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How California’s sprawl got in the way of a strong climate bill

By Ben Adler on 17 Sep 2015

California came close to passing really ambitious climate change legislation last week, only to step back at the last minute. The original version of the Clean Energy and Pollution Reduction Act, passed by the state Senate and backed by Gov. Jerry Brown (D), set three goals to be achieved by the year 2030: cut the state’s gasoline consumption by 50 percent, require electric utilities to generate 50 percent of their power from renewables, and make buildings 50 percent more energy efficient. Unfortunately, lawmakers had to drop the gasoline provision, the most aggressive of the trio, to get the bill through the state Assembly, even though the Assembly is heavily controlled by Democrats.

There’s a sobering lesson in this: Overcoming the entrenchment of the fossil fuel economy is incredibly difficult in even the most liberal of states. In this case, the mandate to cut gasoline failed because Big Oil has so much political power, but also because sprawl has trapped voters in a cycle of car-dependence.

California is particularly susceptible to the influence of the oil industry because the state is home to many oil wells and refineries. And because California is the nation’s most populous state, a big cut in California’s oil usage would mean a big cut to Big Oil’s bottom line. That won’t do — the industry has to keep its users hooked. So oil companies spend an extraordinary amount on political donations and lobbying in Sacramento. A 2014 report by the ACCE Institute and Common Cause, entitled “Big Oil Floods the Capitol: How California’s Oil Companies Funnel Funds into the Legislature,” spelled out just how much:

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Victories of SB 350 are incomplete, but lessons learned

SEPTEMBER 17, 2015

Brown can adopt oil reduction goals through executive authority

We must hold corporate special interests like oil companies accountable

We also must hold accountable legislators who serve corporate interests instead of their communities


Special to The Bee

Tom Steyer is a businessperson, philanthropist and president of NextGen Climate.

Last week, the California Legislature passed a bill to protect the health of our children, create more clean energy jobs and take serious steps to address climate change. This historic legislation, Senate Bill 350, boosts California’s clean energy mix to 50 percent and increases energy efficiency in buildings by 50 percent.

The bill’s passage was a tremendous victory – but it was incomplete. Our triumph was tempered by a stark reminder of how power really works in the Capitol. Oil company lobbyists gutted part of the bill, removing a provision to reduce oil use in vehicles by 50 percent by 2030.

They killed the oil reduction goal despite the fact Gov. Jerry Brown, Senate President Kevin de León and Assembly Speaker Toni Atkins stood united behind it. The goal, first outlined by Brown in January, would have demonstrated that California is serious about addressing the harmful effects of burning oil.

Instead, on a day when the air in Fresno was so dirty that children couldn’t safely play outside, a handful of Sacramento legislators were choosing between oil company profits and public health. Too many – notably including Fresno Assemblyman Henry Perea – chose to side with the polluters.

That’s because oil companies spend huge sums on lobbying in Sacramento. The oil industry has poured $118 million into lobbying our state government in the last decade, including $20 million in 2014.

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Despite setbacks, California’s climate push accelerates



The Legislature may have scuttled the centerpiece of Gov. Jerry Brown’s climate change plans, but it still approved ambitious new environmental policies that will impact the economy and life of Californians.

In coming years, the new legislation means California’s homes and buildings are expected to use dramatically less electricity and the power grid will increase its share of renewable energy. Brown also hopes to achieve much of what the Legislature rejected through executive orders and regulations. That will mean more electric cars on the road and increased use of biofuels, as part of a far-reaching effort to slash greenhouse gas emissions.

“This is a long trek forward to change the very basis of our industrial economy,” Brown said last week. “And I think we’re making tremendous progress.”

In the legislative session that ended on Sept. 11, lawmakers halted a bill that would have mandated deep greenhouse gas emissions cuts by the year 2050. They also failed to extend the state’s carbon-limiting cap-and-trade program, which may otherwise expire in 2020.

Most contentious of all was a bid to slash petroleum use in motor vehicles in half by 2030. That idea got dropped after the oil industry launched a vigorous advertising campaign in opposition, and some Democrats in the state Assembly shied away.

Still, Brown and Senate President pro Tem Kevin de León (D-Los Angeles) will bring almost unparalleled accomplishments to a major international climate-change conference in Paris this December.

Lawmakers last week passed and sent to the governor a landmark measure, carried by de León, to require electric power providers to get half of their electricity from renewable sources by 2030 (currently they are required to get 33 percent by 2020). It’s a target that’s stricter than all but a few states.

