Unions Clash With Enviros Over NorCal Wind Farm

Usually reliable allies for three liberal causes – renewable energy, environmental protection and labor unions – clashed recently over whether to grant a three-year extension for a wind farm in the Altamont Pass on the eastern fringe of the Bay Area.

The Alameda County Board of Supervisors approved the extension for 828 wind turbines, despite concerns that they have killed thousands of birds, including golden eagles, over the past decade. According to a staff report, an additional 1,692 to 1,847 birds could be killed – including 15 golden eagles, 82 red-tailed hawks, 108 American kestrels and 142 burrowing owls – before the turbines are replaced with safer, more efficient models in late 2018.

Altamont Winds Inc. officials deny that its turbines are the sole cause of the bird deaths. They told the supervisors at the March 24 hearing that many fatalities may have been caused by rodent poison put out by the California Department of Water Resources.

Company officials also contend that mitigation measures, such as retrofitting PG&E power poles to prevent bird electrocution, along with the health benefits of wind power, will actually result in the saving of birds, including a net benefit of five or more golden eagles that might otherwise have perished if not for the wind farm.

But the dozens of environmental activists and bird lovers who spoke at the meeting weren’t buying those arguments.

Environmentalists speak out against wind farms

“For years when I’ve gone past there, my heart has been broken when I’ve known about the piles of birds that have been massacred underneath those wind turbines,” said Nancy Friedman, who described herself as an environmental activist, passionate birder and union supporter. “I passionately believe in wind turbines. But there has to be a better way. The horrible siting of those turbines originally and the number of birds they have killed, that has to be stopped.

“The company talked about various mitigations they have put in place. Why were those mitigations not in place years ago? Why didn’t they figure out how to stop the massacre of those birds years ago? We now have better choices with improved technologies. It’s time to stop the killing now, not in another two or three years when another thousand of these fantastic creatures are murdered.”

That sentiment was echoed by Nancy Weninger, who is the conservation chair of the Mt. Diablo Audubon Society.

Golden Eagle“My father had a saying: fool me once – shame on you, fool me twice – shame on me. AWI already fooled you once obtaining a two-year extension in 2013, agreeing to shut down all of its turbines by the end of this year. They have made no significant progress toward repowering [with next-generation windmills]. And now they want to fool you twice by seeking another extension until 2018.

“They have known for almost 10 years that they would need to shut down and replace their old turbines. In the meantime the birds have been paying the ultimate price. Hundreds of golden eagles, burrowing owls, American kestrels and red-tailed hawks have died while AWI dragged its feet on repowering and continued to profit from their old turbines.

“Please don’t let them fool you again. Granting them another extension would be two giant steps backward in the county’s efforts to make the APWRA [Altamont Pass Wind Resource Area] a model for safe, green energy.”

Unions favor turbine extension

While most speakers were opposed to the extension, several labor union representatives argued for it, pointing out that the repowering will create union jobs.

“We have just come out of a major recession; thousands of our members out of work; home foreclosures; strong economic difficulty,” said Andreas Cluver, representing the Alameda County Building and Construction Trades Council. “It’s projects like these that are going to put the people back to work. We still have significant unemployment. We are looking for you to re-permit this to provide the opportunity for those members to work.”

That argument was countered by Tara Mueller, representing the state attorney general’s office, who said there is “no substantial evidence that there would be jobs that would outweigh significant and unavoidable adverse environmental impacts of this extension. …

“Removal of these turbines in 2015, as required by the current AWI permits, will actually result in faster repowering, which will result in more efficiently produced renewable energy and more jobs. This repowering has all the same economic and environmental benefits as the old turbines without the unacceptably high cost to wildlife and avian resources.”

Fish and WildlifeAlso weighing in against the project is the United States Fish and Wildlife Service. Wrote USF&WS agent Jill Birchell in Feb. 19 letter to the county:

“The Bald and Golden Eagle Protection Act prohibits a variety of actions with respect to eagles, including unauthorized ‘take.’ Since January 2010 … approximately 31 unpermitted eagle fatalities have been recorded at AWI in the Altamont Pass Wind Resource Area. Although companies are not legally required to seek or obtain an eagle take permit, the take of an eagle without a permit is a violation of the Eagle Act, and could result in civil or criminal prosecution.

“The Service continues to recommend that Alameda County … enforce AWI’s current permit requiring removal of its 828 existing wind turbines by Oct. 31, 2015. To do otherwise will likely result in more eagles being killed by AWI’s turbines, further increasing AWI’s liability and possibly subjecting the County to increased scrutiny for having approved the CUP [conditional use permit] extension proposal.”

Extensive regulations to blame?

