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Sonoma County students to stage walkouts Friday for national climate strike

Chantelle Lee, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

Fifteen-year-old Lola Guthrie of Sebastopol didn’t want to sit back and do nothing in the midst of the climate crisis — and it’s why she plans to join other students across the country Friday and go on strike.

“I think it’s my responsibility,” she said. “It’s almost like a duty for people in my position to take action on climate change.”

Guthrie, a sophomore at Credo High School in Rohnert Park, is one of many Sonoma County students who plan to skip classes Friday and participate in an environmental walkout, part of a nationwide, youth-led demonstration meant to coincide with world leaders gathering at the United Nation’s annual climate conference in New York.

The protest event comes in the wake of the massive global climate strike in September, during which about 2,000 people protested in downtown Santa Rosa.

The Sonoma County chapter of Sunrise Movement, a youth-led environmental organization that Guthrie is a member of, is organizing the local strike. It will be centered at Old Courthouse Square with a rally and what organizers are calling a “die-in for life,” where they plan to stage their death by lying on the ground and holding up signs that reflect the different climate-related disasters killing people around the world, including drought or starvation.

Read more at https://www.pressdemocrat.com/news/10411616-181/sonoma-county-students-to-stage

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Developers sue over Windsor’s ban on natural gas in new homes

Will Schmitt, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

Windsor’s fledgling natural gas ban is under legal fire from developers who argue its new mandate will increase costs for future homeowners and fails to account for the continued potential of widespread electricity shut-offs imposed by PG&E.

Two lawsuits filed by Sonoma County developers last week ask a judge to block Windsor’s requirement that most new homes use electric appliances for cooking and heating instead of natural gas technology. The court fights could shape future development in Windsor and ripple out to Santa Rosa, where the City Council enacted a similar ban earlier this month.

The suits claim Windsor’s rule violates state environmental law, glosses over the dangers of increased generator use by residents of gas-free homes and ignores some research showing higher utility bills for those who live in all-electric homes.

The suits cite PG&E’s recent electricity shut-offs and the 2018 Camp fire in Butte County — apparently sparked by the utility’s power equipment — to bolster claims that banning natural gas is unwise.

Read more at: https://www.pressdemocrat.com/news/10363925-181/lawsuits-by-developers-challenge-windsors

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A new UN report shows that we are not on track to avoid catastrophic climate change

Priya Shukla, FORBES

Yesterday, the United Nations released its Emissions Gap Report for 2019. It has been released each year since the Paris Accords were signed in 2015 and describes each country’s “emissions gap” by comparing the amount of greenhouses gasses actually being emitted to the volume of emissions necessary to avoid the impacts of climate change. This year, it revealed that global greenhouse gas emissions have continued to increase over the course of the past decade, despite the threat that climate change poses.

Because greenhouse gas emissions have steadily risen for so long, more severe cutbacks and changes will be needed in the future to prevent the planet from warming more than 1.5 to 2 degrees Celsius beyond pre-industrial levels. The United States has emitted the most greenhouse gases since 1750 and is failing to meet the reduction targets established in the Paris Accords, which it is currently in the process of withdrawing from. However, several other countries, including Canada, Japan, Brazil, and Australia, are also not on track to meet the commitments their countries made.
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The planet is already seeing more intense wildfires, storms, and heatwaves. And, in order to avoid further impacts of climate change, the report suggests that countries must decrease their emissions by up to five times more than what they already have. Specifically, they would have to decrease by 7.6 percent annually until 2030 to prevent the planet from warming above 1.5 degrees Celsius. This sort of dramatic reduction has only been seen during the fall of the Soviet Union when emissions fell by 6 percent in the United States and Japan.

Next month, the United Nations Climate Change Conference will take place to address how countries can work together to meet these emissions targets and next year they will meet to pledge even more cutbacks, as part of the Paris Accords. But whether they follow through on those commitments remains to be seen.

Source: https://www.forbes.com/sites/priyashukla/2019/11/27/a-new-un-report-shows-that-we-are-not-on-track-to-avoid-catastrophic-climate-change/#3812d2b82b9a

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Santa Rosa homebuilders oppose potential natural gas ban on new homes

Will Schmitt, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

Homebuilders unhappy with Santa Rosa’s plans to prohibit most new homes from relying on natural gas voiced concerns Thursday that efforts to require electric appliances are moving too fast.

The city, one of dozens in California that could require new homes up to three stories to be all-electric, held a meeting to solicit feedback from local homebuilders before a City Council study session Tuesday.

The council has yet to vote on the issue, but the natural-gas ban’s inclusion in city discussions of building codes taking effect in 2020 has stirred up some in the building community who fear a hasty process could elicit negative reactions from customers who prefer gas-fueled stoves, fireplaces and heaters.

“We’re kind of assuming this is a done deal,” said Keith Christopherson, a prominent North Bay builder. “And I gotta tell you, the response that we’ve gotten from people is that they’re really P.O.’d.”