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Renewable energy to power Sacramento state buildings

SEPTEMBER 17, 2015

Brown administration and SMUD strike three-year deal

Wind, water, sun and biomass will supply Capitol, other state-owned offices

Agreement will make California among the nation’s top renewable-energy buyers


The Capitol Area East End Complex, one of nearly two dozen state buildings in Sacramento that will soon receive all its electricity from renewable sources. Dick

Schmidt Sacramento Bee


Gov. Jerry Brown’s administration and Sacramento’s not-for-profit electric utility have reached an agreement that will power nearly two dozen state office buildings with electricity from renewable sources within the next month.

The three-year pact between SMUD and the Department of General Services will kick in with the state’s next billing cycle, department spokesman Brian Ferguson said, and immediately catapult the state into one of the largest purchasers of renewable energy in the nation. The cost to taxpayers, the department estimates, will be negligible.

“We’re excited,” Ferguson said.

SMUD serves roughly 11 million square feet of state office space, but for now just 23 buildings in downtown Sacramento, including the Capitol, will receive 100 percent of their electricity from renewable sources such as wind, water, sun and biomass.

Another 10 state office buildings outside the capital core, such as the sprawling Franchise Tax Board campus near Interstate 50, will be added later, Ferguson said. Meanwhile General Services, which acts as the government’s landlord, will keep working to launch similar programs with other utilities serving a total 5.3 million square feet of state facilities in other parts of the state.

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We need better home energy storage. These companies are working on it

By Suzanne Jacobs on 17 Sep 2015

Earlier this summer, serial game-changer Elon Musk unveiled the Tesla Powerall, a home energy storage device designed to give people energy independence and thus usher in the solar age. The announcement came only after Musk first revealed his deep distaste for existing batteries — namely that they “suck,” tend to be “stinky,” “ugly,” and are just “bad in every way.”

But Musk isn’t the only one who feels this way. Practical home energy storage, while not the sexiest of technologies, is crucial to the very sexy concept of off-grid living. And with more and more households installing solar panels, the home battery market is only going to get bigger. MIT Technology Review has the scoop on some other companies getting in on the action:

This week at the Solar Power International show, in Anaheim, a company called SimpliPhi Power is unveiling a lightweight battery system for homes and small businesses that offers a longer life span than other lithium-ion batteries and doesn’t require expensive cooling and ventilation systems.

SimpliPhi’s bid comes a few weeks after another energy storage provider, Orison, released its design for a small plug-and-play battery system that, unlike the SimpliPhi and Powerwall options, does not require elaborate installation or permits for a home or small commercial setting.

Orison will be launching a Kickstarter campaign to produce its first batch of batteries, which it plans to start distributing sometime next year, Technology Review reports. The unit will cost about $1,600 and have a 2 kWh capacity, compared to the $3,000, 7 kWh Powerwall (the average household in the U.S. uses about 30 kWh per day). Both of these options are pretty expensive, but the hope is that home storage costs will go down over time. SimpliPhi hasn’t revealed prices yet, but according to its website, it has residential units with 2.6 kWh and 3.4 kWh capacity.

Of course, it’s no good having batteries that solve an environmental problem, if they’re just going to cause another. Back in 2013, the EPA did a life cycle assessment of lithium-ion batteries — the kinds that all three companies are using — and found that the lithium-ion batteries that contain nickel and cobalt tend to have the most environmental impact:

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NRG plans to spin off solar and sell some power plants

Posted on September 18, 2015 | By Jordan Blum

NRG Energy will spin off its solar business and sell its wind farm capacity and some power plants in a major “reset” in order to fix its struggling finances and stock value.

The Houston- and New Jersey-based power giant will start an unnamed “GreenCo” business Jan. 1 with its solar and electric vehicle charging businesses that NRG CEO David Crane admitted “act as a drag on NRG stock.” NRG has emphasized its solar growth the last couple of years, but Crane acknowledged Friday that investors have pushed for changes and NRG is six months behind on its solar installation goals.

Crane said NRG is seeking a business partner to enhance the new green company with funding as either a majority or minority owner. But he reiterated that NRG is not getting out of the solar business, and that he sees great solar growth potential especially in Texas in a couple years once home solar panels become more economically competitive.

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Shale drillers spending most of their cash paying off high debt

Posted on September 18, 2015 | By Collin Eaton

Oil bust claims first casualties

oil and gas producers have either filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection or have missed interest payments and are heading toward restructuring.

