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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.

New energy-efficient home tract in north Clovis is largest of its kind in California

When it comes to building energy efficient homes in California, De Young Properties is in a race with itself.

This summer, the family-run company claimed the title of largest zero-net energy home builder in the state with EnVision, 36 single-family homes in a southeast Clovis development.

Now it’s going bigger. The De Youngs have recently launched RidgeView, a 58-home development of zero net energy homes in north Clovis at Locan and Quincy avenues.

What is zero net energy? It’s simply the ability of the home to produce as much clean energy, typically through solar, as the homeowner can use in a year.

The RidgeView development will feature many of the same energy-saving features as its sister development, EnVision at Shaw and Highland avenues, but on a larger, more detailed scale.

The homes will also serve as a laboratory of sorts where researchers can collect data on how to improve energy efficiency and provide a template for how to meet a new state standard calling for solar power on most new homes by 2020.

The California Energy Commission’s goal is to slash energy usage in new homes by more than 50 percent. That will cut greenhouse gas emissions by an amount equivalent to taking 115,000 fossil fuel cars off the road.

For the De Youngs, meeting the state’s mandate is as important as providing solutions for a cleaner environment and building better, smarter homes.

“By building these large-scale communities, we are demonstrating to regional, statewide and even national builders that Zero Energy homes can be constructed affordably and we are hopefully inspiring other builders to follow in our footsteps,” said Brandon De Young, executive vice president of De Young Properties.

Among the features of the De Youngs’ energy efficient homes is the use of solar and installling a heat pump water heater that uses electricity instead of gas to heat the water. The heat pump pulls heat from the surrounding air and transfers it to water that’s stored in a tank.

The homes also have roof tiles to reflect heat and sunlight, high-grade insulation in the walls and attic and a high-efficiency air conditioning and heating system.

Each home will come with a built-in energy monitoring system that will allow the homeowners to view their real-time and historical home energy consumption through a smartphone app.

De Young Properties is partnering with ConSol, a Sacramento-based research and energy consulting firm, to collect data on how homeowners use energy, what time of the day they use it and figuring out how to slash energy use even more.

Garth Torvestad, senior technical consultant with ConSol, is overseeing the collection of the data that will be gathered from each of the home’s electrical circuits. Part of what researchers want to test is how accurate their models are for estimating home energy use.

“We are trying to look at behavioral things like how much power is being drained from the ac unit or how many loads of dishes do you do in your dishwasher in a given year,” Torvestad said. “Also critical is the time of the day that energy use occurs.”

Researchers know that the peak time for generating electricity from solar panels is about 3 p.m. And that has generally coincided with the peak energy usage in a home. But that model is changing, Torvestad said.

“The peak has shifted a lot to about 5 p.m. to 6 p.m. just at the same time as the generation of electricity has begun to die off,” Torvestad said. “We are really interested in finding ways to where we could avoid peak demand and shift the loads. Because we can’t change solar generation.”

De Young also is interested in learning how zero energy homes perform in day-to-day living.

“Not only will our team be learning, but the homeowners will have the opportunity to learn about their energy patterns, as well, which can help them save even more energy and money,” De Young said.

RidgeView homes start in the $400,000s and at least 40 percent of the available lots have been sold.

Robert Rodriguez: 559-441-6327@FresnoBeeBob

 

New energy-efficient home tract in north Clovis is largest of its kind in California, by Robert Rodriguez, The Fresno Bee, October 5, 2018.

Fresno sits at the crossroads of California’s climate-change policies

Thousands of delegates from around the world gather in San Francisco this week for the Global Climate Action Summit. Committed to achieving the Paris Climate Accord’s goal of net zero emissions by midcentury, the international effort is humankind’s attempt to save itself from itself.

For a quick glimpse at their prospects, delegates should come to Fresno. Our city is at the crossroads of California’s climate change policies, in the heart of a valley that has been trying unsuccessfully for nearly three decades to reduce ground-level air pollution to safe levels.

The two efforts share a common feature: cap-and-trade, the market-based system designed to reduce air pollution through the buying and selling of pollution credits like commodities. It’s a trading system structured to ensure economic stability, and it does lead to less air pollution … only very, very slowly.

San Joaquin Valley residents have been waiting 28 years and the end is not in sight. How long does the planet have?

For greenhouse gases, California sets a good example. Our efforts to decarbonize are underway, and a long list of courageous state legislators have taken turns leading the effort.

Governors from Gray Davis to Jerry Brown and laws ranging from former state senator Fran Pavley’s 2006 Global Warming Solutions Act to this year’s 100 percent Clean Energy bill authored by Sen. Kevin de León have placed the state on the right path.

