Regulators Want All New CA Homes To Use ‘Zero Net Energy’

Solar panelsPlacing a big bet on solar power and new regulations, state officials have rolled out ambitious new requirements aimed at slashing energy use in newly-constructed homes.

“Buildings built in California starting in 2016 will have to comply with the nation’s toughest energy conservation standards,” the Central Valley Business Times reported. “The California Energy Commission has unanimously approved building energy efficiency standards that it says will reduce energy costs, save consumers money, and increase comfort in new and upgraded homes and other buildings.”

In single-family homes, that would amount to a drop in energy use by almost a third, relative to 2013 standards, the CVBT noted.

Cost and consequences

The New Residential Zero Net Energy Action Plan, as it has been dubbed, aimed “to establish a robust and self-sustaining market so that all new homes are zero net energy (ZNE) beginning in 2020.” Critics have reiterated longstanding objections to a statewide push of this kind, especially around the prospect of rising energy costs.

“The most complex issue will be valuing the homes, which will cost more upfront,” according to Greentech Media. “Currently, the CPUC is quoting an extra $2 to $8 per square foot after incentives. There will likely need to be incentives or creative utility billing, especially if the homes are providing demand-side services as the CPUC envisions. The CPUC says that the utilities are on board and will have to evaluate locational benefits of having net-zero homes on the system.”

As Greentech Media noted, planners have built in some would-be loopholes designed to make progress on ZNE without imposing the new standards too quickly: “Homes can be ZNE-ready, rather than actually being energy-neutral. That could mean they are solar-ready, for instance, but perhaps don’t have solar panels already installed.”

But even supporters of the plan have cautioned that executing on its goals may be a daunting challenge. At the Huffington Post, one analyst noted, “as California’s clean power goals rise, new capacity could begin to slow.”

“Some planned large projects are now on hold due to financial problems. Others face environmental challenges, such as threats to bird flyways and desert habitats. Large-scale solar plants, particularly those using solar thermal technology, are losing appeal to investors as photovoltaic panel prices plunge. And utilities, having largely reached their current renewable procurement targets, have few new projects in the pipeline. What’s more, the federal solar investment tax credit program for new utility projects drops from 30 percent to 10 percent after 2016, and ends completely for individuals.”

Unifying the grid

Nevertheless, optimism among policymakers and activists has remained high — largely because of the role of technological innovation centered in California. Apple and Google have embarked on so-called “grid-scale” renewable energy projects, while Tesla has pushed into the home energy storage business.

But some experts have implied that the problem of rising energy costs could best be addressed by linking up the net-zero energy industry with the zero-emission automobile industry. “A recent California study estimated that utility companies could earn $2.26 to $8.11 billion in net revenues from large-scale commercialization of EVs,” as reported in Fortune. “This is sufficient to allow utilities to invest both in installing charging infrastructure and return some of the revenues to their customers in the form of lower rates.”

By supplying ubiquitous EV charging stations, observers surmised, utilities could eventually recoup electrical power from cars embedded into the same flexible grid as homes. “The value of having a flexible load on the grid will grow even further with higher amounts of wind and solar,” Fortune continued. “Electric vehicles can be programmed to charge during peak solar or wind generation periods, preventing this valuable electricity from being wasted. In the future, electric vehicles could increase their value by putting electricity back into the grid as well[.]”

Originally published by CalWatchdog.com

Senator de Leon’s Green Vision Has Valley Seeing Red

Senator Kevin de Leon, the same Los Angeles State Senator who proclaimed that “no one lives out there in the tumbleweeds” when referring to the Central Valley, has proven that he still doesn’t understand the realities faced by hardworking people who live here.

His recent op-ed in the Fresno Bee pitching Senate Bill 350 was an unconvincing argument for an economy-stifling nightmare that might excite people living in San Francisco or Newport Beach but would actually be a burden to people living in the Central Valley. This irresponsible mandate includes plans to force cuts to gas and diesel use by 50 percent, as well as increase renewable energy 50 percent in the next 15 years. Many people in the Central Valley, like thousands of farm workers who Senator de León says he is trying to help, have no choice but to gas up and drive long distances to and from work. Any small improvements to the environment would be overshadowed by the strangulation of the oil and gas industry, not to mention the financial impacts on every driver in this state as the cost of filling up cars, trucks or tractors skyrockets.