HOUSTON — After a credit-fueled energy boom and a punishing downturn, U.S. shale drillers now spend the vast majority of their operating cash flow paying off the debt they took out to expand their drilling.

The U.S. Energy Information Administration says in the second quarter, 83 percent of domestic oil companies’ operating cash flow went to paying off debt balances as their cash piles shrink because of cheap crude.

That compares to 58 percent in the second quarter of 2014 and about 44 percent in early 2012. Over the last five years, oil companies have collected more than $250 billion in risky junk bonds to extract millions of barrels of crude from shale rock in Texas and North Dakota, eventually leading to a global oil glut that has cut the price of oil by more than half.

“Low oil prices have significantly reduced cash flow for U.S. oil producers, and to adjust to lower cash flows, companies have reduced capital expenditures and raised more cash from debt and equity,” the EIA said.

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An Oklahoma of oil at risk amid shaky finances for U.S. shale drillers

Posted on September 18, 2015 | By Bloomberg

Texas ranks among global producers

As much as 400,000 barrels a day of oil production is at risk as U.S. shale companies like Samson Resources Co. run out of money and are forced to slow drilling.

Total debt for half of the companies in a Bloomberg index of more than 60 producers has risen to a level that represents 40 percent of their enterprise value. It’s a sign of distress that shows equity values falling in the face of oil’s crash, said Rob Thummel, a managing director and portfolio manager at Tortoise Capital Advisors LLC who helps manage $15.6 billion.

The companies facing high debt loads, which include Encana Corp. and Chesapeake Energy Corp., produced 1.1 million barrels of oil a day in the second quarter of this year, according to data compiled by Bloomberg. If more companies file for bankruptcy as Samson did Wednesday, or embrace the kinds of draconian cuts needed to survive, output could fall by 200,000 to 400,000 barrels, Thummel said. Oklahoma, the sixth-largest producing state, pumped 356,000 barrels a day in June, government data show.

“We are going to see a major response because these financially challenged companies won’t be able to produce as much as they did in the past,” he said.

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Is King Coal a welfare queen?

How much do coal emissions really affect our planet? A closer look.

By Olivia Lowenberg, Staff SEPTEMBER 18, 2015

How much does one lump of coal's worth of energy cost?  And who pays for it?

When trying to figure that out, you might think of how much it cost to mine the coal, transport it to the power station, burn it, and deliver the electricity to your home.

That would be a good start, but as a comment titled “King Coal and the queen of subsidies," written by Professor Ottmar Edenhofer of the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research and published in the journal Science points out, some of coal's costs are invisible to the public.

Around the world, coal is heavily subsidized. Citing figures from the International Energy Agency, Dr. Edenhofer notes that, worldwide, pretax subsidies for coal in 2013 amounted to $550 billion. These subsidies, Edenhoffer argues, not only divert funds away from other services, but they also provide an incentive to burn more coal instead of switching to renewable energy sources.

Of course, further costs to the public accrue once the coal is burned and released into the atmosphere. A 2011 study led by Harvard's School of Public Health estimated that, if you take into account the whole lifecycle of coal's costs, the US public pays out "a third to over one-half of a trillion dollars annually" to keep the coal-fires burning, or about 17 cents per killowatt-hour worth of coal (a little over a pound of it).

These costs, the Harvard researchers estimate, effectively double or triple the per-kilowatt-hour cost of coal, making renewable energy such as wind and solar economically competitive.

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Your utility is about to get a makeover. Here’s why.

President Obama's Clean Power Plan will nudge the utility industry to shift its operating model for the first time in nearly a century, writes Opower's Alex Laskey.

By Alex Laskey, Opower SEPTEMBER 16, 2015

By now, the energy community has had a chance to take a hard look at President Obama’s long-awaited Clean Power Plan, which he unveiled to a crowd of scientists, business leaders, and policymakers in the East Room of the White House earlier this month.

The final rule is 1,560 pages long, but its intent is simple: to set carbon pollution standards for existing power plants in each state, offer a broad menu of options to meet those standards, then get out of the way. The Environmental Protection Agency estimates that the Clean Power Plan will reduce power plant emissions 32 percent overall by 2030.

Much has already been written about the politics of the rule, which are unfolding predictably. What’s drawn less attention — but will ultimately be far more consequential — is how the Clean Power Plan will nudge the utility industry, a sleeping giant worth $2.2 trillion globally, to shift its operating model for the first time in nearly a century.

