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20Jun/17Off

Extreme Heat Strains Power Grid, Puts Cal Fire On Alert For Wildfires

 Randol White 
Monday, June 19, 2017 | Sacramento, CA | Permalink

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This week's streak of extremely hot weather is putting a major strain on the western power grid...and it could get worse.

The National Weather Service in Sacramento says this week's heat could tie a June record set in 1981 that had nine consecutive days of triple-digit temps.

The longest summertime stretch of this sort was set in 2006, when 100-plus degree heat stretched out for eleven days in mid-to-late July.

Managers with Pacific Gas and Electric say they expect to break a power usage record set that same year.

PG&E's Lynsey Paulo says this week the load could hit nearly 23,000 megawatts.

"We expect to exceed our peak load - that's a record for us - on Thursday," Paulo says. "And so in preparation for that; we're staffing up, we're suspending work on some of our system, and we're going make sure that our system is at full capacity for Thursday."

In addition to heat-related power issues, CAL FIRE is preparing for severe fire weather this week.

The agency says it's focused on the northern Central Valley where there's an abundance of tall, dry grass from the wet winter.

Randol White
All Things Considered Anchor/Reporter
Randol White is an award-winning, accomplished, and well-rounded broadcast journalist with more than two decades of radio, television, web and print experience.  Read Full Bio 

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20Jun/17Off

Big power outages accompany record-breaking Bay Area heat

By ROBERT SALONGA | rsalonga@bayareanewsgroup.com | Bay Area News Group
PUBLISHED: June 18, 2017 at 8:12 pm | UPDATED: June 19, 2017 at 7:37 am

Amid record-breaking heat in all corners of the Bay Area, residents are not only struggling to stay cool, but to keep the lights on.

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As of 10:30 p.m. Sunday, upward of 19,500 PG&E customers throughout the region were without power due to up to 10 large outages, with a scattering of small outages accompanying them, including 8,098 in the East Bay, 8,214 in the South Bay and 38 in the Peninsula and San Francisco.

The number was gradually decreasing from earlier in the day. No official cause of the outages has been released, but there are multiple anecdotal accounts from throughout the region from police and fire agencies reporting blown transformers and other issues attributed to the heat.
PG&E spokeswoman Jacquelyn Ratto cited demand as a key driver. “When there’s increased demand for power for air conditioning, for example, during hot weather, it can overload electric lines, transformers and other equipment resulting in outages,” Ratto said.
“A lot of times we see more impact in afternoon, because that’s when systems are getting overloaded, a lot of equipment failing which is cause of a majority of these outages.”
An exact number of customers who lost power was not available late Sunday, but Ratto credited crews’ steady work with the restoral of 22,500 customers’ service between 7:30 and 10:30 p.m..
http://www.mercurynews.com/2017/06/18/big-power-outages-accompany-record-breaking-bay-area-heat/

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16Jun/17Off

Houston fears climate change will cause catastrophic flooding: ‘It’s not if, it’s when’

Human activity is worsening the problem in an already rainy area, and there could be damage worthy of a disaster movie if a storm hits the industrial section

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Houston has more casualties and property loss from floods than any other locality in the US. Photograph: David J Phillip/AP

    Friday 16 June 2017 06.00 EDT

    Sam Brody is not a real estate agent, but when his friends want to move home they get in touch to ask for advice. He is a flood impact expert in Houston – and he has plenty of work to keep him busy.

    The Texas metropolis has more casualties and property loss from floods than any other locality in the US, according to data stretching back to 1960 that Brody researched with colleagues. And, he said, “Where the built environment is a main force exacerbating the impacts of urban flooding, Houston is number one and it’s not even close.”

    Near the Gulf Coast, Houston is also at annual risk from hurricanes: it is now into the start of the 2017 season, which runs from this month to November. Ike, the last hurricane to hit the Houston region, caused $34bn in damage and killed 112 people across several states in September 2008.

    There is little hope the situation is going to get better any time soon. Earlier this month, days after Donald Donald Trump announced the US will withdraw from the Paris accord on climate change, a new report warned that rare US floods will become the norm if emissions are not cut.

    Brody, a professor in the department of marine sciences at Texas A&M University’s Galveston campus said the requests for help in Houston from people moving homes inspired him to create a forthcoming web tool so that people can type in an address and get a risk score.

    “If you can see your crime statistics, shouldn’t you be able to see your flood risk also? And other risks as well, human-induced risks?” he said. The site will be named Buyers Be-Where.

    In May 2015, eight people, many of them motorists, died in Harris County when a storm dropped 11in of rain in parts of the city in 10 hours.

    Last year, another six lost their lives in an April storm that hurled 240bn gallons of water at the Houston area. An inch of rain fell over the county in only five minutes, with a peak of 16.7in in 12 hours.

    The events damaged thousands of homes, turning major freeways into canals and piling up vehicles as if they were in a junkyard. The 2016 flood cost an estimated $2.7bn in losses and prompted more than 1,800 high water rescues.

