Robert Digitale, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT
A Napa company is working to significantly reduce greenhouse gas emissions by offering an alternative way to make the most common construction material on the planet: concrete.
Watershed Materials recently received a $743,000 grant from the National Science Foundation to make concrete blocks without cement. Already, in an earlier grant phase, the company demonstrated the scientific feasibility of its proposal and produced a masonry block made with only half the regular amount of cement.
Under the grant, the company now seeks to develop both the cement-less blocks and the machinery needed to mass produce them.
“Cement is a really, really good glue,” said Watershed President David Easton. “But what we’ve discovered is it’s expensive and hard on the environment.”
Portland cement, which binds together sand and gravel to form concrete, is made in kilns using intense heat, a process that releases carbon dioxide from the limestone and other ingredients in the mixture. Its production is deemed responsible for more than 5 percent of the world’s greenhouse emissions.
“The making of cement is second only to automobiles and coal-fired electrical plants in the amount of CO2 it generates,” said Robert Courland, author of the book “Concrete Planet.” Courland hasn’t studied Watershed’s operation, but he said other businesses and researchers also are seeking “the Holy Grail” — a material that would be both more permanent and environmentally friendly than today’s concrete.
Easton brings more than four decades of construction experience as the founder of Rammed Earth Works. The Napa company builds homes and other structures from rammed earth, a mixture of clay-like, mineral-laden subsoils and a little cement that is tamped down in forms to build thick, sturdy walls. The process relies on techniques developed by ancient cultures.
Read more via Napa company developing greener concrete | The Press Democrat.
Clark Mason, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT
A huge solar array could be in place by next spring in the hills overlooking Lake Sonoma under a cooperative venture announced Monday between the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and the Dry Creek Band of Pomo Indians.
The solar panels would generate electricity for the fish hatchery, visitors center and other buildings at the base of Warm Springs Dam northwest of Healdsburg, as well as the tribe’s River Rock Casino and its other facilities near Geyserville, according to details released by the tribe and the Army Corps.
Tribal Chairman Harvey Hopkins called it “great for the tribe, great for Sonoma County and great for the environment.”
The initial 5-megawatt system would be the largest single solar installation in Sonoma County, eclipsing a 3-megawatt facility near Cloverdale.
Army Corps Lt. Col. John Morrow said the solar development is consistent with President Barack Obama’s order for federal agencies to reduce their carbon footprint, along with the corps’ goal of having 25 percent renewable energy by 2025.
Read more via Dry Creek tribe plans large solar power project | The Press Democrat.
Justin Gillisnov, NEW YORK TIMES
The gathering risks of climate change are so profound that they could stall or even reverse generations of progress against poverty and hunger if greenhouse emissions continue at a runaway pace, according to a major new United Nations report.
Despite growing efforts in many countries to tackle the problem, the global situation is becoming more acute as developing countries join the West in burning huge amounts of fossil fuels, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change said here on Sunday.
Failure to reduce emissions, the group of scientists and other experts found, could threaten society with food shortages, refugee crises, the flooding of major cities and entire island nations, mass extinction of plants and animals, and a climate so drastically altered it might become dangerous for people to work or play outside during the hottest times of the year.
“Continued emission of greenhouse gases will cause further warming and long-lasting changes in all components of the climate system, increasing the likelihood of severe, pervasive and irreversible impacts for people and ecosystems,” the report found.
In the starkest language it has ever used, the expert panel made clear how far society remains from having any serious policy to limit global warming.
Read more via U.N. Panel Issues Its Starkest Warning Yet on Global Warming – NYTimes.com.
Don Bauder, SAN DIEGO READER
In April of 2013, Superior Court judge Timothy Taylor, agreeing with the Sierra Club, ruled that San Diego County’s climate action plan violated state law by not taking climate pollution sufficiently into account in its long-term transportation plan. Today (October 29), the Court of Appeal, Fourth Appellate District, upheld Taylor’s decision.
Said the appeals court, “The Sierra Club alleged that instead of preparing a climate change action plan that included comprehensive and enforceable [greenhouse gas] emission reduction measures that would achieve [greenhouse gas] reductions by 2020, the County prepared a climate action plan as a plan-level document that expressly ‘does not ensure reductions.'”
Judge Taylor ruled that the climate action plan did not contain enforceable greenhouse-gas reduction measures that would achieve the specified emissions reductions. Many environmentalists have long complained that the county relies excessively on highway traffic.
