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Do we actually need more gas stations?

Bill McKibben, THE NEW YORKER, The Climate Crisis Newsletter

If we’re really going to change, sooner or later we’ll have to actually make a change

The latest front in the fight against fossil fuels—so far, one confined to a couple of California towns—concerns what might be the most iconic element of the American commercial landscape: the gas station. Beginning in 2019, activists from the Coalition Opposing New Gas Stations have questioned whether there’s a need for big new versions of the filling station, or whether—since both California and G.M. have announced plans to end the sale of new internal-combustion vehicles in fourteen years—it might be time to decide that we have enough pumps already. Last year, they helped persuade developers to withdraw plans for two gas stations in unincorporated parts of Sonoma County, and earlier this month they helped convince the city of Petaluma to become the first in the country to ban new stations; they’ve so far lost a battle against a “mega station” that would accommodate up to twenty-eight vehicles at a time in the city of Novato, but they vow to keep fighting.

It will be a tough battle in Novato, because the opponent is not some mom-and-pop garage but Costco, the vast—and vastly successful—warehouse-store chain. Costco’s model is enormous volume allowing cheap prices. The company’s public image is sterling, because it offers employees fair wages and generous benefits (one looks forward to the day when this will not stand out enough to be a boast), but its practices are beginning to come under scrutiny: Nicholas Kristof describes in the Times precisely what practices are behind the production of a $4.99 rotisserie chicken.

Read more at https://link.newyorker.com/view/5be9d06e3f92a40469e05fc8dvqy7.cjl/1a3118b7

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Every Sonoma County city has pledged action on climate change. What’s Next?

Will Carruthers, NORTH BAY BOHEMIAN

Rohnert Park became the last city in Sonoma County to formally pledge immediate action on climate change earlier this month, making the county the first in the nation where all jurisdictions pledged action to curtail the unfolding, worldwide crisis.

At its March 9 meeting, Rohnert Park’s City Council unanimously approved a “climate emergency resolution,” a document which acknowledges the ongoing and future damages of human-driven climate change and pledges the city to help implement a new framework recently passed by the Regional Climate Protection Agency (RCPA), a countywide agency tasked with confronting climate change.

On March 8, the RCPA board of directors approved a Sonoma Climate Mobilization Strategy which states the goal of making the county carbon-neutral by 2030. The RCPA’s new goal is more aggressive than the state’s current goal of reducing emissions 40% below 1990 levels by 2030. The RCPA began work on the document in late 2019, after the Sonoma County Board of Supervisors passed an emergency resolution of its own.

Read more at https://bohemian.com/every-sonoma-county-city-has-pledged-action-on-climate-change-whats-next/

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Priorities for Sonoma County’s vegetation management funds

Ted Lamm, Ethan Elkind, and Katie Segal, BERKELEY LAW

How would you spend $25 million to reduce wildfire risks? Sonoma County asked CLEE for guidance to answer this precise question. In 2017, the Sonoma Complex Fires burned hundreds of thousands of acres in the county, destroyed over 5,000 structures, and took two dozen lives. After reaching a legal settlement with Pacific Gas & Electric (whose equipment sparked the fires), Sonoma County allocated $25 million of the settlement funds to vegetation management–thinning and treatment of forests and vegetation–in order to reduce future fire risk and protect ecosystems and agriculture.

The County retained CLEE to gather expert input and prepare recommendations for how to allocate these funds most efficiently and effectively. Considering the long-term and recurring nature of vegetation management, the diversity of County landscapes and ecosystems, and the scale of the need relative to the amount of funds, a range of strategies will be required to leverage the funds into long-term investments and ensure sustainable practices. CLEE convened a group of statewide experts and a group of County stakeholders to identify spending priorities.

