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Op-Ed: PG&E – Monopoly power and disasters

Peter Phillips and Tim Ogburn, PROJECT CENSORED

The Pacific Gas and Electric Company (PG&E) has diverted over $100 million from safety and maintenance programs to executive compensation at the same time it has caused an average of more than one fire a day for the past six years killing over 100 people.

PG&E is the largest privately held public utility in the United States. A new research report shows that 91% of PG&E stocks are held by huge international investment management firms, including BlackRock and Vanguard Group. PG&E is an ideal investment for global capital management firms with monopoly control over five million households paying $16 billion for gas and electric in California. The California Public Utility Commission (PUC) has allowed an annual return up to 11%.

Between 2006 and the end of 2017, PG&E made $13.5 billion in net profits. Over those years, they paid nearly $10 billion in dividends to shareholders, but found little money to maintain safety on their electricity lines. Drought turned PG&E’s service area into a tinderbox at the same time money was diverted from maintenance to investor profits.

A 2013 Liberty Consulting report showed that 60% of PG&E’s power lines were at risk of failure due to obsolete equipment and 75% of the lines lacked in-line grounding. Between 2008 and 2015, the CPUC found PG&E late on thousands of repair violations. A 2012 report further revealed that PG&E illegally diverted $100 million from safety to executive compensation and bonuses over a 15-year period.

PG&E has caused over 1,500 fires in the past six years. PG&E electrical equipment has sparked more than a fire a day on average since 2014—more than 400 in 2018—including wildfires that killed more than 100 people.

In October 2017, multiple PG&E linked fires (Tubbs, Nuns, Adobe fires and more) in Northern California scorched more than 245,000 acres, destroyed or damaged more than 8,900 homes, displaced 100,000 people and killed at least 44.

In November, 2018, the PG&E caused Camp fire burned 153,336 acres, killing 86 people, and destroying 18,804 homes, business, and structures. The towns of Paradise and Concow were mostly obliterated. Overall damage was estimated at $16.5 billion.

PG&E has caused some $50 billion in damages from massive fires started by their failed power lines. They filed bankruptcy in January 2019 to try to shelter their assets. PG&E’s 529 million shares went from a high of $70 per share in in 2017 to a low of $3.55 in 2019. Shares are currently trading at $10.55 with zero returns. At this point PG&E actually owes more in damages then the net worth of the company.

All but two members of the board of director resigned in early 2019, and the CEO was replaced. A new board of directors was elected by an annual stockholders meeting in June of 2019. PG&E now has a board of directors whose primary interest in 2020 is returning PG&E stock values to $50-70 range and returning to annual dividend payments in the 8-11% rate.

The new PG&E management took widespread aggressive action during the fire-season of 2019 shutting down electric power to over 2.5 million people statewide. Nonetheless, a high voltage power line malfunctioned in Sonoma county lead to the Kincade fire that burned 77,758 acres destroying 374 structures, and forced the evacuation 190,000 Sonoma county residents. Estimated damages from this fire are $10.6 billion.

The fourteen new PG&E directors were essentially hand-picked by PG&E’s major stockholder firms like Vanguard Holdings 2019 (47.5 million shares 9.1%) and BlackRock (44.2 million shares 8.5%). A new PG&E Director, Meridee Moore, SF area founder & CEO of $2 billion Watershed Asset Management, is also a board member of BlackRock.

Only three of the new fourteen directors live in PG&E’s service area (four if we count the newly appointed CEO from Tennessee). One board member lives the LA area. The remainder of the board live outside California, including three from Texas, two from the mid-west and the remaining four from New York or east coast states. Pending PG&E Bankruptcy court approval, new directors are slated to receive $400,000 each in annual compensation.

Ten of the new 2020 directors have direct current links with capital investment management firms. The remainder have shown proven loyalty experience on behalf of capital utility investors making the entire PG&E board a solid united group of capital investment protectors, whose primary objective is to return PG&E stock values to pre-2017 highs with a 11% return on investment. They claim that wide-spread blackouts will be needed for up to ten years.

All fourteen PG&E board members are in the upper levels of the 1% richest in the world. As millionaires with elite university educations, the PG&E board holds little empathy for the millions of Californians living paycheck to paycheck burdened with some of the highest utility bills in the country. PG&E shuts off gas and electric to over 250,000 families annually for late payments.

