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Businesses Urged To Help Valley Set Its Energy Future

The City of Hanford is on track to become the first Valley community to take more control of its energy sources and costs when it launches its Community Choice Aggregation (CCA) program next year.

Other Valley communities are at various stages of considering whether to form CCAs, with Fresno, Huron, Clovis, Sanger, Parlier and Kerman among them.

Potentially, the programs could save residential customers a few dollars off their electric bills, and the savings could be considerably more for manufacturers and other businesses with heavy demand, a trio of men advocating for CCAs told attendees at a seminar during the recent Valley Made 5th Annual Manufacturing Summit in Fresno.

 

Setting an energy destiny

The actual savings would stem from the decisions made by the governing boards of the individual CCAs, which would be run by local government leaders.

Those decisions would include from where the CCAs buy power; how much of that power would come from solar, wind and other renewable sources or if generators burning fossil fuels and some waste products might be in the mix; and how any profits are spent.

Options for using those profits include reducing rates for customers or funding incentive programs for homes and businesses to become more energy efficient, the experts said.

In any of these decisions, business people should be at the table, whether it’s at the beginning stages, as Fresno is doing, or when its farther along, as in Hanford, or if an authority is fully formed, as in Marin and Lancaster, said Barry Vesser, deputy director of the nonprofit Center for Climate Protection in Santa Rosa, one of the invited speakers.

 

Business input crucial

“A CCA will allow Fresno to have a say in how that looks, not just leaving it to a state or major utility,” he said, adding that businesses need to be part of this if Fresno or any other Valley cities go forward, “because if you want the kind of program that will serve local business interests and will help grow the economy here, you want to be part of helping develop that.”

As for what CCAs are, they stem from a 2002 law passed by the California Legislature allowing communities in the state to combine the electricity loads of their residents and businesses into community-wide electricity aggregation programs.

Not that a CCA could completely break free from Pacific Gas & Electric, Southern Californian Edison or one of the other investor-owned utilities.

What the law does is give the CCAs more local control, specifically the ability to chose from where they buy power. They also have the authority to own and run their own electrical sources — including solar and wind farms — though so far the 19 existing CCAs in California largely buy their power from businesses that generate electricity, as PG&E mostly does, the advocates told the audience.

 

More flexibility

CCAs being able to choose from whom they buy their power creates a more competitive market, so the CCAs may negotiate more favorable rates for their electricity than the utilities could, explained Mike Dozier, a Clovis-based, independent energy consultant.

So communities can work with energy suppliers closer to their areas, helping keep the money they pay local, or they could pay for power generated from far away, he said.

The distance isn’t important from a technical standpoint, because a supplier doesn’t actually direct power to a particular city. Instead, the power is fed from the source into the electrical grids operated by the big utilities, and communities draw from it like farmers drawing their portions of the water they’re entitled to from a reservoir, Dozier explained.

This also allows individual power customers to decide to opt out of their respective CCAs and continue being customers of the utilities.

As such, even in a Valley community that forms a CCA, customers would still pay the electrical distribution costs — usually about 60 percent of an electric bill — and the utilities still own and maintain their electrical infrastructure and handle the customer billing, he said.

An effort had been underway years ago to create the state’s first CCA in the Valley, but the Great Recession helped ground it in 2008, Dozier said.

 

CCAs come into their own

The first started in Marin in 2010, and since then more have formed, serving 60 cities and parts of 20 counties.

The question of whether to start a CCA is likely to become more prevalent in Fresno and other communities that don’t have them, as this new system of contracting for electricity is gaining momentum.

A newly formed CCA in Los Angeles County is serving 32 cities, and expectations are that Fresno will more actively explore the possibility of forming one in the future. The speakers at the May 2 summit noted that some of the smaller communities interested may wait for Fresno to go forward and — if that happens — then join its CCA.

“And we project that by 2020, [CCAs] will be serving half of the load of the state of California.”

 

Savings in Hanford

Dozier said Hanford expects to cut electric bills by 10 percent once its CCA is up and running, adding that the chief driver to create the program was to reduce energy costs for Faraday Future, which has been building its first electric car manufacturing plant in a million-square-foot former tire plant on the city’s south end — though financial troubles have so far stalled the project.

While some savings may be considerably less — including the average 2.5 percent savings for Sonoma Clean Power customers — the CCA advocates said it’s important to note that the savings also are hedges against power utilities raising their rates.

