Category Archives: California

LASER: Turning the climate threat into a story of opportunity for Los Angeles

This commentary originally appeared on our EDF Voices Blog.

I’m an L.A. guy, so I like to think about things in epic story lines. And with today's launch of EDF and UCLA’s Luskin Center for Innovation new “LASER” maps (Los Angeles Solar & Efficiency Report), I think we’ve got a real blockbuster on our hands.

The LASER story opens with a team of top scientists warning us of an imminent threat – climate change – that will cause widespread disruption and human suffering if left unmitigated.

Utilizing the groundbreaking work of Dr. Alex Hall and the UCLA Institute for the Environment and Sustainability, the LASER maps illustrate what climate change is going to look like in the Los Angeles region in just a few decades.

By mid-century, the region will experience a tripling in the number of extreme heat days in the downtown and urban core, and a quadrupling in the number of extreme heat days in the valleys and at high elevations.

The plot thickens as we get a clearer sense of the communities that are most at risk – those already dealing with bad air quality, lack of adequate green space and tree canopy, poor access to public transit, and other challenges like high unemployment levels, poverty and public health hazards.

This is the part of the story where we could give up in the face of seemingly impossible odds…but that’s not how we roll in Los Angeles.

The LASER maps also introduce a powerful narrative about how we can fight back by  mitigating the carbon pollution driving climate change, building community resiliency through investments in energy efficiency and renewable energy, and seizing opportunities for economic growth that reduce vulnerability.

Utilizing sophisticated GIS mapping tools and other data, LASER shows the tremendous environmental and economic potential for rooftop solar in Los Angeles County:

  • Nearly 29,000 local jobs in solar panel installation could be created if merely 5% of the rooftop solar energy generating potential in LA County was realized.
  • If LA rooftops were able to capture that 5% of solar capacity they would reduce carbon dioxide emissions by 1.25 million tons, equivalent to taking 250,000 cars off the road annually.
Another LASER plot line involves energy efficiency, one of the cheapest ways to reduce carbon pollution and lower utility bills at the same time. The LASER maps show that:
  • Nearly 1.5 million buildings in LA County were built before energy efficiency codes went into effect, which means…
  • 80% of all buildings in LA County have elevated potential for cost-saving, energy efficiency investments.

If this were actually a Hollywood blockbuster, we would probably cut to a final, climactic showdown and a dramatic rescue from impending doom. But unlike Hollywood, there is no pre-written ending to the climate crisis.

To mitigate the worst effects of climate change, and prepare vulnerable communities for the climate impacts already on their way, we need serious investment and deployment of clean energy and low-carbon infrastructure – particularly in those communities that will be hit the hardest.

LASER provides tools that can help elected officials and advocates pinpoint the communities that are most vulnerable to climate change, identify the region’s clean energy investment potential, and then develop policies and funding mechanism to unleash it. EDF is here to help in that effort, and look forward to supporting our friends and allies in Los Angeles who are working to make the clean energy potential profiled in LASER a real-life success story.

In the end, LASER tells a tale of threat and opportunity in Los Angeles. Now it’s time to get to work to make sure this epic has a positive ending.

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At a Key Moment for Energy, California Should Seize Demand Response

This commentary originally appeared on EDF's California Dream 2.0 blog. 

Traditionally, if an area’s population grows — or it loses a power plant — it needs more energy. But California and some other states can approach it differently and reduce the use of fossil fuels.

Instead of asking, How can we add more energy?” the real question becomes “How can we reduce demand?”

Two words: Demand Response (DR).

DR is an incentive that has been proven to work on the East Coast and elsewhere, encouraging energy users who voluntarily participate to reduce their electricity usage temporarily when demand could outpace supply.

Recently, the California Energy Commission’s Integrated Energy Policy Report (IEPR) Draft recognized DR as a technology with a high potential to maximize energy efficiency. This report comes at an important time for the state, when greenhouse gas emissions from large facilities have increased in California after decreasing the previous years, in large part due to the closing of the San Onofre Nuclear Generating Station (SONGS) power plant.

