Repost from the San Francisco Chronicle [Editor: The proposed increase is to be voted on at a Thursday, 12/17/15 meeting of the California Public Utilities Commission. See agenda, p. 17 (Item #16, Adopting Pacific Gas and Electric Company’s 2016 Electric Procurement Cost Revenue Requirement Forecast. The item in question is “$118.7 million for the Power Charge Indifference Amount.” More background and an ACTION letter opportunity at ActionNetwork. More at Marin Independent Journal. – RS]
High cost of breaking away
EDITORIAL – On Alternatives to PGE
The Pacific Gas and Electric Co., California’s largest utility and a longtime regulated monopoly, insists that its application to nearly double a fee for customers defecting to local clean power plans is simply a matter of market forces.
PG&E’s many critics think otherwise.
“There’s an urgency for PG&E to stifle competition,” said state Sen. Mark Leno, D-San Francisco. “They’re protecting a monopoly.”
The suspicions are understandable. PG&E has the legal right to charge the fee, known as a Power Charge Indifference Adjustment.
It has to do with PG&E’s obligation to provide power to everyone in its service area as the utility of last resort. Should any customer’s alternate energy provider go out of business, PG&E still has to be able to provide for those customers — hence a fee.
“We have to undertake long-term forecasts about serving those customers in the event of their other service provider going out of business,” said PG&E spokesperson Nicole Liebelt. “It’s about ensuring that those customers won’t be left stranded.”
Liebelt said that PG&E’s longterm contract costs for serving customers are higher than current market costs, and that’s why the fee had to rise.
“The formula for calculating the fee hasn’t changed,” Liebelt said. “It’s the inputs that change every year.”
But the fee has never been as high as it is this year — the cost for each residential customer would nearly double, from $6.70 to $13 per month. In San Francisco, the proposed fee for residents looking to move to CleanPower SF would skyrocket by 100.26 percent.
Meanwhile, there’s never been a greater danger of Bay Area customers stranding PG&E.
CleanPowerSF, San Francisco’s city-run green energy program, launches in the spring. Peninsula Clean Energy, a community choice renewable energy program for San Mateo County, is scheduled to launch in August 2016.
And Marin Clean Energy and Sonoma Clean Power aren’t going anywhere.
But the administrators of these programs have all cried foul, saying that the big fee hikes threaten their business models.
We urge the California Public Utilities Commission to consider these arguments very carefully before they vote on a rate increase as early as next week.
Leno has urged the CPUC to do a public review of its methodology for how the fee should be calculated before voting on any increase above 15 percent.
Considering the fact that the CPUC has historically been incredibly deferential to PG&E’s concerns, Leno’s idea is worth considering. Electricity customers deserve choices, and local clean energy programs deserve the opportunity to compete on a level playing field.
Repost from SFGate.com [Editor: Defining an everyday common usage phrase like “clean energy” doesn’t sound very exciting, but it’s a serious prelude to San Francisco’s plan to bring in a local alternative supplier of clean energy. Corporate energy interests and their lobbyists and a certain PGE-friendly labor organization are lobbing early grenades at Mayor Ed Lee and the Board (the likes of which we have also seen here in Benicia). – RS]
Voters may decide in November what clean energy really means
By Emily Green, June 16, 2015 9:04 pm
You know there’s more at stake than science when a debate over the definition of clean energy goes before voters.
That’s what’s likely to be on the agenda in November, when competing measures — by city officials on one side and Pacific Gas & Electric Co. on the other — may go on the ballot. The Board of Supervisors took up the issue Tuesday afternoon.
The issue is what clean energy actually entails, and what’s at stake are thousands of potential customers.
The dispute stems from San Francisco Mayor Ed Lee’s decision in January to develop a city-run renewable energy program by the end of the year that would compete directly with PG&E. The state requires that such locally run renewable energy programs are designed to enroll customers automatically.
Now, the union that represents PG&E employees is seeking a ballot measure that would prohibit the city from advertising its electricity as clean or green unless the electricity provided is “greenhouse gas-free electricity.”
The proposed measure, by IBEW 1245, “will ensure that the power San Franciscans are sold is what it says it is — truly green, local power,” according to the union’s press release. The union is currently in the process of collecting signatures to put it on the ballot.
No surprise, city officials are none too happy about it. The city’s proposed program would rely extensively on renewable energy, but would not be 100 percent greenhouse gas-free.
With that in mind, Board of Supervisors’ President London Breed introduced on Tuesday a competing ballot measure. The measure says that for all city programs, renewable greenhouse gas-free energy means energy that is pulled from a wide spectrum of sources, but not nuclear power.