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    Homes and property are flooded due to heavy rains in Richmond, Texas in June 2016. Photograph: Bob Levey/Getty Images

    Significant rains have always been a feature of life in south-east Texas. What bothers Brody and local environmentalists is the extent to which human activity is making things worse.

    “Houston is situated in a low-lying coastal area with poorly draining soils and is subject to heavy rainfall events and storm surge events, which makes it very prone to flooding. And the climate is changing. In Galveston Bay the sea level is rising. We know the area is experiencing more heavy downpours,” Brody said.

    “It pales in comparison with the other driving force, which is the built environment. If you’re going to put 4 million people in this flood-vulnerable area in a way which involves ubiquitous application of impervious surfaces, you’re going to get flooding.”

    In other words: there is a lot of concrete in Houston. In 2000, 4.7 million people lived in the Houston metropolitan area. Now the population is about 6.5 million. While efforts are under way to densify and improve public transport in the urban core, much of the growth has been suburban, where houses are big and cheap and commuters drive long distances on some of the world’s widest freeways. The city keeps loosening its belt: a third ring-road cuts through exurbs some 30 miles from downtown, spurring more expansion.

    https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2017/jun/16/texas-flooding-houston-climate-change-disaster

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    16Jun/17Off

    Your gas appliance is making climate change worse

    JUNE 15, 2017 1:00 PM

    BY RACHEL GOLDEN

    Special to The Bee

    Rachel Golden is senior campaign representative for the Sierra Club in Oakland. She can be contacted at rachel.golden@sierraclub.org.

    pastedGraphic.pdf

    California leaders have said loud and clear that we won’t back away from our commitment to build clean energy and reduce climate pollution.

    But for California to achieve its goals, it must address a source of climate pollution that is largely unchecked and literally hits close to home: the buildings where we live and work.

    Gas-powered appliances such as space and water heaters produce massive amounts of climate-damaging pollution. In fact, gas burned for heating is responsible for nearly as much carbon pollution as all of the state’s power plants combined.

    A recent investigation by the California Energy Commission and the Public Utilities Commission found that the state’s dirty gas networks leak more methane – 86 times more damaging than carbon – every year than the entire Aliso Canyon gas blowout, which is considered one of the worst man-made environmental disasters ever.

    Our buildings are a major source of pollution because there is a lack of public education and funding. Those who want to do something about climate change are missing one of the easiest ways to act – switch from gas appliances to cleaner, electric ones.

    Communities are already benefiting from doing so. The state is home to several of the nation’s largest all-electric low-income housing developments. Residents in these homes with on-site solar have utility bills about 90 percent lower than residents with gas appliances and no solar. The $1,000 a year in savings is no small change to families that are struggling to make ends meet.

    http://www.sacbee.com/article156381999.html

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    16Jun/17Off

    Pedal-ins and car burials: what happened to America’s forgotten 1970s cycle boom?

    ‘Bicycle madness’ once saw US bike sales outstrip cars, and spawned ambitious plans for 100,000 miles of cycle paths. Then the music stopped

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    Democrats and Republicans addressed a pro-bicycle rally at Denver Civic Center in October 1972. Photograph: John Sunderland/Denver Post via Getty Images

    Friday 16 June 2017 02.00 EDT

    “The bicycle’s biggest wave of popularity in its 154-year history,” gushed Time magazine in 1970 at the start of America’s five-year love affair with the bike. “Some 64 million fellow travellers are taking regularly to bikes these days, more than ever before,” the report continued, “and more than ever [they are] convinced that two wheels are better than four.”

    US bicycle sales, which had been rolling along at 6 million a year, shot up to 9 million in 1971, 14 million in 1972 and 15.3 million the following year, according to a Bank of America report. While most pre-boom bikes had been sold for children, suddenly 60% were destined for adults.

    Highly placed politicians – a few of whom were cyclists – told planners to get on and build miles and miles of urban bikeways. “Both national and local governments have recognised the phenomenal growth of bicycling,” reported Time, “and the Department of the Interior has plans for nearly 100,000 miles of bicycle paths to be constructed in the next 10 years.”

    In 1973, 252 bicycle-oriented bills were introduced in 42 states. The Federal-Aid Highway Act of the same year provided $120m for bikeways over three years.

    “Bikes are back,” claimed National Geographic writer Noel Grove in the magazine’s May 1973 edition. “Glutted roadways, ecological concern, the quest for healthful recreation, and the sophistication of geared machines have all contributed to a flood of cycling activity,” he explained, adding that “legislators are beginning to think bikeway as well as highway”. He concluded that “with bikeway construction and ecological concern marching hand in hand, America’s bicycling boom could harbinger a whole new era in transportation”. What went wrong?

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    A 1970 anti-automobile cartoon by Richard Hedman. It originally appeared in Autokind V Mankind by Kenneth R Schneider. Photograph: Richard Hedman

    Ecological concern was certainly one of the drivers of the boom. During the 1967 Summer of Love, the Haight-Ashbury district of San Francisco reeked of patchouli oil, weed and incense. With flowers in their hair, some of the area’s self-styled “freaks” protested not just against the Vietnam war but also against waste.

