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The benefits of pursuing Community Choice Energy in Fresno

by David Castellon, The Business Journal

In the Fresno area, more than 750 manufacturing businesses use the bulk of electricity directed here by Pacific Gas & Electric, but the cost of that energy is among the most expensive in California, said Mike Betts, president and CEO of the Betts Co., a south Fresno manufacturer of industrial springs and truck accessories.

In fact, he noted that manufacturers here pay up to 40% percent more than manufacturers in coastal California.

“We’re also paying three to five times more for energy than other states, like Texas and Oklahoma. Manufacturing pays the bulk of the cost for the energy,” Betts said to the small audience attending the Fresno Community Choice Energy Business Forum June 5 at the Central Valley Community Foundation headquarters in Fresno.

Read more: https://thebusinessjournal.com/does-fresno-need-to-make-an-energy-choice/?utm_source=Daily+Update&utm_campaign=c8ca8b46dd-EMAIL_CAMPAIGN_2019_06_25_09_49&utm_medium=email&utm_term=0_fb834d017b-c8ca8b46dd-79043105&mc_cid=c8ca8b46dd&mc_eid=254835c42d

Taking a spin on an electric tractor

With a view of the future?

This past weekend I had the opportunity to visit the ranch of Steve Heckeroth, architect, legendary clean energy pioneer, inventor, former contributing editor for Mother Earth News, and in this instance, creator of the Solectrac electric drive tractor. Steve’s ranch, and e-tractor manufacturing operation, is located along the Mendocino Coast near Albion, California, about two hours northwest of where I live.

My interest in electric tractors is partly personal. After moving to a rural area in Sonoma County in 2009 and finding that perfect place at the end of the lane away from the road noise, we woke up the first few mornings to realize we had not thought about tractor noise. Duh. Being surrounded by small farms, what did we expect? But perhaps with electric tractors now becoming reality, there may be hope for quieter mornings – and assuming they are plugging in to cleaner power, less-polluting farms.

So the first thing I noticed about the e-tractor is how quiet it is. Barely even a buzz or hum. The other thing I noticed immediately was how clean and simple it looked. No black oil, grease, or soot stains as one typically sees on diesel tractors.

One of the interesting things Steve demonstrated was the fact that you can set the tractor to move at a constant, very slow speed, which allows for an excellent seed spreading process. This is something that is difficult for diesels to do. He also explained how electric tractors have an enormous amount of torque, enabling them to tow or push many times their own weight.

There are two main models to choose from, the eUtility and the eFarmer. According to the Solectrac website, the eUtility tractor is designed for vineyards, equestrian centers, livestock operations, hobby farms, etc. It has a 20 kWh onboard battery pack that provides three to eight hours of run time depending on loads. It uses level two (240v) charging and takes about three hours to reach 80% charge, so having two battery packs and switching them out is the way to keep working all day. It accommodates a wide variety of implements on the rear hitch and uses linear electric actuators that replace inefficient hydraulic implements.

Steve Heckeroth on the eFarmer tractor.

The eFarmer is designed for row crop farms and operates at a fraction of the lifetime cost of diesel tractors. Both tractors are zero-emission and quiet with no diesel fuel, hydraulic fluid, engine noise, or exhaust fumes.

Now, yes, clearly these tractors are designed for smaller operations, but the principle is demonstrated successfully and scaling up is a matter of investment. No technological breakthroughs are required.

Another key part of my interest revolves around our work in Community Choice Energy and in the Central Valley. E-tractors will not address the air quality issues of dust kicked up by agricultural activities, but the particulate matter and other toxic air contaminants that result from diesel combustion by farm equipment, an extremely harmful part of the poor air quality in the Central Valley, is indeed something that may be mitigated by this kind of technology. We look forward to helping advance electric farm equipment as we do passenger EVs.

And how might Community Choice agencies (CCAs) play a role? CCAs have successfully demonstrated that they can design a buy-down program for passenger electric vehicles. For CCAs with significant agricultural activity in their service territories, why not do the same for electric farm equipment?

Several other manufacturers including John Deere and Fendt have recently introduced electric tractors, but given that they have a huge market base of long-time diesel customers, it is not clear that they will do much to support their successful adoption.

For more information about the Solectrac electric tractors manufactured right here in California, eager to sell, visit Solactrac.com.

Power change by changing power

Karen Barnes handles Development for The Climate Center.

This summer we continue to work on our newest project, to bring Community Choice Energy to California’s Central Valley. All regions in our state should have access to clean power. Climate and environmental impacts are magnified and debilitating for disenfranchised communities that are disproportionately impacted by higher incidences of diseases such as asthma and cancer. Children are especially hard hit when it comes to health. According to the Centers for Disease Control, children exposed to environmental contaminants are at a greater risk than adults for illnesses because their bodies are still growing.