Families who have chosen to make their living in the Central Valley don’t have the mass transit options like those in the Bay Area and the great majority certainly don’t have the extra cash to spend on a new hybrid or electric car. Had Senator de Leon bothered to concern himself with the differences between the Central Valley and L.A. or the Bay Area he would know that one-third of all electric vehicle owners in California live in just two counties: Los Angeles and Santa Clara. Less than one percent live in the Valley’s two most populated counties: Fresno and Kern, according to the California Air Resources Board. And almost 70 percent of these elusive, electric car owners make more than $100,000 a year – far more than Fresno County’s median annual income of $45,500.

Californians are struggling to afford the highest cost of living in the nation thanks to high taxes, regulations and a growing dependence on new fees like those collected from cap-and-trade. We must continue to be wary of plans intended to help save the environment that aren’t based in reality and don’t offer any markers for success. California’s families, farmers and business owners can’t afford to foot the bill for Senator de Leon’s extreme energy and environmental policies.

Originally published on Fox and Hounds Daily

Assemblyman Jim Patterson represents the 23rd District, which includes portions of Fresno and Tulare counties.

Fracking: California Newspapers Aren’t Telling the Whole Story

Anti-fracking sentiment is growing in California. In November, voters in Mendocino and San Benito Counties voted to ban the energy-extraction process, which involves injecting a pressurized mixture of water, sand, and chemicals into rock to release the natural gas trapped inside. In all likelihood, Golden State voters will be asked to consider a statewide fracking ban in November 2016. Not only do California’s environmentalists want to make a statement to the world; they also believe an anti-fracking ballot initiative would help boost turnout among voters sympathetic to liberal causes and politicians. This sentiment—along with sharp criticism by activists of Governor Jerry Brown’s relatively moderate views on hydraulic fracturing in California—led U.S. Interior Secretary Sally Jewell in January to call proponents of local fracking bans “know-nothings.”

In an interview with Northern California PBS affiliate KQED, Jewell said the proposed bans on fracking were misguided. “I think it’s going to be very difficult for industry to figure out what the rules are if different counties have different rules,” she said. “There are a lot of fears out there in the general public and that manifests itself with local laws or regional laws. … There is a lot of misinformation about fracking. I think that localized efforts or statewide efforts in many cases don’t understand the science behind it and I think there needs to be more science.”

A full-throated defense of fracking’s safety from an Obama administration cabinet official would seem newsworthy. But a Nexis search reveals that the only mention of Jewell’s pro-fracking remarks in a California newspaper came in my own editorial for U-T San Diego. This was no fluke. With the exception of a handful of stories in the San Francisco Chronicle, the state’s largest papers almost never report the administration’s view that—with prudent regulation—fracking can be safe.

At a May 2013 press conference, Jewell discussed new regulations governing fracking on public lands. She delivered her by-now standard endorsement of the practice and criticized misinformation about the energy-extraction technique peddled by environmentalists. “I know there are those who say fracking is dangerous and should be curtailed, full stop,” she said. “That ignores the reality that it has been done for decades and has the potential for developing significant domestic resources and strengthening our economy.”

That quotation appeared in the New York Times. The Los Angeles Times omitted Jewell’s quote and chose instead to turn to a spokesman for the Western Energy Alliance, a Denver-based trade association, for the pro-fracking view. If a pro-fracking comment appears in a California paper, you can be sure it will be from one of the Golden State media’s favorite bogeyman—either an energy trade association representative or an oil company executive.

Environmental-beat reporters at the L.A. Times, the Sacramento Bee, the San Jose Mercury-News, and other large state newspapers have reported on the Obama administration’s other energy policies, including its opposition to the proposed Keystone XL pipeline. But even as the president campaigned for reelection in 2012 with boasts about all the natural gas and oil produced by fracking during his first term, these reporters have somehow decided his views aren’t worth sharing with their readers.

In 1980, Arnaud de Borchgrave and Robert Moss published a thriller about a Soviet plot to subvert the United States called The Spike. It was inspired by de Borchgrave’s years as a journalist and his belief that stories that didn’t reflect news organizations’ liberal political views often got “spiked” (pulled from publication)—even really juicy and provocative stories.