“Can it save you money? Absolutely. If you look at PG&E’s record over the past 30 years, it’s basically a 4% [rate] increase every year,” Vesser said.

With the utility having filed for bankruptcy and facing billions of dollars in liabilities for reportedly causing a series of California wildfires in recent years — including the Camp Fire that destroyed more than 21,000 homes in parts of six counties in the northern part of the state — more rate hikes seem inevitable in the near future, he said.

 

Incentive opportunities

For businesses, the monthly electric bill savings may be less important than the programs the CCAs my impose that could draw new businesses or incentivize existing ones to stay.

Though the audience for the seminar was small, those in attendance seemed highly interested in what was said, among them Mike Betts, CEO of the Betts Co., a Fresno manufacturer of industrial springs and truck accessories.

“The real bottom-line issue for manufacturing is we’re paying three to five times more than we should be paying today,” when compared to electric rates in Texas, Oklahoma and many other parts of the country, as well as other countries, he said after the seminar.

While a 2.5-percent savings may not seem like much, if it allows communities to avoid yearly rate bumps by the utilities, the savings could cumulatively be significant, Betts said.

But if a CCA is formed in Fresno, “Maybe there should be some manufacturers on that board,” to help ensure the decisions it makes are good for businesses here, he noted.

“I like what Hanford is doing because of Faraday. It was focused on an economic incentive of doing business [there] for industry.”

As for whether manufacturers would favor a Fresno CCA, Betts said not enough discussion has occurred to get a good sense of that. But until that happens, “We’ve got to just get the facts, do the research, talk with the other cities that have CCAs.”

 

Businesses Urged To Help Valley Set Its Energy Future, by David Castellon, The Business Journal, June 4, 2019.

State Offering Grants For Renewable Energy Projects On Ag Land

The California Energy Commission is offering grants ranging from $25,000 to $350,000 to fund renewable energy projects installed on land with agricultural operations.

Applications for the Renewable Energy for Agriculture Program (REAP) will be accepted until 5 p.m. on March 5.

Applications and eligibility information is available on the commission’s website or go directly to https://bit.ly/2Hdjd05.

The site includes information about upcoming workshops on the program being held in Sacramento, Fresno and Imperial.

Fresno’s workshop is scheduled for 1 p.m. Jan. 28 at the San Joaquin Valley Air Pollution Control District office, 1990 E. Gettysburg Ave.

 

State Offering Grants For Renewable Energy Projects On Ag Land, By David Castellon, The Business Journal, January 17, 2019.

Commissioner Guzman Aceves: Low-income Valley towns get pilot projects for clean energy at 2,000 households

In California, we know climate change is real. We also know that methane and carbon emissions are some of the leading culprits in this accelerating change. And according to the state’s 4th Climate Assessment released last August, San Joaquin Valley residents as a result face more intense and frequent heat waves, increased and prolonged droughts, greater risks of natural disasters such as floods and wildfires and are more vulnerable to a number of likely public health threats.

San Joaquin Valley residents also face the most extreme energy burdens in the state, paying a much larger percentage of their income for energy. But there is another population in the San Joaquin even more burdened with high energy costs and direct, daily exposure to air pollution because — in this extraordinarily productive agricultural region — people live in communities and neighborhoods that haven’t had access to clean, affordable energy, relying instead on wood and propane to heat their homes and cook their food.

Last summer, at well-attended workshops in schools and gymnasiums in communities like Allensworth, Alpaugh, Le Grand, La Vina, Ducor, West Goshen and more, we heard from many of these residents.

We heard from hard-working people who endure icy showers and cold food when the propane or wood run out. We heard stories about people being manipulated and taken advantage of by unregulated propane suppliers. We heard stories about putting kids to bed cold and hungry because the fuel was gone. In this extraordinarily productive agricultural region, we heard about bad health and other impacts, particularly in winter when so many people don’t have clean energy options the rest of us enjoy.

Now, working with utilities regulated by the California Public Utilities Commission, we can finally offer about 2,000 San Joaquin Valley households cleaner and safer energy alternatives, and we can reach more families in the future.

At our last CPUC meeting of 2018, the commission approved a $56 million investment for pilot projects in 11 San Joaquin communities. In addition to the benefits from cleaner energy and healthier air, the program has a big economic development component. With more energy alternatives and infrastructure to deliver them, it should become easier to attract other investments, housing and jobs.