Our report outlines these priorities and offers specific strategies for the funds to achieve them, including:

      • Governance and coordination capacity to centralize county efforts, streamline permitting, gather data, and lead outreach initiatives, such as a new multi-agency working group with long-term dedicated staff.
      • Outreach and education capacity to spearhead communication with landowners, businesses, and residents on actions private individuals can take to reduce fire risk, including dollars specifically allocated for bilingual and equity-focused outreach.
      • Immediate vegetation management projects to increase resilience in high-risk zones in advance of the 2021 and 2022 fire seasons, with priority for shovel-ready projects, local organizations with track records of success, multi-benefit work, and other criteria.
      • Data, mapping, and planning efforts that expand on the County’s Community Wildfire Protection Plan and other key data-collection initiatives to inform smart decision-making throughout the county.
      • Long-term financial sustainability instruments to generate recurring funds for vegetation management, such as a countywide financing district, new parcel or sales tax, or resilience bond.
      • Workforce development initiatives, like local college training programs to support high-quality local jobs and grow expertise and capacity in Sonoma.

      Read the report and full list of priorities here.

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The coming tide: North Bay cities grapple with sea level rise

Cole Hersey, THE NORTH BAY BOHEMIAN

The air was still in early January when my father and I took his kayak onto the waters of San Rafael’s Canal neighborhood. Thin layers of oil floated on the water. Occasionally a plastic bottle or tennis ball bobbed by.

The sky was overcast, a drab blue-gray that nearly matched the color of the three-story apartment complex protruding out into the waters. Though it was cloudy, it was unseasonably warm and humid. It didn’t feel like a normal January day in San Rafael.

As we paddled between ducks, watching people walk around Pickleweed Park along the edge of the water, I imagined what this place might look like in 30 years. It was easy to see how a small rise in the sea could impact this community. All it would take is one big storm.

In the 1870s, tidelands in Marin County were auctioned off to developers. Over the course of more than a century, many of those plots were filled in to create space for new city infrastructure and other developments.

This scenario was not uncommon in the Bay Area. According to Baykeeper, a nonprofit focused on protecting the San Francisco Bay from pollution, 90 percent of all Bay Area wetlands have been “lost or seriously degraded” after being dyked and used for developments. However, due to rising oceans, the dykeing of wetlands now seriously threatens many wild and urban spaces across the region.

San Rafael’s Canal neighborhood is one such place; a small, yet populous, neighborhood located east of downtown where most households are low-income, and 85 percent of residents are Latinx. Built as a navigable waterway in the early 1900s, it is now mostly used for kayakers and other recreational boaters.

It is here where conservationists, community advocates and civil servants are working together to find solutions to the growing issue of sea level rise. And while this is a global issue, there is “little to no federal guidance” for addressing climate issues, the Brookings Institute recently noted. This lack of centralized guidance has left cities and states to lead the way when it comes to adapting to climate change.

Read more at https://bohemian.com/the-coming-tide-north-bay-cities-grapple-with-sea-level-rise/

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Healdsburg debuts biggest floating solar farm in nation

Andrew Graham, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

Over the last four months, two ponds at Healdsburg’s wastewater treatment plant were transformed by workers assembling rows of solar panels and pushing them out one by one to float gently on the water’s surface.

The project covered roughly half the combined 15 acres of ponds with 11,600 panels. It is likely the largest floating solar farm in the United States, the builders said, and will provide 8% of the city’s annual electrical needs.

The farm puts Healdsburg’s municipal power utility, itself a unique electricity model in the county, at the cutting edge of solar energy development. Floating solar farms are quickly gaining popularity in the U.S., backers say, particularly in places like Sonoma County where the price of land is dear.

“You couldn’t go out and buy a bunch of vineyard land for a solar project and make it economical,” Healdsburg utilities director Terry Crowley said. Floating solar farms are cost effective as the price of solar panels continues to drop, and are easy to build, Crowley said. Workers began assembling this one in mid-October and mostly finished by mid-January.

“It’s just new to California,” he said.

Windsor two years ago deployed a smaller floating solar installation to power its wastewater treatment plant. The new Healdsburg project is set to provide enough power to cover the annual supply of roughly 1,120 households.

The two-sided panels capture the sun’s energy as it strikes them from above, and also from below when sunlight reflects off the water. Metal cables anchor the floating farm to the ponds’ banks, while floating walkways give technicians and wastewater treatment plant workers the ability to check the panels.

Read more at: https://www.pressdemocrat.com/article/news/healdsburg-debuts-biggest-floating-solar-farm-in-nation-if-not-for-long/

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This California city banned the construction of any new gas stations

Kristin Toussaint, FAST COMPANY

Petaluma has decided it has enough gas stations to last until we transition to electric vehicles.