This is an example of air quality readings in Fresno on a typical day.

That’s a major reason why we are focused on the Central Valley.  The percentage of people living in poverty in Fresno County is 24.8% and the percentage of children living in poverty in the county is 53% – the highest in the state.

Access to clean power through Community Choice Energy brings direct economic benefits to disenfranchised communities. It makes clean energy more affordable for all residents and keeps money in the community. The Climate Center symposium in June highlighted a number of local programs that have been initiated by Community Choice Energy agencies around the State. These include energy efficiency programs for multifamily housing and community energy grants, both of which help disenfranchised communities prosper.

Perhaps most important, Community Choice Energy creates local clean energy jobs. An impact study for the San Joaquin Valley estimates that Community Choice Energy could bring as many as 16,000 new jobs in clean energy fields over six years – with a moderate level of local renewable energy investment.

Bringing Community Choice Energy to the Central Valley will take time and resources. It requires local involvement and help from our organization, policy makers, the local government, and individuals.  All this is possible with your help and commitment to a better climate for everyone.

Let’s power change by changing power. Join us.

Burning Sun by law keven

A Hot Issue: Fresno’s Getting Warmer …But We Could Change That.

by Erik Cherkaski

July marks the first full month of summer. Here in Fresno, the seventh month of the year is the peak of the area’s grueling high temperatures during the season. This summer presented Fresno’s unyielding heat waves slightly earlier than normal, and will continue on until early fall. Just a few days after the summer started, Fresno experienced a record-breaking heatwave. Whereas normal days in the beginning of the season hover around the mid-nineties, parts of Fresno County hit highs closer to 110 degrees, forcing some communities to open cooling centers during the day. It should come as no surprise that the National Weather Service encourages people to stay indoors during hours of blistering temperature highs.

When the summer heat becomes unbearable, people rely on their homes to keep cool. Utility customer’s consumption of electricity goes up during summer months, particularly in areas with significant heat. Such a high demand during these periods not only raises electricity rates but also increases fossil fuel consumption used to produce the electricity, and the use of fossil fuels has a direct link to rising global temperatures.

Climate Change continues to impact the San Joaquin Valley with temperatures steadily rising over the past decades. Studies show an average of 1°C increase during the first half of the century and then a 2°C increase by the second half, combined with a significant decrease in precipitation. One particular concern is the increase of the temperature of daily low temperatures. The Central Valley is noted for experiencing a wide range of high and low temperatures throughout a 24-hour period. But according to studies, this phenomenon is declining as Valley morning and nightly low temperatures are beginning to rise, marking longer stretches of intense heat during summer months. Such elongated temperature highs during the day contribute to rising use of energy consumption throughout a 24-hour period in the season of sunshine. An additional concern about higher than normal overnight temperatures is that many fruit and nut trees grown in the Central Valley require a certain number of “chill hours” in order to produce a crop.

Although California’s investor owned utilities (IOUs) have made promises to expand usage of clean energy, fossil fuels are still a large source in generating power for homes and businesses. According to the U.S. Energy Information Administration, the country generated four trillion kilowatt hours of electricity in 2015. Close to 67% of that electricity came from fossil fuel sources (coal, natural gas and petroleum) while only 13% came from cleaner, renewable sources such as hydropower, solar and wind. According to the IOUs maintaining the grid and expanding the use of renewable energy comes at an ever-increasing price. This month, the California Public Utilities Commission held public hearings in several Central Valley cities to discuss the area’s utility provider rate increase, with the company arguing it is needed for further investment in grid maintenance and clean energy sources.

So, Fresno and its surrounding areas get very hot during the summer, heat waves seem to be getting more intense due to climate change, and the direct culprit behind climate change, fossil energy, is still a major source for powering our electricity to cool us down: sounds like one vicious cycle, right?

Well, first, let’s take a look at that IOU claim that renewable energy costs more. The fact is that solar and wind power prices have dropped dramatically over the past six years. So much so that solar and wind are now at or near “grid parity” in many markets meaning that they are equivalent or lower in cost than conventional power sources. But who will take advantage of this fact and pursue this cleaner, cheaper power on our community’s behalf?

One answer is Community Choice Energy. Community Choice Energy is a program, enabled by state law passed in 2002, that has the power to buy, and may even generate, electricity for its residents and businesses via a not-for-profit public entity; created by the people, for the people. The program offers several economic and environmental benefits such as providing consumer choice, competition in the monopolized utility market, offering lower rates, strengthening the local economy, and utilizing alternative energy sources. The four existing Community Choice agencies in California have proven the concept. Perhaps, more than ever, now is the time to explore a program that emphasizes cleaner, renewable energy sources for its residents at competitive rates. After all, it certainly isn’t getting any cooler over here.