I am proud of the CPUC’s decision to bring cleaner, affordable energy to communities in California long unserved and overlooked. I am even prouder of these communities themselves, and of their tenacity and commitment. It has been a long road, and these pilots are just another step. But they will provide energy efficiency upgrades, electric heating, solar benefits, job training and more — while reducing energy costs and pollution.

When then-Gov. Jerry Brown signed Assembly Bill 2672 in 2015, the CPUC was directed to find ways to increase affordable access to energy for disadvantaged communities in the San Joaquin Valley. But we first had to identify eligible towns and households and meet with residents to determine which clean-energy strategies would work best. Collectively, we’ll learn from the different experiences as we move forward and seek to replicate the successes in other communities during the next phase of our still-open CPUC proceeding.

The pilots will allow eligible households to replace at no cost their propane- or wood-burning appliances with new energy-efficient appliances — either electric or natural gas — and will allow some minor home upgrades if necessary. The pilot communities will also benefit from a Community Energy Navigator program established to inform, engage and assist participating residents. And we’ll build in basic bill protections to ensure that energy costs do not go up for participants.

Everyone involved knows a lot of work remains. But we are excited about the positive impacts and value of investing in communities that have long been bypassed.

As California continues reducing methane or carbon emissions, we must also meet the challenge of our current heating needs — for water and for living and work spaces — with cleaner energy so no one is left behind. These pilot projects, in addition to improving the quality of life for several thousand residents, will give us the experience and reliable data needed to determine the best ways of continuing to reduce greenhouse gas emissions while also keeping monthly bills affordable for so many other hard-working Californians.

Martha Guzman Aceves was appointed to the California Public Utilities Commission by then-Gov. Jerry Brown in December 2016. She previously served as deputy legislative affairs secretary in the Office of the Governor, focusing on natural resources, environmental protection, energy and food and agriculture.

 

Low-income Valley towns get pilot projects for clean energy at 2,000 households, by Martha Guzman Aceves, The Fresno Bee, January 11, 2019.

Community Engagement At Center Of New State Law On Air Protection

When it comes to monitoring air quality, we typically turn to air regulators, like the state and the local San Joaquin Valley Air Pollution Control District. But a recent state law is taking on a new strategy: Putting air quality in the hands of the community. And one person who’s excited about the opportunity is Southeast Fresno resident Lilia Becerril.

Becerril lives near the Fresno Fairgrounds and Vang Pao Elementary School. She likes it here, and she’s a kind of neighborhood career volunteer, working with local schools, and groups giving legal aid and tutoring services.

And so when she volunteered as a crossing guard a few years ago, it pained her to stop after just three weeks. “My throat was hurting,” she says, from so many cars passing by on a busy street and waiting outside the school. “When the cars were idling they released so much exhaust,” she says.

But it’s likely more than that, too. As we speak, she asks me if I can see a dark smoky cloud hovering a few blocks away. I ask her where it’s coming from. “I don’t know,” she answers, “but there’s smoke coming from everywhere, all the time, and we don’t know how we’re here breathing.”

Just a few blocks from Becerril’s home is heavy industry. Food distributors, warehouses, and lumber yards—many served by 18-wheelers and freight trains. She says her neighborhood feels trapped in the middle. “When the wind blows from different directions, it all comes toward homes,” she says.

She wishes she could know more about her air quality, so she’s gotten involved in improving it. As part of a new state law focusing on community air quality, South Central Fresno was selected as a priority area. And Becerril is on the steering committee, helping guide what happens here. “We want to be heard,” she says, “and we want this to be beneficial for everyone, not just certain communities.”

We know that air quality can vary from place to place, even within the San Joaquin Valley. But with only 38 air monitors among 10,000 square miles, air regulators are likely to miss trends happening on a local scale. For instance: We have an idea how many heavy-duty trucks traverse the state’s highways every month. But where and when do they bypass highways and release their exhaust in neighborhoods?

Enter AB 617. Like Becerril, the author, Los Angeles County Assemblywoman Cristina Garcia, also felt her community was being overlooked by regional policies. “We were forgetting communities like mine and communities like mine had been left behind all my life,” she says.