In our recently submitted comments, EDF commended the Commission on thinking big on demand response, a cutting edge load management technology that can lower wholesale energy prices when they are highest, dramatically minimize system costs, and reduce air pollution and greenhouse gas emissions.

In their report the Commission also acknowledged that while DR is a great tool if used well, there still “has been little progress towards increasing the amount of DR used in the state.”  The Commission included several recommendations to bolster DR going forward, which EDF supports and will advocate for.

We also made suggestions for how the Commission could maximize the use of DR in California, including:

  • Encourage customers to enroll in Time of Use pricing

Time of Use (TOU) tariffs allow customers to pay prices for energy that depend on both when and how much they use. By giving customers the option to save money for reducing their energy use at peak times, older, less efficient peaker plants aren’t used as much and the overall system costs go down dramatically. If half of Southern California Edison’s ratepayers adopted its voluntary TOU program, this would replace the need for two thirds of the San Onofre generating capacity.

  • Set clear and ambitious goals for demand response in the state

The Commission should set ambitious benchmarks in regard to demand response capacity.

  • Foster consumer adoption of innovative demand response technology

Modern technology allows for automated thermostats, ‘set it and forget it’, and other options for easy to use systems that allow interested electricity customers to quickly and consistently respond and reduce energy use when demand is high and the grid is stressed. The Commission should plan to increase consumer uptake of these technologies.

  • Support new technologies and quick scaling up of pilot projects

Demand response opportunities exist on a broad scale in California.  Innovative ideas like charging electric cars when solar power is abundant to help maximize the benefits from renewables are still being developed. The Commission should encourage and support these new technologies, and look for successful pilots that are both cost-effective and fully scalable.

  • Establish effective enforcement mechanisms

By putting in place proper monitoring and enforcement mechanisms, the Commission will help ensure expected environmental benefits.

The Commission’s IEPR is a great step forward, and comes at a key moment for managing California’s energy system. We urge the Commission to continue its work with other stakeholders to increase this momentum, and to utilize its authority – such as appliance and buildings standards and electricity forecasting – to help implement the state’s vision for demand response.

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Energy And Water Utilities’ Unique Perspectives Uncover Joint Cost-Saving Solutions

In the past, I’ve written a lot about the inherent connection between energy and water use and the need for co-management of energy-water planning. Most of the energy we use requires copious amounts of water to produce, and most of the water we use requires a considerable amount of energy to treat and transport. Despite this inherent connection, it’s actually uncommon to see energy and water utilities collaborating to identify best practices to save energy and water and even lower costs. Think of it this way: If energy and water utilities worked together, their unique perspectives could uncover joint cost-saving solutions, customers would save more money and utilities could share data to better understand their holistic energy-water footprint.

Identifying why there is a lack of collaboration and how to overcome these barriers was the motivation behind the American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy’s (ACEEE’s) recent report.  The report goes beyond citing discrepancies, though, and provides solutions for energy and water utilities to create better, more resource-efficient programs for themselves and their customers.

The report highlights a number of ways U.S. energy and water utilities have collaborated to identify mutually-beneficial energy and water savings. It lists successful energy and water utility programs from a variety of different sectors, including residential, commercial, industrial, agricultural and municipal. Read More »

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Historic Agreement Demonstrates Broad Commitment To Build Clean Energy Economy

 This commentary originally appeared on EDF's California Dream 2.0 blog.

With the stroke of a pen, North American efforts to combat climate change and promote clean energy reached a new level today.

I was lucky enough to witness the historic event, as Governor Jerry Brown joined the leaders of Oregon, Washington State and the Canadian province of British Columbia, to sign an agreement that formally aligns climate and clean energy policies in the four jurisdictions.

This signing by these “Fab Four” of the Pacific Coast Collaborative makes sense given all they have in common: they’re geographically connected, share infrastructure, and their combined regional economy accounts for a $2.8 trillion GDP, making it the world’s fifth largest economy.