    We’re at the final stages of the climax of the automobile era … We’ve gone as far as we can go

    US interior secretary Stewart Udall in 1972

    The automobile became a potent symbol of everything that was wrong with the “military–industrial complex”. In February 1970, 19 humanities students at the San Jose State College bought a brand new Ford Maverick and, with the blessing of their professor, buried it in a 12 ft-deep hole dug in front of the campus’ cafeteria. This crowdfunded destruction of the hated motor car made news around the world.

    Chicago-based Edward Aramaic explicitly linked cycling with environmentalism when he founded the Bicycle Ecology group and organised a “pedal-in” in October 1970. This was the era of “-in” demos – which started in the 1960s with “sit-ins” protesting against racial segregation at American colleges and universities. Later, there were “teach-ins”, “love-ins” and, in 1969, the famous “bed-in” with Yoko Ono and John Lennon who espoused world peace from the presidential suite of Amsterdam’s Hilton Hotel, and who were gifted a White Bicycle by the city’s Provo anarchist group.

    “Bicycle Ecology … want to ban trucks, buses and automobiles from [downtown] and replace them with bikes,” reported the Chicago Tribune. “1,500 to 2,000 enthusiastic riders of all ages … braved a stiff north wind and temperatures in the 40s to wheel down major arteries to the civic centre, where speeches extolled the bicycle as good for the individual and for the environment.”

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    A Bicycle and Equestrian Day in Los Angeles in September 1971. Photograph: AP

    New York urban planner David Gurin joined with other activists to form a Triple-A with a difference. An Action Against Automobiles demo in November 1972 called for an end to highway spending, and for cars to be barred from downtown Manhattan. Riders met in Central Park and rolled past the Greater New York Automobile Show, chanting “Cars must go! Cars must go!”

    Speaking to a crowd of cyclists, Gurin applauded the radical bicycle activism of the Provo anarchists, and urged New Yorkers to adopt similar “eco-tactics”. One of the posters he designed to promote the AAA protest rides promised “massive demonstrations … until the streets are cleared of the auto gangrene.”

    (In 1978 Gurin, who had been writing anti-car polemics in Village Voice since the mid-60s and was a friend of Jane Jacobs, became NYC’s deputy commissioner for transport, a post he held for 12 years. In the late 1980s the city banned not cars but bikes. Action Against Automobiles continues as Transportation Alternatives.)

    Congressman Ed Koch – who would become New York’s mayor in 1977 – rode on some the early 1970s protest bike rides, and in 1971 he stressed: “The only way to ensure safety for the many thousands of New Yorkers who want to bicycle is to designate official and exclusive bike lanes.” Koch installed bikeways when he became mayor – but he also ripped them out again.

    pastedGraphic_3.pdf

    Bike Boom is published by Island Press

    In Portland, Oregon, the bike lanes stuck. Sam Oakland, a Portland State University professor who led a group known as the Bicycle Lobby, told the Associated Press in 1971: “We want to redesign Portland to make it a city for people … instead of what it now is: a giant, smelly parking garage for commuters.” His lobbying for funds worked and a bill was passed which set aside 1% of state transportation spending for bike-specific facilities – the first designated state funding for cycling in the US.

    A citizen Bicycle Path Task Force was appointed to oversee the programme, and Oakland was appointed chair. The Task Force met with resistance from the city’s car-centric engineers who had little interest in the use of bicycles for transportation and instead wanted to use money from the highway pot to build recreational trails. “As long as the bicycle continues to be considered a toy for recreational use only, we’re not going to get anywhere with paths in the city,” complained Oakland. After many struggles with city officials, the Task Force was able to push through a plan in April 1973. By the following year, 60 miles of bikeways had been striped statewide, with another 50 miles under construction and 70 miles to be delivered. Mighty oaks from little acorns grow; Portland is now one of America’s most cycle-friendly cities.

    In March 1972, interior secretary Stewart Udall – one of the greenest US politicians of his generation – told the New York Times: “We’ve got to get away from the pretence that there is some easy painless way that we can save energy. We’re at the final stages of the climax of the automobile era … We’ve gone as far as we can go.” Give people a choice, he said, build more bikeways. “People cling to their cars because there is no alternative.”

    Students, too, were keen on cycling. In 1972, University of Montana students could choose from geology, psychology, biology or – new for that year – bikeology, a combination of bikes and ecology.

    And hundreds of articles in the mainstream press demonstrated that there was an alternative. If National Geographic was to publish a spread today similar to the one from 1973 it would likely have glossy adverts from the likes of Cannondale, Specialized and Trek, America’s leading homegrown bicycle brands. The three were founded during the boom years.

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    A cyclist marks Earth Day 1970 on 5th Avenue in New York. Photograph: Bettmann Archive

    In Washington DC, there was a young Post staff reporter called Carl Bernstein – later to become half of the Pulitzer Prize-winning pair – known as the “office hippie” and a “long-haired freak who rode a bicycle …”

    “Many cyclists harbour fierce antipathy for what they regard as an automobile culture that is choking the nation with fumes, speed, noise and concrete,” he wrote in the Post in 1970. He went on to describe a “growing group of cyclists who regard pedalling as an almost political act and inevitably flash the two-finger peace symbol upon encountering another person on a bike”.

