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California fires: Climate hellscape science warned us of is here

by The Los Angeles Times Editorial Board, The Los Angeles Times


Highlights

  • The west coast of the United States is currently experiencing the climate catastrophe scientists have been warning the world about for decades
  • Around 2 million acres of land have burned in California from this year’s early fire season
  • Though some fires were accidentally started by people, climate change contributed to the conditions that have dried out the land and made it so flammable
  • This year there have been 40,000 wildfires in the US before the end of August, compared to 33,600 in 2019 within the same time frame
  • An average of 6.9 million acres have burned each year since 2000, with an annual average of 71,300 wildfires
  • Fires are not the only looming threat during the climate crisis: coasting flooding may affect nearly 300 million people globally, while an estimated 40% of Americans will experience the effects of sea-level rise
  • To combat the worst effects of the climate crisis, the world needs to end its reliance on burning fossil fuels, stop building in fire-prone areas, and start planning for rising sea levels

The Climate Center’s Climate-Safe California Campaign includes accelerating timelines for climate action to be more in line with the current science and the reality on the ground. Endorse the Climate-Safe California Platform today. 

As forests burn, the carbon stored in those trees is lost. Funding and programs for soil sequestration are needed to achieve net negative emissions by pulling carbon from the atmosphere and storing it safely in soils– where it won’t go up in smoke. 


Read More: https://www.latimes.com/opinion/story/2020-09-09/wildfires-record-temperatures-hellscape-climate-change-greenland-rising-seas

A climate-driven transformation of wildfires around the globe

by Michael Kodas, Inside Climate News


Highlights

  • Climate change is increasing the severity and size of wildfires across the globe
  • Fires in Colorado burned over 200,000 acres, while fires in California burned an area the size of Rhode Island
  • These Western US fires were predicted by Federal wildfire forecasters due to the trend of low moisture and warm weather
  • New research suggests that fires in California will more than double in the coming decades due to manmade climate change 
  • The marine layer of fog that typically adds moisture to California’s redwood trees has declined by a third, adding to the trees flammability 
  • Colorado has not experienced the monsoon that usually drenches and cools the Southwest, leading the state to become even drier and hotter
  • The western part of the state that is experiencing the most fires has also seen a 2-degree Celsius increase since 1895, twice the global average increase

Scientists are increasingly warning that to avoid catastrophic impacts from climate change, the world’s governments must implement massive reductions of warming emissions and begin a drawdown of greenhouse gases (GHG) from the atmosphere over the decade ahead.  For a safe and healthy future for all, endorse the Climate-Safe California Platform to implement scalable solutions that can reverse the climate crisis.


Read More: https://insideclimatenews.org/news/22082020/california-colorado-wildfires-climate-change-global-transformation

Solar installers at cohousing in Cotati, California

How local energy providers are ensuring energy resilience

by Sarah Golden, GreenBiz


Highlights

  • California’s Community Choice Agencies (CCAs) are providing ratepayers with energy resilience programs for the upcoming fire season
  • Four Northern California CCAs, East Bay Community Energy, MCE (Marin Community Energy), Peninsula Clean Energy, and Silicon Valley Clean Energy, have recently announced solar plus battery storage projects in their territories 
  • CCAs have implemented these solar and storage programs before their investor-owned utility counterparts, such as PG&E or SoCal Edison 
    • This may be due to the fact that CCAs focus on the communities in their territories and have no responsibilities to shareholders
    • Big utilities are addressing resiliency on the whole electrical grid as opposed to smaller communities 
  • Creating resilience programs takes time, as plans, solicitations, applications, and negotiation processes take many months 

Community Choice Energy can be one of the most powerful ways to accelerate the transition from dirty fossil fuels to clean energy sources, and The Climate Center is working to spread it throughout California for a climate-safe future


Read More: https://www.greenbiz.com/article/how-local-energy-providers-are-ensuring-energy-resilience

How wildfires make COVID more dangerous

by Julia Rosen, The New York Times


Highlights

  • With wildfire season fast approaching, concerns about fire smoke as it relates to the COVID-19 pandemic are rising
  • Scientists worry that wildfire smoke will have effects for months as a recent study in Montana showed that smoky summers led to more severe flu seasons the following winter
  • People who contract COVID while also inhaling smoky air from fires could experience more severe effects of the coronavirus
  • Preparing for smoke beforehand will help prevent some respiratory effects:
    • Using new filters in your home or purchase a portable air filter
    • Using N95 respirator masks for smoke instead of cloth masks
    • Take advantage of windy days where the smoke temporarily clears to get some fresh air

Increased air pollution from fires and fossil fuel emissions makes all of us more vulnerable to the current COVID-19 pandemic. For a safe and healthy future for all, endorse the Climate-Safe California Platform to implement scalable solutions that can reverse the climate crisis.


Read More: https://www.nytimes.com/2020/07/08/climate/wildfires-smoke-covid-coronavirus.html

Good news for The Climate Center’s Community Energy Resilience program

by Ellie Cohen

The last few weeks have brought good news related to The Climate Center’s Community Energy Resilience program, part of The Climate Center’s Climate-Safe California campaign.