Utilities will bring fringe energy technologies into the mainstream

One way utilities can comply with new carbon standards is to replace fossil fuel power plants with renewable energy. The Clean Power Plan even incentivizes it.

That means we’ll see utilities building large-scale wind farms and solar arrays, particularly as they get cheaper to manufacture. Others will launch community solar projects, where their customers can buy a stake in a solar farm. Some utilities will even offer to set up rooftop panels — either by themselves, or through partnerships with solar installers.

As the power grid becomes increasingly dependent on variable energy sources like wind and solar, utilities will also have a reason to invest in battery technologies, which will allow them to store up power when it’s abundant and release it when it’s not.

Of course, for a lot of power companies, the most cost-effective way to lower carbon emissions won’t be to build clean energy or buy energy storage; it will be to reduce demand for energy in the first place. That used to be a matter of incentivizing customers to buy more energy-efficient hardware. But now that CFLs and Energy Star appliances are ubiquitous, utilities are increasingly focused on changing people’s behavior — using data analytics to help homes and businesses understand their energy use, and motivating them to use less.

The relationship between utilities and consumers will change

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Tennessee Valley Authority Kicks Off A Potential Nuclear Energy Rebirth

SEP 17, 2015 @ 08:50 AM

Ken Silverstein ,CONTRIBUTOR

I write about the global energy business.

Opinions expressed by Forbes Contributors are their own.

A nuclear evolution is now occurring, in Tennessee. While it’s been a long and slow process, the Tennessee Valley Authority is moving closer to starting up one of its nuclear plants that it expects will displace coal and help curb the region’s carbon emissions.

Most of the attention is now given to those merchant nuclear units that are in the process of closing, with little focus on the gradual development of TVA’s Watts Barr Nuclear Plant Unit 2. Originally licensed in 1972, it shut down in the 1980s because of security and economic concerns. Now, though, the Clean Power Plant has thrust this plant forward.

That final regulation released in August requires a 32 percent cut in carbon emissions by 2030, from a 2005 baseline. It gives full recognition to all new nuclear plants or those existing ones that make upgrades, although it does not give current nuclear plants any credit for carbon reductions. With that, Watts Barr 2 is expected to rev up this year — long before 2020, which is when Southern Co SO +0.00%. and Scana Corp. are to complete two units each.

All are to be baseload plants that run around-the-clock. The two units at Southern and the two at Scana will each generate about 2,200 megawatts. TVA’s Watts Barr 2 will crank out 1,150 megawatts. For the record, nuclear power has the greatest “capacity factors” of all power generation, or 92 percent; wind and solar energy are half that.

“This will really help Tennessee manage its emissions under the rules of the Clean Power Plan,” regardless of how the various legal challenges should turn out, says Former New Jersey Governor Christine Todd Whitman, in a phone interview with this reporter on Tuesday.

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At L.A. summit, Biden says it’s time to ‘end debate’ on climate change



Vice President Biden displays a photo of solar panels mounted on the field house at the University of Delaware as he speaks at the Solar Power International conference in Anaheim.


Michael A. Memoli

September 16, 2015, 6:37 p.m.

Vice President Joe Biden highlighted the importance of concerted government efforts to fight global warming during a swing through Southern California on Wednesday, championing investment in solar power and other renewable energy sources as a path to economic revival.

Biden’s remarks, made at a solar-industry conference in Anaheim and a climate-change summit in Los Angeles, put a focus on what he said were the White House’s progressive environmental policies even as the Republican presidential field gathered in nearby Simi Valley for their second televised debate.

Biden didn’t miss the opportunity to take a swipe at the GOP candidates assembled 50 miles away at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library, saying that some of them – like other Republicans in Congress – continue to deny the reality of climate change.

“These people have denied global warming. And they’re the same folks, I suspect, that have denied gravity,” Biden joked at the evening conference of Chinese and American political leaders in downtown L.A.

By contrast, Biden – who could conceivably still find himself contending for the White House against a Republican opponent next year – championed what he said was a more progressive approach to climate change that would generate “middle-class jobs” by nurturing the alternative-energy industry.

“Here’s the deal. We can protect the environment, save taxpayer dollars and create good paying jobs all at the same time. That’s a fact. That’s the truth,” Biden said. “It’s time to end these debates. It’s time to get down to business.”

