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Category Archives: ‘Climate Change & the Green Economy’


Editorial: Here’s how Jerry Brown can truly build a lasting environmental legacy

JULY 07, 2017 6:00 AM


Gov. Jerry Brown’s announcement that he will host the world’s climate leaders in San Francisco was well-timed. Ensuring he will remain relevant as his days in office come to an end, the event will take place in September 2018, at the height of the campaign to replace him.
But for all the acclaim that Brown receives internationally for his leadership in the fight against climate change, the governor has work to do in Sacramento to cement his environmentalist legacy.
His aides wheel, deal and draft a compromise to extend the cap-and-trade program to reduce greenhouse gases and generate billions for years beyond his time in office, while forward-looking corporations are making clear how quickly the world is changing.
Tesla Motors founder Elon Musk tweeted the other day that the mid-market Model 3, an electric vehicle selling for a base of $35,000, would roll off the Fremont assembly line this month. Volvo, owned by China’s Geely Automobile Holdings, made the flashy declaration that by 2019, all its new cars would have electric motors.
Though some of the vehicles will be hybrids, the notion that a venerable Swedish automaker, known for producing safe but not slick cars, is fully committing to an electric fleet should spur other companies to make the same commitment.

For most Californians, a $40,000 car is hardly affordable. Leases on lower-end EVs might make financial sense for moderate or low-income Californians, though not make practical sense. The state must ensure that charging stations are spread beyond the Silicon Valley and West L.A.
The California Air Resources Board is reviewing a plan by Volkswagen to spend part of its $800 million penalty for lying about diesel emissions to build electric charging stations in out-of-the-way locales, vital if the state is to reach Brown’s goal of having 1.5 million zero emission vehicles on the road by 2025, as detailed by The Sacramento Bee’s Alexei Koseff.
All that notwithstanding, the car culture California helped create is changing. With apps, ride-sharing, and, soon enough, driverless vehicles, car ownership, we are told, will become passé. To get around, mass transit will be more popular. Buses and trucks powered by diesel are a source of much pollution. That’s changing, too.
The Los Angeles Metropolitan Transportation Authority is expected to award a contract to begin transforming its 2,200-bus fleet into electric buses this month, and intends to have an all-electric fleet in 13 years. An initial contract for 60 buses is expected to go to the Canadian-based company, New Flyer. We don’t endorse protectionism, but there should be room for public agencies to reward companies that manufacture or assemble electric buses in California.
One such company, Proterra, moved to Burlingame from South Carolina, and operates a factory east of Los Angeles, recognizing that high costs of doing business here aside, California is committed to green energy. Its buses transport commuters in Stockton and soon in Fresno, among other locales. It’s the sort of green economy company that should be nurtured.
In an interview with an editorial board member, Ryan Popple, Proterra’s chief executive officer, predicted that by 2019, electric buses will cost less than diesel-hybrid-powered buses. By 2021, they will be on par with buses fueled by natural gas. Its factory can turn out 100 buses a year, with plans to increase production, and provide solid jobs for workers who don’t have advanced degrees.
Musk built his massive battery factory outside Reno, in part because Nevada Gov. Brian Sandoval and the Silver State’s Legislature provided rich incentives, and because California could not guarantee that Tesla could get the permits needed to quickly construct the factory. That shouldn’t happen again.

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Renewables Generated More Power Than Nuclear in March and April 

Utility-scale renewable electricity generation surpassed nuclear for the first time since Reagan was president.
by Eric Wesoff
July 07, 2017

Solar farms planted on an abandoned nuclear plant site or powering a coal museum or atop a strip mine offer stark images of the ascendance of renewables.   
But forget metaphorical images -- utility-scale renewable electricity generation in March and April actually surpassed nuclear for the first time since July 1984. (Ronald Reagan was president, and "When Doves Cry" was the No. 1 hit on the radio.)
Recent months have seen record generation from wind and solar, as well as increases in hydroelectric power because of 2017's wet winter (note that these numbers, from the Energy Information Administration, do not include distributed solar). Most of the time, conventional hydroelectric generation is still the primary source of renewable electricity.
But one of the takeaways from this data set is the emergence of wind in the last decade as a material slice of the energy mix. The U.S. wind industry installed more than 8 gigawatts in 2015 and did it again in 2016. The country now has over 84 gigawatts of installed wind capacity.
Another takeaway is the relatively diminutive contribution from solar, which falls between geothermal and biomass in its annual contribution. The U.S. installed 14.5 gigawatts of solar last year, up 95 percent over 2015. 
And still, more than 60 percent of all utility-scale electricity generating capacity that came on-line in 2016 was from wind and solar technologies, according to EIA.