Read More »

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On-Bill Repayment & Community Solar: Clean Energy Investments Underserved Californians Can Afford

This commentary originally appeared on EDF's California Dream 2.0 blog.

It sounds like the opening line of a joke: What can finance do to reduce inequality?

However, this is exactly the question I tried to tackle during my presentation at the Clean Power, Healthy Communities conference last week. Hosted by the Local Clean Energy Alliance, this annual conference focuses on equitable, community-based clean energy solutions for the Bay Area.

In keeping with this theme, I took the opportunity to explain how On-Bill Repayment (OBR) can increase access to energy efficiency and distributed generation installations for low and middle-income families. By overcoming cost barriers, OBR can deliver energy savings, cost savings, jobs and more comfortable and healthy homes to underserved communities. In addition to these tangible benefits, it offers residents greater control over energy generation, as well as their energy consumption.

While I was able to share EDF’s finance work with community organizers and other environmental advocates, the conference was also a chance to hear about and discuss variety of other community-based solutions. One initiative that OBR has tremendous potential to support and complement is community-owned solar. Signed into law in September, California’s Senate Bill 43 allows for shared ownership of renewable generation. This means that individuals who are unable to install solar panels at their residences can invest in an off-site solar system, and receive credit on their utility bill for their share of the power generated.

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Also posted in On-bill repayment | Tagged , | 1 Response, comments now closed

Setting the PACE on Clean Energy Finance

This commentary originally appeared on EDF's California Dream 2.0 blog.

I spend most of my time working to establish On-Bill Repayment programs that allow property owners to use their utility bill to repay loans for cost-saving energy efficiency or renewable energy upgrades.  Many of my colleagues work on a similar program known as Property Assessed Clean Energy (“PACE”), which uses the property tax bill for repayment.  Since both utility and property tax bills are usually paid, both PACE and OBR are expected to lower the cost and increase the availability of financing for clean energy projects.

Last week, I was invited to attend a meeting of the leading PACE program administrators, property owners and other market participants in the country — and was pleasantly surprised to learn how much progress is being made.

Connecticut launched their program in January and is expected to close $20 million of PACE transactions for commercial properties by year end.  The Toledo, Ohio area expects to have executed $18 million of commercial transactions by the end of 2013.  Sonoma County, with a population of less than 500,000, has already completed $64 million of financings for residential and commercial properties.  In late 2012, CaliforniaFIRST launched a PACE program for commercial properties that has already received 130 applications.

Read More »

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Keeping It Clean: California Should Use Clean Resources To Integrate Renewables

This commentary originally appeared on EDF's California Dream 2.0 blog.

As the 8th largest economy in the world, California remains a global leader in clean tech investment, innovation and adoption of landmark climate and energy policies. What defines our success?  Our ability to try things first, set the bar high, and get policies right.

California’s Renewable Portfolio Standard (RPS) is a perfect example of that bold, pioneering spirit. Passed in 2011, the RPS required that 33% of electricity come from renewables by 2020 – a lofty benchmark, even by California’s standards. Along with self-generation and solar rooftop programs, California is successfully adding solar, wind, and other distributed generation to its resource portfolio.

In fact, renewables are successfully becoming a large part of daytime energy production, the California Independent Systems Operator (CAISO) – the organization in charge of balancing the statewide grid – is concerned over how to make up for that energy when the sun goes down while evening energy demand spikes.  The question is: How can the CAISO reliably integrate renewables?

The CAISO is currently figuring out how to address this need for “flexible” power and will have a draft decision out on October 2nd.  Just like people prefer to take routes they know well when they drive, the CAISO is most comfortable with what they know: familiar fossil fuels. Using clean resources and demand response instead is new territory for them that will require careful orienteering.

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A State Race To Save Energy

Earlier this year, the Alliance Commission on National Energy Efficiency Policy unveiled a plan to double nationwide energy productivity by 2030.  It’s an ambitious move to greatly increase our nation’s use of energy efficiency, which represents a huge – and largely untapped – opportunity.  Reducing wasted energy through efficiency cuts harmful pollution and saves people money on their energy bills.  After all, the cheapest, cleanest, most reliable electricity is the electricity we don’t have to use.

