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Windsor pulls plug on all-electric rule to stave off lawsuits by developers

Will Schmitt, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

Windsor has capitulated to developers who challenged the town’s ban on natural gas in most new homes, opting to end its all-electric rule to stave off potentially expensive litigation.

The Town Council on Wednesday voted unanimously, if regretfully, to delete the all-electric rule it passed in late 2019, when it became the first Sonoma County jurisdiction to ban natural gas in new residential construction under four stories starting in early 2020.

The vote to end the policy — known as a “reach code” because it’s a discretionary move beyond mandatory minimum building standards — is necessary to end the litigation under the terms of a settlement reached with the developers who sued, according to town officials.

But for Councilwoman Deb Fudge, a staunch supporter of the all-electric rule, the idea that Windsor had to abandon the climate-friendly policy under legal pressure was difficult to believe. She lamented the town’s inability to sufficiently fund its legal defense, which she estimated could cost up to $400,000, even after her efforts to drum up extra cash from private sector climate allies.

“It’s beyond comprehension that we have to fold and reverse our reach code because a rich developer can outspend us,” Fudge said.

Two developers, Bill Gallaher and the Windsor-Jensen Land Co., sued Windsor over the natural gas ban, with Gallaher also suing Santa Rosa over the city’s rule. The developers challenged the process by which the jurisdictions had passed their all-electric rules, citing the bedrock California Environmental Quality Act in their lawsuits.

Windsor’s quandary with its all-electric rule — to defend or disown — drew advocacy from across the North Bay and attention from across the state. Climate advocates urged town officials to defend the natural gas ban, seen as a small but key part of California’s struggle to curb the disastrous effects of global heating.
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Windsor poised to repeal natural gas ban opposed by developers

Will Schmitt, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

While Windsor has been negotiating with its challengers, Santa Rosa is not looking to settle.

“Santa Rosa is fighting the lawsuit and intends to keep our all-electric ordinance intact,” said Councilman Chris Rogers on Friday in a text message.

Windsor is preparing to repeal its ban on natural gas in most new homes as part of a tentative settlement with Bill Gallaher, the politically connected Sonoma County developer who has sued the town over its new climate-friendly mandate.

The Town Council on Nov. 18 put off the move under advice from Town Manager Ken MacNab after a flood of support from community members urging Windsor to defend its 2019 ban, which requires all-electric appliances in most new homes under three stories. MacNab had asked for more time “to review some of the legal points in the litigation.”

Under the proposed settlement, Gallaher and Windsor-Jensen Land Co., another developer that sued the town over the ban, would drop their lawsuits in exchange for a repeal of the all-electric rule, according to town documents. Town officials said they have pursued a deal to avoid costly litigation — taking an opposite tack from Santa Rosa, where City Hall is steeled for its own court fight with Gallaher over similar all-electric rules for new housing.

The all-electric measures are meant to align cities with California’s goal of fighting climate change by eliminating fossil fuel use associated with buildings. And supporters, including Windsor residents and elected officials and climate advocates from across the North Bay, have called on Windsor to stick with its rules while questioning the influence of political contributions that Mayor Dominic Foppoli has received from Gallaher. Some are calling for the mayor to recuse himself from the matter.

All of the written public responses Windsor officials received and published ahead of the Nov. 18 Town Council meeting were in support of the town’s natural gas ban.

“It would really be an extreme disappointment if a millionaire developer was able to bully the town out of doing all the amazing work to support the climate that this town does,” Windsor resident Jennifer Silverstein said at the virtual council meeting, noting that Windsor’s response to the Gallaher and Windsor-Jensen lawsuits could have ramifications beyond the town. “If they succeed in bullying us, they will bully Sonoma County and they will bully California.”

The five-member council is set to discuss the litigation again Wednesday in closed session. Its next regular meeting is scheduled for Dec. 16.
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The fossil fuel industry wants you to believe it’s good for people of color

Sammy Roth, LOS ANGELES TIMES

The letter to Mexico’s energy minister offered a glowing review of a fossil fuel project in Baja California.

Writing in July, three U.S. governors and the chair of the Ute Indian Tribe praised the Energía Costa Azul project — which was seeking approval from the Mexican government — as “one of the most promising [liquefied natural gas] export facilities on the Pacific Coast.”

The letter was arranged by Western States and Tribal Nations, an advocacy group that says it was created in part to “promote tribal self-determination” by creating easier access to overseas markets for gas extracted from Native American lands.

But internal documents shared with The Times reveal that the group’s main financial backers are county governments and fossil fuel companies — including Sempra Energy of San Diego, which received approval this month to build the $1.9-billion facility in Baja. In fact, the group has just one tribal member, the Ute Indian Tribe.

Western States and Tribal Nations isn’t the only effort by fossil fuel proponents to cast themselves as allies of communities of color and defenders of their financial well-being.

The goal is to bulwark oil and gas against ambitious climate change policies by claiming the moral high ground — even as those fuels kindle a global crisis that disproportionately harms people who aren’t white.

Recent examples abound.