These policies are still evolving and improving. That’s to be expected given this is the largest undertaking in California – in human – history and that policymakers face almost unanimous resistance from fossil fuel, industrial, and agricultural interests.

Despite cap-and-trade’s industry friendly approach, for decades lobbyists for these sectors have worked to delay or block every air pollution rule and regulation. From cars’ carbon monoxide and diesel trucks’ toxic fumes to ammonia from dairies and methane from oil fields, we continue to inhale a long list of hazardous pollutants. Countless lives have been damaged or lost.

The response to greenhouse gases has been no different. The stakes are just so much higher now, and we’re quickly running out of time.

Local politicians have proven especially disappointing on this front. In recent years statehouse representatives Michael Rubio and Henry T. Perea, both Democrats, left office early to end up as oil industry lobbyists, and the Fresno City Council has been voting unanimously to ignore state laws requiring industrial developments assess and mitigate ground level air pollution and greenhouse gases.

Most impacted are the residents of Malaga, Calwa, Daleville, La Vina, Lanare, and a long list of other vulnerable communities.

These families already bear the brunt of industrial and agricultural air pollution, water contamination, and toxic emissions, but climate investments in high speed rail, dairy digesters, biomass plants, and more are resulting in even greater impacts.

Take high speed rail. Making and pouring concrete is one of the most greenhouse gas-intensive activities there is, and the greenest buildings are the ones already built. So due to HSR’s many years of construction and demolition, it will be decades before the greenhouse gases emitted now might possibly be offset by reduced passenger vehicle emissions.

Meanwhile, people living alongside the construction route throughout Fresno are inundated with dust and diesel when what they need are basic, electrified transit services which, importantly, would immediately reduce greenhouse gases and criteria pollutants alike.

Even worse impacts are being caused by the state’s headlong rush into biofuels of every type. Dairies are being subsidized to produce methane rather than avoid it. Wood is being ground, hauled, and burned in highly polluting biomass plants rather than being incorporated into soils, spread on dusty roads, or kept in solid form. Again, residents of vulnerable neighborhoods are being assaulted by increased pollution.

Our best hope is for the California delegation to return home from San Francisco – with a side trip through Fresno – with a newfound sense of urgency and commitment to funding a just transition. One that protects life rather than imperils it, prioritizes local jobs in clean energy, and results in a stable atmosphere as soon as humanly possible.

Kevin Hall has lived in Fresno since 1971, where he works as an air quality advocate and community organizer.

 

Fresno sits at the crossroads of California’s climate-change policies, by Kevin Hall, The Fresno Bee, September 10, 2018.

Governor Signs Climate Bills Forged from Shared Vision in Fresno and California

From a rooftop in downtown Fresno, Governor Brown signed several groundbreaking climate bills on September 14, 2016. The view was meant to inspire a vision for the Valley’s development. Fresno Mayor Ashley Swearengin, who opened the signing ceremony, called downtown Fresno “ground zero.”

Together on the rooftop were stakeholders in the Valley’s environmental, social, and economic development. These included community-based organizations, elected officials, and government agencies that work together, sometimes as adversaries, to improve the lives of Fresno and San Joaquin Valley residents. Also included was Joaquin Arambula, a newly-elected assembly member who represents Fresno.

Community-based organizations have worked hard to ensure that development in the Valley includes historically neglected communities, as identified by California’s “Enviro Screen” mapping tool. While mostly agency representatives and electeds shared the Mayor’s vision, the advocates in the audience want investments to be made in West Fresno, Southeast Fresno, and over 20 more Valley communities designated as the most disadvantaged in the state.

As bill authors eagerly stood behind the Governor, waiting for him to sign their piece of history, Governor Brown described why these climate change bills were good for the Valley. He warned if we don’t do something about climate change now, the Valley’s hot temperatures will create unlivable conditions. He also remarked on the opportunities to capture methane from dairies, saying, “The dairies…you know what it is, that could all be clean energy.” That statement struck a chord with the advocates who have been working to be included in the discussions on the use of dairy digesters. While the new technology promises to reduce greenhouse gases, the indirect impacts to nearby communities, whether this is the most efficient and inexpensive way to reduce methane, and the degree to which the technology will perpetuate mega dairies in our Valley, are all issues that have not been thoroughly assessed.

Among the bills signed by the Governor was AB 1550 authored by Assemblymember Jimmy Gomez (D-Los Angeles) which seeks to resolve a lesson from Cap & Trade auction proceeds. While the current program ensures 25 percent of funds benefit disadvantaged communities, with 10 percent spent directly in those communities, many advocates soon realized in “in benefit” create a loophole that left out communities in need. The new rules require at least 25 percent of funds go to projects within and benefitting disadvantaged communities and at least 10 percent for low-income households.

