Posted on Categories Air, Climate Change & EnergyTags , , ,

Northern California requires oil refiners to slash air pollution

Laila Kearney, REUTERS

Northern California regulators on Wednesday directed two of the state’s largest oil refineries to slash their fine particulate air pollution, which will require costly modifications at the plants.

The 19-3 vote by the Bay Area Air Quality Management District governing board means refineries in the area, including Chevron Corp’s (CVX.N) Richmond plant and PBF Energy Inc’s (PBF.N) Martinez refinery, will have to install wet gas scrubbers to reduce pollution spewed by their gasoline-making fluid catalytic cracking units (FCCU) within five years.

The new requirement is expected to cut PBF and Chevron’s particulate matter emissions from its cat crackers by about 70%, the air quality district estimates.

Read more at https://www.reuters.com/business/energy/northern-california-air-board-requires-oil-refiners-slash-pollution-2021-07-21/

Posted on Categories ForestsTags , ,

Refuge no more: Forested Sonoma County enclave laid bare by Walbridge fire — and now, by salvage logging

Mary Callahan, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

A group of ravens fled south against the bright summer sky, escaping the noisy chopper that rose above the ridgeline, starting its daily shift plucking charred, downed trees from steep canyons within the Walbridge fire footprint.

The disturbed birds weren’t the only ones troubled by the din and commotion that have penetrated the once serene Mill Creek watershed — a lushly forested haven before lightning-sparked wildfire ravaged the region last summer.

The flames burned hottest in the remote creek canyons here, west of Healdsburg, and around Guerneville’s Armstrong Redwoods State Natural Reserve, which remains closed, the risk of burned, standing timber still deemed too high for visitors even 11 months after the fire.

Residents and landowners traumatized by the loss of their homes and community last August are grieving a changed environment, as well, and what feels to many like an invasion, as an occupying force of heavy equipment operators and crews from multiple agencies remains at work in the area.

But what was simply a prolonged intrusion to be endured became acutely personal and painful over the past few weeks, as Pacific Gas & Electric contractors began tagging stately coast redwood trees for removal from burned-out home sites.

Read more at https://www.pressdemocrat.com/article/news/refuge-no-more-forested-sonoma-county-enclave-laid-bare-by-walbridge-fire/

Posted on Categories Climate Change & EnergyTags , , , ,

Op-Ed: How PG&E and other California utilities are trying to kill rooftop solar

Ken Cook, SAN FRANCISCO CHRONICLE

A high-stakes battle is under way over the future of rooftop solar energy in California. On one side: Current and future rooftop solar consumers in the nation’s leading solar state. On the other, the state’s big three investor-owned utilities — PG&E, Southern California Edison and San Diego Gas & Electric.

The utilities have petitioned the state Public Utilities Commission to slash by more than half the credit they must pay customers for excess energy generated by rooftop solar panels. They also want to charge new rooftop solar customers nearly $70 a month just to hook up to the grid.

The PUC will hold hearings on this petition beginning July 26. The final decision, due by the end of the year, could cost solar ratepayers millions, essentially destroying the rooftop solar market in California.

Instead of considering penalties for rooftop solar customers, PUC commissioners should be asking why we still need a regressive utility model.
Continue reading “Op-Ed: How PG&E and other California utilities are trying to kill rooftop solar”

Posted on Categories WaterTags , , ,

Russian River guardian Chris Brokate marks end of watch in Sonoma County

Mary Callahan, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

It’s hard to fathom what 1.5 million pounds of trash might look like — and more troubling still to see that much litter wash downstream in the Russian River to the Pacific Ocean.

Standing in the way to make sure that doesn’t happen has been Chris Brokate, who in 2015 decided one day he no longer could watch as the watershed was transformed into a dumping ground, with litter and debris swept out to sea amid winter rains.

Since that pivotal day, Brokate, founder of the Clean River Alliance, has spearheaded the removal of about 750 tons of garbage and abandoned wreckage from the Russian River watershed through trash collection events and special projects.

It’s a worthy legacy to consider — one acknowledged by numerous awards and accolades — as Brokate, 56, outgoing Clean Team program director for the Russian Riverkeeper, prepares to leave Sonoma County and build a new semiretired life in Ecuador.