The county appealed, claiming the statute of limitations bars the claim that the mitigation measures are not enforceable, a supplemental environmental impact report was not required, and the county’s plan met legal requirements. Today, the appellate court agreed with Judge Taylor’s decision.
via Greenhouse gas plan inadequate | San Diego Reader.
Woody Hastings, EARTH ISLAND INSTITUTE
An interview with Bill Kortum, who helped lead the opposition to a nuke plant at Bodega Bay
Fifty years ago, on October 30, 1964, the American environmental movement scored a major victory when California utility Pacific Gas & Electric said it was abandoning plans to construct an atomic energy plant at Bodega Bay, about 70 miles north of San Francisco.
The struggle to protect Bodega Head is widely viewed as the launch point of the US anti-nuclear movement. The mass demonstrations at the Seabrook Nuclear Power Plant, the opposition to PG&E’s development of the Diablo Power Station on the California Coast, the long-running American Peace Test actions against the Nevada nuclear test, the massive Nuclear Freeze marches – all of them came in the wake of the struggle against building a nuclear plant outside this small fishing village that would soon become better known as the setting of the Alfred Hitchcock thriller, The Birds.
To many Northern California residents today, it is amazing that such a proposal ever existed; that otherwise sane people thought it was a good idea to build a nuclear power plant at the Bodega Head. At the time, however, most Americans were pro-nuclear, including most self-indentified “conservationists” or “environmentalists,” a word that was just then coming into use. So it fell to an ad-hoc band of citizen-activists to raise the alarm about the power plant and to spearhead the opposition to it. If those concerned citizens had not risen up to oppose this ill-conceived plan, we would be living in a different Northern California today, saddled no doubt with an aging industrial forbidden zone on what had once been a beautiful rocky outcropping on the coast.
I had the chance to speak with Bill Kortum, one of the few people still living in Sonoma County who was involved. Although I had prepared a set of questions to ask for the interview, most of them were swept away by Kortum’s eagerness to just spill his thoughts and memories of the six-year “Battle of Bodega Bay.”
Today, the pit that PG&E started excavating for the planned power station, known locally as “the hole in the head,” has become a small pond on the ocean’s edge – evidence of how nature can heal itself when we stop our destructive practices and get out of the way.
Read the interview via 50 Years Ago, the Anti-Nuclear Movement Scored Its First Major Victory in CA | Latest News | Earth Island Journal | Earth Island Institute.
James Dunn, NORTH BAY BUSINESS JOURNAL
Startup power utility Sonoma Clean Power on Wednesday reported two long-term contracts for geothermal and solar power.
The first contract is for 10 years of geothermal power from Calpine’s Geysers facilities in northeastern Sonoma County. The deal provides steadily rising volumes reaching 50 megawatts in 2018. By then the total energy coming from that source will amount to 23 percent of Sonoma Clean Power’s mix.
The second contract is for 20 years of solar power from Recurrent Energy, adding 40 megawatts to the agency’s previous purchase of 30 megawatts for a total of 70 megawatts.
The alternative-power agency claims rates about 4 percent lower than PG&E’s rates. The new geothermal and solar deals will help the agency keep its rates low into the future. Sonoma Clean Power provides electric generation service to customers in much of Sonoma County, with about 22,000 residential customers.
In December, an additional 140,000 customer accounts will be eligible to receive the agency’s cleaner mix of power. All cities in Sonoma County participate in the program except Petaluma and Rohnert Park, where a vote on whether to allow participation in the agency will be taken by Jan. 31. Healdsburg has its own municipal utility and is not a part of Sonoma Clean Power.
Read more via Sonoma Clean Power plugs in big geothermal, solar deals – North Bay Business Journal – North San Francisco Bay Area, Sonoma, Marin, Napa counties – Archive.
Matt Weiser, THE SACRAMENTO BEE
Weather Service foresees drought persisting into 2015
If ever there was a winter when California needed rain, this is it. One early prediction, however, offers little hope.
A winter outlook released Thursday by the National Weather Service suggests drought is likely to continue in many parts of California for a fourth straight year. Although that prediction is early and marked by some uncertainty, it’s enough to keep water officials on edge.
“California is now extremely vulnerable to water shortages,” said Kevin Werner, western regional climate services director at the National Weather Service. “The situation is unlikely to change even if we get an average winter.”