It’s almost impossible to look at California newspapers’ coverage of fracking and not see it as “The Green Spike.” The narrative that the greenest president in history thinks fracking is safe doesn’t fit with the narrative that fracking is dangerous. So in newsrooms across the Golden State, the real views of this president and his administration are considered irrelevant—even as his interior secretary throws down the gauntlet with California’s greens.

CARTOON: Sunshine Week

Sunshine Transparency Cartoon

Nate Beeler, The Columbus Dispatch

Get Ready for Higher Electricity Bills

Is Kevin de León trying to kill off what’s left of California’s manufacturing?

He must. The leader of the California Senate a couple of weeks ago introduced a package of bills that call for a 50 percent reduction in petroleum use by cars and trucks and a 50 percent increase in energy efficiency in buildings, and demands that 50 percent of the electricity generated in the state must come from renewable sources, all by 2030.

All this earns him the warm applause of his base – he was accompanied by environmentalists, union folks and renewable energy entrepreneurs at his press conference – as he pushes the state’s businesses out into the cold.

Look, Californians already pay 50 percent more than the national average for electricity. Industrial customers, including many manufacturers, pay 79 percent more. As a result of that and California’s other high costs, the state has languished with about 1 percent annual growth in manufacturing jobs since the recession while the rest of the country has boomed at close to 7 percent.

And if these bills pass, electricity rates are bound to become shocking, making the state look even uglier to manufacturers. Of course, the effect doesn’t stop with much higher electricity costs.

“This proposal…is an attack on the petroleum industry,” said Tupper Hull of the Western States Petroleum Association. “It will be extraordinarily expensive and coercive. I mean crushingly expensive.”

How expensive no one seems to have calculated. (Why isn’t legislation like this required to submit an economic impact statement?) But whatever the cost is, Californians may well be all alone in bearing these self-inflicted shots.

“We’re going to oppose this very vigorously and not be apologetic about it,” Hull said.

California already has the highest gasoline prices in the continental United States but hey, maybe we can be twice as high as No. 2. Or three times as high. That’d be great for the economy, no?

Originally published by Fox and Hounds Daily

California to Spend $20 Million on Part of ‘Hydrogen Highway’

As reported by the L.A. Times:

It’s been more than a decade since former Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger regularly talked about his dream of building a “hydrogen highway” that would speed fleets of non-polluting cars from Mexico to Canada.

The vision never materialized anywhere other than in the governor’s upbeat, eco-friendly speeches.

Now, finally, a modest form of Schwarzenegger’s highway might actually become a reality.

The California Energy Commission reports that it’s spending $20 million to build nearly half of the approximately 100 stations needed to give a driver of a hydrogen car enough range to travel freely through most parts of the Golden State.

Click here to read the full story

The Tesla Effect

Call it the Tesla Effect.

Good news — so far — for California’s successful electric-vehicle maker and others in the industry. At least through last November, the low gasoline prices of recent months have not crashed electric vehicle sales.

Plug In America, which follows EV sales, charted both sales and the price of gas for recent years. “Gasoline prices have fluctuated almost a dollar during this period,” it found. “Very recently, they’ve dipped to new lows. But on average, the trend has been flat, because all the ups and downs cancel each other out.”

The chart on their site shows national gas prices jumping up and down from 2011 through Nov. 2014, from lows of around $3 a gallon to highs of nearly $4. California prices have been about 10 percent to 15 percent higher than national prices.

“The current generation of plug-in vehicles started selling in December 2010,” Plug In America also reported. “As a product category, PEVs [plug-in electric vehicles] are still in their infancy. Sales have risen year after year. The trend is rising.”

EV sales

The chart on that site shows sales of EVs steadily rising from close to zero at the beginning of 2011 to about 10,000 a month at the end of 2014. Here’s a similar chart:

US electric car sales

However, a caution light comes from Robert Poole, director of transportation policy at the Los Angeles-based Reason Foundation. “We are now seeing gas prices far below the data for 2013 and 2014, so all bets are off in terms of the impact on hybrid and EV sales impact,” he told CalWatchdog.com.

“The auto industry is already seeing a large increase in pickup truck and SUV sales, which is widely attributed to the impact of lower gas prices,” he said. “I would be very surprised if there were not a comparable impact, in the other direction, on sales of hybrids and EVs.”

Long-term data to come out in future months will tell the story.

But USA Today reported this week:

“Sales of new cars and trucks roared off to a fast start in January, towed by Americans’ renewed love affair with trucks and SUVs as low fuel prices mean the gas-thirsty models aren’t so expensive to fill up.