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Utilities fighting against rooftop solar are only hastening their own doom

Batteries are going to make rooftop solar invulnerable.
Updated by David Jul 7, 2017, 1:10pm EDT

Several of the big trends in clean electricity depend, in one way or another, on batteries. How fast batteries get better and cheaper will help determine how fast renewable energy grows, how fast fossil fuel power plants get shut down, and how fast the vehicle fleet electrifies.

The consulting firm McKinsey & Company recently released an analysis noting that batteries, like solar panels before them, are getting cheaper much faster than anyone expected — and the consequences for the power sector are going to be immense.
Batteries have entered a virtuous, self-reinforcing cycle. This graphic, adapted from a Ramez Naam post, captures it:

(Javier Zaraccina)
As they get cheaper, batteries make sense for more commercial applications. As new markets for storage grow, demand for batteries increases. As demand increases, economies of scale kick in and batteries get cheaper. Rinse, repeat.

The McKinsey analysis shows this dynamic playing out within the power sector, both “behind the meter” (batteries inside a customer’s home or building) and “in front of the meter” (batteries assembled into large-scale storage installations). Batteries are soon going to disrupt power markets at all scales.

The whole analysis is interesting, but I want to focus in on the way batteries will affect rooftop solar. Across the country, intense battles are being waged as utilities push back against the rapid spread of rooftop solar. (See, as the latest example, Nevada.) Batteries, McKinsey reveals, are going to scramble those battles, making them effectively unwinnable for utilities. The existential crisis they hoped to avoid by slowing rooftop solar is going to slam into them twice as hard once batteries enter the picture.
To begin, let’s back up a bit. To understand the role of batteries, first you have to understand why utilities don’t like rooftop solar in the first place — and what they’re doing to stop it.

Utilities’ problem with rooftop solar power, in 250 words or less
Utilities don’t make money selling electricity — for that, they can only recover costs. They are, after all, monopolies.
Investor-owned utilities make money by investing in grid infrastructure and then charging ratepayers the cost of that infrastructure plus a “reasonable rate of return,” as defined by the state public utility commission (PUC). They make money, in other words, by building stuff.
Utilities generally recover their costs-plus-returns from ratepayers through flat volumetric rates — “flat” means the rate is the same for everyone, at all times of day, and “volumetric” means that the more a customer uses, the more she pays.

Power utilities are built for the 20th century. That’s why they’re flailing in the 21st.
When a customer installs solar panels, it hurts the utility in two ways.
One, it reduces demand for utility power. Utilities generally don’t want lower demand. To justify building stuff, they need to be able to project higher demand.
Two, the more solar customers reduce their utility bills by generating their own power, the more utilities have to charge other, non-solar customers more, to cover their costs-plus-returns. This pisses the other customers off. And it incentivizes them to install solar themselves!
Utilities are terrified of the “death spiral” that could ensue as more customers are driven to generate their own power. So they are increasingly fighting back.
“The utilities’ response,” McKinsey writes, “has been to design rates that reduce the incentive to install solar by moving to time-of-use pricing structures, implementing demand charges, or trying to reduce how much they pay customers for the electricity they produce that is exported to the grid.”
Those battles are ongoing across the country.
Enter batteries.

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Trump administration may let California keep emissions standards

By Carolyn Lochhead
July 9, 2017 Updated: July 9, 2017 9:17pm

Photo: Noah Berger, Special To The Chronicle

California’s auto emissions rules set the standard for automakers. The Trump administration appears likely to back off on challenging them.

The Trump administration may be quietly conceding defeat to California on car tailpipe emissions, the biggest battleground in the state’s showdown with President Trump over climate change.
Environmental Protection Agency chief Scott Pruitt backed away last month from his threats to challenge California’s unique legal authority, known as a waiver, to set aggressive limits on vehicle emissions, including greenhouse gases.

