California’s budget surplus is a historic opportunity for climate-safe investments

We live in an extraordinary time for California’s budget. Despite previous predictions of a major COVID-induced deficit, the state instead is currently sitting on an unprecedented budget surplus to the tune of nearly $100 billion. This presents a massive opportunity to invest in climate resilience, clean energy, green jobs, and more.

The legislative budget process is an evolving, months-long, and often opaque process (learn about it in more detail here). Right now, we’re nearing the end of that process. In accordance with the state’s June 15 deadline, lawmakers voted to adopt a budget earlier this week. However, negotiations between the legislature and the governor are ongoing, and the state’s final budget won’t be revealed until later in the month. Typically by now, lawmakers are debating which pieces of the budget to cut, but that’s not the case with this year’s historic surplus. Instead, they’re debating where to invest

This year’s budget includes several items that we at The Climate Center are excited to see. Due to the enormity of the surplus and unresolved negotiations on the specifics of allocating funding, many of the key items of interest for The Climate Center are in the form of packages. 

Some of the packages to take note of include:

  • $1.2 billion for climate resilience 
  • $2.2 billion for zero-emission vehicles 
  • $835 million for clean energy

These are, without a doubt, historic investments. But there are more details to work out before we can get too excited. How these packages are implemented, how investments are directed, and who controls the money will all be hammered out through additional legislation called trailer bills. It’s vital that the money we invest in climate solutions be doled out equitably, that communities already enduring climate impacts get their fair share, and that we support oil and gas workers as we transition to renewable energy sources. 

There’s still a lot of work to be done, but there’s one thing you can do today. Out of that $1.2 billion resilience package, The Climate Center and our members are pushing to secure funding for community energy resilience. With much of the state already experiencing extreme heat and grid operators warning about the need to curtail power usage, we need solutions that allow our communities to keep power going without relying on fossil-fueled generators. That’s what community energy resilience projects can do — take a moment to write your legislators about community energy resilience today

Finally, while this budget includes significant investments in climate programs, it still falls short of what we need to comprehensively address the climate crisis. The costs of waiting — more devastating fires, burdens on the healthcare system, and more — are so much higher than the costs of taking bold action today. We look at this year’s budget as a downpayment. California is beginning to invest in the kinds of programs that will stave off the worst impacts of the climate crisis, but this can’t be a one-time thing. Creating the safe, healthy, just future all Californians deserve requires sustained, significant investment from our leaders in Sacramento. 

The Climate Center Testimony in Support of SB 99, the Community Energy Resilience Act of 2021

Senate Energy Committee

Support Testimony for SB 99

https://senv.senate.ca.gov/

April 19, 2021 Hearing

 

Good afternoon Chairman Hueso, Vice-Chair Dahle and Members of the Committee.

My name is Kurt Johnson, I’m the Community Energy Resilience Director at The Climate Center. Our flagship Climate-Safe California campaign aims to accelerate California climate policy timelines to achieve net-negative emissions by 2030: an acceleration which is commensurate with the latest climate science.

Energy resilience is a core component of our climate policy efforts because one of the climate change impacts we’re experiencing  — dramatically worsened wildfires — has created enormous problems for California’s electricity reliability.  This problem will become even more acute as we electrify more and more of our economy in order to reduce fossil fuel use.

SB 99 can help solve our energy reliability problem:  it directs the California Energy Commission to create a technical assistance and grant program that will support local governments in creating community energy resilience plans: a necessary first step to facilitate federal, state and private sector investment in enhanced energy resilience.   

SB 99 prioritizes vulnerable communities, which already suffer disproportionately from air pollution and high rates of respiratory disease — problems which are being exacerbated by the recent rapid acceleration of new diesel generation. 

SB 99 provides a better way of enhancing energy resilience: with local clean energy infrastructure rather than diesel — leveraging the investments which California ratepayers and taxpayers have already invested at the CEC. 

As we approach the 2021 fire season — which will likely include more power outages — I urge you to support SB 99, which charts a course towards a cleaner, more resilient energy future for California.  Thank you.

 

Los Angeles Smog by Massimo Catarinella

Choking on fumes: Diesel generators are booming with state funding

In a state that takes pride in claiming to be a world leader in technology and reducing carbon emissions, state and local government decision-makers in California have taken a giant step backward in funding diesel back-up generators to mitigate for Public Safety Power Shutoffs (PSPS). 