As protests rocked the United States after the police killing of George Floyd, a government relations firm whose clients include oil and gas companies told news media that the mayor of San Luis Obispo, Calif., was “getting a lot of heat” from the NAACP over a proposal to limit gas hookups in new buildings. That was proved false when the local NAACP chapter said it supported the policy.

Around the same time, Alaska’s all-Republican congressional delegation wrote a letter to federal officials complaining about the refusal of several banks to finance oil and gas drilling in the Arctic, writing that the banks were harming Alaska Natives by “openly discriminating against investment in some of the most economically disadvantaged regions of America.”

Some of the most contentious debates involve natural gas. The fuel is less polluting than coal, but an international team of scientists reported last year that planet-warming emissions from gas are rising faster than coal emissions are falling. A recent study in the peer-reviewed journal AGU Advances found that replacing coal with gas might do little good for the climate.

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Historic moment for climate! Menlo Park is going for zero carbon by 2030!

Diane Bailey, INMENLO

On Tuesday, July 14, Menlo Park became the first city in the U.S. to commit to becoming zero carbon by 2030! The newly adopted climate action plan (CAP) includes groundbreaking measures phasing out fossil fuel use throughout the city – and prioritizing racial justice.

Background: Last year, the City declared a climate emergency and committed to addressing climate change by adopting a new CAP that aspires to carbon neutrality. In a recent Black Lives Matter resolution (No. 6563), the City also prioritized climate action and empowered the City’s environmental leadership, recognizing that the most vulnerable residents are the most affected by this global issue.

Menlo Park has adopted one of the strongest climate targets of any city, the closest being Palo Alto’s 80% GHG reduction target by 2030. We know of no other city in the U.S. going for zero carbon by 2030. Menlo Park plans to accomplish this through 90% greenhouse gas reductions and 10% carbon removal.

Although we are in the midst of a global pandemic and resulting economic turmoil, the impacts of climate change have not slowed. The climate crisis continues, and Menlo Park is uniquely vulnerable with residents in Belle Haven disproportionately impacted by significant flooding from sea level rise expected to worsen in the next few decades. There is scientific consensus that if we want to avoid the very worst and irreversible impacts of climate change, we must dramatically reduce Greenhouse Gas (GHG) emissions by 2030 through rapid, far-reaching, and un-precedented measures.

The City of Menlo Park has truly stepped up as a climate leader. The Climate Action Plan adopted yesterday includes four core strategies to dramatically reduce carbon pollution:
– Phase out Fossil Gas use in homes & buildings (through clean, zero emission heaters, water heaters and appliances as they are replaced), with a target of a 95% transition by 2030;
– Support and advance a transition to electric vehicles (EVs) with reduced gasoline sales, expanded EV charging, and City Fleet leadership;
– Reduce traffic through measures making the City easier to navigate without a car, and increasing housing downtown; and
– Eliminate the use of fossil fuels from municipal operations.

Source: https://inmenlo.com/2020/07/15/historic-moment-for-climate-menlo-park-is-going-for-zero-carbon-by-2030/

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UK airports must shut to reach 2050 climate target, new research concludes

Paul Brown, CLIMATE NEWS NETWORK

The reasoning behind the report is that technologies to cut greenhouse gas emissions, like carbon capture and storage, will not be developed in time and on a large enough scale to make a difference to emission reductions by 2050.

If it is to achieve its target of net zero climate emissions by 2050, all UK airports must close by mid-century and the country will have to make other drastic and fundamental lifestyle changes, says a report from a research group backed by the government in London.

With the UK due to host this year’s round of crucial UN climate talks in Glasgow in November, a group of academics has embarrassed the British government by showing it has currently no chance of meeting its own legally binding target to reduce greenhouse gas emissions to nothing within 30 years.

Their report, Absolute Zero, published by the University of Cambridge, says no amount of government or public wishful thinking will hide the fact that the country will not reach zero emissions by 2050 without barely conceivable changes to policies, industrial processes and lifestyles. Its authors include colleagues from five other British universities.

All are members of a group from UK Fires, a research program sponsored by the UK government, aiming to support a 20% cut in the country’s true emissions by 2050 by placing resource efficiency at the heart of its future industrial strategy. The report was paid for under the UK Fires program.

As well as a temporary halt to flying, the report also says British people cannot go on driving heavier cars and turning up the heating in their homes.

The government, industry and the public, it says, cannot continue to indulge themselves in these ways in the belief that new technologies will somehow save them – everyone will have to work together to change their way of life.

Because electric or zero-emission aircraft cannot be developed in time, most British airports will need to close by the end of this decade, and all flying will have to stop by 2050 until non-polluting versions are available.

Electrification of surface transport, rail and road, needs to be rapid, with the phasing out of all development of petrol and diesel cars immediately. Even if all private cars are electric, the amount of traffic will have to fall to 60% of 2020 levels by 2050, and all cars will have to be smaller.

Read more: https://www.ecowatch.com/u/climate_news_network

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Developer Bill Gallaher sues Santa Rosa over natural gas ban as city doubles down on climate goal

Will Schmitt, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

Santa Rosa has a new goal of drastically reducing or offsetting its carbon emissions by 2030, a target set by city leaders this week hours after discussing one of many fronts in Santa Rosa’s fight to shrink its climate footprint: a lawsuit over the city’s pending natural gas ban for new homes.