Although Pruitt left the door open to a future challenge, experts said he is running out of time to stop California from dictating national pollution standards on cars, the nation’s primary source of greenhouse gas emissions.
“The auto manufacturers aren’t going to make two different kinds of cars, California and non-California, so by default they’re really required to make cars to the California standards,” said Michael Steel, a lawyer in the San Francisco office of the Morrison Foerster firm who advises companies on environmental compliance.
Because of the long lead time needed to design cars, Steel said, “It’s kind of too late” for the administration to block California’s rules. “There’s a timing issue in terms of whether you can effectively turn the clock back any later than now.”
California is the nation’s largest car market, and a dozen other states, comprising more than 40 percent of the U.S. population, have adopted California’s emissions standards.
Last week’s decisions by Chinese-owned Volvo to put electric engines in all its new cars, and by France to phase out gasoline and diesel cars by 2040, only strengthened California’s hand.
“I don’t want to attribute any one automaker’s statements to our regs,” said Joshua Cunningham, head of the California Air Resources Board’s clean cars branch, which develops the state’s car pollution standards. “But given the broad momentum of California’s regulations and what’s happening in Europe and in China, I think the industry sees some pretty consistent signals from a lot of governments that long-term emissions requirements are going to continue to get more strict.”

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The Case for Utilities to Bundle Their Energy Businesses—Before They’re Cannibalized 

Experts at Grid Edge World Forum 2017 explain why utilities are buying up distributed energy companies and “anything that gets them closer to customers.”
by Jeff St. John
June 29, 2017
The utility industry has already been undergoing significant change over the past 25 years, with the rise of independent grid operators, competitive energy markets and the split of vertically-integrated business models.
But the rise of distributed energy is creating more turmoil for the utility industry than even these epochal changes. And because these changes are being driven by fundamental advances in technology, they’re happening at a pace and scale that’s increasingly outside the utility’s control. 
These underlying trends -- or “megatrends," if you will -- have created a world in which utilities are increasingly moving into unfamiliar markets and business models, according to experts at Greentech Media’s Grid Edge World Forum 2017 conference in San Jose.
“There are two no-regret decisions for utilities -- renewable energy and anything that gets them closer to customers,” said Andrew Bennett, senior vice president and “Internet of Things Evangelist” for Schneider Electric North America, during a Wednesday panel session. “Look at all the acquisitions that are taking place on the commercial side of utilities, both European and in the U.S. over the last year.” 
Large-scale renewables have long been a part of many utilities’ portfolios, but this trend has been accelerating over the past few years. Notable examples include Duke Energy Renewables, the utility giant’s new business created by the acquisition of California solar installer REC Solar and energy management company Phoenix Energy Technologies. Other utility moves into commercial solar include NextEra's acquisition of Smart Energy Capital and Edison International's purchase of SoCore.
Utilities are also getting closer to customers. Some of the biggest U.S. examples include Southern Company’s $431 million purchase of PowerSecure and its 1.5-gigawatt fleet of backup power systems, and Edison International’s creation of its energy services business through the acquisition of a roster of energy service providers and renewable power developers.
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European utilities have been following suit. France’s EDF formed its distributed electricity and storage business unit earlier this year, building on its 2016 acquisition of groSolar. French utility Engie bought U.S. energy services provider Ecova and OpTerra Energy Services, as well as behind-the-meter battery startup Green Charge Networks. And Italian utility Enel’s U.S. subsidiary has joined the fray with its purchase of behind-the-meter energy storage project developer Demand Energy, and most recently, demand response market leader EnerNOC.
All of these acquisitions share several common characteristics, Bennett said. First, they’re bringing utilities opportunities in territories outside their core regulated services territories. After all, “you’re not going to self-cannibalize your steady income,” he said. 
Second, they’re aimed at capturing the growing share of large commercial and industrial customers that are looking for more control of their energy usage. “They’re going to take those high-end customers, because the customers want it.” 
These two trends are mutually reinforcing, he noted. The defection of C&I customers from traditional utility relationships is already happening, “and at a scale that’s pretty large,” said Bennett, pointing to high-profile examples like MGM’s Nevada casinos paying $87 million to drop service from utility NV Energy and take up with retail power provider Tenaska. 
It doesn’t take too many of these losses to have a significant impact on a utility, he noted. “You don’t need to lose 10 percent of your customers. You just have to lose a few percentage points of your top customers that are subsidizing major portions of your grid costs.” 
Regulatory efforts are underway to enable distributed energy to play a role in utility operations, as with California’s DRP proceeding and New York’s REV initiative, as well as to play a role in energy markets run by transmission system operators such as California ISO or PJM.
But “regulator-driven change hasn’t been particularly successful” in this industry, noted Michael Carlson, president of Siemens Digital Grid, noted, citing the experience of California’s abortive deregulation in the late 1990s and early 2000s. 
Regulatory changes can also take too long to keep pace with changes being wrought by technology, noted Todd Glass, a partner with law firm Wilson Sonsini Goodrich & Rosati.
Still, despite the rise of contenders like Tesla and SolarCity, the utilities’ deep pockets and central role as energy provider for the majority of the country could put them in position to offer the complete package of products and services that many customers are looking for, said Glass. 
“I don’t know who the ultimate competitors or providers of services will be in the future,” he said. “You’re going to have larger companies offering bundled services.”