And so the law empowers residents, by selecting 10 focus communities across the state and establishing local steering committees. With it comes with $15 million for local grants to build air monitors and bolster community outreach. The idea is: With more data on local emissions, a galvanized community can hopefully guide air regulators in cleanup efforts.

Dave Warner is a deputy air pollution control officer with the Valley air district. Outside of AB 617, Warner says the district is primarily focused regionally. It also puts together an inventory of polluting industries and vehicles.

“We know what’s coming out of those pieces of equipment, but are there other things that we’re not aware of that we’re not controlling?” he asks. “This will be a fantastic way to find out.”

AB 617 could be a change of pace for an air district that’s been criticized for a lack of transparency. At a kick-off meeting in December, Fresno steering committee members complained the air district doesn’t educate the public enough on air pollution and its health impacts. In a letter, the air district also sent the wrong meeting date to Spanish-speaking residents, though it later corrected the mistake.

South Central Fresno and the Kern County city of Shafter are among the communities selected as the law’s first priority areas. Veronica Eady is assistant executive director of environmental justice at the California Air Resources Board, and she says the state knew it was critical to select regions with disadvantaged communities.

“The most noxious land uses tend to be in disenfranchised, low income communities and communities of color,” she says. Indeed, a high pollution burden does tend to track with other negative measures like poverty, unemployment, asthma and low birth weight.

“AB 617 as a law is basically an evolution of a civil rights moment,” says Ivanka Saunders, a policy coordinator with the non-profit advocacy group the Leadership Counsel for Justice and Accountability.

The Leadership Counsel and other Valley advocacy groups were awarded nearly $2 million in grants through AB 617. Saunders is also a member of the Fresno steering committee.

Though Saunders is optimistic, she says she’s concerned that AB 617’s Fresno region doesn’t include an area of Southwest Fresno that consistently ranks as the most environmentally burdened in the entire state. It’s Saunders’ hope that the steering committee will vote to expand and include that neighborhood.

Whether or not it does, Lilia Becerril is excited about representing her southeast neighborhood on the committee. “I’m the voice of my community,” she says, “sharing what my community is telling me.” Maybe soon, Becerril can shake the nickname she’s given her neighborhood: The Black Circle.

 

Community Engagement At Center Of New State Law On Air Protection, by Kerry Klein, Valley Public Radio, January 8, 2019.

Pilot project aims to clean air inside Valley homes during winter months

As winter approaches, we begin to spend more time indoors, cranking up the heat and gathering in the kitchen to prepare holiday meals to enjoy with family and friends.

What we often forget in this festive season is that, in many homes, the appliances that make these moments warm and comforting — like heaters, water heaters and stoves — run on fossil fuels that produce toxic pollutants like nitrogen dioxide, carbon monoxide and ultra-fine particles, as well as formaldehyde and acetaldehyde, all of which are harmful to our health.

The California Air Resources Board warns that cooking emissions from gas and propane stoves are associated with increased respiratory disease — and up to 70 percent of homes with these stoves exceed the EPA clean air recommendations. Young children and people with asthma are especially vulnerable, with recent research suggesting gas stoves are responsible for 12 percent of childhood asthma cases. That’s a striking figure when you consider that the San Joaquin Valley has the highest rate of pediatric asthma in the country, with one in six children struggling to breathe.

Utilities offer free home safety checks and tips each season to help reduce the risks that these common household appliances pose, and at the Central California Asthma Collaborative, we’re dedicated to helping families access healthier home and school environments. But, what if we didn’t have to worry about the health impacts of keeping our families warm and fed during the holiday season?

For nine San Joaquin Valley communities — Allensworth, California City, Cantua Creek, Ducor, Fairmead, Le Grand, La Vina, Seville and West Goshen — this may soon become a reality. On Wednesday, the Public Utility Commission will vote on a proposed pilot program to provide healthier heating options for communities currently using propane and wood. If the pilot goes ahead, more than 1,600 households in the San Joaquin Valley will receive advanced energy efficiency upgrades and cutting-edge, all-electric appliances powered by clean energy, creating some of the heathiest homes that have ever existed.

These upgrades will be provided free of cost — and the transition to all-electric, clean energy homes will save residents considerable cash on monthly energy bills, up to $150 per month and nearly $2,000 a year for some households. That’s money that families can invest in other areas of their life. This is important because low-income families spend a higher percentage of their income on energy bills, often more than twice as high as middle-wage earners, and more than three times as high as high-income families. At the Association for Energy Affordability, where we provide similar upgrades for families across the state, we’ve witnessed firsthand how programs that deliver energy savings improve quality of life.