In recent years, power shutoffs have cost California billions of dollars. Unfortunately, too much of the State’s response to date has focused funding on archaic and polluting fossil generators, which have lower upfront costs than clean energy solutions, but higher operating costs, as well as higher costs to public health from air pollution.

Governor Newson correctly laid the blame for power shutoffs on investor-owned utility PG&E for failing to maintain infrastructure. In initially announcing power shutoff mitigation efforts, Governor Newsom said, “For decades, they have placed greed before public safety. We must do everything we can to support Californians, especially those most vulnerable to these events. These funds will help local governments address these events and assist their most vulnerable residents.”   

The recently-completed 2019-20 Legislative Report on the use of $75 million in allocations made to support state and local efforts to mitigate power shutoff events explains how most of the money has been spent: on diesel generators. And except for about $100,000 that Alameda County used to purchase 96 1000-watt personal back-up battery power packs to loan to people reliant on electric-powered medical-support, very little was reported to have been spent by governments to “assist their most vulnerable residents.” 

All 58 counties received $26 million in total, of which $16 million went for fossil-fuel generators and the fuel tanks and controls to operate them. Only one county, Imperial, bought a solar-plus-battery system for $100,000 instead of generators.

As for the 39 cities that were allocated $10 million, $7.3 million went for fossil-fuel generators, fuel tanks and controls. Three cities bought solar-plus-batteries and no generators. They were American Canyon, $300,000; Orinda, 217,417, and Willits, $149,000 (with a population of 4,893). These cities should be commended for their leadership.

Out of $35 million allocated for state agencies, more than $20 million was spent on generators, only $562,500 on solar-plus-batteries.  

The growing use of diesel generators following recent climate change-exacerbated fires is extremely troubling. At a January California Energy Commission workshop on alternatives to diesel, the Climate Advisor to the Bay Area Air Quality District (BAAQMD) reported that highly energy-dependent businesses such as data centers have already added an additional 1000 Megawatts of new diesel generation just in the Bay Area with another 1500 Megawatts expected to come online, further adding to the roughly 80,000 MW statewide that existed in 2018 prior to the devastating 2019 and 2020 PSPS events.  

Diesel generators do not need permits if they are 50 horsepower or less and BAAQMD has no idea how many of those exist. But they have permitted 10,000 diesel generators in the Bay Area district and are finding they are used more than previously thought.  

California’s state and local leaders can and must do better.

That’s why last year The Climate Center launched an initiative for equitable clean and smart microgrids to build Community Energy Resilience. And we are partnering with lawmakers on legislation that supports equitable access to reliable and safe clean energy solutions.  

Learn about these bills and take action today.

As public dollars are invested to enhance resilience, state and local policymakers should focus on clean energy resilience (which can be cheaper over their lifespan than diesel generators) and should focus on prioritizing energy resilience for California’s most vulnerable communities.   

 

CPUC Approves $200M Investment in Microgrids for Vulnerable Communities

Reliable Clean Energy for Those Who Need it Most

On January 12, 2021 the California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) approved a new decision in the CPUC microgrid proceeding. While the decision did very little to advance microgrid commercialization as required by SB 1339, it did include $200 million in utility ratepayer funding for a new incentive program to support microgrid development in vulnerable communities. These funds will not be enough to meet the magnitude of the need but the decision is an important policy step in the right direction.

Prioritization of vulnerable communities is a primary objective of The Climate Center’s Community Energy Resilience (CER) initiative. We are working with many partners to create a better electricity system for California that is clean, affordable, reliable, equitable and safe– prioritizing microgrid development in lower-income communities that suffer the most from air pollution and power outages.

The CPUC action followed through on recommendations from The Climate Center and Vote Solar as well as allied parties in the microgrid proceeding including Grid AlternativesSierra Club California and the California Environmental Justice Alliance.

During the discussion on the decision , CPUC President Batjer noted that “there remains work to do.”  We strongly support key points in the letter sent by Reclaim our Power to the CPUC highlighting the need to invest in disadvantaged communities, allow local communities to define critical facilities, develop a microgrid incentive structure to address historical inequities, focus on clean energy microgrids, and provide opportunities for community ownership.