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Jerry Brown went to China to fight climate change. But can he do it in his own backyard?

JUNE 30, 2017 12:01 AM


In a room once occupied by Republican Gov. Earl Warren, Jerry Brown toasted legislators from across the aisle at a recent climate luncheon in the stately Governor’s Mansion.
Republican lawmakers, the Democratic governor said emphatically, are an essential component of the coalition he needs to pass a bullet-proof extension of California’s cap and trade system, a complex, market-based program viewed as the linchpin of his climate change fight.
“I am very confident that the key to that objective are Republicans,” Brown told reporters.

Brown has made climate change the focus of his return to the governorship. He’s hammered Donald Trump for his withdrawal from the Paris accords and cast GOP climate skeptics as “troglodytes.” He’s just returned from China, where he held up the state’s environmental policies as a model for the world.
Now he wants to convince two-thirds of the Legislature to keep a version of the program going beyond 2020. He believes he needs Republicans because he can’t count on all the votes from Democrats, including an influential bloc of business-friendly lawmakers. He has argued in the past that businesses should prefer to keep the system intact rather than face more stringent controls.

Brown’s negotiating moves at the Capitol in recent weeks underscore the lengths he is willing to go to maintain his state’s status as a global climate leader. Arriving at a compromise, however, has proven difficult.
Cautious lawmakers say privately they are not especially keen on sticking out their necks for a program many concede they don’t fully understand and that critics could cast as raising gas prices again.
Environmentalists fret that an eventual deal will be too friendly to the oil industry and impede the state’s ability to meet its aggressive greenhouse gas emissions targets.
Republicans say they want to be part of the solution, as long as costs for consumers and industry are kept down.
While early drafts of bill language circulate, the Brown administration stresses it’s continuing to work with everyone: legislators, environmental organizations, agriculture, business interests, groups worried about low-income communities that historically have struggled with pollution.
“We have to put the coalition together,” Nancy McFadden, Brown’s executive secretary, said in an interview Thursday. “Are we going to get all Republicans? Absolutely not. Do we want more than one or two? Yes. Are we going to get all moderate Democrats, whoever they are? No, probably not. And are we going to get all progressives? No. But we are aiming to get 54 (votes), or more.”

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Sacramento is no L.A. That’s why Volkswagen is bringing electric car program here

JUNE 29, 2017 3:00 PM


Sacramento motorists probably know this already: For all its sprawl and lengthy commutes, the city is far more manageable then Los Angeles.
Which is why Sacramento, and not Los Angeles, is about to be showered with a fleet of electric cars supplied by Volkswagen.
The carmaker announced Thursday it has chosen Sacramento as its first “Green City,” the place where it plans to spend $44 million building an electric car-sharing service, a slew of vehicle-charging stations and other benefits.
The program is part of the $14.7 billion settlement Volkswagen made with state and federal officials last fall after admitting it rigged thousands of diesel cars with software designed to get around air pollution regulations. Of the $14.7 billion, Volkswagen pledged to spend $800 million over ten years promoting electric car usage in California.
Mark McNabb, president of Volkswagen’s Electrify America subsidiary, said a car-sharing program is a way of making electric cars available to moderate- and low-income motorists who can’t afford the $30,000 price tag.