The PG&E 2020 board is in service to transnational investment capital. This creates a perfect storm for the continuing transfer of capital from the 99% to the richest 1% in the world, all with uncertain blackouts, serious environmental damage, widespread fires, with multiple deaths and injuries.

We need to liquidate PG&E for the criminal damages it has afflicted on California. The “PG&E solution” is to manage PG&E democratically on the basis of human need, rather than private profit. It is time to take a stand for a publicly owned California Gas and Electric Company as the way to reverse the transfer of wealth to the global 1% and provide Californians with safe, low-cost and more renewable energy. All power to the people!

For the full report with all PG&E board names see: www.projectcensored.org/pge

Source: https://www.projectcensored.org/pge-monopoly-power-and-disasters-by-the-rich-1/

Posted on Categories Climate Change & Energy, Sustainable LivingTags , , ,

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 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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Santa Rosa and other cities consider natural gas bans as way spur transition to all-electric homes

Will Schmitt, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

Marlena and Barry Hirsch have found numerous rays of sunshine since the Tubbs fire of October 2017 destroyed their Santa Rosa-area home and took out about 40 trees on their property, mostly black oaks.

The Hirsches had previously thought about adding solar panels to their roof, but a technician who visited their Mark West Springs home told them the canopy overhead was too dense. Looking up in the early phases of their rebuilding process, they saw a lot more sunshine and realized they could go ahead and add photovoltaic cells to their new home, which they moved into last October.

They didn’t stop there, outfitting their home with an induction stove and electric appliances to heat and cool their water and space, as well as an electric car. They didn’t bother with hooking up their new home with natural gas lines or a propane tank, which fueled their old home.

“We went for the whole package in this house,” said Barry Hirsch, who said he and his wife were fueled by a desire to power their home and transportation with greener energy. He acknowledged that their life situation is favorable to making such a change: He’s a retired homebuilder, and the couple have good insurance coverage and no mortgage or minor children.

Homes like theirs could soon become the norm in the North Bay and in dozens of California municipalities poised to ban natural gas infrastructure in new houses by requiring most to use electric appliances.

Read more at https://www.pressdemocrat.com/news/10014958-181/santa-rosa-and-other-cities

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Berkeley became first US city to ban natural gas. Here’s what that may mean for the future

Susie Cagle, THE GUARDIAN

Berkeley this week became the first city in the United States to ban natural, fossil gas hook-ups in new buildings.

The landmark ordinance was passed into law on Tuesday, after being approved unanimously by the city council the previous week amid resounding public support.

Although Berkeley may be pushing the vanguard, the city is hardly alone. Governments across the US and Europe are looking at strategies to phase out gas. In California alone, dozens of cities and counties are considering eliminating fossil fuel hook-ups to power stoves and heat homes in new buildings, while California state agencies pencil out new rules and regulations that would slash emissions.

Natural gas, it seems, has become the new climate crisis frontline.

Berkeley’s ordinance, which goes into effect on 1 January, will ban gas hook-ups in new multi-family construction, with some allowances for first-floor retail and certain types of large structures.

The reasons behind the decision are multifold. Energy use in buildings accounts for about 25% of greenhouse gas emissions in California. If the state is to meet its goal of 100% zero-carbon energy by 2045, the gas will have to go.

Read more at https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2019/jul/23/berkeley-natural-gas-ban-environment

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US judge halts hundreds of drilling projects in groundbreaking climate change ruling

Cassidy Randall, THE GUARDIAN

In the first significant check on the Trump administration’s “energy-first” agenda, a US judge has temporarily halted hundreds of drilling projects for failing to take climate change into account.

Drilling had been stalled on more than 300,000 acres of public land in Wyoming after it was ruled the Trump administration violated environmental laws by failing to consider greenhouse gas emissions. The federal judge has ordered the Bureau of Land Management (BLM), which manages US public lands and issues leases to the energy industry, to redo its analysis.

The decision stems from an environmental lawsuit. WildEarth Guardians, Physicians for Social Responsibility, and the Western Environmental Law Center sued the BLM in 2016 for failing to calculate and limit the amount of greenhouse gas emissions from future oil and gas projects.

The agency “did not adequately quantify the climate change impacts of oil and gas leasing”, said Rudolph Contreras, a US district judge in Washington DC, in a ruling late on Tuesday. He added that the agency “must consider the cumulative impact of GHG [greenhouse gas] emissions” generated by past, present and future BLM leases across the country.