AB 2722 by Assemblymember Autumn R. Burke (D-Inglewood) provides big-picture strategic investments allowing communities to draw funds from multiple sources under the cap-and-trade program, to provide local benefits through a holistic, rather than piecemeal approach. Funds will be directed to a grant program run by the Strategic Growth Council for greenhouse gas emission reduction projects that provide local economic, environmental and health benefits to disadvantaged communities. The Central Valley Air Quality Coalition (CVAQ) supported AB 2722 during their annual Clean Air Action Day in Sacramento, where over 30 individuals met with legislators to discuss clean air priorities for the San Joaquin Valley.

Burke’s bill ensured $70 million to come to Fresno alone, half of the funds geared to fund neighborhood-level transformative projects that reduce greenhouse gas emissions and provide local economic, environmental, and health benefits in disadvantaged communities. The Strategic Growth Council (SGC) that administers the funds came to Fresno on November 7th to hear from the public on how to administer the $70 million in Fresno. They heard from local elected representatives and countless advocates all pointing to their priorities for the funds before the agency continues administering the program.

Where the funds will be allocated in Fresno is the biggest question the SGC will have to balance. The Mayor’s office is pushing for investments in Downtown and High Speed Rail corridors while advocates again had the opportunity to raise West Fresno, the community that has been left out. Coincidentally, the City created a separate General Plan planning process for the community, the Southwest Specific Plan. With this plan to be approved by City Council next week, the SGC has a blueprint of how to invest funds in the most disadvantaged communities. The community will be waiting to see how they balance the interests and needs of community residents and elected officials.

The Governor also signed AB 1613 and SB 859 which details the $900 million cap-and-trade investment plan.

With the signing of these bills comes opportunities for organizations, agencies and community residents to advocate for the communities most in need in Fresno and across the Valley, even while potentially challenging popular plans such as, the Governor-Fresno Mayor’s office alignment to invest in the Downtown-High Speed Rail areas. While we all share the same goal of reducing the effects of climate change, we will need to work together to ensure the strategies we support, benefit everyone and especially those who are burdening the impacts.

Faith in the Valley: Faith Community Asserts Support for Energy Democracy

I attended the Faith in the Valley: Power Faith Community Forum at the Fresno Convention Center on Saturday, September 10th. Nearly 2,000 participants, including Fresno mayoral Candidate Henry Perea and numerous congregations from throughout the San Joaquin Valley, gathered for an afternoon session dedicated to three issues our community faces: environmental, racial, and economic. Faith and community leaders presented ideas that were then discussed in breakout sessions by attendees at their table.

Speakers asserted that we must stop accepting the unhealthy air and toxic water that have become a way of life for so many San Joaquin Valley residents. Event organizer Thomas Weiler said, “We hope to encourage utility companies and our Valley’s leadership to invest in clean energy projects…that both provide sustaining jobs for low-income families and tangible benefits to families who have otherwise been excluded from seeing any benefits from the ‘green’ economy.” One proposed solution written in the program was to “create thousands of local living wage jobs through investments in energy efficiency and community solar projects, while exploring Community Choice Energy amongst other vehicles.”

I distributed information about Community Choice Energy (CCE) being promoted by our Clean Power Exchange program. Various attendees talked with me about Community Choice – how it provides electricity from clean energy sources via a not-for-profit public entity, and how it could benefit the Valley from both an environmental and economic standpoint. As several areas utilizing CCE in the Bay Area like Sonoma County with Sonoma Clean Power and Lancaster with Lancaster Choice Energy have proven, CCE provides lower rates to utility users compared to what the big utility offers, meaning more revenue is invested back into our economy.

Utilizing clean energy sources to power our electricity will reduce our greenhouse gas emissions, reduce the need for fracking that contaminates groundwater, and offset the particulate air pollution our Valley residents breathe in on a daily basis. “Faith in the Valley community leaders have been excited to learn that voters and ratepayers have more opportunity than ever before to negotiate for these concrete, life-saving changes through Community Choice Energy,” Weiler stated.

Events such as the Faith Forum are a powerful way to spread news about the benefits of Community Choice Energy and other programs; people seemed very excited by these solutions and the prospect of a better future for the Central Valley. Perhaps the biggest point raised during the event was that if we all stand together, we can make these visions a reality. Community Choice Energy is a prime example of how we can address our global climate crisis in a meaningful way at the local level. If events like these are any indication, Valley residents are ready for this.

Program cover for Faith In The Valley Forum.

Program cover for Faith In The Valley Forum.

Faith in the Valley: Faith Community Asserts Support for Energy Democracy, by Erik Cherkaski, Clean Power Exchange, September 29, 2016.

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