The pilot will also help slash carbon and other air pollution that contribute to climate change and poor air quality. This is important for the San Joaquin Valley, which is already subjected to dangerous levels of outdoor air pollution. With this help from the PUC, our homes can be a place of respite from dirty air and not another health risk. Homes and buildings are responsible for 25 percent of California’s greenhouse gas emissions, and burning gas and propane in homes and buildings contributes over half of this pollution. In addition, gas is made up of over 90 percent methane, a greenhouse gas that is up to 88 times more potent than carbon dioxide. Replacing old appliances with clean, electric ones will help slash methane pollution, moving the state closer to meeting our climate goals while cleaning up local air.

We hope this pilot program can bring relief to some of the Valley’s hardest hit families, especially their children who suffer most from air pollution. While there are steps we can take to reduce exposure to indoor air pollution from gas powered appliances, the best prevention is moving to healthier, all-electric homes powered by clean energy.

This pilot is a critical part of building California’s clean energy future, and we urge the PUC to approve this program. By building on this experience in the broader San Joaquin Valley and across the state, we can create a map for healthier, more affordable communities. The best gift is peace of mind, and we look forward to a holiday season in which all Californians have access to healthy homes.

Kevin Hamilton is the chief executive officer of the Central California Asthma Collaborative, which is dedicated to reducing the burden of chronic respiratory disease across the San Joaquin Valley. Nick Dirr is director of programs for the Association for Energy Affordability, a leading provider of technical services for energy efficiency in buildings dedicated to fostering and maintaining affordable and healthy housing, with special focus low-income communities.

Pilot project aims to clean air inside Valley homes during winter months, by Kevin Hamilton And Nick Dirr, The Fresno Bee, December 2, 2018.

Council begins to explore Community Choice Aggregation

HANFORD — The Hanford City Council met Nov. 20 and held a public hearing on a proposed ordinance to establish a Hanford Community Choice Aggregation implementation plan and statement of intent.

In a 4-1 decision, with Councilwoman Diane Sharp being the only “no” vote, Council decided to start the process of establishing a program plan and statement of intent.

During the public hearing, City Manager Darrel Pyle said the concept of Community Choice Aggregation was signed into law in 2002 and grants California Cities the right to combine the electricity load of its residents and businesses into a community-wide electricity aggregation program.

Right now, Pyle said most of Hanford is served by Southern California Edison, but the Industrial Park is served by Pacific Gas & Electric.

He said under a Community Choice Aggregation program, the incumbent utility — Southern California Edison or PG&E — continues to be responsible for electricity delivery and transmission, owning and maintaining the power and transmission infrastructure, reading the meter, and billing and collecting from customers.

The staff report on the issue said the only change under the program is that power consumed by customers is purchased by the Community Choice Aggregation, with the revenues collected staying in the city to benefit the citizens and businesses.

Pyle said a technical study that was conducted said Hanford customers would receive and increased opportunity to choose the type of electricity they prefer to come into their home, like renewable energy or a lower-cost option.

In addition to the financial benefits, he said the Community Choice Aggregation structure results in the Hanford City Council having full control of rate setting, budget approval, policy setting and program direction.

Officials said any Hanford customers who wish to stay with the incumbent utility provider have the ability to opt out of the Community Choice Aggregation.

“What we’re offering here is competition,” Vice Mayor Sue Sorensen said.

An additional fund would be established in the city’s budget and operate like the water or sewer fund, with reserves that would not affect the general fund, Pyle said.

Sharp said she felt like the city has enough on its plate and she didn’t feel comfortable with the level of risk going into this new business, but Council members like Sorensen and Mayor David Ayers said they were interested in the possibilities available in providing different options to residents and would at least like to begin moving forward at this point.

A motion made by Sorensen to begin the process of establishing an implementation plan and statement of intent was passed with support from Ayers and Council members Martin Devine and Justin Mendes.

Due to the many steps involved, if the council continues to pursue the option — which they are not obligated to do — anticipated implementation is not expected until May 2020 or later.

Town hall meeting

A town hall meeting that was previously scheduled to take place tonight, Nov. 27, to discuss a proposed homeless service center in downtown Hanford has been canceled.