Volkswagen in March made Sacramento its tentative choice for the Green City designation. Then community leaders from Los Angeles made a concerted effort to replace Sacramento, arguing that L.A.’s global profile would create a more visible platform for promoting the virtues of zero emission vehicles.
Company officials, however, decided to stick with Sacramento. A key reason: The city is much more compact than Los Angeles, which makes it more suitable for a fleet of cars that can’t travel more than 100 to 200 miles without having to be recharged.
“L.A. is a monster. Commuting patterns are very different,” McNabb said. “Sacramento has ideal commuting patterns.”

He added that Volkswagen could learn from its experience in Sacramento and apply those lessons to a larger city. Volkswagen plans to designate a second Green City in a few years and will “continue to have discussions with L.A,” he said.

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Where to plug in? Lack of charging options is a big barrier to electric car adoption in California

Emily Guerin June 29, 04:59 PM
Angie Vorhies plugs in the charging cord to her Nissan Leaf electric vehicle at a San Diego mall in November 2013. LENNY IGNELZI/AP

California has just 300,000 electric vehicles – far short of Gov. Jerry Brown’s goal of 1.5 million by 2025. A new report says one of the biggest barriers to getting more electric cars on the road is a lack of places to plug in.
In the past, the price of electric cars was an impediment to their adoption. But cost is no longer as daunting as electric car batteries have gotten cheaper, subsidies have increased, and dealerships have begun offering affordable leases. 
Now, the question of where to charge is a bigger issue, especially for the 40 percent of Californians who live in multi-unit apartment buildings, said Ethan Elkind, lead author of the UCLA and Berkeley Law school study. Many of them don't have a dedicated parking spot, which makes it difficult to charge an electric car at home.
"It's really telling that 80 percent of electric vehicle drivers live in a single family home," Elkind said.
There are two big problems with increasing access to charging for apartment-dwellers. The first is convincing landlords or employers to install chargers. 
The average installation cost for a charger is $2,200, according to the Idaho National Laboratory. In California, a 2014 law requires landlords to allow their tenants to install electric chargers -- but it doesn't apply to rent-controlled buildings and those with fewer than five parking spots.
Another issue is the cost of electricity. Public chargers, like those at malls or near highways, and those at workplaces are subject to commercial electricity rates, which are higher than residential rates. At times, it can cost so much to charge an electric car that it makes more sense to drive a gasoline-powered vehicle.
The report offers an array of possible solutions, including:
Incentives to bring down the costs of installing chargers at workplaces
Changing commercial electricity rates to make public charging more cost-effective
Re-jiggering municipal parking rules to allow for curbside charging
Building public charging "plazas" where apartment-dwellers could leave their cars parked overnight.
The challenge is daunting. As the report notes, "to meet the 1.5 million electric vehicle target by 2025, the state will need to see an exponential growth in electric vehicle sales."

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Demand for Chevy’s electric cars is higher in Colorado than nation as new Bolt EV debuts

New Bolt EV can drive 230 miles on a single charge

Chevrolet The 2017 Chevrolet Bolt EV is the automaker’s first long-range electric vehicle. The Bolt EV, which hit Colorado dealers in May 2017, can drive 230 miles on a single charge.
By TAMARA CHUANG | | The Denver Post
PUBLISHED: June 27, 2017 at 6:26 pm | UPDATED: June 28, 2017 at 3:24 pm

Colorado’s thirst for electric vehicles was key for Chevrolet picking the state to sell its new Bolt EV before other states nationwide. The Bolt is the automaker’s latest plug-in car that goes 230 miles on a single charge.
More than 6,000 Bolt EV’s have sold since debuting in California and Oregon in December and last month in Colorado, according to Fred Ligouri, the company’s manager of electric vehicle communication. The new car will be available to dealers in the remaining 30 states in August.
Colorado is particularly fond of Chevy’s electric fleet, which includes the Chevrolet Volt, the hybrid electric car that debuted in 2011 and can drive 53 miles on one charge. Sales of the Volt nationwide increased 58 percent between 2015 to 2016. In the same period in Colorado, Volt sales grew 74 percent.
“Colorado has been (interested) for a long time. It certainly seems like the mindset is right,” Ligouri said. ” There’s a great amount of charging infrastructure, especially in the eastern half of the state, which makes it very viable, especially with the added range of the EV Bolt.”