“Trucks — a category that consists of pickups, vans and SUVs — were 54% of January sales; cars were the remainder, according to sales tracker Autodata.”

One detail can be noted, for Fiat Chrysler Automobiles. Its Chrysler division went bankrupt during the Great Recession, was bailed out by the federal government, then merged with Fiat. The picture now:

“Jeep, again, was the star, posting its best-ever monthly sales and recording a 44% increase by the compact Jeep Cherokee SUV.

“Patriot, smaller than Cherokee and on the market since the 2007 model, found new buyers somewhere, and recorded a 35.6% gain.

“Ram pickup was up 14%.

“Chrysler has become largely a truck and SUV company — 72.5% of its sales — while its cars are an almost incidental 27.5%.

“Even against the industry-wide strong, new interest in trucks and SUVs, FCA US results are dramatic.”

The future

These numbers likely only would hold so long as gas prices remain low. If the history of fluctuations once more arcs upward, then gas-powered vehicles again could come into disfavor.

The San Jose Mercury News reported today:

“Those amazingly low gas prices that soothed motorists for the past few months will soon be in the rearview mirror: Pump prices have jumped a dime or more in the past week and are expected to soar another 30 to 50 cents a gallon by April. 

“That would have California drivers paying around $3 a gallon, a far cry from today’s $2.53 statewide average mark but still well below the $3.60 price a year ago.”

California’s situation is unique because of special state fuel requirements, including the conversion, going on now, to more expensive summer fuel. And the state is working out how much the new tax for the cap-and-trade program will cost.

But gas prices are rising across the country. “[T]he most pain is being felt now in the upper Midwest, where the statewide average in Michigan soared from $2.09 on Tuesday to $2.23 on Wednesday,” the Mercury News reported. “Bay City, Michigan, led all metropolitan areas in the nation with a 29-cent overnight hike.”

On the other hand, Citigroup economists expect the oil price decline to continue, or at least not to rise.

Originally published on CalWatchdog.com

Hydraulic Fracturing Major Contributor to CA’s Economic and Energy Future

The release of the draft EIR on Well Stimulation Operations marks an important milestone in meeting the deadlines set by Senate Bill 4. WSPA and our members are reviewing the details of the draft EIR and will continue to participate in workshops and public discussion regarding SB 4.

While we are pleased with the state’s process on implementing Senate Bill 4, it is important to note the draft EIR contemplates hypothetical development scenarios and provides a high level review.

To date, well stimulation in California has never been associated with any known adverse environmental impacts.

California has been a major producer of oil for well over 100 years.  We produce close to 600,000 barrels of oil per day, making us the third largest oil producing state in the nation, behind Texas and North Dakota. The vast majority of this production takes place in Kern County at the southern end of California’s San Joaquin Valley.

California also is home to significant shale oil resources, the largest of which is the Monterey Shale Formation that lies under large parts of the San Joaquin Valley and Southern California.

Hydraulic fracturing is a safe and proven energy production technique used to obtain oil and natural gas in areas where those energy supplies are trapped in tight rock and shale formations. Once a well has been subjected to hydraulic fracturing, crude oil or natural gas production may occur for years without additional fracturing.

Hydraulic fracturing operations occur over very short time periods, usually two to five days. Once an oil or natural gas well is drilled and properly lined with steel casing, fluids are pumped down to an isolated portion of the well at pressures high enough to cause tiny fractures in rock formations thousands of feet below the earth’s surface. These fractures allow oil and natural gas to flow more freely.

Hydraulic fracturing is a common well stimulation technique that has been linked to America’s dramatic domestic energy resurgence and economic recovery. Most notably, hydraulic fracturing is connected with natural gas production in parts of the Northeast and Intermountain West regions of the United States and with oil shale production in North Dakota and Texas. Hydraulic fracturing, a technology that has been used safely for more than 60 years, has played a critical part in helping the United States become energy independent.

Energy producers in California continue to fuel the West with affordable and efficient domestic energy and are major contributors to the state’s economy and energy future.

 is president of the Western States Petroleum Association

This article was originally published on Fox and Hounds Daily

CARTOON: Cheap Gas

Cheap Gas

Nate Beeler, The Columbus Dispatch

Why Green Power Won’t Replace Nukes

Last year Southern California Edison mothballed its 2.3 gigawatt San Onofre Nuclear Generating Station. As CalWatchdog.com reported at the time, the actual reason probably was mechanical defects caused from retrofitting the plant to ramp up and down rapidly to back up erratic green power.

