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We’re finally catching a break in the climate fight

Bill McKibben, THE CRUCIAL YEARS

Last Wednesday, a team at Oxford University released a fascinating paper that I haven’t seen covered anywhere. Stirringly titled “Empirically grounded technology forecasts and the energy transition,” it makes the following argument: “compared to continuing with a fossil-fuel-based system, a rapid green energy transition will likely result in overall net savings of many trillions of dollars–even without accounting for climate damages or co-benefits of climate policy.”

So far in the global warming era, we’ve caught precious few breaks. Certainly not from physics: the temperature has increased at the alarming pace that scientists predicted thirty years ago, and the effects of that warming have increased even faster than expected. (“Faster Than Expected” is probably the right title for a history of climate change so far; if you’re a connoisseur of disaster, there is already a blog by that name). The Arctic is melting decades ahead of schedule, and the sea rising on an accelerated schedule, and the forest fires of the science fiction future are burning this autumn. And we haven’t caught any breaks from our politics either: it’s moved with the lumbering defensiveness one would expect from a system ruled by inertia and vested interest. And so it is easy, and completely plausible, to despair: we are on the bleeding edge of existential destruction.

But one trend is, finally, breaking in the right direction, and perhaps decisively. The price of renewable energy is now falling nearly as fast as heat and rainfall records, and in the process perhaps offering us one possible way out. The public debate hasn’t caught up to the new reality—Bill Gates, in his recent bestseller on energy and climate, laments the “green premium” that must be paid for clean energy. But he (and virtually every other mainstream energy observer) is already wrong—and they’re all about to be spectacularly wrong, if the latest evidence turns out to be right.

Read more at https://billmckibben.substack.com/p/were-finally-catching-a-break-in?

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California organisations warn of ‘ill-informed changes’ to net metering policy

Jules Scully, PV-TECH

A coalition of 347 organisations has warned that potential changes to California’s policy support for rooftop solar could set back climate change progress and harm low-income residents’ access to solar energy.

An open later sent by campaign group Save California Solar to state Governor Gavin Newsom and the California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) calls on policymakers to keep solar affordable as the Newsom Administration considers changes to net energy metering (NEM), a policy that defines how solar users send energy back to and interact with the grid.

NEM allows customers with rooftop PV systems to receive a financial credit on their electric bills for any surplus energy fed back to their utility.

According to the coalition, proposals by California utilities “would drastically reduce the credit solar consumers receive for the excess energy they produce”. The group said: “We are concerned that ill-informed changes to net metering, such as slashing solar bill savings or imposing new fees on solar users, will set back California’s climate change and environmental justice goals.”

Read more at https://www.pv-tech.org/california-organisations-warn-of-ill-informed-changes-to-net-metering-policy/

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Op-Ed: How PG&E and other California utilities are trying to kill rooftop solar

Ken Cook, SAN FRANCISCO CHRONICLE

A high-stakes battle is under way over the future of rooftop solar energy in California. On one side: Current and future rooftop solar consumers in the nation’s leading solar state. On the other, the state’s big three investor-owned utilities — PG&E, Southern California Edison and San Diego Gas & Electric.

The utilities have petitioned the state Public Utilities Commission to slash by more than half the credit they must pay customers for excess energy generated by rooftop solar panels. They also want to charge new rooftop solar customers nearly $70 a month just to hook up to the grid.

The PUC will hold hearings on this petition beginning July 26. The final decision, due by the end of the year, could cost solar ratepayers millions, essentially destroying the rooftop solar market in California.

Instead of considering penalties for rooftop solar customers, PUC commissioners should be asking why we still need a regressive utility model.
Continue reading “Op-Ed: How PG&E and other California utilities are trying to kill rooftop solar”

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What the clean energy future looks like from a 262-foot wind turbine

Sammy Roth, Boiling Point Newsletter, LOS ANGELES TIMES

Hundreds of feet above the ground, suspended by ropes and battered by powerful winds, Matthew Kelly is living his best life.

Kelly is a wind turbine technician, and my colleague Brian van der Brug recently took pictures of him repairing a fiberglass blade at a wind farm in California’s Montezuma Hills, at the northeastern end of the Bay Area. Brian’s pictures are worth a thousand words and then some. Here’s a shot of Kelly perched on the damaged blade, putting his rock climbing background to good use:

Read more at https://www.latimes.com/environment/newsletter/2021-06-24/what-clean-energy-looks-like-from-a-262-foot-wind-turbine-boiling-point

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California just hit 95% renewable energy. Will other states come along for the ride?

Sammy Roth, LOS ANGELES TIMES

Something remarkable happened over the weekend: California hit nearly 95% renewable energy.

I’ll say it again: 95% renewables. For all the time we spend talking about how to reach 100% clean power, it sometimes seems like a faraway proposition, whether the timeframe is California’s 2045 target or President Biden’s more aggressive 2035 goal. But on Saturday just before 2:30 p.m., one of the world’s largest economies came within a stone’s throw of getting there.

There are several caveats. For one thing, Saturday’s 94.5% figure — a record, as confirmed to me by the California Independent System Operator — was fleeting, lasting just four seconds. It was specific to the state’s main power grid, which covers four-fifths of California but doesn’t include Los Angeles, Sacramento and several other regions. It came at a time of year defined by abundant sunshine and relatively cool weather, meaning it’s easier for renewable power to do the job traditionally done by fossil fuels.

And fossil fuels actually were doing part of the job — more than the 94.5% figure might suggest. California was producing enough clean power to supply nearly 95% of its in-state needs, but it was also burning a bunch of natural gas and exporting electricity to its Western neighbors. It’s impossible to say exactly how much of the Golden State’s own supply was coming from renewables.

That said, what happened on Saturday is definitely a big deal.

“It sends chills down my spine. It’s amazing,” said Elliot Mainzer, president and CEO of the California Independent System Operator, which runs the state’s main power grid. “These types of transitions aren’t always pretty. But we’re getting a lot of renewable generation online, making a real dent in the state’s carbon emissions.”

Read more at https://www.latimes.com/environment/newsletter/2021-04-29/solar-power-water-canals-california-climate-change-boiling-point?utm_id=28229&sfmc_id=3422102

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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