The measure would define clean energy to mirror the standards set by state law, she said Tuesday in comments to the Board of Supervisors. “Terms like clean and green are not just PG&E marketing terms,” she said.
Supervisors John Avalos, Julie Christensen and Scott Wiener co-sponsored the legislation, meaning it has the necessary signatures to go on the ballot.
Also on Tuesday, the board unanimously passed legislation by Wiener that would require many large new buildings in San Francisco to use gray water — waste water from baths, sinks and other kitchen appliances — for toilet flushing and in their irrigation systems.
Wiener and other conservation advocates believe the legislation is a first in the country. Because the San Francisco Public Utilities Commission sells only drinking water, it will fall to developers to create water treatment systems to capture and clean the recycled water.
Initially, Wiener made the legislation apply only to yet-to-be constructed buildings 250,000 square feet and larger located in the city’s “purple-pipe” district. That’s land on the east and west slivers of the city and includes the development-rich South of Market area.
But during the committee process, Wiener amended the legislation to apply citywide.
“We have a lot of work to do to address our water crisis,” Wiener said Tuesday. “We need structural changes to how we use this precious resource.”
The board also unanimously passed legislation by Supervisor Mark Farrell to preserve the city’s entertainment economy. The legislation will extend the city’s film rebate program for an additional four years, and raise the cap from $3 million to $4 million.
Repost from The Benicia Herald [Editor: Benicia’s own Grant Cooke has written a highly significant three-part series for The Benicia Herald, outlining the impending fall of the fossil fuel industry and concluding with good advice for the City of Benicia and other cities dependent on refineries for a major portion of their local revenue stream.This is the first of three parts. Read part part two by CLICKING HERE and part three by CLICKING HERE and . – RS]
Grant Cooke: Big Oil’s endgame has begun
September 28, 2014 by Grant Cooke
Editor’s note: First of three parts to run on consecutive Sundays.
“THE STONE AGE CAME TO AN END, not because we had a lack of stones, and the oil age will come to an end not because we have a lack of oil,” said Sheikh Ahmed-Zaki Yamani. The former Saudi oil minister is arguably the world’s foremost expert on the oil industry. In 2000, he introduced this extraordinary observation with an even more prescient one — to wit, “Thirty years from now there will be a huge amount of oil — and no buyers. Oil will be left in the ground,” he told the UK’s Telegraph.
A decade and half later, we are coming to the end of Big Oil, and the domination of the world’s geopolitics and economy by the fossil-fuel interests for the past century. Correspondingly, the carbon- and nuclear-powered centralized utility industry that was started by Thomas Edison in 1882 when he flipped the switch at the Pearl Street substation in Manhattan has begun its decline.
Over the years, Big Oil and its related industries and supporters have disrupted the way humans manage their affairs, and wreaked havoc on our environmentally fragile planet. Today, the loss of a major section of the West Antarctic Ice Sheet from global warming caused by excessive carbon-generated heat appears unstoppable.
That hasn’t stopped the dead-enders from fighting on. In February, North Carolina’s Republican governor turned his administration into a joke with a clumsy attempt to help Duke Energy, the nation’s largest utility, avoid cleaning up 39,000 tons of coal ash that was spilled into the Dan River. The Duke ash coal spill came a month after 10,000 gallons of 4-methylcyclohexane methanols, or MCHM, spilled into West Virginia’s Elk River, ruining the water supply of Charleston, the state’s capital. A second chemical, a mix of polyglycol ethers known as PPH, was part of the leak, the company involved, Freedom Industries, told federal regulators. The company uses the chemicals to wash coal prior to shipping for coal-powered utilities. More than 300,000 West Virginians were impacted and several hundred residents were hospitalized with various symptoms.
Closer to home in Northern California, we had the massive 2012 Chevron fire that sent toxic chemicals billowing into the air and caused respiratory problems for 15,000 Richmond residents. Chevron admitted to negligence as the cause of the fire. In 2010, PG&E’s neglect led to the horrific San Bruno gas pipeline explosion that killed eight, injured 66 and destroyed 38 homes. The California Public Utilities Commission fined PG&E $2.5 billion, the largest fine in U.S. utility history. PG&E now faces federal charges that it violated the U.S. Pipeline Safety Act.
For several years, U.S. oil oligarchs Charles and David Koch have made a mockery of American democracy by pouring hundreds of millions of dollars into smear campaigns against scientists, environmentalists and liberal politicians. More than any others in recent memory, the Koch brothers have manage to replace consensus and compromise with vitriol and dysfunction in U.S. politics.