AWI officials blamed California’s extensive environmental regulations for delaying the repowering project.

“The process to obtain interconnection rights has prevented us from repowering as soon as we would like,” said AWI legal counsel Ashley Brown. “AWI has been working with the Cal ISO [California Independent System Operator] since 2012 to secure transmission and interconnection rights after repowering. We were ahead of schedule, only to be faced with the realization in 2014 that we would have to follow the two-year cluster study process, which won’t be complete until 2016.

“Repowering is a complex process. And the Cal ISO interconnect study is only one step. Repowering is much more than taking down old wind turbines and putting up new ones. It is basically developing a brand new project.

“Just like building a brand new wind farm, repowering requires new land leases, permits, environmental studies, wind studies, project engineering, new power purchasing agreements, wind turbine procurement and construction, among other tasks. However, we are on schedule to repower in 2018.”

But the company might have to pack up and leave if it’s not granted the three-year extension, warned AWI President Rick Koebbe. “I’m not going to say it’s impossible, but it would be very difficult to do,” he said. “Just because the staff that I’m using for repowering is the staff I’m using to operate the wind farms. So if there’s no revenues after this year, most of the staff would have to go away.”

Benefits of wind power

Koebbe concluded his presentation to the board by touting the benefits of his operation.

“The benefits of this wind project include $100 million in economic benefits, about 40 high-skilled jobs, 75 union jobs,” he said. “Our clean wind power displaces/avoids 609 million pounds of greenhouse gas and toxic air pollutants. There we save and avoid $12 million in health costs, including premature death, heart attacks and asthma.

“We save over 950 birds, including a net five more eagles. And mitigation is more than sufficient to account for the potential impacts, including over $16.5 million in mitigation costs that we’ve spent so far since 2007. We’re a small business based in Alameda County. We want to continue to provide the climate, environmental and economic benefits of clean wind power through 2018 until repowering.”

The three supervisors who approved the extension echoed Koebbe’s remarks. Supervisor Richard Valle said he sides with jobs over birds. Twenty-three of AWI’s employees have 27 children, he said, basing that on a 1.2 child-per-parent ratio.

“Not too many people spoke for those children,” he said. “Their mothers and fathers lose their jobs if AWI does not get their permits. Those are important numbers. I care about the environment, jobs, people, clean water. As of now my office has received over 75 emails, letters and phone calls from constituents asking us to save birds and golden eagles in the Altamont. Very few calls have come in about saving these children’s parents’ jobs.”

Cause of death skeptics

Supervisor Nate Miley spoke for 15 minutes defending the three-year extension for AWI’s wind farm. He’s skeptical that the turbine blades are causing bird deaths.

“I think everyone agrees that wind power is a good thing,” Miley said. “I don’t think there’s any disputing that. So what people are saying is that AWI is responsible for the avian mortalities. And I just find that incredulous. Because even when the turbines are turned off [in the winter], the birds are still dying. So I don’t understand why folks are putting all of that responsibility on AWI. It baffles me.

“I’ve been on the side of supporting environmental issues. But I’ve also been on the side of supporting labor. I respect people’s right to advocate for their positions. I have a responsibility as an elected official to try to balance the equities and look at what I think is in the public good. And if I can’t make a determination that a company is responsible for all of the bird deaths that folks seem to attribute to them, it’s like you’re playing me for a fool. And I’m not going to be anybody’s fool.

“Wind power is a clean source of energy, and it’s green energy. I think some people would like to see us magically go from where our society is to a society that’s perfect, pure and no problems. I’d like to see that in the city of Oakland where we don’t have any pathologies or shootings or muggings or anything like that. When my constituents who live in east Oakland can take the bars off their windows and feel comfortable walking the streets at night and in the evening. I’d like to wave a magic wand and make that happen. But we’ve got to get there incrementally.”

Wilma Chan, one of the two supervisors who voted against the extension, believes AWI has been too slow to fix its problems.

“I’m not trying to point a finger at AWI,” she said. “I don’t know the number of bird deaths. But I think everyone in this room does agree that repowering is an acceptable practice in reducing bird deaths. I would have preferred if we were going to extend, that we do it for a shorter period of time. Because I don’t think there’s been enough progress. This has been going on for 10 years.”

Campaign contributions

The supervisors who voted for the extension may have been influenced by campaign contributions, according to a Contra Costa Times article. Since 2006 AWI has contributed $19,750 to board chair Scott Haggerty, $5,306 to Miley and $764 to Valle. The supervisors and a company official denied any connection between the contributions and the extension approval.

