California energy

Powerful clean energy policy 'works out' in California

The California Energy Commission wants nothing less than a reduction in overall greenhouse gas in the state.

The agency's approach is multipronged but hinges on energy efficiency. The state seeks to reduce CO2 emissions about 20 percent to a target 426 million metric tons annually by 2020.

The question is: Can it be done? State leaders believe so and are encouraging local officials to join the effort. California's Global Warming Solutions Act, or AB 32, passed in 2006, also sets a goal of 33 percent renewable energy generation by 2020.

Benchmarking energy

A key part of this plan involves going city by city and charting energy use. It's believed that once cities and counties learn how much they're actually spending on electricity, their leaders will do something about it, putting big power users on a diet and drafting sustainability plans that actually work.

"Decisions about community planning and land use, as well as transportation infrastructure and electricity infrastructure, have a dramatic impact on our ability to decrease our greenhouse gas emissions," says the state's Energy Action Plan update report from 2008.

Each local government in the state will be producing its own community-wide energy action plan, spelling out exactly how it will pursue sustainability, reduce waste, foster alternative energy and save its residents money.

Energy Action Plans

I read through a number of these plans looking for ideas. My nonprofit, the San Joaquin Valley Clean Energy Organization, has a grant to assist several small cities write plans and catalog, or "benchmark," their buildings according to utility meter to chart energy usage.

After perusing about seven of them, I started to see real strength in the phrasing -- as if these documents weren't just meant to collect dust on a shelf. Somebody plans to use them, and use them well.

The plan for one Los Angeles-area beach community pulled no punches. "Huntington Beach led the last energy revolution in Southern California with oil production over the last century and is poised to lead
the next clean energy revolution in Southern California as we prepare for the impacts from peak oil production and climate change."

My sister lives in nearby Hermosa Beach. The communities are known for being progressive.

The plan spelled out past successes and quantified savings. It also spelled out how to garner additional energy savings, citing the Rosenfeld Effect. Based on CEC commissioner Art Rosenfeld's groundbreaking policies now more than three decades old, the effect refers to how efficiency basically pays for future energy uses.

What's interesting is these plans actually have a very likely shot at getting accomplished what they were intended to do. Piedmont, Calif. Mayor Abe Friedman writes, "I am certain that with the guidance of this plan both the City government and Piedmont residents can together make meaningful changes in our everyday lives and operations to reduce our carbon footprint."

He sounds like he really believes it.

I'm starting to feel somewhat optimistic. After the trials and tribulations of two years trying to Energy Efficiency and Conservation Block Grant money spent, I'm a little gun shy around energy efficiency projects.

Getting results

But this makes sense. Communities planning out their strategies.

Berkeley's plan also calls a spade a spade. Here it refers to the benchmarking practice: "The emissions inventory is useful for another important reason: it helps to remind us that we are both part of the global warming problem and part of the solution."

And not the Final Solution. I've been reading Daniel Silva's Gabriel Allon Israeli spy novels again.


Gov. Brown seeks to continue energy efficiency programs

Gov. Jerry Brown plans to roll out a bill to save a longtime energy efficiency program due to expire in two weeks, according to a report in the Los Angeles Times.

Marc Lifsher of the Times writes that a draft of the bill — dubbed the Clean Energy, Jobs and Investment Act of 2011 — "was presented at a private meeting late last week in the governor's office with utility executives, legislative staffers, environmentalists and power plant developers."

Lifsher quotes Brown staffer Nancy McFadden as saying that the measure is a "priority for Gov. Brown because of its proven job-creation potential and role in galvanizing California's innovative clean-tech economy."

The energy efficiency program is paid for by a "public goods surcharge" of $1 to $2 on a residential ratepayer's utility bills. In 1996, AB 1890 directed the state’s three major investor-owned utilities -- Southern California Edison, Pacific Gas & Electric Co. and San Diego Gas & Electric -- to collect the funds.

The California Public Utilities Commission has approved energy efficiency funding of $3.1 billion for 2010 through 2012 through the program, according to the U.S. Department of Energy. Lifsher says the program collects about $400 million a year.

Lifsher says the program is opposed by business groups such as the California Manufacturers & Technology Association and antitax groups like the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association.

Public goods funds pay for a series of energy efficiency programs, including:

  • The Savings by Design program, which is offered by PG&E, SCE, SDG&E, Southern California Gas and Sacramento Municipal Utility District. This program provides incentives for energy efficiency measures in new construction and major renovations.
  • The Statewide Customized Offering for Business, which is offered by PG&E, SCE and SDG&E. The utilities provide incentives for efficient lighting, air conditioning, refrigeration and natural gas equipment as well as for controls, building shell retrofits and demand reduction measures.
  • PG&E, SCE and SDG&E offer rebates for more efficient lighting, HVAC, water heaters, refrigeration, motors and other equipment.
Other services include energy audits, on-bill zero-interest financing of energy efficiency measures up to $250,000 and other programs.

Public goods funds also pay for local government partnerships that seek to aid jurisdictions in implementing energy savings measures in their communities to reduce energy use, greenhouse gas and utility costs.

For instance, SCE says it provides support to more than 100 cities and counties through its Energy Leader Partnership Program. The utility says partnership program helps local governments "identify and address energy efficiency opportunities in municipal facilities, take actions supporting the California Long Term Energy Efficiency Strategic Plan and increase community awareness and participation."

One of those partnerships is Valley Innovative Energy Watch, which includes Tulare County, Kings County, Visalia, Hanford, Woodlake, Lindsay, Tulare and Porterville. The San Joaquin Valley Clean Energy Organization serves as implementer for the partnership.

Other California partnerships include the Association of Monterey Bay Area Governments, the San Gabriel Valley partnership, the Chula Vista partnership and many others.