In the California city of Petaluma, which covers less than 15 square miles, there are currently 16 gas stations. But there will never be another one, even if one of the existing stations goes out of business. The ones that are left also can’t ever expand the number of fuel pumps, either, though they can add electric charging stations and hydrocarbon pumps. City officials recently approved a permanent ban on new gas stations in a move that climate activists say is national first, and a crucial step towards curbing our reliance on fossil fuels.

“It’s a really important sign of things to come where, because we haven’t seen sufficient action at a state or federal level, cities have an opportunity to do the right thing and make sure we are planning a transition from a carbon economy to a clean energy economy,” says Matt Krogh, an oil and gas campaign manager with the environmental nonprofit Stand.earth. “There’s no need to build new fossil fuel infrastructure of any sort. We have all the tools we need for a clean energy economy, and these wasted investments are things that are going to become polluting liabilities, and communities get left holding the bag.”

Across the country the number of gas stations has been steadily declining, as big businesses like Costo, Sam’s Club, and Safeway have been adding gas stations to their existing stores. This can run smaller gas stations out of business—but also creates large environmental repercussions. “If they go out of business, there’s no one to pay for the cleanup or to offer new services like transitioning to electric charging or hydrogen,” Krogh says.

Gas stations have underground storage tanks which can crack and leak, polluting the soil and groundwater. That land has to be completely remediated before the ocation can be used for anything else, a process which often costs millions of dollars. In the U.S., there are currently 450,000 “brownfield” sites—previously developed land that currently isn’t in use and may be contaminated—and the EPA estimates half of those sites are contaminated by petroleum from underground tanks at abandoned gas stations.
Continue reading “This California city banned the construction of any new gas stations”

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Petaluma City Council moves to ban new gas stations

Kathryn Palmer, PETALUMA ARGUS-COURIER

The Petaluma City Council this week moved to ban new gas stations, cementing a nearly two-year moratorium as leaders accelerate ambitious climate action goals.

The prohibition, approved unanimously late Monday, caps a years-long effort by city leaders and climate activists who have pushed an ambitious, zero-emission-by-2030 timeline. The council must approve the ban during a second reading before it takes effect.

It also streamlines processes for existing gas stations seeking to add electric vehicle charging stations and potential hydrogen fuel cell stations, with city staff underlining an urgency to support alternative fueling in order to meet state zero-emission infrastructure targets.

“The goal here is to move away from fossil fuels, and to make it as easy as possible to do that,” Councilor D’Lynda Fischer said. “Right now, we have existing fossil fuel stations, and what we want them to do is add (electric vehicle) chargers and create another source of fueling people can use.”

The city of roughly 60,000 people is host to 16 operational gas stations, and city staff concluded there are multiple stations located within a 5-minute drive of every planned or existing residence within city limits.

A contentious Safeway gas station at McDowell Boulevard and Maria Drive, which drew the ire of residents for its proximity to a school and residential neighborhoods, will see no impacts from the ban.

The controversial project has been locked in a legal battle with resident group Save Petaluma since 2019. The group is suing Safeway and the city in an attempt to compel the company to complete an additional environmental study of the project, with the hope that the study will help block the fueling station first proposed in 2013.

Read more at: https://www.petaluma360.com/article/news/petaluma-city-council-moves-to-ban-new-gas-stations/?sba=AAS

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County beginning hazard mitigation plan update

Zoe Strickland, THE HEALDSBURG TRIBUNE

Feb. 25 will mark the first in a series of public meetings being held to update Sonoma County’s hazard mitigation plan. The five-year update of the 2016 Sonoma County Local Hazard Mitigation Plan will have a more multi-jurisdictional approach.

According to Permit Sonoma’s website, the update will include Sonoma County; the cities of Santa Rosa, Cotati, Sonoma, Sebastopol, the town of Windsor; the Sonoma County Ag + Open Space District; the Timber Cove, North Sonoma Coast, Cloverdale, Sonoma County and Rancho Adobe fire districts; and both the Gold Ridge and Sonoma Resource Conservation Districts.

Hazard mitigation plans provide a profile of the community, a catalog of likely hazards — the county’s 2016 plan notes floods, fires, landslides and earthquakes — and outlines plans, goals and progress when it comes to mitigating possible hazards.