Originally published on CalWatchdog.com

2015 Job Killers — CalChamber Releases Its Preliminary Report

The California Chamber of Commerce yesterday released a preliminary list of “job killer” bills to call attention to the negative impact that 16 proposed measures would have on California’s job climate and economic recovery, should they become law.

Although we will be opposing a number of bills throughout this year, the ‘job killer’ list represents the worst of the worst. These proposals will unnecessarily increase costs on California employers that will likely lead to a loss of jobs.

The list is preliminary. We expect to add more bills to the list in the coming weeks as legislation is amended, and we will periodically release “job killer” watch updates as legislation changes. Please track the status of “job killer” bills on www.cajobkillers.com or by following @CAJobKillers on Twitter. 

Here is the preliminary list of 2015 “job killer” bills:

Increased Labor Costs

AB 357 (Chiu; D-San Francisco) Predictable Scheduling Mandate/Protected Leave of Absence — Imposes an unfair, one-size fits all, two-week notice scheduling mandate on certain employers that perform retail sales activity, and penalizes these employers with “additional pay” for making changes to the schedule with less than two weeks notice, and additionally imposes an unlimited, protected leave of absence from work as well as a broad new protected class of employees who are receiving public assistance or have an identified family member receiving such assistance.

SB 3 (Leno; D-San Francisco/ Leyva; D-Chino) Automatic Minimum Wage Increase— Unfairly increases’ employers costs while ignoring the economic factors or other costs of employers by increasing the minimum wage by $3.00 over the next two and a half years with automatic increases tied to inflation.

SB 406 (Jackson; D-Santa Barbara) Significant Expansion of California Family Rights Act — Creates less conformity with federal law by dramatically reducing the employee threshold from 50 to less than 5 employees and expanding the family members for whom leave may be taken, which will provide a California-only, separate 12 week protected leave of absence on both small and large employers to administer, thereby increasing costs and risk of litigation.

Increased Fuel Costs

SB 350 (de León; D-Los Angeles) Costly and Burdensome Regulations — Potentially increases costs and burdens on all Californians by mandating an arbitrary and unrealistic reduction of petroleum use by 50%, increasing the current Renewable Portfolio Standard to 50% and increasing energy efficiency in buildings by 50% all by 2030 without regard to the impact on individuals, jobs and the economy.

Tax Increases

ACA 4 (Frazier; D-Oakley) Lowers Vote Requirement for Tax Increases — Adds complexity and uncertainty to the current tax structure and pressure to increase taxes on commercial, industrial and residential property owners by giving local governments new authority to enact special taxes, including parcel taxes, by lowering the vote threshold from two-thirds to 55%.

SB 684 (Hancock; D-Berkeley) Increased Tax Rate — Threatens to significantly increase the corporate tax rate on publicly held corporations and financial institutions up to 15% according to the wages paid to employees in the United States, and threatens to increase that rate by 50% thereafter, if the corporation or institution reduces its workforce in the United States and simultaneously increases its contractors.

SCA 5 (Hancock; D-Berkeley) Lowers Vote Requirement for Tax Increases — Adds complexity and uncertainty to the current tax structure and pressure to increase taxes on commercial, industrial and residential property owners by giving local governments new authority to enact special taxes, including parcel taxes, by lowering the vote threshold from two-thirds to 55%.

Increased Burdensome Environmental Regulation

AB 356 (Williams; D-Santa Barbara) Limits In-State Energy Development — Jeopardizes high paying middle class jobs in resource extraction fields by severely restricting wastewater injections sites and requiring unnecessary monitoring of those sites.

AB 1490 (Rendon; D-Lakewood) Limits In-State Energy Development — Drives up fuel prices and energy prices by imposing a de facto moratorium on well stimulation activities by halting the activity after an  earthquake of a magnitude 2.0 or higher.

SB 32 (Pavley; D-Agoura Hills) Halts Economic Growth — Increases costs for California businesses, makes them less competitive and discourages economic growth by adopting further greenhouse gas emission reductions for 2030 and 2050 without regard to the impact on individuals, jobs and the economy.

Increased Health Care Costs

SB 546 (Leno; D-San Francisco) Health Care Rate Regulation — Threatens employers with higher premiums and interferes with their ability to negotiate with health plans by imposing unnecessary and burdensome new reporting requirements on health plans and insurers in the large group market, and giving the Department of Managed Health Care and the Department of Insurance authority to modify or deny all rate changes in the large group market.

Economic Development Barriers

AB 359 (Gonzalez; D-San Diego) Costly Employee Retention Mandate — Inappropriately alters the employment relationship and increases frivolous litigation by allowing a private right of action and by requiring any successor grocery employer to retain employees of the former grocery employer for 90 days and continue to offer continued employment unless the employees’ performance during the 90-day period was unsatisfactory.

