BenIndy highly recommends ‘Jumping Into Solutions’
By Pat Toth-Smith, November 7, 2023
I am pleased to announce the locally produced You Tube and Spotify podcast channel, “Jumping into Solutions” has three new episodes to help you GO ELECTRIC in your home. We feature local Benicians’ who have started on their own paths of reducing their carbon footprint by making their homes as energy efficient as possible. The episodes feature local co-hosts Kathy Kerridge and me, Pat Toth-Smith, neighbors and experts in their fields who answer complicated questions like, how does the technology work and can I afford it?
Switch Is On to Electric Heat Pumps | EP. 2
Here’s everything that you need to know about switching to the energy-efficient, electric water heater pumps and electric home heating/cooling pumps. This episode clears up the questions of how new electric heat pumps work, does it cost a lot of money to install, and can I remove my gas system after installing them?
BENEFITS of Home Solar Panels & Solar Battery Storage | EP. 3
This episode talks about the benefits of going solar at a time when reducing our carbon footprint is vital; it answers questions about affordability, rebates, how solar works with your energy provider, solar battery storage functions and how to use your battery in the event of a power outage? And discussions about the new PG&E changes involving NEM 2 and NEM 3.
Switch to Electric Induction Stoves from Gas Stoves | EP. 4
Did you know, induction electric stoves are more energy efficient than gas and electric stoves and can boil water or heat up food faster than both. They also are healthier than gas stoves because gas leaks can occur when idle and/or outgassing when in use. Many adverse health effects are related to this outgassing of toxic gasses that includes Benzene, Carbon Dioxide and also PM2.5, which can cause resp illnesses and other more serious diseases. Induction electric stoves are safer than gas or electric because energy is transferred to the pot by an electromagnetic field, and the stove turns off after the pot is removed. It answers questions like: How does induction work? What toxic, green-house gasses are released? Are there rebates?
Using air reduces overhead and materials costs compared with hydrogen storage.
Compressed air is stored during surplus times and fed back during peak usage.
Two new compressed air storage plants will soon rival the world’s largest non-hydroelectric facilities and hold up to 10 gigawatt hours of energy. But what is advanced compressed air energy storage (A-CAES), exactly, and why is the method about to have a moment?
Compressed air is part of a growingly familiar kind of energy storage: grid-stabilizing batteries. Like Elon Musk’s battery farm in Australia and other energy overflow storage facilities, the goal of a compressed air facility is to take extra energy from times of surplus and feed it back into the grid during peak usage.
Here’s how the A-CAES technology works: Extra energy from the grid runs an air compressor, and the compressed air is stored in the plant. Later, when energy is needed, the compressed air then runs a power-generating turbine. The facility also stores heat from the air to help smooth the turbine process later on.
While the efficiency of similar systems has hovered around 40 to 50 percent, the new system from Hydrostor, a major global leader in building hydroelectric storage, reportedly reaches 60 percent, according to Quartz.
Hydostor will store compressed air in a reservoir that’s partly filled with water to balance out the pressure. The whole system will hold up to 12 hours of energy for the grids where the two plants are planned. (The first plant will be built in Rosamond, California, while the second location is to be determined.)
Why branch out from hydrogen to compressed air? While hydro storage is a great part of the global energy scene, storing massive amounts of water requires a ton of infrastructure that Hydrostor says uses a lot of energy it’s ultimately trying to save. That makes intuitive sense if you think about the relative force of water compared with even heavily pressurized air.
“Pumped hydro accounts for around 95 percent of the world’s grid energy storage and gigawatt-capacity plants have been in operation since the 1980s. The problem is that you need a specific type of location and a staggering amount of concrete to build a pumped hydro plant, which works against the goal of reaching net zero. Rotting vegetation trapped in dams also contributes to greenhouse gas emissions. Meanwhile, the biggest mega-batteries built so far are only in the 200 MW/MWh range, though installations bigger than 1 GW are planned.
Recharge reports that companies have built smaller existing CAES facilities over naturally occurring salt caverns. In contrast, Hydrostor will be digging new caverns to use for its larger facilities in California, just as engineers are constructing huge salt caves in Utah to store hydrogen.
The first of Hydrostor’s two plants is set to open in 2026, and the company says its system will last for about 50 years—making it a lot longer-lived than almost any energy storage of its kind. The near future of energy is likely made of a dozen different solutions that are all suited to different environments and situations, so adding compressed air to the portfolio simply makes sense.