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Biden Calls Out Special Interest Groups for Stifling Solar Market Growth

Speaking at SPI, the vice president also announced $120 million in solar funding.

Julia Pyper
September 16, 2015

Anyone standing in the way of solar market growth will be left standing on the wrong side of history, said Vice President Joe Biden in an impassioned speech on Wednesday at Solar Power International.

“We want to give every American a choice, an energy choice on what they want to use, no matter who they are or where they live,” said Biden. “This isn’t a government mandate, it’s the market working.”

As demand for solar has increased, “some of the most deep pocketed special interests that have lobbied for years for fossil fuels have announced ‘Let’s stop it, lets take away consumer choice, let’s stifle the market,’” Biden said later. “Isn’t it amazing?”

Since President Obama took office, the number of homes with rooftop solar has grown from around 66,000 to 734,000. In the second quarter of 2015, the U.S. solar industry surpassed 20 gigawatts of total operational PV capacity, according to GTM Research and the Solar Energy Industries Association. And as deployments have increased, the number of solar jobs has grown while costs have dropped, falling by 50 percent since 2010.

“This is not because of us, but I hope we helped,” said Biden.

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Rising seas threaten San Francisco Bay and Delta wetlands and land

By Denis Cuff

POSTED:   09/17/2015 12:30:00 AM PDT


Canada geese take off from a detention basin and seasonal wetland at the Ohlone College Newark Center on Jan. 3, 2012, in Newark. (Aric Crabb/Bay Area News Group)

OAKLAND -- Rising sea levels threaten not only structures around San Francisco Bay and the Delta but the shoreline marshes critical to the environmental health of the estuary, and the results could be "catastrophic" if action is not taken, scientists warned Thursday.

Predicted sea level rises of 3 feet or more by 2100 resulting from climate change could wash out and cover shallow tidal wetlands that act as important nurseries and habitat for wild fish, birds and other aquatic sea life, according to the scientific report on the state of the bay-Delta estuary.

To keep the wetlands from sinking under water, the scientists called for a major, sustained public campaign to build up and replenish those marshy areas with sediment.

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Will solar energy shine on poor communities?

By Morgan Lee | 6:40 p.m. Sept. 14, 2015 | Updated, 11:49 p.m.


California is encouraging home builders that install rooftop solar energy systems to tilt those panels west. The goal is to capture more renewable energy in the waning hours of the day, when electricity demands are often highest. Hayne Palmour IV/U-T San Diego

A billion-dollar effort to bring more rooftop solar to multi-family hopojectsin poor communities is among a raft of clean-energy remedies approved late last week by California lawmakers, and now awaiting the governor's signature.

As the legislative session ended, last-minute political wrangling focused primarily on aggressive new mandates for 2030 to double energy efficiency, generate half of California's energy from renewable sources like solar, and a defeated defeat an effort to cut petroleum consumption in half.

Tucked into several approved bills are provisions designed to address the relatively slow spread of rooftop solar within low-income communities and at multi-family housing complexes. For those solar projects, financial arrangements and risks are typically more complex than the single-family homeowner market, and the payoff from solar energy has not always trickled down to the electricity bills for individual tenants.

Assembly Bill 693 would devote up to $100 million a year to expanding rooftop solar at deed-restricted affordable housing complexes. Those dwellings are reserved for people living on less than 60 percent of the local area median income.

Scott Sarem, CEO of Carlsbad-based multi-tenant solar provider Everyday Energy, estimates the new solar program eventually could reach 200,000 low-income households if successful, offsetting individual utility bills in the process by 30 percent to 50 percent. (A longstanding subsidized multi-family solar program known as MASH has helped provide rooftop solar benefits to 6,771 multi-family dwellings in California as of June.)

Eligible low-income tenants in San Diego already receive a discount on electricity of 35 percent or more that is subsidized by other customers. Standard customers who foot the bill for those subsidies also stand to save money as solar energy offsets subsidized energy charges, said Sarem of Everyday.

"We ultimately are taking a huge burden off of all ratepayers through lessening the burden of CARE," said Sarem, referring to California Alternate Rates for Energy. CARE rates apply to about 30 percent of customers in San Diego Gas & Electric territory.

Multi-family property owners and independent solar developers also stand to benefit. Owners would offset their own energy bills for common areas, and might see lower vacancy rates as the financial strain eases on tenants. Developers like privately held Everyday Energy, and its sometime partner SolarCity, stand to grow their business while leveraging federal solar tax incentives.

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