Ayers said out of respect for the three new council members that were recently elected, he requested the meeting be postponed until the three new members are situated on the dais. He said after that point, the new council can decide when the meeting is to be held.

“They’re going to be the future decision makers,” Ayers said.

There was a general consensus from the rest of council to go ahead and postpone the town hall meeting.

“As we carry forward, I think it’s going to be important that we carry forward with that team that will be making those decisions for the next two years,” Sorensen said.

In the meantime, escrow has not been opened on the proposed building and Pyle assured Council that nothing will be happen until after a town hall meeting is conducted.

 

Council begins to explore Community Choice Aggregation, by Julissa Zavala, Hanford Sentinel, November 27, 2018.  

Hanford to Hold Public Hearing on Adopting Community Choice

HANFORD — Despite the Thanksgiving holiday around the corner, the Hanford City Council will still meet Tuesday night to hold a public hearing.

In addition to the consent calendar, items of which are considered routine and are voted on in one motion, Council only has one public hearing and no other items of new business on its agenda for the night.

The public hearing is on a proposed ordinance to establish a Hanford Community Choice Aggregation and approving implementation plan and statement of intent.

This type of plan combines the electricity load of its residents and businesses into a community-wide electricity aggregation program, known as a Community Choice Aggregation program.

According to the city staff report, under a Community Choice Aggregation program, the incumbent utility — Southern California Edison or Pacific Gas & Electric — continues to be responsible for electricity delivery and transmission, owning and maintaining the power and transmission infrastructure, reading the meter, and billing and collecting from customers.

The staff report said the only change under the program is that power consumed by customers is purchased by the Community Choice Aggregation, with the revenues collected staying in the city to benefit the citizens and businesses.

In addition to the financial benefits, the staff report said the structure results in the Hanford City Council having full control of rate setting, budget approval, policy setting and program direction.

During the public hearing, Hanford residents will have an opportunity to voice their concerns or support of the city moving forward with this plan.

Before the regular meeting, Council will hold a study session to discuss both reorganization in the Hanford Fire Department and a draft of the Kings County Association of Government’s Regional Active Transportation Plan.

 

Public hearing on Council agenda, by Julissa Zavala, Hanford Sentinel, November 17, 2018.  

San Joaquin Valley Air Pollution Control District Awarded $3.7 Million to Improve Valley Air Quality

Fresno, CA – The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) announced this week it would award the San Joaquin Valley Air Pollution Control District (SJVAPCD) over $3.7 million for two projects the District is spearheading to improve Valley air quality by reducing heavy-duty diesel vehicle emissions.

The SJVAPCD was awarded the federal funding through the EPA’s Diesel Emission Reduction Act (DERA) grants program and will match the federal dollars with SJVAPCD funds for both projects. Congressman Costa has been a longtime supporter of the DERA program, most recently joining his House colleagues in advocating for continued and robust program support in the 2019 Fiscal Year spending bill.

“The Valley faces unique challenges when it comes to improving our air quality, and I applaud the District for designing effective programs that both meet the real needs in the San Joaquin Valley and deservingly earn federal support,” said Valley Congressman Jim Costa (CA-16). “Our communities are best served when local, state, and federal leaders work together, and I look forward to continuing to work with the District to make our air cleaner and to build a stronger and healthier Valley for all of us.”

The first project will replace over 100 heavy-duty diesel trucks in the Valley with newer trucks, while the second will replace 100 diesel-powered agricultural tractors with new off-road agricultural equipment. Both projects require the new replacement vehicles to have dramatically lower emissions than the older vehicles, meeting or even exceeding current EPA emission standards.

Agriculture and trucking are critical for the Valley’s economy, and both currently rely on diesel-fueled vehicles or equipment that are a significant source of air pollution. These projects aim to support the Valley’s economic needs while also improving the region’s air quality and health.

“Agriculture is essential to the success of the San Joaquin Valley. The District will continue working with Valley growers, EPA, and other agencies to keep moving forward with clean air efforts and investments in the San Joaquin Valley,” said Samir Sheikh, SJVAPCD Executive Director and Air Pollution Control Officer.

 

Congressman Jim Costa Says San Joaquin Valley Air Pollution Control District Awarded $3.7 Million to Improve Valley Air Quality, Press Release, Sierra Sun Times, October 29, 2018.