The forward movement of this new decision, as well as the CPUC decision issued last June which recognized the pivotal role of local governments in energy resilience planning, was driven in part by comments filed by The Climate Center and filing partner Vote Solar in the CPUC proceeding over the past year.

As highlighted in our filings (e.g., January 4th and December 28th), as well as in The Climate Center’s CER Policy Summit last August, California’s clean energy programs have not sufficiently benefited lower-income customers who face higher cost burdens and are disproportionately impacted by power shutoffs.

Rather than leaving such decisions to a remote utility-centered policy-making process, local communities need to be empowered to plan their own energy future. Local empowerment is a core objective of The Climate Center’s flagship CER legislation, SB 99, the Community Energy Resilience Act, as introduced by Senator Bill Dodd in late December.

To learn more, please visit www.theclimatecenter.org/microgrids

Equitable clean energy– support this new bill

Technology and market trends of this moment are laying the groundwork for a clean, affordable, reliable, equitable and safe electricity grid in California. Unfortunately, our laws are sabotaging us.

The failings of our archaic electrical system, which ignited many of California’s recent wildfires, are causing homeowners, businesses, hospitals, firefighters, and others to buy fossil fuel-powered back-up generators– increasing emissions that drive climate change and making fires worse.

Right now California regulators are considering new contracts for fossil fuel-powered plants in response to last summer’s blackouts. This is a big step in the wrong direction.

Instead, California policy should help local governments and stakeholders develop clean energy resilience plans that address climate change while prioritizing our most vulnerable communities.

Senate Bill 99, introduced by Senator Bill Dodd and sponsored by The Climate Center, will help local governments do just that by providing them with the technical tools and support to develop their own community energy resilience plans, rather than relying on investor-owned utilities.

While many wealthier communities have access to clean energy and energy storage, California can and must prioritize equitable access to clean energy resilience for communities that suffer most from air pollution and power outages. Senate Bill 99 prioritizes support for these communities.

Support Senate Bill 99, the Community Energy Resilience Act now.

The technology needed to create this new decentralized energy future is available now. The energy storage industry is booming with microgrid projects proliferating and an accelerated transition to electric vehicles globally.

General Motors’ recent announcement committing to selling only zero-emissions vehicles by 2035 and President Biden’s plan for an all-electric federal fleet present the possibility of quickly scaling up electric vehicle adoption and thus, battery storage for energy resilience.

Support The Climate Center’s policy leadership to secure local clean energy and storage.

Automakers and charging infrastructure manufacturers are already developing vehicle-to-grid (V2G) technology which could be used by utilities to minimize power outages and effectively capture, store and send solar energy back to the grid during peak demand hours.

For example, if all of California’s 24,000 school buses were electric and able to discharge energy to the electric grid during peak hours, we could substantially reduce chances of blackouts, help fight climate change, and avoid local air pollution, all at the same time.

Help us secure policies like SB99 for equitable community energy resilience!

To achieve widespread adoption of clean energy microgrids, our state’s broken regulations must be fixed. New forward-thinking policies can ensure that every community can install renewables and storage where they need it most.

The Climate Center is working with diverse partners across the state to secure the needed policies for equitable access to resilient clean energy.

Make a donation todaysupport Senate Bill 99, and if you haven’t already, endorse Climate-Safe California!

With gratitude,

Ellie

Ellie Cohen, CEO

California 550 MW virtual power plant would be the biggest yet

by Dan Gearino, InsideClimateNews


Highlights

  • Sidewalk Infrastructure Partners and OlmConnect have collaborated on a virtual power plant project titled Resi-Station
  • Resi-Station would use batteries at homes and businesses in California to act like a 550-megawatt power plant, becoming the largest virtual power plant in the world
  • This power can be used as backup in the case of power shut-offs, wildfire risks, and other outages
  • The project kicks off in 2021, starting with 150,000 OlmConnect customers and should be fully built by 2023

Community Energy Resilience through clean energy microgrids is a key pillar in The Climate Center’s Climate-Safe California Campaign.