    The facilities for DC cycle commuters had been poor, but improved by the early 70s, partly because of John A Volpe, President Nixon’s secretary of transportation. In 1969, Volpe – who routinely rode a fold-up bicycle to work – told the city council chairman to build bikeways for the growing number of cyclists who, like him, were not all long-haired hippies. As Bernstein wrote in the Post, bike-boom cyclists were just as likely to be “stockbrokers and congressmen, secretaries and lawyers, students and government clerks, librarians and teachers, youngsters and oldsters”.

    At the first bike-in I burned someone’s driver’s licence on network TV. Heady times

    Marchant Wentworth

    Hundreds of cyclists staged a “bike-in” in 1971, demanding more space on the key commuter route of Beach Drive. “At the first bike-in I burned someone’s driver’s licence on network TV,” bicycle advocate Marchant Wentworth remembers. “Heady times.”

    In 1974, DC cyclists started to take direct action to improve streets. Cary Shaw installed an asphalt bike-ramp where the city Highway Department had refused. When a container of asphalt appeared on his street for a road-mending task, he decided to “borrow” some, adding a big traffic stripe leading to the ramp. “When it was finished, I turned around and almost immediately someone was wheeling her baby carriage up the ramp,” recalled Shaw. “A couple of minutes after that someone whizzed along on a bicycle, saw the thing, zipped up on the ramp, and away he went.” The ramp Shaw built was later adopted by the city, and is still there. Direct action works – sometimes.

    Blame it on the baby boomers

    Shaw, like other cycle advocates, was a baby boomer. The post-second world war birth spike resulted in a glut of teens and 20-somethings at the beginning of the 1970s. Many had cash, were eager for novelty, wanted independent mobility, and were desperate to throw off the shackles of their elders.

    These consumerist kids, who came of age at the end of the 1960s, kept on buying, and despite the bulge predicted in the 1950s, the bike industry was caught off guard when the demographic alighted on their products. It was a perfect storm, with drop-out baby boomers attracted to cycling for its anti-motoring environmentalism; suburban-conformist baby boomers latched on to cycling because it was healthy and “outdoorsy”; and pre-motoring teens upgraded to lightweight 10-speed bikes after having been attracted to cycling because of bikes like the Schwinn Stingray, the cycle that inspired Raleigh to make the iconic Chopper.

    Thanks to the 45 million bicycles sold at the height of the US boom, cycle ownership was higher than ever. The US was on the cusp of building a whole bunch of bikeways, with high-level support from the US Department of Transportation.

    pastedGraphic_5.pdf

    Davis, California – the American city which fell in love with the bicycle

    Read more

    David Rowlands, writing for Britain’s influential Design magazine, was impressed that the Department of Transportation organised a key 1974 conference, Bicycles USA. “What emerged from [this conference] was a far more comprehensive response to an expanding population of cyclists than any other country at present offers. Government assistance has been a major factor in this new awareness of the bike’s potential as a means of transportation in the developed world. It is an example that deserves much wider imitation.”

    A report from the US Environmental Protection Agency, also published in 1974, came to the same conclusion. And the Department of Transportation published its first ever cycle infrastructure style guide, Bikeways: State of the Art 1974.

    https://www.theguardian.com/cities/2017/jun/16/pedal-ins-patchouli-bikeology-americas-forgotten-1970s-cycle-boom

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    16Jun/17Off

    Ignore the toxic myth about bike lanes and pollution – the facts utterly debunk it

    Peter Walker

    A series of articles in conservative media are pushing the bizarre argument that separated bike lanes worsen air quality. Here’s why it’s rubbish

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    ‘Separated cycle lanes are vital for modern cities’ ... a cycle superhighway on London’s Blackfriars Bridge. Photograph: Alamy


    Friday 16 June 2017 07.00 EDT

    Juliet Samuel is a regular columnist for the Telegraph, who opines authoritatively about politics, society and business. And yet last month she wrote something which was very obviously incorrect.

    Something needed to be done, Samuel said, about the “epidemic of bike lanes taking over otherwise useable roads all across London”. She continued:

    I cycle and drive, but these lanes go far beyond the measures needed to improve safety and instead just make it almost unbearable to get in a car. It takes a minimum of one hour to get out of town, half of which is spent churning out extra exhaust as you sit on clogged roads and roundabouts that were flowing perfectly well until now.

    Even if you ignore the idea that London’s roads used to flow “perfectly well” (perhaps all Samuel’s previous London driving and cycling took place at 5am on Sundays), there is a very obvious error here.

    It’s the peculiarly tenacious, if easily disproved myth that building separated cycle lanes causes greater traffic congestion, and thus more pollution.

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    Can you guess the city from its bike lane maps?

    Read more

    In Samuel’s very minor defence, she is merely repeating what she has probably read elsewhere. The previous month, James Salmon, the Daily Mail’s transport correspondent, wrote a hugely odd story noting that Cambridge and London had among the slowest average traffic speeds in the country.

