1 million acres may be needed for new wind and solar installations alone. The study demonstrates that it is possible to avoid significant land use conflicts and achieve California’s clean energy goals cost-effectively.
The Green Light Study by The Nature Conservancy and ECONorthwest explores the economic benefits of developing low-impact renewable energy projects. After performing analysis on 16 utility-scale solar projects in California, habitat mitigation costs for high biodiversity value land were greater than that of low biodiversity value land, resulting in 7 to 14-percent savings on overall project costs. These studies show that aligning environmental stewardship with renewable energy projects allows California to reach its clean energy goals by midcentury while simultaneously providing conservation benefits in a cost-effective manner.
As the demand for renewable energy increases, community choice energy providers are uniquely positioned to pioneer new approaches to procurement that integrate considerations for natural resource conservation, resulting in clean, reliable, and affordable energy for their communities while minimizing environmental impact.
In May 2018, The Nature Conservancy partnered with Clean Power Alliance (CPA), California’s largest community choice energy provider, to learn about their decision-making process for purchasing renewable energy and develop a method to inform procurement decisions through an environmental valuation framework.
CPA developed an “Environmental Stewardship Principle” to guide the agency’s approach for incorporating environmental stewardship into procurement decision-making. By September 2018, CPA adopted the following environmental stewardship principle:
“CPA is committed to being an environmental leader by providing customers with energy that delivers multiple benefits for air, water, and nature.”
CPA’s first and second Long-term Clean Energy Request for Offers (RFO) included environmental stewardship as one of six key evaluation criteria, stating its commitment to prioritize renewable energy projects with multiple benefits and de-prioritize high conflict areas. The Nature Conservancy collaborated with other environmental NGOs to provide relevant environmental and conservation information to CPA. CPA then used this information to develop qualitative assessment questions that aligned with their environmental stewardship principle, and a qualitative evaluation framework for ranking projects according to environmental stewardship.
Through this partnership, CPA has continued to be a champion for conservation-compatible clean energy procurement. For any further inquiries on a conservation-compatible approach to clean power procurement, please reach out to Erica Brand (email@example.com), Energy Strategy Lead at The Nature Conservancy in California. For more information on Clean Power Alliance, please contact Natasha Keefer (firstname.lastname@example.org), Director of Power Planning and Procurement. For information about the CalCCA “Community Energy Innovation” webinar series go to: https://cal-cca.org/webinars/.