Demand for Chevy’s electric cars is higher in Colorado than nation as new Bolt EV debuts

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How climate change could threaten the water supply for millions of Californians

JUNE 30, 2017 4:00 AM


When it comes to California and climate change, the predictions are staggering: coastal airports besieged by floodwaters, entire beaches disappearing as sea levels rise.
Another disturbing scenario is brewing inland, in the sleepy backwaters of the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta. It’s a threat to the Delta’s ecosystem that could swallow up a significant portion of California’s water supply.
Scientists from government and academia say rising sea levels caused by climate change will bring more salt water into the Delta, the hub of California’s water-delivery network. As a result, millions of gallons of fresh water will have to be flushed through the Delta, and out into the ocean, to keep salinity from inundating the massive pumping stations near Tracy. That will leave less water available for San Joaquin Valley farmers and the 19 million Southern Californians and Bay Area residents who depend on Delta water – eventually as much as 475,000 acre-feet of water each year, enough to fill Folsom Lake halfway, according to one study by the Public Policy Institute of California.
“With rising sea levels, with climate change, that creates additional pressure coming in from the ocean,” said Michael Anderson, the state’s climatologist, in a recent interview. “Sea level rise is going to become more of an influence.”
It figures to become a pocketbook issue for practically any Californian who drinks water that runs through the Delta. A 2010 study by scientists from UC Davis said rising seas, coupled with the inundation of some islands in the western Delta, will translate into higher costs for purifying water for human use. The additional cost could go as high as $1 billion a year, “making the Delta less desirable as a conventional water source,” the study said.

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Environmentalists, fishing groups file lawsuits to block Delta tunnels plan

By PAUL ROGERS | | Bay Area News Group
PUBLISHED: June 29, 2017 at 2:46 pm | UPDATED: June 30, 2017 at 4:50 am

Kicking off what are expected to be years of legal battles, a coalition of environmental and fishing groups on Thursday filed the first major lawsuits over California Gov. Jerry Brown’s $17 billion plan to build two massive, 35-mile-long tunnels under the Delta to make it easier to move water from Northern California to the south.
The Natural Resources Defense Council, Defenders of Wildlife, Bay Institute and Golden Gate Salmon Association filed two lawsuits in U.S District Court in San Francisco.
They challenged approvals given earlier this week by the Trump administration, which said the project won’t cause significant harm to salmon, smelt and other fish and wildlife.
“This version of the tunnels will wipe out California’s salmon fishery and the families and communities that rely on salmon,” said John McManus, executive director of the Golden Gate Salmon Association, based in Petaluma. “The problem is the state basically allowed the water users to design the tunnels and they’re so huge that the federal fish and wildlife agencies are basically throwing up their hands. It’s like they let the fox design the hen house.”
Officials with the state Department of Water Resources, which is overseeing the project, did not comment on the suit. Nor did the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.
“We don’t comment on active litigation,” said Shane Hunt, a spokesman for the service.

In this Feb. 23, 2016, file photo, a sign opposing a proposed tunnel plan to ship water through the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta to Southern California is displayed near Freeport, Calif. (AP Photo/Rich Pedroncelli, File)
Brown is proposing to build two tunnels, each 40 feet in diameter, under the Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta. The idea is to divert water from the Sacramento River north of Sacramento near the town of Freeport, reducing reliance on the massive state and federal pumps at Tracy — which draw water south to cities and farms and are sometimes shut down to protect endangered salmon, smelt and other fish.
The environmentally sensitive Delta, an area of marshes, sloughs and islands between the Bay Area and Sacramento that is roughly the size of Yosemite National Park, is a linchpin of California’s water system. The Delta provides drinking water to 25 million people from Contra Costa County to Los Angeles and San Diego, and irrigation water to 3 million acres of farmland in the San Joaquin Valley and other areas.

Environmentalists, Delta farmers and some Northern California lawmakers call the tunnels project a water grab by Los Angeles and corporate farmers in the Central Valley that would harm the water quality of the San Francisco Bay and the Delta, and drive salmon, smelt and other fish to extinction.

Brown is counting on major water agencies in the state, including the Santa Clara Valley Water District, the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California, Westlands Water District in Fresno and the Kern County Water Agency, to pay for the tunnels’ $15 billion construction costs through raising water rates and property taxes.
None of the agencies has yet committed to the project, but most are expected to vote over the next few months.