Read more at https://www.pressdemocrat.com/article/news/russian-river-guardian-chris-brokate-marks-end-of-watch-in-sonoma-county/

Posted on Categories ForestsTags , ,

Sonoma County awarded $37 million FEMA grant to mitigate wildfire risks to life, property and the environment

SONOMA COUNTY Press Release

President Joe Biden announced today that the County of Sonoma will receive a $37 million grant from the Federal Emergency Management Agency designed to help local, state and tribal agencies in California receive reimbursement for certain costs related to wildfire risk reduction. Biden made the announcement Wednesday at a White House briefing of governors from Western states. The grant is part of an overall $1 billion Building Resilient Infrastructure and Communities funding grant and requires a local match of 25 percent, or approximately $13 million, which Sonoma County plans to finance using PG&E settlement funds, for a total amount of $50 million.

“Today I’m announcing a $37 million grant to Sonoma County, California, in support of fire mitigation efforts that are underway,” President Biden said at the start of the briefing. “Because Sonoma knows all too well the devastation wrought by fire, they are the first to apply for the mitigation funds.”

The grant funding will be used to address vegetation management and fire fuel reduction in Sonoma County, including selective thinning of certain canopies, trimming undergrowth, fuels reduction for safe ingress and egress of emergency vehicles, and the creation of shaded fuel breaks and green belts to serve as fire breaks. The funding also will be used to support private property owners to prevent losses while increasing the environmental and natural values of our wildland areas.

“Since 2017 we have focused on innovative wildfire risk reduction strategies in Sonoma County. The approval of this project, which is the first of its kind in the country, validates the hard work and innovation in fire risk reduction that’s been underway for the last four years,” said Sonoma County Supervisor Lynda Hopkins, Chair of the Board of Supervisors. “These funds will help us implement ‘house outward’ strategies such as cost-share incentives for private property owners who need help with hardening structures or creating defensible space. Our goal is to get to 100 percent of at-risk homes having defensible space. This grant will also facilitate ‘wildland inward’ strategies to create protective buffers around our communities, including landscape scale management strategies like grazing greenbelts and shaded fuel breaks.”

County officials intend to distribute the grant funding as part of an integrated, innovative cross-agency “systems” methodology designed to work simultaneously at large wildland scale and neighborhood scale beginning with specific project areas in the Mark West, Lower Russian River and Sonoma Mountain areas. The “Inside-Out, Outside-In” approach includes structural hardening and defensible space to the inner core, while applying hazardous fuel reduction techniques to the outer core to create an overarching wildfire resilience zone that reduces the risk of catastrophic losses in the Wildland Urban Interface.

From 2017 through 2020, fires have burned more than 300,000 acres in Sonoma County, destroyed nearly 7,000 structures and killed 24 people.

For more information about Sonoma County’s recent fire mitigation grant from FEMA, please contact Permit Sonoma at (707) 565-1925 or Tennis.Wick@sonoma-county.org.

Posted on Categories Agriculture/Food System, WildlifeTags , , , ,

Death by design: National Park Service vs tule elk

Peter Byrne, NORTH BAY BOHEMIAN

Instagram users love the captive tule elk hoofing Tomales Point at the northern tip of Point Reyes National Seashore.

The sleek, befurred mammals seem to commune with tourists who stroll a well-traveled trail in the preserve. Tule elk are Yoda-like, with big, brown eyes. They trumpet, munch flowers and make love in harems.

According to a 1998 National Park Service brochure, “Given the mild climate and lush habitat of Tomales Point, the elk live in a virtual paradise.”

Let’s take a closer look. Using the fact-focusing lens of science, we learn that hundreds of tule elk inside the preserve are dying in agony from starvation and thirst and eating poisonous plants. They are trapped in an ecological hellscape operated by a bureaucracy that fences the animals away from forage and water for political reasons.

Read more at https://bohemian.com/death-by-design-how-the-national-park-service-experiments-on-tule-elk/

Posted on Categories Climate Change & Energy, Transportation

SCTA releases draft Comprehensive Transportation Plan

Sonoma County Transportation Authority (SCTA)

Moving Forward 2050 — the Comprehensive Transportation Plan (CTP) tells the story of Sonoma County’s transportation system. The plan examines the current state of transportation in the county and looks at future needs and goals and provides information on how these needs and goals can be met. The CTP is updated frequently enough to ensure that the plan is still relevant, useful, and represents the current transportation needs and goals of SCTA and Sonoma County jurisdictions. The previous CTP was completed in 2016.

