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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

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California’s new energy law (SB 100) is a piece in a larger puzzle

Steven Weissman, LEGAL PLANET

Rooftop solar,storage and energy efficiency still play critical roles

California’s new landmark energy law should be a matter of pride for the whole state. It calls for electricity providers to rely on renewable sources for at least 60% of their delivered power by 2030 and on zero greenhouse gas-emitted sources for the remaining 40% by 2045. People refer to this as the 100% clean energy bill, and it represents a bold new approach for reducing California’s carbon footprint. The California Legislature deserves praise for its dedication to these important issues and for its leadership.

Let’s be clear, however, about what this change is and what it isn’t. The new law is not a 100% renewable energy mandate. The zero-emitting 40% could include large-scale hydroelectric, which is not called “renewable” for the purposes of California’s mandate, and nuclear power. It could even include natural gas or coal-fired power if people can figure out an economical way to capture and sequester all of the related greenhouse gas emissions. Although the new law leaves it to regulators to define what “clean” means, arguably some of the eligible power sources are not particularly clean, as I will explain below. Nonetheless, at this point only Hawaii can boast of a similar broad effort to eliminate carbon-based powerplant fuels.

So, we’re done! Since all power is going to be clean, we are all off the hook. It doesn’t matter how much we use. It doesn’t matter if we generate power on our rooftops, or if we provide community solar parks. We can plug in our cars, set up new districts with neon lights that rival Las Vegas, and get a second or third refrigerator to store beer in the garage — our friendly retail electricity provider will take care of everything.

Well, not so fast. It is still important for us all to do what we can to reduce demand for energy, across-the-board, and shift our usage to periods of lower demand. It is still valuable to distribute power generation throughout a utility service area (closer to customers), add solar photovoltaics to suitable rooftops, and rely on storage in batteries and other devices to make renewable energy available at night and when the wind doesn’t blow.

Read more at http://legal-planet.org/2018/09/10/californias-new-energy-law-sb-100-is-a-piece-in-a-larger-puzzle/

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California Assembly advances 100% clean energy bill

Liam Dillon, THE LOS ANGELES TIMES

California would set some of the nation’s strongest clean energy goals under legislation that cleared a key vote in the Assembly on Tuesday, bringing the state a step closer to ending its reliance on fossil fuels by phasing out their use to generate electricity.

The bill, which would require California to obtain 100% of its power from clean sources by 2045, has been debated by lawmakers for nearly two years as it faced cost and feasibility concerns. This week, high-profile state and national politicians gave the cause a push by arguing the plan would strengthen California’s leadership on the environment.

Lawmakers supporting the bill said it was important that the state continue its pioneering efforts to curb greenhouse gas emissions. A new state report released this week warned that California will face higher temperatures, more wildfires and sea-level rise in the coming decades due to climate change.

“The damage will continue to be done as long as we refuse to act,” Assemblyman Ash Kalra (D-San Jose) said. “There are no more tomorrows left.”

In addition to the 2045 target, Senate Bill 100 would also require electric utilities and other service providers to generate 60% of their power from renewable sources by 2030, up from the current 50% goal set for that date.

The bill now heads to the Senate for a vote. If it is signed by the governor, California would become the second state in the U.S. to rely solely on clean energy by 2045. Hawaii was the first to implement such a plan.

Read more at http://www.latimes.com/politics/la-pol-ca-renewable-energy-goal-bill-20180828-story.html

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Sonoma Clean Power offers incentives for customers to ‘drive electric’

Guy Kovner, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

Sonoma Clean Power says cars burning gasoline locally emit 11,247 pounds of greenhouse gases a year. An electric vehicle charged up by power from PG&E emits 1,586 pounds a year.

On the local power agency’s default service, which gets 45 percent of its power from renewables, an EV releases 793 pounds a year.

On the Evergreen service, which gets half its power from The Geysers geothermal field and half from a Petaluma solar facility, an EV emits just 208 pounds of greenhouse gases a year.
From Carbon footprint for electric vehicles far smaller with renewable power

Eleanor Butchart of Santa Rosa is the proud owner of a Mercedes-Benz B250e, the last letter meaning electric.

The white compact hatchback is “fun to drive,” she said, seats four to five adults comfortably and has plenty of curb appeal. “It looks like a normal car,” she said, rather than a radically stylized EV or hybrid.

What it lacks is a tank for gasoline, which currently costs $3.70 a gallon in Santa Rosa, up 77 cents from a year ago. Butchart is planning to install solar panels at her home, reducing the cost of recharging.

Like all other Mercedes, the B250e she bought last year wasn’t cheap, but the price was eased by a $2,000 incentive Butchart obtained from Sonoma Clean Power, the public electricity provider serving Sonoma and Mendocino counties, along with a $500 rebate from PG&E.

“It was a sweet deal all around,” Butchart said.

The good deals for electric vehicles will be back on the table starting today, when Sonoma Clean Power launches its third and final Drive EV program, offering its customers incentives of up to $4,000 for the lease or purchase of 25 models of electric, hybrid and plug-in hybrid cars sold by six local dealers.

Read more at https://www.pressdemocrat.com/news/8575429-181/sonoma-clean-power-offers-incentives

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Op-Ed: New rules cast a shadow on a green energy program

Rocco Fabiano, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

Nearly a decade ago, Sonoma County became the first county in the nation to offer an innovative financing option to encourage homeowners to invest in projects that reduced energy consumption and provided for a cleaner environment. Known as PACE, for property-assessed clean energy, the program made it easier to pay for renewable and energy-efficient upgrades by allowing homeowners to finance these projects through their property taxes. This program was designed to provide a vehicle for promoting important public policy initiatives, without using tax dollars or tax credits.

The Sonoma County program, known as SCEIP, was launched after California passed the most comprehensive legislation in the country to address climate change, with the goal of improving the environment while maintaining a robust economy. The fact that these pioneering programs were birthed in California was no accident.

The Golden State has long been a leader in addressing climate change, one of the most pressing challenges of our time. Residential PACE programs have now been approved in more than 50 California counties and have spread to Florida and Missouri. In California, the program has been expanded to support other public policy initiatives, including water conversation and seismic retrofits.

But now this program is in jeopardy of collapsing under the weight of new regulations. Losing PACE would have the unfortunate effect of eliminating strong economic and environmental benefits for our region.

Read more at http://www.pressdemocrat.com/opinion/8528392-181/close-to-home-new-rules