The push to ban gas appliances — a step already taken by Berkeley and being given serious consideration by other locales including Windsor, Petaluma and Cloverdale — is connected to California’s aspiration to eliminate or offset all carbon emissions by 2045. That will necessarily involve ending the use of natural gas in buildings. Eliminating its use in new homes is a first step, while retrofitting existing buildings is a distant but implicit goal.

New state building codes set to take effect Jan. 1 already include a standard requirement for new homes to include solar panel arrays.

Read more at https://www.pressdemocrat.com/news/10063618-181/santa-rosa-homebuilders-urge-city?ref=related

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Santa Rosa moves forward on plan to ban natural gas in new homes

Will Schmitt, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

Starting in early 2020, plans for most new Santa Rosa homes likely won’t include natural gas stoves, fireplaces, furnaces and water heaters.

The Santa Rosa City Council on Tuesday voted 6-0 to require the exclusive use of electric appliances in most new residential construction below four stories. The measure, which will need a second vote of approval and the California Energy Commission’s backing in the coming weeks, will put the city in the company of Windsor, Berkeley and other local governments across California that have passed a type of natural gas ban in the name of curbing climate change.

The council’s vote came after PG&E shut off electricity to prevent wildfires four times in October, plunging thousands of Sonoma County homes into darkness and raising questions about the wisdom of eliminating natural gas from the range of possible home power sources.

But council members, who made confronting global heating a top priority earlier this year, didn’t waver from their pursuit of an all-electric requirement, which is more stringent than state law requires. Their decision was backed by supporters of climate action such as Chris Thompson, vice president of the Oakmont Democratic Club.

“We are in a state of emergency. We are running out of time,” Thompson said. “Electric homes are the future we need for ourselves, and especially for our children and our grandchildren.”

Read more at https://www.pressdemocrat.com/news/10301069-181/santa-rosa-moves-forward-on

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PG&E should belong to Californians. Not to its Wall Street shareholders.

Charlie Eaton, THE SACRAMENTO BEE

As the lights went out across California this month, residents wondered if we will ever fix PG&E — the nation’s largest for-profit electric utility.

Some predictably joked that we should simply unleash the power of that mythical institution, which some economists still refer to as the “free market.” But PG&E’s latest failure illustrates that markets — and how well they work for consumers — always depend on state regulation. For this reason, California must use the crisis to deeply reform its utility regulations.

A critical regulatory choice for any market is the allowed forms of ownership for organizations that sell goods in the market. California’s courts, lawmakers and regulators are confronting this very issue as PG&E seeks to emerge from a bankruptcy that stems from its responsibility for recent wildfire catastrophes. The specific questions are: Who will own PG&E? How much control will regulators give them? And how much profit can owners extract from the utility?

Any changes to PG&E’s ownership will have big consequences for consumers and communities as California tries to transition to a carbon-neutral power grid. So, policymakers should take into consideration the latest social science on how the form of ownership will affect both consumers and society.

The first big lesson from recent research is about who should not be allowed to own PG&E – namely Wall Street. Gov. Gavin Newsom and other policy players should take every step necessary to block a consortium of 24 private equity and hedge funds that are currently attempting a hostile takeover of PG&E. Why?
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The interests and track record of the investors trying to take over PG&E speak for themselves. These types of funds explicitly seek to extract windfall profits from the companies they acquire, with little concern for the long-term economic viability or social importance of the company. It is telling that PG&E’s largest current group of shareholders are Abrams Capital, Knighthead Capital and Redwood Capital — a rival alliance of hedge funds that is trying to maintain control after running PG&E into the ground just 17 years since the company’s last bankruptcy.

Private equity and hedge fund ownership is especially pernicious in sectors with large public subsidies and little competition. For example, my colleagues and I show in a forthcoming article for the Review of Financial Studies that investor ownership has had dire consequences in the for-profit college sector. When federally subsidized for-profit colleges are owned by outside investors, we find that they are more likely to increase student loan debt, cut faculty-student ratios and engage in fraudulent recruitment.

Read more here: https://www.sacbee.com/opinion/california-forum/article236541993.html#storylink=cpy

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Op-Ed: How to protect California ratepayers, expand clean local energy and avoid bailing out PG&E

Craig Lewis, UTILITY DIVE

Craig Lewis is the executive director of Clean Coalition, a nonprofit organization whose mission is to accelerate the transition to renewable energy and a modern grid through technical, policy, and project development expertise.

Since 2017, Pacific Gas & Electric (PG&E), California’s largest utility, has racked up more than $30 billion in liabilities for wildfire-related damages caused by its equipment. In January 2019, PG&E filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection with the goal of shedding these liabilities.

This grave situation also represents a golden opportunity for the Golden State.

Experts have been weighing in on what should become of PG&E. Ideas include making PG&E a public authority controlled by the state, breaking it up into municipal utilities, and making it a fully deregulated utility.

But there’s a better solution, one that should be applied to all the state’s investor-owned utilities (IOUs): require the utilities to divest their transmission assets. This solution avoids another utility bailout, protects utility customers from rate increases and wildfire risks, and fixes a major obstacle to California’s zero-emission, clean energy future.