Posted on Categories Agriculture/Food System, WaterTags , , , , ,

Russian River on the brink: Lifeblood of North Coast imperiled by deepening drought

Mary Callahan, PRESS DEMOCRAT

Two winters ago, the Russian River was a swollen, chocolate-brown mass, full from bank to bank as it surged toward the Pacific Ocean, gathering runoff from sodden hillsides and frothing creeks amid torrential rains.

The floods of late February 2019 were the worst in two decades. They sent roiling water into communities along the river’s lower reaches in Sonoma County. Thousands of residents were displaced, restaurants were damaged and inns shuttered mere months before the summer tourist season. The losses would amount to tens of millions of dollars.

Now, shriveled by another historic drought, the same river cuts a languid, narrow path through a parched landscape — a slender ribbon of water stretching from inland Mendocino County to Healdsburg, where it is widened with a shot of cool reservoir water from Dry Creek before winding west to the sea.

The lifeblood of Sonoma, Mendocino and northern Marin counties, the river provides drinking water for more than 600,000 people. It is a refuge for imperiled fish and supports a thriving recreational economy. Much of the region’s $12-plus billion wine industry wouldn’t be here without it.

Read more at https://www.pressdemocrat.com/article/news/russian-river-on-the-brink-lifeblood-of-north-coast-imperiled-by-deepening/

Posted on Categories WaterTags , , , , ,

Limbo for Mendocino County water transfer clouds outlook for key Russian River source

Mary Callahan, PRESS DEMOCRAT

The Russian River’s sprawling, manmade delivery system for drinking and irrigation water has for decades relied on a share of the flow in the Eel River, miles to the north in Lake County.

In years past, up to 22 million gallons have been siphoned from the Eel through a system of pumps, pipes and reservoirs and sent south into the East Fork of the Russian River through a mile-and-a-half tunnel blasted into a mountain more than a century ago.

But the future of that cog in the Russian River machine, long seen as critical for farmers, ranchers and rural residents reliant on the river in Mendocino County and northern Sonoma County, is now in limbo.

The water transfer also has generated hydroelectricity as it passed through a small powerhouse in rural Potter Valley and on into Lake Mendocino near Ukiah.

Efforts by federal fisheries regulators to bolster declining salmon and steelhead runs in the Eel River have slashed those diversions in half since 2007. And the drought cut those diversions by another fifth this year, as water regulators seek to maintain supplies in Lake Pillsbury, formed by a dam across the Eel River.

They may be eliminated permanently in the future as a result of PG&E’s decision not to renew its license for the 113-year-old Potter Valley powerhouse when it expires next year, leaving the state of all water transfers from the Eel River uncertain.

Read more at https://www.pressdemocrat.com/article/news/limbo-for-mendocino-county-water-transfer-clouds-outlook-for-key-russian-ri/

Posted on Categories Climate Change & EnergyTags , ,

CPUC votes in favor of utility-developed solar despite rooftop market’s opposition

Billy Ludt, SOLAR POWER WORLD

The California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) voted unanimously to approve major modifications to the “Avoided Cost Calculator” (ACC) that deeply undercuts the value of rooftop solar on Thursday. The vote came after over 7,000 public comments were submitted to the commissioners protesting the modifications and after dozens of members of the public called to testify at the commission meeting.

The ACC is a model developed by E3, a consulting firm regularly used by utilities to put out research products biased against distributed energy generation, that is also under contract with the CPUC. The ACC measures utility avoided costs from customer solar — how much utility costs go down for every solar roof built in California. It is the state’s official “value of solar” calculator.

This year E3 and CPUC included major revisions that cut the value of rooftop solar in the 2021 calculator by about one-third the value in the 2020 version. The calculator has an additional 30 GW of utility-scale solar and storage going online by 2025.

“Rooftop solar is essentially crowded out by these new resources and its value is measured to be lower,” industry advocacy group Save California Solar stated in a press release. “The idea of 30 GW of utility-scale solar and storage being installed over the next four years is wildly out of step with reality.”
Continue reading “CPUC votes in favor of utility-developed solar despite rooftop market’s opposition”