Read more at: https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2019/mar/20/judge-halts-drilling-climate-change-trump-administration

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Santa Rosa City Council moves toward innovative “electric-ready” building ordinance

Mike Turgeon, CENTER FOR CLIMATE PROTECTION

In a marathon study session on Tuesday, October 23rd, the Santa Rosa City Council, at the urging of the Friends of the Climate Action Plan (FoCAP), received a long-overdue update on the progress of the 2012 Municipal and Community Climate Action Plans. The Climate Action Plan implementation team (CAP-IT) has not met since the Santa Rosa fires and accomplishing its goal to reduce greenhouse gas emissions now is crucial.

After the session, the Council moved to put a discussion for an “electric-ready” building ordinance on a future agenda. Electric ready means having 220/240 volt outlets and the appropriate size wiring to accommodate electric appliances such as heat pump water heaters, heat pumps for heating/cooling, induction stoves and so on.

The infrastructure for natural gas would still be in place, but electric ready homes will be ‘future-proof,’ thus avoiding costly electrical upgrades when California begins to require a fuel switch from natural gas to “electrifying everything.” Homeowners can simply swap out gas appliances for the new, efficient electric appliances. The additional costs to make a home electric ready is roughly 0.1 percent of a home’s cost for labor and materials if done as part of the original build. It would be much more expensive for a homeowner to have to retrofit these electrical features.

The minimal cost of electric-ready will not affect the price of a new home since new home prices are based on what the market will bear, not how much wires, cables and assorted materials cost.

A Santa Rosa electric-ready ordinance would be a first in the state of California and perhaps the rest of the country. This ordinance would be a good first step toward getting away from natural gas entirely.

Read more at https://climateprotection.org/santa-rosa-city-council-moves-toward-innovative-electric-ready-building-ordinance/

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The natural gas industry has a leak problem

John Schwartz and Brad Plumer, THE NEW YORK TIMES

The American oil and gas industry is leaking more methane than the government thinks — much more, a new study says. Since methane is a powerful greenhouse gas, that is bad news for climate change.

The new study, published Thursday in the journal Science, puts the rate of methane emissions from domestic oil and gas operations at 2.3 percent of total production per year, which is 60 percent higher than the current estimate from the Environmental Protection Agency. That might seem like a small fraction of the total, but it represents an estimated 13 million metric tons lost each year, or enough natural gas to fuel 10 million homes.

Thanks to a boom in hydraulic fracturing in states like Texas and Pennsylvania, natural gas has quickly replaced coal as the leading fuel used by America’s power plants. It has also helped, to some extent, in the fight against climate change: When burned for electricity, natural gas produces about half the carbon dioxide that coal does. The shift from coal to gas has helped lower CO₂ emissions from America’s power plants by 27 percent since 2005.

But methane, the main component of natural gas, can warm the planet more than 80 times as much as the same amount of carbon dioxide over a 20-year period if it escapes into the atmosphere before being burned. A recent study found that natural gas power plants could actually be worse for climate change than coal plants if their leakage rate rose above 4 percent.

Read more at https://www.nytimes.com/2018/06/21/climate/methane-leaks.html

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California clamps down on natural gas leaks from pipelines 

David R. Baker, SFGATE
California utility regulators on Thursday approved new rules designed to prevent, find and fix leaks at natural gas facilities ranging from storage sites to pipelines.
California regulators have approved rules designed to cut natural gas leaks from pipelines and pumping stations by 40 percent, as part of the state’s far-ranging fight against global warming.
The California Public Utilities Commission voted unanimously Thursday to adopt the rules, which will require utility companies to conduct frequent inspections and fix even minor leaks within three years.
Methane, the main component of natural gas, is a potent greenhouse gas, 25 times more powerful than carbon dioxide at trapping atmospheric heat.
“This certainly is an approach other states can take, and we think the data will show that it’s the right thing to do,” said Tim O’Connor, director of California oil and gas policy for the Environmental Defense Fund, which has made cutting gas leaks nationwide one of its top priorities. The group called the package of natural gas regulations the nation’s toughest.
Once fully implemented, the regulations approved Thursday could save $8 million worth of gas each year, enough to supply 72,000 homes, O’Connor said. Although the Trump Administration is delaying the implementation of Obama-era federal rules to rein in methane emissions, other states including New York and Massachusetts are moving forward with their own regulations, O’Connor said.
Source: California clamps down on natural gas leaks from pipelines – SFGate