BENICIA CA – The arguments for and against a proposed Lake Herman Road Solar Project are persuasive. The good and the bad have caused an unusual divide, if not an ugly one.
Actually, the debate has been civil and constructive.
It all comes to a head tomorrow. Benicia City Council will hear the case and take a vote at it’s virtual meeting Tuesday, July 7. Our Planning Commission denied the project in May, but that decision was appealed to the City Council by the project sponsor, Renewable Properties.
I’m writing to ask you to vote to approve the proposed 35 acre solar array on Lake Herman Road.
As you all know, climate change is a serious and growing threat to all people, so we all have a responsibility to help counter it. When people say “think globally, act locally” this is exactly the sort of action they are talking about. While no one wants to lose open space, obtaining enough clean energy for 1,700 Benicia households is a big step in the right direction.
My wife and I walked to the area in question. It is not useful for recreation. The livestock currently grazing there will still have access to 54 acres of the 89 acre parcel after the solar panels are installed. We were glad to see that the plans call for planting native trees and plants that will mostly screen the site from view. They also call for creating a pollinator plant meadow which will increase local biodiversity. Personally, I like seeing solar panels because I know the good they are doing.
It would be preferable to install solar panels on homes and businesses, over parking lots and even over roads. However – we are clearly not there yet, and we need to take action now. Waiting a year or two is not acceptable.
There is a concern that approval of this project will create an open door for other, less desirable, development in our designated open space areas ~ so I hope Council will take care to ensure that no such loopholes are created as you approve this important project.
I’d like the City to take a more proactive and visionary leadership approach to opportunities like this. For example, could the City identify asphalt-covered terrain, roofs in the Industrial Park, or other possible mixed-use sites where responsible companies like Renewable Properties could install solar arrays? Could the City actively facilitate partnerships between solar or wind energy providers and local businesses to encourage clean energy development?
For now, I feel that the imperative to address the climate crisis and lower our carbon footprint needs to take precedence over protecting this small parcel of open space.
Let’s not make the perfect be the enemy of the good.
Opposition, by Don Dean
I see that the Lake Herman solar project is on the agenda for next week’s City Council meeting. I haven’t changed my stance on the project; I still think it’s a good project in the wrong location, and that the Planning Commission did the right thing in denying it. I’m all for solar power and fighting climate change, and so is everybody I know. But that doesn’t mean that every solar project is a good one. There are three issues here.
The first issue is designated Open Space and how we value it–or we don’t. Notice I capitalized Open Space. This is an official City designation. The solar project is proposed on City-designated Open Space land. So it’s not just undeveloped land waiting for an acceptable use to come along; in this case it’s specifically designated in Benicia’s General Plan to remain open for agricultural or recreational uses. The State of California considers Open Space important enough that it mandates an Open Space element be included in each city’s General Plan. With the pandemic we’re all involved in, open space has become more important than ever for our exercise, recreation, and sanity. With options for travel limited now, I find I drive Lake Herman Road more than ever and appreciate the vistas more than ever.
Second, this is about more than just one project on Lake Herman Road. The proposed zoning change necessary for the project would apply to about 159 parcels (2,000+acres) spread throughout Benicia. There has been no real analysis of how many other solar facilities could be constructed or where those might occur. The City has relied on a study by the applicant that asserts the number of solar-developable parcels would be very small. But that analysis doesn’t seem to have been independently verified. If the City is serious about solar development in Open Space areas, let’s have a community discussion about how and where solar is appropriate rather than make the decision based on approving one project.
Third, this is an industrial-scale solar project. It will blanket 35 acres with wall-to-wall panels. It belongs in an industrial area. The Benicia Climate Action Plan calls for solar development at large parking lot sites belonging to Amports, Valero, and the City. As far as I know, no one has approached Amports or Valero about adding solar arrays to their property. Not only would this generate power, but it would reduce the heat island effect from acres of asphalt. Shouldn’t we be looking for solar in these already developed areas rather than converting our Open Space to industrial uses and building outside the Urban Growth Boundary? Isn’t planning about being proactive for the future and protecting our existing resources?
I understand the urgency some people feel about getting a major solar facility to combat climate change, but this issue of solar development versus Open Space is a false choice. I don’t see why we need to sacrifice one to gain the other. Bottom line—I think this is a good project in the wrong place. I don’t think the project should be approved.