On April 29th, the California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) issued a Proposed Decision in its microgrid proceeding which included recommendations The Climate Center had filed with the CPUC. The Proposed Decision directs utilities to provide information and assist local governments in developing energy resilience projects. Final CPUC approval — expected in June – should make it easier for local governments to access the utility data they need to engage in Community Energy Resilience planning.

On May 14th, Governor Newsom issued his updated budget proposal for the upcoming FY 2020-2021 fiscal year.  Notwithstanding severe state budget cutbacks due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the Governor’s latest budget proposal retained $50M in funding for community energy resilience which The Climate Center and Partners have been advocating for.  The Climate Center and Partners will continue to urge State leaders to retain these funds in the final budget.

On May 28th  the California Senate Energy, Utilities and Communications Committee passed SB 1215, legislation to promote the development of microgrids.

The Climate Center is hosting multiple upcoming energy resilience events, including a May 29th webinar as well as a Community Energy Resilience webinar series to provide practical information regarding the immediate need to keep critical facilities powered during the upcoming fire season as well as the long-term opportunities to simultaneously advance local resilience and climate goals.

There remains a huge amount of work ahead in our effort to transform California’s electricity system to becoming clean, affordable, reliable, equitable, and safe – and we have seen some promising forward progress in recent weeks.

If you would like to support our efforts, click here.

California virus war slams into its other crisis: wildfires

By David R Baker and Mark Chediak, Bloomberg Green


Highlights

Social distancing and stay at home mandates have made preparing for wildfire season harder, limiting tree trimming, controlled burns, and powerline maintenance.

  • Though California may suffer another severe fire season, the U.S. Forest Service has suspended in-person training for firefighters
  • In the State budget Governor Gavin Newsom called for $129 million for new fire-related positions as well as wildfire forecasting center. But an updated budget, reflecting coronavirus realities, is expected by mid-May. Money budgeted for fire prevention might be spent instead on efforts to fight the virus and restart California’s economy
  • As of April 23, 58% of the state was abnormally dry, compared to 6% a year ago and 36% of the state is currently experiencing drought, further fueling the next wildfire season
  • So far this year PG&E has trimmed or chopped down trees along 573 miles of power lines in order to minimize fire vulnerability 
  • Southern California Edison plans to install 700 miles of insulated power lines this year and is now trying to schedule any necessary power interruptions for night time or early morning to minimize the impact on at-home workers 

Increased air pollution from fires and fossil fuel emissions makes all of us more vulnerable to the current COVID-19 pandemic. With community energy resilience we can ensure that our power is clean and not further contributing to emissions in our communities. 


Read more: https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2020-04-28/california-s-virus-war-collides-with-its-other-crisis-wildfires?sref=ABTRBDIh

Climate change increasing fire weather days in California; emissions reductions can reverse this

from Environmental Research Letters


Highlights

As the state gets warmer every year due to the effects of climate change, California’s wildfire season is being fueled by offshore winds, dry vegetation, and drought. These fires result in public health risks from smoke and can result in long term energy shutoffs. 

  • Fire Causes
    • Human exposure and vulnerability to fires is due to the encroachment on wildlands for urban and suburban development 
    • Fire suppression in areas that historically experienced low-intensity fires has led to the accumulation of “fuels” that ultimately promote bigger, intense fires
    • The state’s five warmest years on record occurred in 2014-2018, with autumn temperatures rising and precipitation falling
    • Rising temperatures, declining snowpack, and year-round lack of rain are extending the state’s fire season and will continue to do so
    • Though climate change is fueling fire season, over 80% of fires during autumn in California are human-caused
  • Smoke from these wildfires are causing schools and businesses to close to mitigate exposure to dangerous air pollution
  • The climate model analyses in this report suggest that continued climate change will increase the number of days with extreme fire weather by the end of this century
  • However, meeting climate goals set by the Paris Agreement will curb the increase of fire days

Increased air pollution from fires and fossil fuel emissions makes all of us more vulnerable to the current COVID-19 pandemic. With community energy resilience we can ensure that our power is clean and not further contributing to emissions in our communities. For a safe and healthy future for all, endorse the Climate-Safe California Platform to implement scalable solutions that can reverse the climate crisis.


Read more: https://iopscience.iop.org/article/10.1088/1748-9326/ab83a7

Rooftop PV installation on the Forest County Potawatomi Tribe administration building

Building a clean, affordable, resilient, equitable, and safe energy system to meet this moment

by Janina Turner and Stacey Meinzen

As we reel from the COVID-19 pandemic and think about the longer-term consequences, many of us are likely wondering how things will be in the fall. Many of us remember the Public Safety Power Shut-offs of 2019 that meant no electricity for refrigeration, heat, the internet, and in some cases, vital medical equipment. It was a scary time and many people purchased diesel backup generators for their homes in response. Though they are loud and cause air pollution, that comfort of knowing you can rely on the internet for evacuation warnings or know where your family is during a crisis like a wildfire or a pandemic is more than understandable.