Oil madness is not a strictly U.S. disease. Vladimir Putin, channeling the ghost of Joseph Stalin, recently swept up a huge chunk of Ukraine and threatened an astonished Europe that if it opposed him, the result would be a shutdown of the Russian natural gas that many see as vital to the EU’s economic recovery. And the world seems to have grown accustomed to Mideast mayhem, where the biggest transfer of wealth in world history — from the oil users to the oil suppliers — has led to social and political chaos, repression, suffering and death.
* * *
EVEN AFTER A CENTURY OF SUPPORT, the U.S. federal government grants the oil industry, the world’s richest, with about $4 billion a year in tax subsidies, and Exxon Mobil Corporation (the largest grossing company in the world) minimizes the taxes it pays by using 20 wholly owned subsidiaries in the Bahamas, Bermuda and the Cayman Islands to legally shelter cash from its operations in Angola, Azerbaijan and Abu Dhabi.
The coal industry is also favored with tax breaks, public land loopholes and subsidized railroads. A 2013 Harvard University study concluded that the total real economic costs from U.S. coal amounted to $345.3 billion, adding close to 17.8 cents per kilowatt hour to the cost of electricity generated from coal. Called “external costs, or externalities,” these costs are borne by the U.S. public.
Now the carbon-based industries, which include coal, oil, natural gas and related industries like centralized utilities and transmission line companies, are coming to the end of their socially useful cycle. Their resources are aging beyond economic justification and their business models are too inflexible to adapt to a new industrial era with a different energy model.
This new era of energy generation, storage and sharing is upon us. We call it the Green Industrial Revolution, and it is emerging as the next significant political, social and economic era in world history. As it takes hold, it will result in a complete restructuring of the way energy is generated, supplied and used. It will be a revolutionary time of extraordinary potential and opportunity, with remarkable innovations in science and energy that will lead to new ones in sustainable, smart and carbon-less economies powered by nonpolluting technologies like wind, geothermal, wave, river and solar, with their advanced technologies like flywheels, regenerative and maglev systems, and hydrogen fuel cells.
Community-based and on-site renewable energy generation will replace massive fossil fuel and nuclear-powered central plant utilities. New advances in efficient recyclable batteries and fuel cells will store energy for when it is needed. Smart green grids will share electricity effortlessly. Additive manufacturing will minimize wasted resources, and new sciences like nanotechnology will have a profound impact on business, careers, human health and the global economy.
This new era encompasses changes in technology, economics, business, manufacturing, jobs and consumer lifestyles. The transition will be as complete as when the steam-driven First Industrial Revolution gave way to the fossil fuel-driven Second Industrial Revolution. It is a monumental shift that is already under way and spreading rapidly around the world.
Industrial revolutions occur when a new energy source intersects with a new form of communication. In the First Industrial Revolution, steam was the energy source and the printing press provided the means to disseminate new ideas that accelerated scientific breakthroughs and the adoption of inventions. In the Second Industrial Revolution, the fossil fuel-driven internal combustion engine was the power source and analog communication provided the channel for new ideas and technologies.
Today, the digital age, with Internet access to almost all scientific knowledge and Facebook and Twitter-led social media, has intersected with renewable energy generation, hydrogen storage and smart grids. While vast fortunes were made in the fossil-fuel era by extracting natural resources and despoiling the environment, wealth in this new green era will come from digital and IT breakthroughs, intelligent machines and a host of environmentally sensitive inventions.
Many factors are coming together to hasten the Green Industrial Revolution. Putin’s march on Ukraine shocked Europe and stirred the region’s efforts to generate more renewable energy and cut ties to fossil fuel. Forty percent of Scotland’s domestic electricity generation comes from renewable sources, mostly tidal and wind. Denmark and other Nordic nations intend to generate 100 percent of their energy by mid-century. Germany’s Energiewende (Energy Transformation), which aims to power the country almost entirely on renewables by 2050, is accelerating.
Almost daily, scientists in university and national research laboratories are making breakthroughs in developing non-carbon energy sources. The chemistry department of the University of California-Davis recently figured out how to make carbon-less gasoline from straw. Advancements in nanotechnology are making electricity usage much more efficient.
China is considering a ban on new cars that run on fossil fuels, and major cities across the globe have limited the use of autos in downtown areas. Several nations — and California, too — are creating hydrogen highways. Norway, Sweden and Germany have them; California will open its hydrogen highway in 2016. Daimler, Honda, Chevrolet and most other major automobile manufacturers have hydrogen-powered fuel cell cars ready to go.
Grant Cooke is a long-time Benicia resident and CEO of Sustainable Energy Associates. He is co-author, with Nobel Peace Prize winner Woodrow Clark, of “The Green Industrial Revolution: Energy, Engineering and Economics,” to be released in October by Elsevier, of which this column is excerpted.