Greening the Heart of the Central Valley

Huron is a small town in the heart of the Central Valley. That’s literal–ten miles or so south and east of Harris Ranch, it’s about the halfway point for drivers making the trek between Los Angeles and the Bay Area. But culturally and economically, Huron is about as far from the touristic setting of Harris Ranch as you can get.

Huron’s residents are mostly farmworkers, many of whom have lived in the area for generations. Not only does the entire region suffer from some of the worst air quality in the nation, being surrounded by farms doesn’t so much lend it a bucolic setting as one filled with dust, pesticides, and, according to residents, asbestos in nearby streams. The region has some of the highest asthma rates in the state, and residents do hard physical labor for not very much money.

Many people living in Huron do not have access to a car. And to reach medical or social service appointments, they have to somehow get to Fresno, which is about fifty miles away. That’s an hour’s drive in a car–or a three- to four-hour trip on a bus.

For years, Huron residents have helped each other get to medical and other appointments, and shopping trips, using an informal ride-sharing system they call “raiteros.”

The word is a loose Spanish borrowing from the English word “ride,” and raiteros can be the people giving the rides as well as the people who ride as passengers. Long before Uber or Lyft, residents of Huron who have a car would offer rides to those without one, sharing the cost of gas and the company. They might be relatives, or neighbors, or acquaintances. Huron’s mayor Rey León calls it “indigenous ingenuity.”

It was a problem that the mostly low-income community solved by itself, with its own resources.

The raiteros are doing good work, not only helping people get where they need to get in a timely way, but increasing the average number of riders per car making that long drive. However, for the most part they drive older cars that are neither clean burning or fuel efficient. That part is not good for anybody; not only do private vehicle trips account for the single largest chunk of emissions (28 percent), but there’s that polluted Central Valley air.

Some of those trips to Fresno are about to get a lot cleaner, with a new program called Green Raiteros. Two new all-electric vehicles—a Chevy Volt and a BMW 13—will be made available for use by the raiteros, along with a more formal dispatch system to keep it organized. Huron recently held a celebration to launch it, which also served as the official opening for a new community center that will offer an air-conditioned spot to hang out, computers with wifi—which is not so easy to come by in the rural town—and a maintenance yard and electric charging station for the new vehicles, as well as electric vehicles that will come to Huron in the future.

The Green Raiteros program has been in the works for several years. Huron’s mayor, Rey León, founder and executive director of San Joaquin Valley Latino Environmental and Advancement Policy (Valley LEAP), has been cobbling together funding—and community capacity—from a variety of sources, including grants from Just Transit and the California Endowment, and funds from a pot of money created when the CPUC settled fraud charges with an electricity company.

The money is not just for the two electric vehicles. The program launch also necessitated the installation of charging facilities in Huron and Fresno, the hiring of a program manager, and the creation of the dispatch system.

Brian Smith, an activist for clean air in the Central Valley, told Streetsblog that bringing electric cars to Huron “was a little like landing a space vehicle on the moon.”

“Just getting the power to a rural community was a major undertaking,” he said. “Green Raiteros faced many technical hurdles, but they never gave up.” Those included getting the right power lines out to Huron, which required coordinating with PG&E and EVGo, a company that is building a network of charging stations in the Central Valley. The cars have a range of 60 to 75 miles, enough for a one-way trip, so charging again in Fresno will be necessary to get home.

Reyes Barboza, the Director of Operations, has been working on bringing the project to reality since January. He’s also a native of Huron, but spent time in the Bay Area and on the East Coast getting educated and working as a planner before returning to Huron to work on the Green Raiteros project.

Even so, he sometimes feels like a newcomer. The raiteros have been around for a long time. Many are retired or semiretired people “who for the most part have been working in the fields for their whole lives,” he said. “They want to be active community participants. One of the ways they do that is making themselves available to offer transport to others who really need it, maybe on their regular weekly trip to Fresno.”

Barboza sees the possibilities of the Green Raiteros program being a model for other areas, but wants to focus on building capacity first in his hometown. “There’s a lot of talk about innovation and tech, but here you have a town that’s between L.A. and S.F. that lacks a lot. We’re not far from these tech capitals, and yet our fastest internet speed is DSL.”

