Gov. Brown

Agriculture Water Use, Consumer Practices and the Drought

California is still in a drought. Surprised? You shouldn't be; this has been all over the news for months now. The lack of ground and other water sources is concerning, and so even though Samantha and I have both written about behavior modification and the megadrought future of California, there is more to be said about what you can do and what others, especially those in agriculture, should be doing to mitigate the dry conditions in the state.

Governor Brown has cracked down on water allotments, reducing potable urban water usage by 25%. Final decisions about agricultural water use have yet to be determined. About 80% of water consumed in the state of California goes to agriculture and the state's farmers need all that water because they supply much of the country’s produce, yet the industry has already seen cutbacks on surface water allotments and will likely see more.

Some farmers in the Sacramento and San Joaquin river delta have said they will voluntarily give up 25% of their allotments if the government does not ask for additional cutbacks. This is huge because water rights in this region date back a couple of centuries and are fiercely protected.

Photo Source: econlife
The state may have a decision on the agricultural water cuts soon, but how significant the cuts will be is not known. Even though there are many farmers who have said they would take a voluntary cut, there is no way to know how many actually will and who will wait to reduce their usage when final decisions and programs are developed. Many hope that the farmers who are volunteering water cuts will inspire others to follow suit before final decisions are made.

Farmers may need to rethink their crops as well. Some crops are so water intensive that it will not make sense to grow them as the drought conditions perpetuate. One such crop is alfalfa – the reason why an excessive amount of water is needed to produce a burger. Plus, a lot of our alfalfa crops are sent to China for cattle feed, so American consumers cannot even reap the benefits!

Photo Source: Daily Kos
As a consumer, you, too, can choose to buy and eat less water intensive produce. I stopped drinking Almond milk when I learned it takes about a gallon of water to produce each almond. That is quite a guzzler! And almonds aren't even the biggest guzzler in the nut family; walnuts are far worse!

How can you figure out how much water your food takes to produce? Check out this handy interactive infographic by the New York Times and prepare yourself to be shocked. Try participating in Meatless Monday. Try millet instead of rice. We can all make a difference to mitigate the effects of the drought whether or not we live in California. When will you start?

The Coming Solar Energy Revolution in California and the San Joaquin Valley

It's not often that tiny Fowler hosts the governor, but that's what happened today when Jerry Brown used the Fresno County community of 5,500 people and a high school jazz band as the backdrop for signing three renewable-energy bills into law.

The legislation allows Fowler Unified School District to save $14 million in energy costs over 25 years; authorizes the California Public Utilities Commission to collect funds for renewable-energy rebates (typically, about $83 million each year); and requires the state Department of Fish and Game to accelerate its permitting process for clean-energy projects.

The Fowler school district will affix solar panels on Marshall Elementary, which will enable the district to save almost $500,000 the first year. But it won't be the only school in the state to get solar energy. The bill, SB 585, authored by Sen. Christine Kehoe D-San Diego, authorizes $200 million for the statewide California Solar Initiative, according to Brown's office.

Brown's office noted the bills were signed on the same day the San Joaquin Valley Air Pollution Control District issued its third dirty air alert of the week.

"California’s children deserve clean air and a bright future,” said Brown. “They deserve good jobs and a strong economy. The bills I signed today are part of a solar-energy revolution that is sweeping our state. These bills will help create jobs, lower electric bills and clean up the air we breathe.” Learn more here and in this Fresno Bee story.

The projects will help meet the state's objective of 20,000 megawatts from renewable sources by 2020. The California Solar Initiative, funded through utility companies, gives rebates for solar installations on commercial, industrial, nonprofit and government and other non-residential buildings, including schools.

The Department of Fish and Game bill, introduced by Michael Rubio, D-Bakersfield, could help speed up applications in the Valley and high desert region of Kern County, where, according to Fish and Game officials, thousands of acres of proposed clean-energy projects are proposed.

The Valley, with high power bills, lots of land and sun, along with a midstate location and access to transmission lines and bright minds at UC Merced, Fresno State University and Cal Poly, could be a leader in solar and other types of clean energy.

Brown's choice of words, describing a solar-energy "revolution" in California, was notable. His highly public event was on the same day that President Obama announced the winners of a $37 million "jobs and innovation" challenge that include a proposed collaboration between high-tech capital and technology in San Diego with the natural resources of Imperial County to create a "mega-region" of renewable energy.

The opportunity in California is staggering.

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.