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.