The Environmental Defense Fund and other green advocates now are celebrating that California is replacing the loss of that nuclear power with solar and wind power, electricity storage, energy efficiency and peak-load curtailments.  The California Independent System Operator, which runs the grid, proposed to procure 50 percent of that lost power from “preferred resources,” meaning anything but fossil fuels.

However, the reality is San Onofre generated 2.2 gigawatts of clean energy, while Edison is only looking to replace that with 46 megawatts of green power — about 1/40th of San Onofre’s prior generating capacity. The rest of the load will shift to natural-gas power.

The reason: All electrons do the same work, but don’t arrive at the same time. San Onofre’s power was constant, 24/7. Wind and solar are unpredictable.

Here is the breakdown of Edison’s procurement to replace San Onofre’s power for the West Los Angeles area:

          Southern California Edison Energy Procurement to Replace San Onofre

Source Megawatts Percent Total
New gas-fired generation 1,698 76.7%
Behind-the-meter storage 160.6 7.2%
Energy Efficiency 135.2 6.1%
In Front of the Meter Storage 101.0 4.5%
Demand-Response 75.0 3.4%
Behind-the-Meter Solar Renewable 46.0 2.1%
Total 2,216 megawatts (2 gigawatts) 100%
Source: Southern California Edison, Local Capacity Requirement Request for Offers for West Los Angeles-Moorpark Sub-Areas.

Fossil fuels

So 76.7 percent of the power to replace San Onofre is coming from new fossil-fuel natural gas-fired electric generating plants.

Ironically, according to The Carbon Brief, studies from Europe show “gas power costs twice as much if it only runs half the time.” That’s because it costs money to just ramp up and ramp down power plants.

Not all of Edison’s procurement is to replace lost power from San Onofre. Edison also must replace 17,500 megawatts of power lost from the retirement of six other coastal power plants. The retirement is needed to comply with requirements to shift from using ocean water to cool steam plants to air-cooled systems in order to protect fish larvae.

The plants to be retired are: Humboldt Bay 1 and 2, Potrero, South Bay, Morro Bay 2 and 4 and Contra Costa 6 and 7. 

Why new power must be sited in Orange County and L.A.

According to AES California:

“AES Southland is currently developing plans to replace its existing natural gas power plants in Long Beach, Huntington Beach and Redondo Beach with modern, more attractive and far more efficient facilities, which will take up less space at the sites. Modern and more flexible natural gas plants are critical to integrate renewable energy into the electric grid and help California meet its important clean energy goals. 

“Our plans to redevelop our power plants will increase the local taxes we pay, and allow us to continue providing jobs, doing business with local merchants, and supporting these communities through our charitable giving.” 

Why must the new power plants be located close to customer bases in Orange and Los Angeles counties? For several reasons:

Firstvoltage is like water pressure in a hose. San Onofre created enough voltage to “pressurize” the power grid so that electrons would flow smoothly.

By contrast, green power cannot provide much, if any, voltage because it is not consistently available to the power grid 24/7. It’s like taking a shower where the water cycles on for 1 minute, then off for 3 minutes.

Second, to prevent any future big transmission line outages, called an “N-1-1 event.”  N-1-1 means the number of transmission lines (N) that are lost in a catastrophic event is 1 and 1, or 2.  Edison must plan for two transmission lines going down simultaneously.

The problem with two lines being out of commission at once is overload that could create a cascade of shutdowns throughout the entire state grid.

Third, the Duck Chart Problem, which CalWatchdog.com detailed last month. Basically, the Duck Chart shows there is a demand in California to ramp up 13,500 megawatts of conventional power in a narrow two-hour window of time at sunset each day to replace solar power going offline. That would be enough power for about 6,750,000 homes per hour.

The imported electrons are the problem because they must be transmitted on transmission lines that may be out of service in a catastrophic N-1-1 event. So local power sources are preferred.

Fourth, the old Encina Power Plant in Carlsbad has been shut down and is being retrofitted for an ocean water desalination plant and new co-generation natural gas power plant.

This article was originally published by CalWatchdog.com