“The Hazard Mitigation Plan assesses hazard vulnerabilities and identifies mitigation actions the county will pursue in order to reduce the level of injury, property damage and community disruption that might otherwise result from such events,” according to Permit Sonoma. “In addition, adoption of the plan helps the county remain eligible for various types of pre and post disaster community assistance from the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) and the state government.”

The plan update is being headed by a steering committee made up of community members who have emergency management knowledge. The public, however, is also encouraged to attend.

Read more at: https://www.sonomawest.com/the_healdsburg_tribune/news/county-beginning-hazard-mitigation-plan-update/article_f4b3ab02-733a-11eb-9cf5-8b9c205f2d90.html#utm_source=sonomawest.com&utm_campaign=%2Fnewsletters%2Fheadlines%2F%3F-dc%3D1614013221&utm_medium=email&utm_content=headline

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Sonoma County Conservation Action group aims to create oak tree clearing moratorium

Katherine Minkiewicz, THE WINDSOR TIMES

A group of conservationists from Sonoma County Conservation Action is urging the Sonoma County Board of Supervisors to consider implementing a moratorium on county permitted tree cutting in an effort to save and preserve Sonoma County’s iconic oak woodlands.

“For decades, Sonoma County’s iconic oak forests have been excessively cleared in the name of development and vineyards. Much of this county-permitted cutting is being done without rigorous regard for the ecological importance of native oak and forest lands,” said Aja Henry, an assistant field manager with Sonoma County Conservation Action. “A moratorium on tree cutting is imperative for our native habitats as well as our ecological footprint as a county. If we are to really become carbon neutral by 2050, we need a moratorium on cutting until we have a clearer picture of the situation and have developed a realistic climate-oriented tree ordinance to regulate cutting in the future.”

On Sept. 17, 2019, the Sonoma County Board of Supervisors declared a Climate Change Emergency and pledged to support a countywide framework for reducing greenhouse gas emissions, and to pursue local actions that support to protect and enhance the value of working lands and increasing carbon sequestration.

Henry feels that protecting native woodlands would be one way the county could increase carbon sequestration since mature forests store significantly more carbon than younger or newly planted trees.

“Oak forests sequester carbon in the form of biomass, deadwood, litter and in forest soils. The sink of carbon sequestered in forests helps to offset other sources of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, such as deforestation, forest fires and fossil fuel emissions. We have a powerful tool to fight climate change right in our backyard, and we are chopping it down without a careful study of the repercussions,” Henry wrote in a recent Sonoma County Conservation Action newsletter.
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How your water heater can be a secret weapon in the climate change fight

Todd Woody, BLOOMBERG,COM

California wants to replace millions of gas water heaters with high-tech electric ones to serve as “thermal batteries” for storing solar and wind energy.

Nearly every home has a water heater, but people tend not to think about it until the shock of a cold shower signals its failure. To regulators, though, the ubiquitous household appliance is increasingly top of mind for the role it could play in reducing greenhouse gas emissions and weaning the power grid from fossil fuels

High-tech electric water heaters can double as thermal batteries, storing excess production from wind and solar generators. In California, officials aim to install them in place of millions of gas water heaters throughout the state.
That would reduce the need to fire up polluting fossil fuel power plants to supply electricity for water heating after the sun sets.

“Water heaters have significant potential,” says Commissioner Clifford Rechtschaffen of the California Public Utilities Commission. “We know we’ll need a tremendous amount of storage to get to our decarbonization goals. We’re challenged now in evenings when renewable energy production declines and demand peaks.”

The focus is on heat pump water heaters, which transfer warmth from the atmosphere to a tank. They’re up to four times as efficient as conventional gas or electric water heaters. Nationwide, about half of water heaters are powered by natural gas. In California, water heating is one of the biggest consumers of fossil fuels and gas water heaters account for 90% of the market. Swapping them for heat pump versions could reduce greenhouse gas emissions from water heating in the state by as much as 77%, according to a paper published in January by the nonprofit New Buildings Institute.

Read more at https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2021-02-11/how-your-water-heater-can-be-a-secret-weapon-in-the-climate-change-fight