    The paper put this down largely to cycle lanes, despite the fact other places in the list included Wolverhampton and Hereford, neither of which are known for their Dutch-style levels of cycling infrastructure. (As if in unconscious acknowledgment of the article’s essential absurdity, the story was illustrated with a photo of a bike lane in Cambridge, Massachusetts.)

    Unbowed, the Mail used a story last month about the College of Paramedics raising concerns about separated bike lanes (a story that, it is worth noting, misquoted the college’s views) in an editorial column:

    Segregated cycle lanes have increased congestion and worsened pollution ... Isn’t it time to abandon this cycle ‘superhighway’ experiment and admit that it was a stupid mistake?

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    London’s cycle superhighway along the Embankment. Just 3% of central London roads have any segregated cycle lanes. Photograph: Martin Godwin for the Guardian

    There are two elements to unpick this statement: firstly to debunk the myth; and then to try to understand why it is so persistent.

    To use London as a good example, there is zero evidence that separated bike lanes have worsened congestion. Quite the contrary. Transport for London statistics show that just two weeks after the capital’s two new cycle “superhighways” were open, both routes were carrying 5% per hour more people than previously, a figure set to rise as more cyclists use them. Having given 30% of the space to bikes, these now comprised 46% of people using the roads.

    This makes sense when you realise that the standard traffic engineers’ rule of thumb is that a road that can carry 2,000 cars per hour on average can carry 14,000 bikes.

    There is precisely zero evidence that separated bike lanes have worsened congestion

    https://www.theguardian.com/cities/2017/jun/16/myth-bike-lanes-congestion-pollution-debunked

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    16Jun/17Off

    Diesel Was Supposed to Be the Future

    Is the highly efficient fuel doomed?

    pastedGraphic.pdf

    On a smoggy day in Paris, police enforce an anti-pollution measure temporarily banning cars with even-numbered license plates.

    Michael Euler / AP

    1. NICHOLAS CLAIRMONT 6:00 AM ET BUSINESS
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    Like The Atlantic? Subscribe to The Atlantic Daily , our free weekday email newsletter.

    Once upon a time, diesel fuel was going to be the future. It was seen as more efficient, on a mileage-per-gallon basis, than other fossil fuels, and for that reason was also thought to be less polluting. About two decades ago, acting on those beliefs, policy makers in Europe—where high energy prices already made mileage a more-pressing issue than in the U.S.—made a number of rules that incentivized the growth of diesel over gasoline for use in passenger cars, moving past its traditional role in trucking and construction.

    These policies were remarkably successful at meeting their goals, and diesel-powered cars soon accounted for half of the cars sold on the continent. Car companies poured resources into developing diesel-related technology. But the result of this success has been not greener, friendlier, cheaper motoring, but the creation of toxic clouds over major European cities. At the end of 2016, Paris was choked by its worst episode of smog in more than a decade, lasting longer than two weeks, according to the city’s pollution-watching agency Airparif, and prompting the city to enact emergency measures that included restricting car use. It was not the first time. During a March 2015 pollution event, Paris was briefly the most polluted city in the world, surpassing famously smoggy Beijing. London shared in the ignominy when it too beat out Beijing for the first time in January of this year.

    Diesels have played the main role in this. Since the 1960s, advances in technology that treats and filters gasoline engines’ exhaust, like the widespread use of catalytic converters, have cut down on the amount of dirty, unhealthy, and smog-producing emissions these engines spew out into the surrounding environment. But while diesels get better mileage and so contribute less to global climate change, the local effects of diesel pollution are much worse than those of gasoline. Diesel is a less refined fuel, and so it contains more of the particulate matter that can have deadly health effects when spewed into the surrounding environment. And burning diesel produces, among other noxious gases, nitrogen dioxide, the main cause of smog.

    In many cases the same regulatory bodies that were trying to get citizens into diesels only a few years ago are now working to get the engines off the road entirely, instituting additional, diesel-specific congestion-charging and other disincentives in cities, in recognition of the fact that their green-friendliness was mistaken. During particularly bad bouts of smog, several European cities have temporarily banned driving outright, or instituted restriction schemes where, for example, cars with odd and even number plates are allowed in on alternate days. The mayors of Athens, Mexico City, and Madrid have committed to ridding their cities of diesel cars altogether by 2025, and Paris Mayor Anne Hidalgo said “there will be no diesel vehicles in Paris in 2020.” Other cities around the continent and world are implementing smaller-scale efforts to discourage diesel too.

    But lately, the biggest story when it comes to diesel remains Volkswagen’s ongoing “Dieselgate” scandal, in which the company installed “defeat devices” that allowed its diesel cars to put out dramatically higher levels of toxic emissions on the road than show up during regulators’ lab tests. A year and a half after the cheating was discovered, the full results of the scandal are still uncertain: The U.S. has levied more than $22 billion in fines against the company, the world’s largest automaker, and more may still be coming. Meanwhile, millions of the deceptive VWs are still on roads around the world, with consequential EU action on the matter minimal.