Read More: https://insideclimatenews.org/news/10122020/inside-clean-energy-fossil-fuel-power-plants/

Utilities commission must act to encourage clean energy microgrids

by P.J. Quesada, CalMatters


Highlights

  • Many Californians are experiencing the negative health effects associated with dirty energy pollution
  • To combat this, the California Public Utilities Commission should advance a regulatory framework for more microgrids throughout the state, especially for essential businesses 
  • California ok’d the use of diesel powered generators during power shutoffs that occur during wildfire season, therefore allowing more air pollution
  • The microgrid installed at Ramar Foods in California has avoided 1 million pounds of carbon dioxide emissions since 2013 and plans to offset over 333,000 more pounds of carbon with upgrades to their microgrid

The state’s century-old electric grid is failing Californians, leaving residents and businesses to face the costly and deadly impacts of public safety power shutoffs and rolling blackouts. The Climate Center has launched an initiative for equitable clean and smart microgrids to build Community Energy Resilience as part of our Climate-Safe California campaign.


Read More: https://calmatters.org/commentary/my-turn/2020/10/utilities-commission-must-act-to-encourage-clean-energy-microgrids/

The first major long-duration storage procurement has arrived


Highlights

  • Eight of California’s community choice agencies have published a request for offers seeking 500 megawatts of long-duration storage capacity, helping the state meet its need for 1 gigawatt of long-duration storage by 2026
  • Long-duration storage allows resources like wind and solar to provide power for longer periods of time
  • There is no firm definition of what “long-duration” storage can be, but examples range from 4 to 150 hours
  • Eligible projects must provide at least 50 megawatts of power capacity, be able to provide power for 8 hours, and be functional by 2026
  • California needs 40 gigawatts of long-duration storage by 2045 in order to meet the states carbon-free electricity goals

Community Choice Energy can be one of the most powerful ways to accelerate the transition from dirty fossil fuels to clean energy sources. The Climate Center has helped Community Choice expand throughout the state, resulting in cleaner energy for 11 million Californians.


Read More: https://www.greentechmedia.com/articles/read/the-first-long-duration-storage-procurement-has-arrived

Blackouts: Let’s build reliable clean power

“One factor that did not cause the rotating outage: California’s commitment to clean energy. Renewable energy did not cause the rotating outages.” That’s right, California’s climate policies and clean energy goals did not cause the state’s recent blackouts, as the three lead California energy agencies wrote in a letter to the Governor and the Legislature in August.

The solution to periods of high demand for electricity such as during heatwaves has historically been to increase supply. California Public Utilities Commission current rules require utilities to buy 15% excess energy capacity beyond what they would need during the forecast peaks for a given time of year. This approach failed us in August.

A 21st-century clean, reliable, safe, and equitable energy system can make the difference.

Clean energy community microgrids can enable utilities to better target specific outages and to isolate local electricity generation from the larger grid. This would ensure that essential governmental, health, and other services would remain powered in communities during outages.

As I wrote in The Climate Center’s op-ed published this past Sunday in the Sacramento Bee, “With wildfire season fully upon us, more power shutoffs leaving Californians in the dark are imminent. Add an economic crisis and a pandemic and it’s clear there is no time to lose.”

Sadly, PG&E’s approach to reliable power this year has included dirty diesel back-up generators that exacerbate climate change and create air pollution making us all more vulnerable to COVID– while not actually ensuring a stable grid.

Ironically, the first day that the blackouts hit, August 14, was also a deadline for formal comments on microgrids at the California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC), which regulates utilities such as PG&E. The Climate Center recently filed comments with Vote Solar urging the CPUC to fast-track its current rulemaking to open up microgrid markets and prioritize clean energy resilience for lower-income communities in particular.

We also have the technology right now to automatically reduce electricity use on the grid. Pre-agreements with large commercial and industrial customers can ensure that power is made available when needed to keep the system stable. Customers can even get paid to allow it, which is already happening in some places. The August blackouts were the result of a one-gigawatt (1,000 megawatts) shortfall, but this approach has been estimated by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission to have the potential to free up over 4 gigawatts for California.

The dramatic climate impacts we are seeing right now here in California are further evidence of the urgency to act on the climate crisis. Please join us in supporting Community Energy Resilience and endorse Climate-Safe California today. Our science-based goal is to achieve net-negative emissions and the start of drawdown by 2030 in California, inspiring our country and the world to accelerated climate action.

To date, we have over 500 endorsements including businesses, non-profits, individuals, and government officials (see more here). Join us to help us exceed 1000 endorsements by December before the next session of the state legislature. Share this with your family, friends, and colleagues, and ask them to endorse and engage.

Together we will build the power required to secure a just transition to a climate-safe, equitable future for all.