He noted the three-year drought now underway is the driest ever recorded in the state.
The forecast by the agency’s Climate Prediction Center is an effort to broadly frame what kind of weather lies ahead through January. This time frame encompasses a big share of the usual period in which California might hope for some drought relief. And the outlook is not encouraging.
According to the forecast, odds favor greater than average precipitation only in Southern California, mainly south of Bakersfield. While that is certainly a bright spot in the forecast, it is Northern California and its Sierra Nevada that need heavy precipitation to replenish rivers and reservoirs that supply water for two-thirds of the state’s population. There, no strong signal exists to suggest either wet or dry conditions, said Mike Halpert, acting director of the prediction center.
Read more via Winter forecast suggests drought worries not over for California | The Sacramento Bee.
Dan Bacher, SAN DIEGO FREE PRESS
As the oil industry spent record amounts on lobbying in Sacramento and made record profits, documents obtained by the Center for Biological Diversity reveal that almost 3 billion gallons of oil industry wastewater were illegally dumped into Central California aquifers that supply drinking water and irrigation water for farms.
The Center said the wastewater entered the aquifers through at least nine injection disposal wells used by the oil industry to dispose of waste contaminated with fracking (hydraulic fracturing) fluids and other pollutants.
The documents also reveal that Central Valley Regional Water Quality Board testing found high levels of arsenic, thallium and nitrates, contaminants sometimes found in oil industry wastewater, in water-supply wells near these waste-disposal operations.
The illegal dumping took place in a state where Big Oil is the most powerful corporate lobby and the Western States Petroleum Association (WSPA) is the most powerful corporate lobbying organization, alarming facts that the majority of the public and even many environmental activists are not aware of.
Read more via Massive Dumping of Fracking Wastewater into Aquifers Shows Big Oil’s Power in California.
Hudson Sangree, THE SACRAMENTO BEE
A demonstration house unveiled in El Dorado Hills last week by national builder KB Home recycles drain water for toilets and landscaping and can power itself entirely with solar panels. Its innovative systems are compact and unobtrusive, and will likely come down in price, making them viable upgrades for new home buyers in coming years, company officials said.
“These are futuristic things, but they’re systems you can do today,” said Dan Bridleman, the company’s senior vice president for technology and sustainability. The features are still relatively expensive, but Bridleman said the cost will fall sufficiently over time so that homebuyers will see a built-in water recycling unit or a house that doesn’t need to draw power from the grid as a “good value proposition.”
KB’s 2,600-square-foot “Double ZeroHouse 3.0” is located in its Fiora subdivision in Blackstone, a 990-acre master planned community along Latrobe Road. Blackstone, like other communities in El Dorado Hills, uses recycled water produced by the area’s two wastewater treatment plants to water lawns.
Water recycling has been gaining momentum in California’s historic drought. Cities including Sacramento are planning to use more of it in coming years for landscape irrigation and to cool power stations. Most recycled water is produced by large municipal wastewater plants.
The Double ZeroHouse takes water recycling to the next level by providing on-site treatment in a system developed by an Australian-American venture called Nexus eWater. The system isn’t approved for household use yet, but company officials say they expect the state to certify it within the next year.
The system gathers gray water from showers, sinks and washing machines in an underground 80-gallon reservoir that looks like a black plastic barrel. Above ground, in a locker-size treatment unit, contaminants such as hair and lint are bubbled out with soap and air, said Tom Wood, Nexus eWater’s chief technology officer.
Read more via New El Dorado Hills house recycles wash water and makes its own energy – Real Estate – The Sacramento Bee. email@example.com
Matt Brown, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT
Two-thirds of Sonoma and Marin county residents surveyed recently in a poll commissioned by SMART said they would consider riding the North Bay’s future commuter train, an indication that agency officials said reflects the possibility of commuters’ high interest in the rail service.
The telephone poll of 900 residents in the two counties found that 91 percent of those who would consider riding the Sonoma-Marin Area Rail Transit train said they would do so if the service and schedule fit their travel needs.
SMART is currently constructing tracks in preparation for service to begin in 2016 between Santa Rosa and San Rafael. Critics have predicted that trains will run nearly empty, especially since the first phase of service will not connect to the Larkspur-San Francisco ferry due to a lack of funding.
SMART officials suggested the poll results bolster their case that the service will have a thriving ridership within the North Bay.
Read more via SMART poll shows high interest among potential riders | The Press Democrat.