“Without capacity,” said Barboza, “it’s harder for a place like Huron to find and apply for funds for these kinds of programs, which means you have folks from outside coming in. That means there aren’t any locals learning about this, and they become reliant on outside resources.”

In addition to the electric vehicles, Green Raiteros offers a dispatching service and a way to pay drivers who use their own cars for their expenses, similar to the way many volunteer organizations function. “We want to make sure we don’t creep into the taxi area,” said Barboza. “We want to keep it affordable.” Drivers who use the electric vehicles won’t be reimbursed, but they do get to drive the cleanest cars in town.

Eventually, says Barboza, “We can grow the EV program to establish a membership or a coop to rent the vehicles out to people” in Huron. The bigger picture, he said, is to make it part of “a farmworker community network.”

Huron is far from the only rural, farmworker-resident town in California, and the raitero system is widespread. Its informality makes it hard to know who or even where all the raiteros are, even in Huron. Part of what Green Raiteros has to offer is a model for other places to figure out how to implement a similar program to support the community as well as to clean up emissions, and other cities, such as Stockton, are watching to see how the program works out the kinks.

“Wherever there are campesinos, there are raiteros,” said Mayor León. “It’s a a social network of support among comadres, compadres, neighbors, relatives, and an innate sociocultural aspect of who we are.”

Green Raiteros is “just matching it up with today’s technologies, to make it easily consumable, understandable, safe, and secure,” he said.

The program is still in the process of hiring dispatchers and setting up a system, but they plan to begin offering rides this week. “The wheels are grinding slowly,” said León, “but definitely each revolution is very productive and instructional for us. We’re getting rid of the air bubbles and getting rid of potholes” so other cities and towns can emulate Huron’s success.

The first trips they will focus on are for medical and family services appointments. In a video about the project, and the mayor, León counts the ways Green Raiteros is an important resource for Huron in addition to the community center: it provides economic justice, serving those who need it most; it offers environmental benefits by providing cleaner transportation; it’s one of many solutions for climate change; and it offers transportation justice, putting those without vehicles on an equal footing as those that have them.

The future, León told Streetsblog, is “not just about edifice or infrastructure; it’s more than that. What is physical should reflect what is cultural, what is on the ground.”

“There is huge value where there’s not great wealth,” he added. “That’s why we need to invest in [places like Huron], so we can bring about some equity while we identify new ways to improve the larger infrastructure, transit, and other needs.”

 

Greening the Heart of the Central Valley, by Melanie Curry, Streetsblog California, October 26, 2018.

First Solar sells 100-MW California solar project

First Solar and D. E. Shaw Renewable Investments (DESRI) today announced the acquisition by a DESRI affiliate of the 100-MW Willow Springs Solar Project in Kern County, California. Terms of the deal were not disclosed.

The project, which was developed by First Solar, is currently under construction, with completion estimated at the end of 2018. The project will supply power to Southern California Edison Company through a long-term Renewable Power Purchase and Sale Agreement.

“DESRI is thrilled to close on the acquisition of Willow Springs from First Solar,” said Bryan Martin, CEO of DESRI. “This project is a testament to the strong partnership that our firms have built over many years. We are looking forward to using First Solar’s leading Series 6 module technology to deliver clean energy to the Kern County community for years to come.”

“We are grateful for the opportunity to build on our strong relationship with DESRI as they grow their solar portfolio,” said Georges Antoun, First Solar’s chief commercial officer. “We are also pleased to play a part in helping enable Southern California Edison deliver clean, renewable energy to their customers.”

Antoun also noted the importance of the positive business environment provided by Kern County as a factor in realizing the benefits of solar as a fundamental power generation source of the future.

When in operation, the power plant is expected to annually provide enough clean, affordable sustainable electricity to power about 41,000 typical California homes and displace more than 77,000 metric tons of CO2 greenhouse gas emissions each year–the equivalent of taking almost 15,000 cars off the road.

Willow Springs is the fourth renewable energy project DESRI has acquired from First Solar. In 2017 a DESRI affiliate acquired the 40-MW Cuyama Solar Project in Santa Barbara County; in 2016 DESRI affiliates acquired the 31-MW Portal Ridge Solar Project in Los Angeles County and the 11-MW Rancho Seco Solar Project in Sacramento County.

News item from D. E. Shaw Renewable Investments

 

First Solar sells 100-MW California solar project, by Billy Ludt, Solar Power World, October 17, 2018.