    Much worse for diesel at large, rumors that the offending practice was not limited to Volkswagen Group, which have been floating around since the scandal first broke, seem to be turning out to be true. The Environmental Protection Agency recently moved against the trans-Atlantic auto giant Fiat Chrysler for using similar devices, and General Motors is being sued in a class action for cheating in its diesel pickup trucks, which outnumber the offending VWs on American roads by several hundred thousand. The EU also started legal action against Italy for failing to meet its obligations as a member state to enforce regulations on Fiat Chrysler.

    https://www.theatlantic.com/business/archive/2017/06/diesel-smog-pollution-europe/528990/

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    14Jun/17Off

    Owner threatens to close Three Mile Island nuclear plant as natural gas boom cuts profits

    Five years of losses has prompted the parent company to consider shuttering the infamous plant as nuclear power plants around the US fail to compete with generating stations that burn plentiful and inexpensive natural gas to produce electricity.

    1. Marc Levy
      Associated Press

    MAY 30, 2017 HARRISBURG, PA.—Cheap natural gas could do what the worst commercial nuclear power accident in US history could not: put Three Mile Island out of business.

    Three Mile Island's owner, Exelon Corp., announced Tuesday that the plant that was the site of a terrifying partial meltdown in 1979 will close in 2019 unless the state of Pennsylvania comes to its financial rescue.

    http://www.csmonitor.com/Environment/2017/0530/Owner-threatens-to-close-Three-Mile-Island-nuclear-plant-as-natural-gas-boom-cuts-profits

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    14Jun/17Off

    Big solar projects potential boon for rural areas

    By Ryan Maye Handy, Houston Chronicle Published 10:49 am, Tuesday, June 13, 2017


    IMAGE 1 OF 4

    OCI Solar Power is building the 110-megawatt, Alamo 6 solar farm in Iraan in West Texas to provide renewable power to the city of San Antonio. The project is slated to come online by the end of the year. OCI ... more

    Utility-scale solar power is poised to become a boon for Texas' rural economies, particularly those hit by the oil downturn.

    In Pecos County in West Texas, just south of Midland, the oil and gas industry accounted for about 90 percent of the county's tax revenues, said Helen Brauner, director of origination strategy for 7x Energy, an Austin-based utility-scale solar company. But that tax revenue plunged during the oil bust, she said, and has yet to recover.

    But renewable energy is helping to restore some of Pecos' lost tax base, said Brauner. The county already hosts 400 megawatts of solar power and 700 megawatts of wind power.

    "The typical 100 megawatt solar project should give the county about $30 million in property tax revenue per year," Brauner said  Tuesday at a summit on solar power in Austin.

    Most of the solar power in Texas comes from utility-scale projects, which are greater than one megawatt, or enough to power 200 homes on a hot Texas day. Texas has lagged behind in the spread of solar energy, in part because the state offers no incentives for solar power. Nonetheless, solar industry analysts and executives expect utility-scale solar to grow in Texas.

    http://www.chron.com/business/energy/article/Big-solar-projects-potential-boon-for-rural-areas-11216368.php

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    14Jun/17Off

    Building the ‘Solar Protection Factor’ Into an Increasingly Green-Powered Grid

    pastedGraphic.pdf

    A new ScottMadden report describes the challenges of balancing renewables and natural gas with retiring baseload power plants.

    by Jeff St. John

    June 12, 2017

    Utilities need to prepare for the rise of wind and solar power and the retirements of baseload power plants, and that includes building “solar protection factors” into their long-term planning.

    That’s one of the recommendations from consultancy ScottMadden in its latest energy industry update. The report, which covers subjects ranging from Trump administration energy policies, to blockchain, to smart cities, also gets into detail on today's key grid paradigm shift -- the increasingly frequent retirements of coal and nuclear power plants and their replacement by natural gas and renewables.

    In the past decade, for the first time ever, baseload retirements outpaced baseload additions, with 23 gigawatts of net retirements since 2010, the report found. Of the 84.2 gigawatts of retirements, 61 percent were coal and 29 percent gas steam turbine plants, while the 61.1 gigawatts of additions have been 74 percent combined-cycle natural gas and 24 percent coal steam turbines.

    https://www.greentechmedia.com/articles/read/building-the-solar-protection-factor-into-a-green-powered-grid

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    14Jun/17Off

    Today’s Top Solar Developers Have Become Storage Developers Too

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    Photo Credit: Cypress Creek Renewables

    All this talk of solar-plus-storage is converting into action.

    by Julian Spector

    June 13, 2017

    The solar industry is no longer just talking about pairing energy storage with solar generation.

    An increasing number of solar-plus-storage projects have been cropping up around the country, as lithium-ion prices drop lower and customers get more comfortable with storage technology. The AES plant in Kauai set a record low price in January, only to be beaten by Tucson Electric Power's sub-4.5 cents per kilowatt-hour PPA announced in May -- proving this technology isn't just for islands and remote microgrids any more.