Source: Church Times

Similarly, the State Energy Race to the Top Initiative (Initiative) is an incentive for states to make voluntary progress to increase their energy productivity. The U.S. Senate is moving forward to make this idea a reality.  Originally introduced as a bill in June, the Initiative has now been filed as a potential amendment, sponsored by Senators Mark Warner (D-VA), Joe Manchin (D-WV), and Jon Tester (D-MT), to the Shaheen-Portman energy efficiency bill.  If passed, the Initiative will stimulate energy innovation in both the public and private sectors, and allow states to tailor energy saving policies to their particular needs.

Administered by the Department of Energy (DOE), the Initiative will be broken into two phases.  In the first phase, following the submission of state proposals through their energy office, DOE selects 25 states to receive funding (a combined $60 million) to move their energy productivity concepts forward.  Although states have complete independence in developing and implementing their own clean energy strategies, the DOE will provide technical assistance upon request.  Eighteen months later, in the second phase, the 25 states will be asked to submit progress reports to DOE.  Based on their projects’ success, DOE will then select up to six states to receive a share of $122 million to continue their energy saving efforts.

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Seeing Green: Emission Reducing Fuel Policies Help Lower Gas Prices

This commentary originally appeared on EDF's California Dream 2.0 blog.

By: Tim O'Connor and Shira Silver

Californians struggling with high gas prices should feel optimistic about the future.  A new memo by economists from EDF and Chuck Mason, a prominent economist at the University of Wyoming, demonstrates that policies established to reduce emissions and help the state reach its climate change goals also help to arm consumers at the pump.

The Low Carbon Fuel Standardcap and trade, and other complementary policies such as Governor Brown’s Zero Emission Vehicle program and national Renewable Portfolio Standards seek to integrate lower or zero-carbon fuels into the energy market in an effort to reduce greenhouse gas pollution.

As our memo explains, in California these efforts also help to increase the market share for alternative, lower-carbon fuels. Between now and 2020, alternatives may grow to occupy between 15 and 24 percent of the market, creating new jobs and addressing the large market share that oil companies have in California.

Currently six oil companies control 94 percent of the fuels market in California. Through a set of mergers and other factors they have developed a strong lock on fuel in the state, and more specifically on consumers’ pocketbooks at the pump.

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Aloha for Clean Energy Finance: A Tale of Two States

This commentary originally appeared on EDF's California Dream 2.0 blog.

For over two years, EDF has been working to establish an On-Bill Repayment program in California that would allow property owners to finance energy efficiency or renewable generation projects and repay the obligation through their utility bill.  Since utility bills tend to get paid and the obligation could ‘run with the meter’, defaults are expected to be low, which will improve the availability and reduce the cost of financing.  In May 2012, the California Public Utilities Commission (“CPUC”) agreed with our position and ordered the large utilities in California to develop a program for commercial properties.  EDF estimates that this program could generate $5B of investment over 12 years, which is expected to support 36,000 jobs.

Unfortunately, we are still waiting for the nonresidential OBR pilot in California to be implemented and if the utilities get their way, we may be waiting for close to another full year.  The California utilities appear to be fearful of change, distributed generation, and the impact of reduced demand.  They have employed aggressive tactics with teams of lawyers arguing and re-arguing every potential issue, even after the issues have presumably been settled by the CPUC.

This stands in sharp contrast to what is happening in Hawaii.  On March 25, the Hawaii Public Utilities Commission (“HPUC”) ordered the primary Hawaii utility, Hawaiian Electric Company, (“HECO”) to establish an OBR program for residential and commercial customers.  I just returned from 3 days in Honolulu and it appears that they are working cooperatively to get the program running in the first quarter of 2014.  This timetable of 12 months from HPUC order to implementation is less than half of what we seem to need in California, despite the fact that the Hawaii program covers a much broader range of property types and relies on public as well as private sources of financing.

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