SB 576 (Leno; D-San Francisco) Stifles Mobile Application Technology Development — Stifles innovation and growth in the mobile application economy and creates unnecessary and costly litigation by mandating unnecessary, redundant and impractical requirements that will leave many current and future mobile applications unusable, with no benefit to the consumer.

Increased Unnecessary Litigation Costs

AB 244 (Eggman; D-Stockton) Private Right of Action Exposure — Jeopardizes access to credit for home mortgages, increasing the challenge to attract business to California because of high housing prices, by extending the homeowner’s bill of rights to others, thereby opening the door to more private rights of action.

AB 465 (Hernández; D-West Covina) Increased Litigation — Significantly drives up litigation costs for all California employers as well as increases pressure on the already-overburdened judicial system by precluding mandatory employment arbitration agreements, which is likely pre-empted by the Federal Arbitration Act.

SB 203 (Monning; D-Carmel) Lawsuit Exposure — Exposes beverage manufacturers and food retailers to lawsuits, fines and penalties based on state-only labeling requirements for sugar-sweetened drinks.

 president and CEO of the California Chamber of Commerce

Originally published by Fox and Hounds Daily

Desalination Plants vs. Bullet Trains and Pensions

Current policy solutions enacted to address California’s water crisis provide an object lesson in how corruption masquerading as virtue is impoverishing the general population to enrich a handful of elites. Instead of building freeways, expanding ports, restoring bridges and aqueducts, and constructing dams, desalination plants, and power stations, California’s taxpayers are pouring tens of billions each year into public sector pension funds – who invest 90 percent of the proceeds out-of-state, and the one big construction project on the table, the $100M+ “bullet train,” fails to justify itself under virtually any credible cost/benefit analysis. Why?

The reason is because infrastructure, genuinely conceived in the public interest, lowers the cost of living. This in-turn causes artificially inflated asset values to fall, imperiling the solvency of pension funds – something that would force them to reduce benefits. Beneficial infrastructure is also a threat to crony capitalists who don’t want a business climate that attracts competitors. Affordable land, energy, and water encourage economic growth. Crony capitalists and public sector unions alike hide behind environmentalists, who oppose growth and development, all of it, everywhere – because no new developments, anywhere, suits their monopolistic interests. No wonder the only infrastructure vision still alive in California, the “bullet train,” is nothing more than a gigantic, tragic farce.

Urban Water Consumption is a Small Fraction of Total Water Use

Returning to the topic of water, a basic examination of the facts reveals the current drought to be a problem that could be easily solved, if it weren’t for powerful special interests who don’t want it to be solved, ever. Here’s a rough summary of California’s annual water use. In a dry year, around 150 million acre feet (MAF) fall onto California’s watersheds in the form of rain or snow, in a wet year, we get about twice that much. Most of that water either evaporates, percolates or eventually runs into the ocean. In terms of net water withdrawals, each year around 31 MAF are diverted for the environment, such as to guarantee fresh water inflow into the delta, 27 MAF are diverted for agriculture, and 6.6 MAF are diverted for urban use. Of the 6.6 MAF that is diverted for urban use, 3.7 MAF is used by residential customers, and the rest is used by industrial, commercial and government customers.

Put another way, we divert 65 million acre feet of water each year in California for environmental, agricultural and urban uses, and a 25 percent reduction in water usage by residential customers will save exactly 0.9 million acre feet – or 1.4 percent of our total statewide water usage. One good storm easily dumps ten times as much water onto California’s watersheds as we’ll save via a 25 percent reduction in annual residential water consumption.

California’s politicians can impose utterly draconian curbs on residential water consumption, and it won’t make more than a small dent in the problem. We have to increase the supply of water.

Desalination is An Affordable Option

water-desalinationOne way to increase California’s supply of fresh water is to build desalination plants. This technology is already in widespread use throughout the world, deployed at massive scale in Singapore, Israel, Saudi Arabia, Australia and elsewhere. One of the newest plants worldwide, the Sorek plant in Israel, cost $500 million to build and desalinates 627,000 cubic meters of water per day. That means that five of these plants, costing $2.5 billion to build, could desalinate 1.0 million acre feet per year. And since these modern plants, using 16″ diameter reverse osmosis filtration tubes, only require 5 kWh per cubic meter of desalinated water, it would only require a 700 megawatt power plant to provide sufficient energy to desalinate 1.0 million acre feet per year. Currently it takes about 300 megawatts for the Edmonston Pumping Plant to lift one MAF of water from the California aqueduct 1,926 ft (587 m) over the Tehachapi Mountains into the Los Angeles basin. And that’s just the biggest lift, the California aqueduct uses several pumping stations to transport water from north to south. So the net energy costs to desalinate water on location vs transporting it hundreds of miles are not that far apart.