This year, even with March rains, we are already in a drought– portending another record-breaking fire season. Thanks to climate change, we know that our fire seasons will be longer and more disastrous every year. This may be compounded by COVID-19 and the necessity of sheltering in place– possibly without electricity.

In response to wildfires and prior to COVID-19, Pacific Gas and Electric (PG&E) had unveiled a plan to use dirty natural gas-powered generators (that they were calling “microgrids” in a misleading attempt to make them sound modern) throughout Northern California. This was a poor and outdated plan that would have destroyed local air quality, raised the risk of fire, and contributed even more to climate change through methane emissions. Given that COVID-19 is especially lethal for people with poor respiratory health, destroying local air quality is madness.

Luckily, PG&E recently abandoned these plans temporarily. According to Shinjini Menon, Director of Energy Policy for Southern California Edison, the microgrid plans would have cost 13 times more than alternative solutions and would not include clean energy technologies, so they have decided not to move forward with a microgrid deployment for the 2020 wildfire season. Looks like we are on our own.

Now many Californians are taking matters into their own hands and installing solar with battery storage. Many residents want the ability to use clean energy that they’ve created on their roofs to help them last in another power shut off event. Greentech Media reported that last year in the fourth quarter, solar installer Sunrun installed batteries on half of Bay Area home solar projects and 30% on all solar installations statewide. Though solar and storage have a large upfront cost, in the long run, the investment saves money over time since it will decrease energy bills year-round. Since there’s a large amount of solar and storage in the state, the best course of action would be to use this network of distributed energy resources (DERs) to power our homes during PSPS instead of relying on diesel generators and natural gas. 

There are many ideas about how to utilize the decentralized grid during power shutoffs. Sunrun recently revealed their decentralized grid concept that would create distribution islands utilizing solar and battery backup. Vote Solar also outlined why solar and storage are better for a more clean and resilient grid system. Even PG&E has approved a 1GWh Tesla battery facility along the central coast. With new technologies available, local and state governments must secure community clean energy resilience– not just leave it to people to try to save themselves. Statewide policy can help make it happen. 

Two bills supported by The Climate Center as part of our Climate-Safe California campaign are currently in the California legislature and are key to Community Energy Resilience:

SB 1314 (Introduced by Senator Bill Dodd): The Community Energy Resilience Act of 2020 requires the Strategic Growth Council to develop and implement a grant program for local governments interested in developing clean energy-based community energy resilience plans. 

SB 1240 (Introduced by Senator Nancy Skinner): The bill would require the California Energy Commission, in consultation with the California Independent System Operator, to identify and evaluate options for transforming the investor-owned distribution grid to provide open access that would allow local governments and other third parties to more easily participate in distribution grid transactions.

URGENT: Have your organization sign on here to support utility reform and clean community energy resilience. Individuals, please reach out to your state elected officials here.

Despite the challenges of this moment, there are viable technical and policy solutions to bring California into the 21st century. Experiencing these problems in the fifth largest economy in the world is absurd. A clean, affordable, resilient, equitable, and safe energy future is possible. Let’s build it. 

California’s wildfire threat could be an opportunity for clean-energy microgrids

by Sammy Roth, LA Times

To the untrained eye, the shipping containers clustered on the outskirts of Borrego Springs don’t look like an innovative clean-energy technology that could help California cope with wildfires.

But these containers, in the remote desert of eastern San Diego County, are packed with lithium-ion batteries — and they’re part of one of the world’s most advanced microgrids. It combines solar panels, diesel generators, energy storage and something called an ultracapacitor to power Borrego Springs, even when electricity isn’t flowing through the single transmission line that connects the town to the main power grid.

“I believe this is the only microgrid in the world that does what this does,” said Steven Prsha, an engineer for San Diego Gas & Electric Co., as he wrapped up a tour last month.

Read more: https://www.latimes.com/business/la-fi-microgrids-wildfires-power-shutoffs-20190314-story.html

Heatwaves sweeping oceans ‘like wildfires’, scientists reveal

by Damian Carrington, The Guardian

The number of heatwaves affecting the planet’s oceans has increased sharply, scientists have revealed, killing swathes of sea-life like “wildfires that take out huge areas of forest”.

The damage caused in these hotspots is also harmful for humanity, which relies on the oceans for oxygen, food, storm protection and the removal of climate-warming carbon dioxide the atmosphere, they say.

Global warming is gradually increasing the average temperature of the oceans, but the new research is the first systematic global analysis of ocean heatwaves, when temperatures reach extremes for five days or more.

The research found heatwaves are becoming more frequent, prolonged and severe, with the number of heatwave days tripling in the last couple of years studied. In the longer term, the number of heatwave days jumped by more than 50% in the 30 years to 2016, compared with the period of 1925 to 1954.

Read more: https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2019/mar/04/heatwaves-sweeping-oceans-like-wildfires-scientists-reveal?CMP=share_btn_tw