    For the large developers in particular, storage makes the solar product more appealing to a utility by giving the power plant flexibility and mitigating its effects on grid operations. On the islands of Hawaii, storage has already become necessary for adding major solar capacity; on the mainland, its value increases along with renewable penetration.

    To get a handle on just how extensive the interest in storage-backed solar is, I got a list of the 10 largest utility-scale solar developers from my colleagues at GTM Research, and tracked down the storage status of each one.

    Seven of the top 10 solar developers have incorporated storage into their business strategy, and have either deployed storage alongside PV or are pursuing hybrid installations. The remaining three did not comment on how storage fits into their plans.

    "This is well beyond one developer -- this is really a trend we're seeing in the industry," said Colin Smith, a solar markets analyst at GTM Research. "Solar-plus-storage has become a forced differentiator in the industry."

    https://www.greentechmedia.com/articles/read/todays-top-solar-developers-have-become-storage-developers-too

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    14Jun/17Off

    With Tesla founder’s help, Chinese automaker comes to Bay Area

    By David R. Baker

    June 13, 2017

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    Photo: David Mcnew, AFP / Getty Images

    An electric car is plugged into a charging station. While many U.S. consumers have shown little interest in electric vehicles, Californians have been an exception. By the end of last year, the state had about 270,000 electric cars and plug-in hybrids on its roads.

    Another Chinese automaker aims to break into California’s growing electric vehicle industry, with a little help from one of Tesla’s founders.

    Sokon Industry Group has opened its U.S. headquarters in Santa Clara, the company reported Tuesday. It has also established a research center in Ann Arbor, Mich.

    Formerly known as Chongqing Sokon Auto Industry Group, the company last year created a U.S. subsidiary called SF Motors and announced that it had lined up Tesla co-founder and former CEO Martin Eberhard as a consultant.

    “As we expand our operations and R&D efforts, we hope to partner with like-minded corporations and recruit the top automotive and tech talent to ensure attainable, clean mobility for future generations,” said John Zhang, CEO of SF Motors.

    The Santa Clara office, which will focus on business operations and product planning, employs about 50 people and should have 150 by the year’s end, according to the company.

    California has seen a recent influx of electric vehicle companies either from China or backed by Chinese investors. The roster includes Faraday Future, LeEco, Lucid Motors and NextEV.

    None of those companies, however, has succeeded so far in bringing an electric car to market.

    http://www.sfchronicle.com/business/article/With-Tesla-founder-s-help-Chinese-automaker-11214190.php

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    13Jun/17Off

    BRIEFLY Stuff that matters STRIKE AN ACCORD


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    Reuters/Youssef Boudlal

    http://grist.org/briefly/cities-and-states-may-be-able-to-officially-join-the-paris-agreement-after-all/

    Cities and states may be able to officially join the Paris Agreement after all. Patricia Espinosa, head of the United Nations climate change body that negotiated the accord, told ministers at a June 11-12 meeting that she hopes to bring U.S. cities and states into the fold.

    “This is obviously important, because cities like New York and states like California that intend to pursue the same direction — of reducing emissions very ambitiously — will have a voice and will be able to sign agreements inside the international convention on climate change,” said Espinosa, as reported by Politico.

    After Trump announced the U.S. would drop out of the Paris deal, numerous states, cities, and businesses reiterated commitments to reducing emissions. But the actual legality of cities and states joining international treaties remains murky under the U.S. Constitution.

    “It’s a little bit early to know what exactly is meant by” Espinosa’s comment, says Vicki Arroyo, executive director of the Georgetown Climate Center. Arroyo says it could refer to subnational representatives, like governors, receiving credentials to attend climate talks and participate in discussions, rather than state or municipal governments literally signing on.

    Emma Foehringer Merchant

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    13Jun/17Off

    Settlements for Company Sins Can No Longer Aid Other Projects, Sessions Says


    By TATIANA SCHLOSSBERG and HIROKO TABUCHIJUNE 9, 2017

    Photo

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    Water and sediment gush out of a pipe in a project to restore the beaches near Port Fourchon, Louisiana. Much of the funding came from fines paid by BP from the devastating 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil spill.

    Credit

    William Widmer for The New York Times

    When companies settle claims of wrongdoing, they are often compelled to pay for environmental or community development projects as well as pay fines and direct compensation to victims. Sometimes the third-party payments are only marginally related to the damages caused by the company’s actions.

    To settle claims from the Gulf oil spill, BP was required to spend billions on coastal restoration projects that were not directly related to spill damage. Volkswagen is financing electric vehicle charging stations under its settlement of the diesel emissions cheating scandal. Duke Energy paid for soil restoration on federal land as part of its compensation for air pollution violations at some of its power plants in North Carolina.

    That longstanding practice is now under attack on two fronts, potentially jeopardizing a source of financing for initiatives across the country that supporters say have paid great environmental and social dividends. Critics say the practice effectively creates “slush funds” for favored organizations or causes.

    Attorney General Jeff Sessions, in a memo issued this week, directed the Justice Department to no longer include funding for projects managed by outside groups in settlements with corporate wrongdoers. The settlement money will instead go exclusively to the federal Treasury or to victims of the company’s actions, Mr. Sessions said.

