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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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Op-Ed: Lawmakers let oil and gas interests sicken us; Gov. Newsom can put us on the path to recovery

Venise Curry & Ellie Cohen, CAL MATTERS

Make no mistake about it. Climate change is powering California’s perfect storm of record heat, lightning, drought, wildfire and smoke amidst the COVID-19 pandemic and electricity blackouts.

In his video message to the Democratic National Convention in August, Gov. Gavin Newsom made it clear. “The hots are getting hotter; the dries are getting drier. Climate change is real. If you are in denial about climate change, come to California.”

While touring the devastating North Complex Fires near Oroville on Friday, Newsom called current state goals “inadequate to meet the challenges” and vowed to fast-track state efforts to combat the climate crisis.

Yet California continues to fan the flames as the seventh largest oil producing and third largest refining state in the country?

State lawmakers, with the exception of a few climate leaders, are increasingly falling under the thrall of oil and gas industry dollars. The Western States Petroleum Association, the largest and most powerful corporate lobby in California, spent $8.8 million on lobbying in 2019 alone.

Californians are being poisoned daily by pollutants emitted from California’s 81,500 active and idle oil and gas wells, pumps, refineries and pipes. Toxic oil and gas infrastructure – from freeways to oil rigs – are too often located in communities of color, dangerously close to homes, schools and hospitals due to historic redlining and racist redevelopment policies.

Read more at: https://calmatters.org/commentary/my-turn/2020/09/lawmakers-let-oil-and-gas-interests-sicken-us-gov-newsom-can-put-us-on-the-path-to-recovery/?eType=EmailBlastContent&eId=28eb561a-c380-430e-9f9f-745a3f45e261

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BP’s surprising pivot

Dan Farber, LEGAL PLANET

An oil giant decides to face the future instead of fighting it.

With all that’s going on, it’s easy to miss what would in normal times be major news. On Tuesday, BP announced it was beginning to turn away from the oil business. The most significant thing may be this: BP stock rose after the announcement.

BP has already sold its petrochemical business. It also announced that it will not begin oil and gas explorations in any new countries. By 2030, it plans to cut oil production 40% and increase annual low-carbon investments tenfold year by 2030. It also plans on a ten-fold increase in EV charging stations. operations in any new country. Other parts of the plan are vaguer, like a plan to partner with ten to fifteen other cities on their climate plans, as it has already started to do with Houston.

This is a bold move, and it remains to be seen whether any of the other major oil companies will make similar decisions. BP is not optimistic about the future of the oil industry, although it does expect oil and gas production to remain an important part of the energy mix. By BP’s estimate, if the world holds global warming to 2 °C, that would leave oil and gas production down by 50%. Presumably, less stringent climate policy would leave production higher, but it’s hard to see how oil remains a growth industry.

The stock market also lacks optimism about the oil. From 2008-2018, the S&P 500 increased more than 223%, while Exxon Mobil slumped 4.56%. The oil business faces several problems. Prices were highly volatile even before the coronavirus hit. Oil production is highly exposed to disruption by Middle East politics and other international crises. Unexpected market falls, like the one we are seeing today, can imperil companies that are financially overstretched and turn expensive projects into white elephants.

The future of the industry is clouded due to the rapid growth of renewable energy and energy storage. Part of the threat is from climate policy, but part of is simply from innovations that make renewable energy increasingly price-competitive. Moreover, in countries like China, public pressure to reduce air pollution also drives a move toward electric vehicles. The intense interest of the auto industry in electric vehicles is not a good sign for the oil industry.

Given these facts, BP’s move may be bold but it has a solid business rationale. That’s why the market responded favorably to BP’s decision. This provides some reason for confidence that it will carry through on its plans. It should also make some of the other major oil companies start to rethink their own strategies.

There can also be a kind of political feedback cycle that can hurt an industry. As an industry becomes less competitive, it has fewer employees and less wealth to use for political leverage. Meanwhile, competing industries increase their political clout. That can result in an adverse shift in the regulatory climate, which the industry might have been able to fight off in its heyday. That in turn weakens the industry economically, and the cycle repeats. The coal industry was strong enough to kill climate legislation in 2010, but it probably wouldn’t be today. Oil may find itself in a similar position down the road.

Source: https://legal-planet.org/2020/08/06/bps-surprising-pivot/

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California’s solar mandate to allow homes without solar

Cuneyt Dil, ASSOCIATED PRESS

Over the objections of environmentalists, California regulators approved a proposal Thursday to allow builders to construct homes without solar panels, a decision critics said undercuts California’s seven-week-old law that all new houses have their own solar power.