A broken business model

The current utility business model is fundamentally broken and needs to change. IOUs now earn a guaranteed rate of return on infrastructure investments, which incentivizes them to build more transmission infrastructure and has led to out-of-control transmission costs around the country.

Because transmission costs are the fastest-growing part of electricity bills, it could soon cost more to deliver energy than to generate it. And it’s worse than it looks.

The capital costs of transmission infrastructure, high as they are, represent a fraction of total transmission costs. Operations and maintenance (O&M) and returns on investments drive up transmission costs significantly over the life of these assets, with those excessive costs borne by ratepayers.

Read more at https://www.utilitydive.com/news/how-to-protect-california-ratepayers-expand-clean-local-energy-and-avoid-b/554564/

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Local climate resolution

Will Carruthers, THE BOHEMIAN

After several years of droughts, floods and fires, the Sonoma County Board of Supervisors passed a nonbinding resolution in September acknowledging the role of climate change in the events and highlighting the need for increased local action to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

However, local activists and a climate-science expert at Sonoma State University say the county’s emergency resolution, similar to resolutions passed by a handful of other local jurisdictions, does not sufficiently meet the challenge of climate change.

In the past several months, local groups joined an international movement pushing for governments at all levels to treat climate change as a current threat to society rather than as an issue that can be ameliorated by reducing emissions over the next several decades.

On Sept. 17, the Sonoma County Board of Supervisors passed a resolution “endorsing the declaration of a climate emergency and immediate emergency mobilization to restore a safe climate.” Petaluma and Windsor passed similar declarations. Sebastopol and Santa Rosa are expected to consider similar resolutions soon.

Read more at https://www.bohemian.com/northbay/planet-plan/Content?oid=9316811

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Divestment works – and one huge bank can lead the way

Bill McKibben, THE GUARDIAN

On 15 October, the European Investment Bank meets to decide its policy on fossil fuels. The hand of history is on its shoulder.

Millions of people marched against climate crisis over the past two weeks, in some of the largest demonstrations of the millennium. Most people cheered the students who led the rallies – call them the Greta Generation. But now we’ll start to find out if all their earnest protest actually matters.

Perhaps the first real test will come on 15 October, when the board of the EU’s European Investment Bank – the largest public bank in the world – meets to decide whether the time has finally come to stop expanding the fossil fuel sector. This should be a no-brainer decision: the bank’s staff has put forward a cogent proposal, supported by campaigners across the continent, that would end loans to new fossil fuel projects by 2020.

That plan fits with the facts: when the world’s climate scientists declared last autumn that we would need to have fundamentally transformed our energy sector within a decade, it was clear that the first job was to stop building any new infrastructure. The first rule of holes is, when you’re in one, stop digging.

In this case that means no more digging for gas pipelines or ports or anything else that will help lock in carbon emissions for decades to come. In the past week of Guardian reporting we’ve learned that the biggest oil companies plan to increase production as much as 35% in the next decade. It’s going to be hard enough to phase out the vast existing fossil fuel infrastructure in the years ahead: adding new projects at this point is insane.

Read more at https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2019/oct/13/divestment-bank-european-investment-fossil-fuels

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Richmond v Chevron: the California city taking on its most powerful polluter

Susie Cagle, THE GUARDIAN

The Chevron refinery that looms over Richmond, California, its muted orange tanks nestled into the scrubby low-slung hills above San Francisco Bay, is older than the city itself.

The refinery processes nearly 250,000 barrels of crude oil each day. When it “flares”, as it did more often in 2018 than in any other year over the past decade, dark smoke spirals up and across town in the bay breeze.

When it explodes, like it did in 1989, 1999 and 2012, the thick cloud is visible across the bay and beyond, a blot against the sky that ascends before falling and settling on everything within a multi-mile vicinity that is not covered, closed or sealed up.

A fire on 6 August 2012 sent more than 15,000 people to seek treatment for respiratory distress at local hospitals.

Richmond has long been known for the three Cs: crime, corruption and Chevron. You could also add coal to that list, which the Levin-Richmond terminal began exporting out of the city in 2013, along with coke, the petroleum-refining byproduct.

Despite its proximity to San Francisco and Silicon Valley’s wealth, Richmond’s median household income is below the California state average, with more than 15% of residents living in poverty. More than 80% of residents are people of colour. And Richmond children have roughly twice the rate of asthma as their neighbours countywide.

“It’s a textbook example of an environmental justice community,” said Matt Holmes, the executive director of the nonprofit Groundwork Richmond. “I think the whole country owes Richmond a debt.”

And the city is here to collect. Richmond may be a company city, but it is in open and sustained conflict with the industries that sustain it. Environmental justice activists here are fighting a multi-front war against the fossil fuels that gave the city life, but which, they argue, are also slowly killing it.

Read more at https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2019/oct/09/richmond-chevron-california-city-polluter-fossil-fuel