energy innovation

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.


Occupy Wall Street rouses reform, why not clean energy?

The Occupy Wall Street protest has made an impression.

A Time poll says it rates a better impression than the tea party and that 54 percent of respondents "harbor a positive view of the burgeoning protest movement."

Ragtag but well-behaved protesters tapped into a surging vein of nationwide resentment. The economy has not only tanked, but the prospects appear so grim that nobody's talking seriously about a rebound.

Economic disaster strikes

Housing prices have cratered. Foreclosures are increasing. Banks need to start charging user fees for debit cards because they aren't making loans. Businesses aren't hiring. And technology is teaming with the downturn to hasten the demise of entire industries.

Fancy new SUVs purchased on raided pre-crash home equity are now starting to lose their luster and break down on roadsides. Their owners defer maintenance because they have either lost their homes, jobs or just their optimism in the future.

Check out the next 2004 Escalade alongside you on the 405 to see what I mean.

Jobs just aren't there

Andy Kroll of Mother Jones puts it aptly in a post. "It’s as if Hurricane Irene had swept through the American economy. Consider this statistic: between 1999 and 2009, the net jobs gain in the American workforce was zero. In the six previous decades, the number of jobs added rose by at least 20 percent per decade."

That's left a lot of older folks without jobs and younger ones with no prospects. College graduates fighting over fast-food jobs is an indicator that things are not like they once were.

Matt Taibbi, Rolling Stone journalist and financial muckraker, has been chronicling the monetary misdealings of stock traders, bankers and Wall Street gamblers, being one of the few to lay bare the practices that put the entire globe on the brink of insolvency.

Financial elite get Bronx cheer

Taibbi applauds the occupy crowd. "The protests building at Liberty Square and spreading over Lower Manhattan are a great thing, the logical answer to the Tea Party and a long-overdue middle finger to the financial elite," he says in a post on

He says protesters' strategy of no strategy works for now, but he suggests that occupiers eventually offer solutions. In his post he offered five potential Wall Street fixes: 1. Break up the "Too Big to Fail" monopolies. 2. Levy a tax of 0.1 percent on all trades of stocks and bonds and derivatives to pay taxpayers back for the bailouts. 3. Allow no public money for private lobbying. 4. Tax hedge-fund gamblers. 5. And enact new laws that prevent Wall Street executives from getting bonuses upfront for deals that might blow up later.

Maybe such reforms would put a dent in the nation's financial gambling sector. But the desire to extract value by way of financial tools is phenomenally powerful, and the mechanisms used are so complex that even regulators have a hard time tracing all but the most careless.

Many who have pitched tents and have decided their best investment lies in exposing bad practices already know this and that likely stiffens their resolve.

New generation post Woodstock

This battle is nothing new. The players are just younger than they have been since the last round of U.S. protests that spawned sayings like "Make War No More" and "Tune In, Turn On and Drop Out." And this time they're listening to Jay Z, Lady Gaga and Vampire Weekend rather than the Dead.

George Carlin, one of the voices of that past era, spells out how the financial game is played in one of his last concerts. A piece on Huffington Post provides a prophetic excerpt in which he says, "You know something? [Wall Street] will get it. They'll get it all from you sooner or later, 'cause they own this ... place. It's a big club, and you ain't in it. You and I are not in the big club. ... The table is tilted, folks. The game is rigged. And nobody seems to notice, nobody seems to care. Good, honest hard working people ... continue to elect these rich ... who don't give a ... about them."

Carlin didn't mince words. But he also had a wonderful optimistic streak. His comedy records contain volumes of his ability to find light-hearted ways of looking at calamity and difficult topics.

Give clean energy a chance

In that spirit, I'll offer another solution, not so much aimed at Wall Street but the economy. I'd like the occupiers of Wall Street to venture into the realm of clean energy with the zeal of the Solar Decathlon contestants. The University of Maryland team won the 2011 challenge for the best solar-powered energy efficient home.

Cheap, sustainable energy could drive a massive economic resurgence and spawn many new industries. Already, solar power is nearing fossil-fuel parity, and Kees van der Leun of Netherlands consultant Ecofys went so far as to predict in a post on that "PV is set to go beyond grid parity and become the cheapest way to generate electricity."

So, hey, let the sun shine and have fun on Wall Street.