At a passionate hearing, the California Energy Commission unanimously approved the Sacramento Municipal Utility District’s plan to build its own large-scale solar site that homeowners can tap into, forgoing the need for solar on each new home.

Environmentalists said it guts the state’s new landmark mandate and will lead to other statewide proposals copying Sacramento’s utility, which serves 1.5 million residents. But regulators backed the proposal after support from home builders and lawmakers who said it provides clean energy without raising home prices in a state facing a housing crisis.

“This is something that is bold and cutting edge,” Commissioner Janea Scott said of the Sacramento Municipal Utility District’s application.

The mandate that took effect Jan. 1 calls for new single-family houses or low-rise apartments to install solar panels. Alternately, utilities and organizations can apply to the California Energy Commission to build an offsite “community shared solar” site for buildings to draw from.

Using the latter option, the Sacramento Municipal Utility District’s plan sets a blueprint for private and public entities to seek their own large solar sites to meet the mandate, watchers say. The largest public utility in the U.S. — the Los Angeles Department of Water & Power — endorsed the idea in filings to the commission.

Public testimony ran for two hours at the commission meeting Thursday. Environmentalists and some homeowners said the move means fewer homes will be built with solar panels included. Solar advocates said consumers would save more money with their own solar panels rather than the savings from the Sacramento Municipal Utility District’s proposed plan.

Read more at https://www.pressdemocrat.com/news/10734660-181/californias-solar-mandate-to-allow

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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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More residents turn to solar power as North Coast faces growing threat of wildfires, blackouts

Martin Espinoza, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

When Rick Mead and Mark Marion finally flip the switch on the solar array atop their rural Sebastopol home, their $300 monthly electric bill will drop to $25 — the cost of maintaining a connection to PG&E’s power grid.

A 30% federal tax credit, which declines next year to 26%, on the cost of the solar energy system made the investment a good idea, Mead said.

“It no longer made sense not to go with solar,” he said. “PG&E rates will increase in the coming years — in the long run, the estimate is that our system will pay for itself in seven years.”

But it wasn’t just economics that motivated Mead and Marion. The idea of powering their home on renewable energy was the right thing to do, Mead said, at a time when many people are troubled by the fallout of climate change, such as increasingly deadly and destructive wildfires in Northern California.

“It’s a great investment in ourselves, our community and our planet,” he said.

Jeff Mathias, owner and chief financial officer of Sebastopol-based Synergy Solar, which installed Mead and Marion’s solar system, said recent wildfires — which many argue have been exacerbated and supercharged by climate change — are bringing more attention to rooftop solar systems.

The increasing threat of fires and public safety efforts to prevent them that include potential blackouts are bringing more attention to residential solar energy systems that are environmentally friendly. Until recently, solar power mainly had been used by home and business owners to reduce electric bills.

A big concern among Sonoma County residents is a PG&E wildfire-prevention measure to temporarily turn off power to certain customers and entire communities, if necessary, threatened by a blaze, Mathias said.

“When power goes out, the system disconnects from PG&E and allows that home to continue to operate,” Mathias said.

Read more at https://www.pressdemocrat.com/news/10028338-181/more-residents-turn-to-solar

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Sutter Health solar project at Santa Rosa hospital can power over 200 homes a year

Cheryl Sarfaty, NORTH BAY BUSINESS JOURNAL

Sutter Santa Rosa Regional Hospital on Monday will formally “flip the switch” on its new carport solar panels that have been installed over its main parking lot and on the rooftop of Shea House, which houses families of hospitalized children.

The 4,627 solar modules covering approximately 565 parking spaces will support 40% of the main hospital’s electricity, according to Shaun Ralston, regional manager at Sutter Health.

The new carport solar panels are expected to generate 2.4 million kilowatt-hours of clean energy annually, which would be equivalent to powering 206 homes in one year, according to Sutter.

Shea House, which was rebuilt after being destroyed in the October 2017 wildfires, had 10 solar panels installed on its rooftop, supporting 89% of needed electricity on the site, Ralston said.

“Sutter started looking at these solar projects in (early) 2017,” Ralston said. “We were planning this before the fires … but now we really don’t want to be dependent on the grid.”

Sutter Santa Rosa Regional Hospital already generates 45% of its electric power with fuel-cell technology. By adding the solar panels, the hospital is now generating 85% of its power on-site, purchasing the rest from PG&E, Ralston said.

Read more at https://www.northbaybusinessjournal.com/northbay/sonomacounty/9695962-181/sutter-health-santa-rosa-solar

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Renewable energy capacity now exceeds coal in U.S.