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Exxon’s support for a carbon tax is the first step in big oil’s long, negotiated surrender

The industry sees the writing on the wall.
Updated by David Jun 27, 2017, 8:20am EDT

What are they up to? (Shutterstock)
It made news last week when ExxonMobil, along with a slate of other big companies, including other oil giants, backed a plan for a substantial, rising US carbon tax.

The plan was put forward by the Climate Leadership Council, a new group that is seeking a bipartisan path forward on climate policy. The tax would start at $40 a ton; the revenue would be returned as per-capita dividends to all US citizens.
The Council includes some (retired) Republicans like James Baker III and George Schulz, along with a few centrist favorites like Michael Bloomberg and former Energy Secretary Steven Chu. (For some reason, Stephen Hawking is also a fan.) And among its “corporate founders,” are GM and Unilever, along with ExxonMobil, BP, Shell, and Total.
Why would Exxon back a carbon tax that would raise the price of its products?

There’s more to it than you might think. Exxon’s motives on this are complicated — some are short-term and greenwash-y, but others are longer-term and have to do with the industry’s health over coming decades. It’s all a useful lens through which to view the oil industry’s place in warming world.

Big oil has more to worry about than lawsuits
In the near-term, Exxon is embroiled in a messy legal and PR fight, which is why environmentalists were quick to dismiss its gambit as greenwashing.
Critics pointed to a provision within the plan that would shield oil companies from legal exposure to climate-based lawsuits, which is of particular interest to Exxon, as the company is currently being sued by a group of state attorneys general. The lawsuit alleges that the company knew about the risks of climate change long before it revealed those risks to investors, and even when it did, instituting an internal carbon price, it secretly used a much lower price in actual business decisions.

In January, a Massachusetts judge issued Exxon a setback when it ordered the company to turn over 40 years of climate research, based on an investigation by state Attorney General Maura Healey. In May, a Texas judge (Exxon’s home field) dealt the company another blow by transferring the case to New York, where it will be led by dogged NY AG Eric Schneiderman.

MARCH 21: Attorney General Eric Schneiderman speaks beside the Gowanus Canal, which is a designated federal Superfund site, in the Gowanus neighborhood in Brooklyn on March 21, 2017 in New York City. Schneiderman joined area residents, city">
New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman. (Spencer Platt/Getty Images)
Greens also pointed out that the plan would repeal a range of environmental regulations targeted at greenhouse gases, something oil and gas companies would very much like to see.
They pointed out that tax is, in the words of’s Jamie Henn, “dead-on-arrival.” There is no chance this Republican Congress will pass it and very few Republicans are willing to speak up in even tepid support.

And they pointed out that Exxon has lied about climate change for years and lobbied against other carbon tax bills, which casts its motivations in some doubt.
All of this is true, and all of it has likely informed Exxon’s effort to position itself as a constructive partner on climate policy.
But there are also bigger, longer-term trends at work, which are pushing all the oil majors to the table on climate.
The oil industry faces enormous risk if the world takes climate change seriously

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Reports: Tesla-Branded Solar Panels Arrive in Stores 

The company reports its first attempts at selling solar via showrooms were a success.
by Julia Pyper
June 26, 2017

Tesla-branded solar panels have officially arrived in Tesla stores, marking another step in Tesla's ongoing integration with SolarCity.
In an SEC filing from March 1, the company stated: "We plan to reduce customer acquisition costs by cutting advertising spend and increasingly selling solar products in Tesla stores." Tesla said it began offering solar products and services "in select stores" as of the first quarter of 2017.
GTM visited Tesla showrooms in Santa Monica, San Jose, Palo Alto and Boston in late March, and found few references to solar products and services. Tesla salespeople in several of these locations were aware of the company's solar offerings -- including the forthcoming solar roof -- but there was no sales pitch or process in place. 
Things have changed. Electrek reported Sunday that "Tesla Solar" displays and actual panels have now been spotted on the West Coast.
Commenter ElectriCourrier shared a photo of a Tesla Solar display in Honolulu, Hawaii. 

And Instagram user raina0624 recently shared a photo of a Tesla Solar display in Washington. 