The City Council in November, seeking to curb future use of fossil fuels in houses, unanimously approved the ban over the objections of home builders, who fear higher prices for all-electric homes will deter buyers. Some concerned residents also pointed to the recent reliance on natural gas during the series of prolonged power outages imposed last fall by PG&E to prevent its equipment from starting wildfires.

The city’s prohibition, which needs approval from state regulators, requires most new homes three stories or less to use appliances — stoves, water heaters, dryers — that run on electricity instead of natural gas.

But the ban now faces a lawsuit from local developer Bill Gallaher, owner of a Windsor-based home building company and a chain of senior living facilities located across California and Nevada. He and a development group also lodged separate lawsuits against Windsor last year over its natural gas ban, which is similar to the measure advanced in Santa Rosa. Dozens of municipalities in the state have considered or adopted a similar ban.

All three suits are pending in Sonoma County Superior Court. At least one mandatory settlement conference on the litigation against Windsor has taken place, and another such meeting with Santa Rosa is set for early February.

Santa Rosa council members discussed Gallaher’s lawsuit Tuesday in closed session, directing City Attorney Sue Gallagher to defend the city’s ordinance. In the open portion of the same meeting, the council unanimously adopted a resolution declaring a climate emergency and setting the citywide goal of carbon-neutrality by 2030 through a combination of reducing emissions and removing carbon dioxide from the atmosphere.

“I do think it would be a dereliction of duty if we did not take individual and systemic actions to curb our greenhouse gas emissions,” said Councilman Chris Rogers.

At his direction, city staff will develop a public tracker so residents — many of whom urged the council to take action Tuesday — can follow the city’s progress toward achieving its climate goals. In an interview Friday, Rogers noted that city officials were aware of the potential threat of litigation when they voted unanimously to adopt the natural gas ban and that the city might have to fight a lawsuit as a result.

Read more at https://www.pressdemocrat.com/news/10587634-181/developer-bill-gallaher-sues-santa

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Induction cooktops becoming popular as eco-friendly option

Meg McConahey, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

For technology that has been available since the 1950s, induction cooking sure looks futuristic.

Place a pot on a smooth, glass surface, touch a pad to turn on and watch liquid boil in under a minute. Like an electric glass-top stove, there is no obvious burner. With induction, if you touch the surface, it will feel warm but it won’t burn your fingers. Place paper on it and it won’t catch on fire, or even get hot. Walk away and it will turn itself off.

It all looks like a magic trick. But this form of electrical heat conduction is for real, and finally, after more than 60 years, it’s gaining traction among consumers and builders interested in clean energy and energy-efficient appliances.

“It’s fantastic,” said convert Clio Tarazi of Santa Rosa, who was an early adopter nine years ago. Her husband is from Germany and was familiar with induction. Europe has used it for years.

“I was really tired of those gas cooktops. They’re so hard to clean. And they clog and flare up. When my husband suggested looking at induction, at first I was resistant. But then when I saw how responsive it is, oh, my god. Problem solved. It’s so easy to clean and maintain.”

Like a high-performance engine, induction has a rapid response. It will boil water in a fraction of the time regular electricity or gas requires. Similarly, when you turn it down from boil to simmer, you don’t suffer the messy boilovers while you wait for the liquid to cool down.

While still not the cheapest option, the price of induction ranges and cooktops, once beyond the imagination of most homeowners, has dropped dramatically in the last few years. And with the availability of portable induction burners for under $100 at common retailers, more and more, people are able to test and ultimately turn on to the ease and safety of cooking with a method that doesn’t heat the burner but the pot itself.

Instead of an open flame, an induction cooktop uses an electric current passed though a coil of copper under a glass surface. This creates a magnetic field that wirelessly induces an electrical current in the pot only.

Richard Landen, a salesman for Asien’s Appliance in Santa Rosa, said he used to sell perhaps two induction cooktops a year. Now more customers are asking for them, he said, particularly with all the rebuilds in Sonoma County providing an opportunity for creating greener homes.

Old tech made new

The first patent for an induction cooker was introduced in 1909. It wasn’t until 1933, however, that Frigidaire introduced it to the public at the Chicago World’s Fair. But the timing was off. It was the depths of The Depression, a time when not everyone had even shifted from coal and wood to electric stoves.

Westinghouse tried to market induction in the 1970s with the Cool Top 2 (CT2) Induction range, priced at $1,500 (more than $8,000 in today’s dollars). It included a set of high-quality cookware made of Quadraply, a new laminate of stainless steel, carbon steel, aluminum and another layer of stainless steel. But production was halted after two years when the company merged with White.

The technology continued to simmer on the back burner of the market for several decades. But in recent years, rising interest in clean energy over natural gas has brought new attention to an old technology. And with solar power becoming more commonplace, consumers are finding the price savings of gas over electricity is not so significant anymore.

Read more at https://www.pressdemocrat.com/lifestyle/10539572-181/induction-cooktops-becoming-popular-as

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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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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