YALE ENVIRONMENT 360

Renewable energy now generates more electricity in the United States than coal. Solar, wind, hydropower, biomass, and geothermal totaled 21.56 percent of U.S. generating capacity as of April, according to a report from the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC). Coal, meanwhile, accounted for just 21.55 percent of capacity, down from 23.04 percent last year.

As Engadget reports, this gap is likely to widen in the coming months. FERC notes that renewable energy has added 1 percentage point to its share of U.S. installed capacity every year, and says that sector could account for 25 percent by 2022. A total of 186,000 megawatts of proposed wind and solar projects are expected to go online in the next four years.

Coal capacity has dropped to its lowest level in 40 years. According to the U.S. Energy Information Administration, more than half of the U.S. coal mines operating in 2008 — when coal production peaked — have since closed. Natural gas, however, continues to grow, accounting for more than 44 percent of U.S. total energy capacity in April.

Source: https://e360.yale.edu/digest/renewable-energy-capacity-now-exceeds-coal-in-the-u-s

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Could a green new deal benefit the North Bay?

Robert Girling & Chris Yalonis, THE SONOMA COUNTY GAZETTE

Sustainability Enterprise Conference 2019

REGISTRATION IS NOW OPEN: northbaysec.org
Please join educational, business, government, and community leaders for the 14th Annual Sustainable Enterprise Conference on April 5 at Sonoma State University. This year we will gather transformational and engaged leaders from the North Bay counties to discuss pathways to Economic, Social, and Environmental Resilience.

Link to the Green New Deal Policy

There is a good bit of talk about a Green New Deal (GND), a plan to address climate change by directing federal dollars to restructure the economy, protect us from further disasters, create high paying jobs and reduce social inequities.

Among the goals of the GND are to move America to 100% clean and renewable energy. We are already leaders in this arena with Sonoma Clean Power and Marin Clean Energy providing much of the region’s energy.

But there is still much to be done. Think for a moment about the thousands of gasoline-powered vehicles clogging our freeways each day. Nearly 60% of North Bay emissions are from the transportation sector. Think also about the possibility of placing solar panels on thousands of roofs and using the energy to power our cars. Consider the opportunities that might be provided by electric and autonomous vehicles as well as technologies to reduce commuting. Consider how solar and wind energy, designing and building smart cities and smart roads could reduce the threat of fire and flood and improve the quality of our lives.

Read more at: https://www.sonomacountygazette.com/sonoma-county-news/could-a-green-new-deal-benefit-the-north-bay-sustainable-enterprise-conference-2019

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Climate action gets priority designation in Santa Rosa

Laura Neish, Mike Turgeon and Kevin Conway, 350SONOMA

On Thursday, February 21st, the Santa Rosa City Council made the wise and bold decision to elevate their Climate Action Plan (CAP) to a Tier 1 priority level. Other priorities at this top level are Financial Stability, Housing, Recovery and Resilience, and Homelessness. In addition to Tier 1 status, expected climate actions by the council this year now include passing the electric-ready ordinance on new construction, forming a Council sub-committee on climate to project manage CAP implementation, and obtaining a cost analysis for the city to go Evergreen, Sonoma Clean Power’s 100% renewable energy program. These are key decisions regarding climate and now climate activists must hold the Council to their statements. At one time, Santa Rosa was a state leader and advocate for Climate Action. In fact, President Obama designated Sonoma County as a ‘climate champion,’ one of only 17 such designations in the entire country.

In 2012, Santa Rosa developed and approved a Community Climate Action Plan (CCAP) and a Municipal Climate Action Plan (MCAP) in 2013. Unfortunately, the CCAP has languished for a number of years, largely due to the fact that no city department assumed responsibility for it’s implementation and when an implementation team was finally formed, it met infrequently. While there has been good progress in addressing the Municipal CAP, very little has been done to effectively address the Community CAP. Also, while the CCAP was a comprehensive document for 2012, a time when the climate crisis was not as recognizable to the majority of the population, we are obviously in a different place now and the CAP will require an update as funds allow.

Since the 2017 Santa Rosa fires, the Friends of the Climate Action Plan (FoCAP) have met regularly with council members asking them to take bold action regarding the climate. In October of last year (FoCAP) succeeded in attaining a public study session reporting on the status of both the Municipal and Community CAPs. That report revealed how far behind the city is toward reaching their GHG reduction goals. Fortunately, at that meeting, a motion was made and seconded to consider an all-electric ready ordinance and amended to also include a cost analysis for the city to go Evergreen. As it turned out, this motion was relegated as a ‘report item’ and was never agendized for a council discussion, public debate and vote. To the climate community these moves seem woefully incremental in the face of our impending crisis; however, this current Council is to be commended for paying attention to the public’s concern.

Source: https://350sonoma.org/climate-action-gets-priority-designation-santa-rosa