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July, 2017 Archives

10Jul/17Off

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

JULY 07, 2017 6:00 AM

BY THE EDITORIAL BOARD

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.
http://www.sacbee.com/opinion/editorials/article160144879.html

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10Jul/17Off

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.
https://www.greentechmedia.com/articles/read/Renewables-Generated-More-Power-Than-Nuclear-in-March-and-April

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10Jul/17Off

Utilities fighting against rooftop solar are only hastening their own doom

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

(Shutterstock)
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.

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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.
https://www.vox.com/energy-and-environment/2017/7/7/15927250/utilities-rooftop-solar-batteries

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10Jul/17Off

Power restored to thousands in San Fernando Valley after DWP facility explosion

Los Angeles Fire Department firefighters battled a major fire at the DWP plaint in Reseda on Saturday, July 9, 2017. The huge circuit breaker unit exploded and burned for hours. LAFD used foam rigs to put out the fire. As of 10 P.M., more than 140,000 people were without power. (Photo by Gene Blevins, Los Angeles Daily News/SCNG)

Photos: 140,000 without power after DWP transformer explosion, fire

By Matthew Carey, Correspondent
POSTED: 07/09/17, 8:48 AM PDT |

Los Angeles Department of Water and Power crews work to clean up the aftermath Sunday morning of an explosion and fire at a Northridge utility station. Photo by Gene Blevins

The Los Angeles Department of Water and Power said Sunday crews worked through the night to restore electricity to some 94,000 San Fernando Valley homes and businesses that remained powerless following an explosion and billowing fire at a Northridge utility station Saturday night.
In a 5:30 a.m. news release, DWP said many remained without electricity. But by 8:46 a.m., the utility tweeted that the power was back on after around-the-clock efforts.
“All the customers are restored; we feel great about it,” DWP spokesman Michael Ventre said by phone Sunday. “We’re sorry for the inconvenience for people who were out of power, but our guys worked extremely hard all night in difficult conditions to restore power as safely and as quickly as possible.”

Fire and DWP officials attributed the cause of the fire at DWP’s transmission site, known as Receiving Station J, to an accidental “mechanical malfunction,” but no further details were offered Sunday.
The station at Wilbur Avenue and Parthenia Street turns high voltage power into lower voltage power to distribute to customers.
“While efforts to make permanent repairs are the primary focus of all involved, a full investigation into the cause of the fire that occurred Saturday evening will also be conducted and reported publicly,” DWP said Sunday in a statement.

• Related Story: DWP crews work Sunday to restore power to 94,000 in Valley as another hot day looms
The event plunged much of the San Fernando Valley into darkness Saturday night, affecting street lights and traffic signals, causing businesses to close early and prompting residents to find ways to try to deal with the unusually oppressive heat.
With the power restored Sunday, fans were again blowing inside a workshop across the street from the DWP facility. Ernesto Córtez, 44, works there painting cabinets. He said he spent Saturday night inside the workshop where he often sleeps, but without power the temperature soared.
http://www.dailynews.com/general-news/20170709/power-restored-to-thousands-in-san-fernando-valley-after-dwp-facility-explosion

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10Jul/17Off

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.”
http://www.sfchronicle.com/politics/article/Trump-administration-may-let-California-keep-11276368.php

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