Tesla's solar shingles have garnered a lot of attention since CEO Elon Musk first unveiled the new product last fall. Musk announced last month that solar roof orders were live and forecast that U.S. deployments would begin later this year. While the true cost of the solar roof is subject to some debate, Tesla claims it has already sold off enough tiles to be out of stock “well into 2018."
Meanwhile, the company continues to sell standard solar panels. Given that the shingles are really aimed at customers looking to build a new roof, there are plenty of other people who are happy to go the more traditional route. But even with a familiar product, Tesla is looking to differentiate itself.

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Opinion: Electricity from natural gas still needed to cool California

By Tom Dalzell
June 26, 2017

Tom Dalzell is the business manager of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Local 1245, which represents thousands of gas and electrical workers across California.

Photo: Carlos Avila Gonzalez, The Chronicle

According to the California Independent System Operator, the primary agency responsible for managing the grid, energy demand peaked at roughly 47,000 megawatts.

Last week was a scorcher across California. It didn’t matter where you were — Sacramento, Fresno, Palm Springs, San Francisco and Oakland all set new daily high temperature records. San Diego County even broke its all-time high temperature at 124 degrees.
The oppressive heat grounded airplanes, stoked wildfires, buckled some roads and even led to deaths — a reminder that our Mediterranean climate sometimes turns hostile. Climate change will only make this worse.

As you might expect, Californians’ demand for electricity increased dramatically as we relied on air conditioning to combat the heat. According to the California Independent System Operator, the primary agency responsible for managing the grid, energy demand was projected to peak at roughly 47,000 megawatts — the fourth highest in the past 20 years.
In the face of this tremendous demand, California’s electrical grid performed amazingly well. This is somewhat of a marvel, given the complexity of the grid and our dynamic demand for power.
The grid’s performance was also a reminder of the continued importance of natural gas in meeting California’s needs, even as the state transitions to more renewable sources.
For example, despite the growth of solar power, available solar energy on the grid peaked at roughly 10,000 megawatts last week — roughly 22 percent of the needed peak supply — while natural gas provided roughly 50 percent.
Solar power will likely be able to meet a greater percentage of demand as incentives boost its development, but even then there is an issue of matching supply and demand. For example, as the heat lasted well into the night, so did Californians’ demand for electricity. However, electricity generated from solar had dropped to 60 percent of its peak by 6 p.m. and was completely offline by 8:30 p.m. Solar was meeting only 7 percent of California’s demand at 7 p.m. and zero percent by 8:30 p.m. each day.
In the future, storage may play a role in saving solar and wind power for later use. However, power storage technology is still very expensive. We still need natural gas power and will for some time.

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Solar Costs Are Hitting Jaw-Dropping Lows in Every Region of the World 

How low can you go? Mind-blowingly low 65 cents-per-watt solar system pricing in India.
by Eric Wesoff, Stephen Lacey
June 27, 2017

This may sound a little repetitive, but it's impossible to ignore: the decline in solar costs is not slowing down.  
GTM Research expects a 27 percent drop in average global project prices by 2022, or about 4.4 percent each year. Those improvements are not limited to the U.S. They are occurring globally and, in some cases, resulting in even sharper price declines than America is experiencing.
The data comes from a new PV system pricing forecast from GTM Solar Analyst Ben Gallagher.

The plunges in system pricing won't just come from modules -- they'll come from reductions in inverters, trackers and even labor costs. And every region will benefit.
"Component prices are beginning to lose their price variance from country to country," writes Gallagher. "Beyond a handful of local content requirements, many of the policies that created regional hardware pricing have been eroded by market forces."

In the U.S., it's only stubborn soft costs such as customer acquisition that have actually risen.
And it's seemingly only trade disputes that can derail the price-decrease train.
65 cents per watt? 
GTM Research finds that India’s system of tenders has produced extremely competitive bidding and, as a result, almost unimaginably low system pricing. India is seeing the lowest system prices of any major solar market in the world, ever.
The report finds that India has utility PV system pricing of 65 cents-per-watt.
The secret to these low prices? It turns out that a great way to reduce your soft costs is to pay your labor force and engineers next to nothing. (Markets with low-cost labor are more likely to use fixed-tilt systems, lowering turnkey system prices even more.)
As the report points out, even soft costs in China are 11 cents per watt higher than India.

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