You already have my letter to the Planning Commission that lays out some of the more technical points of the discussion. Feel free to share this email.
Customers of clean energy programs hit with fee increase
By Lizzie Johnson, December 17, 2015 7:53pm
The California Public Utilities Commission voted Thursday to allow a nearly 100 percent price increase on exit fees for customers leaving Pacific Gas and Electric Co. for green energy programs like CleanPowerSF and Marin Clean Energy, which will make those and similar programs more expensive.
Many of the programs — where local governments buy green electricity for their residents, while private utilities own and operate the electrical grid — will be undermined financially by the uptick in the charge, called the Power Charge Indifference Adjustment, their officials say.
“We are not surprised that the increase was approved,” said Marin Clean Energy spokeswoman Alexandra McCroskey. “We are disappointed. Our primary frustrations come from the fact that we are becoming almost liable for the market fluctuations for both ourselves and PG&E. If PG&E isn’t planning appropriately for people leaving for community choice aggregation programs, the PCIA will continue to increase. It’s poor planning.”
Under the increase, which is effective Jan. 1, customers making the switch to local green energy programs will face a heftier exit fee. Marin Clean Energy customers are projected to pay more than $36 million, up from $19.3 million in 2015. The cost for each residential customer would nearly double from about $6.70 each month to $13.
In San Francisco, the proposed exit fee for residents moving to CleanPowerSF would jump by 100.26 percent. Because the city energy program is designed to absorb costs for its customers, it would decrease the program’s revenue by $8.4 million.
Win for consumers
This month, PG&E and other big utilities also proposed cutting the amount of compensation that solar homeowners receive for excess electricity that they export to the grid, in addition to adding new monthly fees targeting solar homeowners. The CPUC released a proposed decision on the matter this week rejecting the fees. A vote is scheduled for January.
“Overall, we didn’t convince three commissioners to rule our way on the PCIA,” said Barbara Hale, assistant general manager for power at the San Francisco Public Utilities Commission. “The fee is going to double, and that’s tough for us. But we are marching forward with our CleanPowerSF program, which will launch this spring. We are still moving forward.”
Hundreds of protesters came from as far as San Diego to oppose the fee increase at Thursday’s meeting in San Francisco. They carried homemade signs reading “Stand Up to Natural Gas!” and “CPUC: Consumers Pay Again?!” Public comment on the change stretched for more than two hours.
“We’ve achieved a great deal, but there is this overhang of costs that were necessary to kick-start the industry,” said CPUC Commissioner Mike Florio. “The reason the PCIA is so high is because of high-cost renewable contracts that PG&E was required by law to enter into, and that this commission approved. I don’t think it’s fair to let one group of customers escape from paying those historic costs and simply load those on the remaining customers. That’s what the PCIA is all about.”
Charge required by law
PG&E originally filed an application to raise the fee by 70 percent in June, but submitted another request last month to as much as double it. The fee helps the power company pay for energy it contracted for when it had more customers, preventing remaining patrons from bearing the brunt of the costs. The charge is required by law and determined by a formula implemented by the CPUC in 2011.
The fee is influenced by several market factors, including the price of energy, which fluctuates from year to year, said David Rubin, PG&E’s director of service analysis. The cost of power is now cheaper, meaning the difference between what PG&E paid for in its contracts and the price today is higher.
“The PCIA is going up because it is based very specifically on the difference between the cost of supplies in our portfolio which are based on contracts we signed several years ago when renewable prices were higher,” Rubin said. “If dynamics were different, the PCIA would go down.”
Process has critics
PG&E performs the calculation annually and submits the annual filing to the commission for approval. But to calculate the fee increase, some of the inputs must include confidential contract information. Critics say the numbers going into this ‘black box’ prevent outsiders from replicating the formula, and that the increase is another attempt by PG&E to undermine fledgling green energy programs, like Peninsula Clean Energy, which will provide electricity in San Mateo County beginning in August.
“The fee is almost completely redacted,” said Francesca Vietor, president of the San Francisco PUC. “It is extremely difficult for us to know what an affordable rate for our program is when we don’t have a transparent process.”
The CPUC also ordered in its decision that a workshop be held on Feb. 16 to address the methodologies and inputs used for calculating the PCIA charge.
“One day you’re a hero, the next day you’re a goat,” CPUC President Michael Picker said. “We are in the nature of balancing decisions. But we will continue to scrutinize the PCIA formula and balance different interests equally.”