    “It has come to my attention that certain previous settlement agreements involving the department included payments to various nongovernmental, third-party organizations as a condition of settlement with the United States,” Mr. Sessions said. “These third-party organizations were neither victims nor parties to the lawsuits. The department will no longer engage in this practice.”

    The policy applies only to future cases.

    A bill with similar intent, sponsored by Robert W. Goodlatte, Republican of Virginia, passed a House committee in February. It would prevent the government from using settlement money from civil cases for purposes other than direct victim compensation or remediation, like cleanups of environmental disasters. A version of the bill passed the House last year, but died in the Senate.

    This year, groups including the Competitive Enterprise Institute and Americans for Prosperity, both closely linked to the libertarian billionaire brothers Charles G. and David H. Koch, wrote to President Trump criticizing a recent settlement between the Obama administration’s Justice Department and Volkswagen.

    The $14.7 billion settlement, over Volkswagen’s use of “defeat devices” to cheat emissions rules, included almost $2 billion that Volkswagen was required to invest in electric vehicle charging stations and other clean vehicle technology. The settlement also directed Volkswagen to pay $2.7 billion to programs that would reduce pollution from diesel cars and trucks. Volkswagen had been accused of manufacturing cars that spewed harmful nitrogen oxides at up to 40 times the levels allowed under the Clean Air Act.

    Some of the money was in effect going to pay for clean air initiatives championed by President Barack Obama, the conservative groups said, initiatives that Congress twice refused to fund.

    “Having been twice spurned by lawmakers, the Obama administration leveraged the Volkswagen settlement,” the groups charged. All settlement money, they argued, should “instead be deposited into the U.S. Treasury.”

    The groups said that Congress has not authorized or provided money for electric vehicle infrastructure. They said the plan represents “an end-run around Congress’s lawmaking power.”

    https://www.nytimes.com/2017/06/09/us/politics/settlements-sessions-attorney-general.html?ref=energy-environment&_r=0

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    13Jun/17Off

    Google’s New Product Puts Peer Pressure to a Sunny Use

    The company’s “Project Sunroof” now shows you which of your friends have already put solar panels on their roof.

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    Project Sunroof now puts red dots over houses that appear to have solar panels on their roof, such as this neighborhood in Boulder, Colorado.

    Google

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    Updated on June 12 at 11:30 a.m. ET

    One of the best predictors of whether people install solar panels on their house isn’t their age, their race, their level of income, or their political affiliation.

    It’s whether their neighbors did it first.

    This finding has been shown repeatedly across space and time, including in California, Connecticut, Germany, Switzerland, and the United Kingdom. “It happens at the street level, it happens within zip codes, it happens within states. It seems to be a common feature of human decision-making that crosses many boundaries,” says Kenneth Gillingham, a professor of economics at Yale University whose study helped establish the finding.

    On Monday, Google will put the finding into practice with Project Sunroof, its free online tool that aims to make it easier for people to obtain and use home solar panels. Project Sunroof will now not only inform users how much sun hits their roof, or how much solar panels would save them per month, but also which of their neighbors have taken the plunge first.

    Project Sunroof was launched in 2015 by Carl Elkin, an engineer at Google who had worked on local solar-installation campaigns in Massachusetts. It now provides data for 60 million homes across the United States that it has already assessed with its algorithms.

    For the past two years, Project Sunroof has walked people through all the information-gathering steps of installing solar panels: After you tell it where you live, its algorithms estimate how much solar energy falls on your roof, calculate how much solar panels would reduce your electricity bill, and deliver estimates from local installation firms like Solar City.

    It can also walk you through similar steps if you’re interested in leasing or borrowing panels. “It highlights that, for many people, solar is often free. In many cases, including for my house, solar is better than free,” Elkin told me last week.

    Now—in a nod to the powerful peer effects of solar power—it will also show you which of your neighbors have already installed panels. In its map view, Project Sunroof will show a red dot over any home or structure that appears to have rooftop solar.

    “People want to know: ‘What if there’s some hidden gotcha in the contract?’and usually there isn’t. ‘Does this work for other people like me? Is solar really viable in my neighborhood?’” Elkin says. “You can zoom around through your town and understand how common solar is in your neighborhood. And many people have found: Wow, there is a lot more solar in my neighborhood than I’d realized.”

    “We want people to realize solar is absolutely part of the fabric of American life,” Elkin says.

    Google created the data for this feature in-house, training a machine-learning algorithm on the common appearance of rooftop solar panels and then letting it loose on the cities and towns that Project Sunroof already covers. Right now, the company has analyzed installations on about 60 million buildings in the United States; it hopes to get to the remaining 40 million buildings in the next few years. The methodology doesn’t seem to be perfect yet—I noticed some rooftop solar installations in my own neighborhood that the algorithms missed—but it seems to identify most of them.

    https://www.theatlantic.com/technology/archive/2017/06/googles-new-product-puts-peer-pressure-to-a-sunny-use/529974/

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