The entire net urban water consumption on California’s “South Coast” (this includes all of Los Angeles and Orange County – over 13 million people) is 3.5 MAF. Desalination plants with capacity to supply 100 percent of the urban water required by Los Angeles and Orange counties would cost under $10 billion, and require 2.5 gigawatts of electric power. These power stations could also be built for under $10 billion.

Imagine that. For $20 billion in capital investment we could provide 100 percent of the fresh water required by nearly all of Southern California’s urban water users. For around $50 billion, 100 percent of California’s urban water requirements, statewide, could be financed – the desalination plants and the power stations.

California’s taxpayers are currently condemned to shell out at least 500 billion dollars over the next 20-30 years so a train that hardly anyone will ride will careen through expropriated land, and pension funds can invest 90 percent of their assets out-of-state so public sector employees can retire 10-15 years early with pensions that are 3-5 times greater than Social Security. For less than one-tenth of that amount, we can solve our water crisis by investing in desalination. Why not, environmentalists? We’re willing to carpet the land with solar farms, exterminate raptors with the blades of wind turbines, and incinerate the rain forests to grow palm oil – all financed by selling carbon emission permits. Why not disburse brine offshore, where the California current will disburse it far more efficiently than any desalination plant situated on the Mediterranean Sea?

Another way to solve California’s urban water crisis is to recycle 100% of indoor water. Quaternary treatment, where water from sewage is purified and sent back upstream for reuse, is another proven technology already in limited use throughout California. In theory, not one drop of indoor water use can be wasted, since all of it can be reused.

And, of course, imagine how quickly California’s water crisis could be solved if farmers could sell their water allotments to urban water agencies. As it is, myriad restrictions largely prevent them from exercising this option, even though many of them could profitably sell their water allotments and make more than they make farming the crop. Do we really need to grow rice in the Mojave desert to export to China?

Environmentalists alone are not powerful enough to stop Californians from acting to increase water supply. Powerful government unions, pension funds, and anti-competitive corporate interests all have a stake in perpetuating artificial scarcity and authoritarian remedies. It suits them because it consolidates their power, and ensures they get a bigger slice of a smaller pie.

*   *   *

Ed Ring is the executive director of the California Policy Center.

Carly Fiorina blames environmentalists for California drought

As reported by Politico:

Carly Fiorina is blaming liberal environmentalists for what she calls a “man-made” drought in California.

“It is a man-made disaster,” Fiorina, who is “seriously considering” a run for president in 2016, told the Blaze Radio on Monday.

“California is a classic case of liberals being willing to sacrifice other people’s lives and livelihoods at the altar of their ideology. It’s a tragedy.”

The former Hewlett-Packard CEO, a Republican, ran for a California Senate seat in 2010 against incumbent Democrat Barbara Boxer and lost. Now, the state is facing …

Click here to read the full article

California Cannot Conserve or Over-Regulate Way out of Drought

This week Governor Jerry Brown proclaimed that “a historic drought calls for unprecedented action,” when handing down the latest executive order instating mandatory statewide water restrictions aimed at conserving 1.5 million acre feet of water over the next nine months.

This ambitious “first-time-in-state-history” action and goal is admirable, one I wish can be achieved. But do more laws or in this case, a set of 31-point executive directives, create or even free up more water?

ResevoirA suggested goal of 20 percent reduction of water use last year was never achieved, despite gallant efforts made by communities statewide.

So now, well into the fourth year of drought, the governor now ups the ante with a 25 percent statewide conservation mandate. In doing so, he has opened the door for a myriad of programs, restrictions and regulations to be administered by the bureaucratic, increasingly powerful and gubernatorial-appointed State Water Resource Control Board (SWRCB).

Heat index charts and pictures of empty reservoirs and barren Sierras emphasize the need for all of us to conserve; respecting the resource and what it does in our lives remains essential.

But the ongoing preoccupation on the rules, rule breakers and potential punishment is nothing more than a distraction. While treating the symptoms of drought are important, what must really occur is a concerted effort to cure the disease – in California this means dilapidated infrastructure, undersized reserves, ineffective water policy and dysfunctional, non-scientific environmental regulations.

What is certain is that Governor Brown’s latest executive order clearly expands the authority of the SWRCB over all surface and ground water use, health, data, movement, pricing, program enforcement and punishment. Regional and community water authorities are now left scrambling to develop as yet unknown compliant water management criteria to avoid unknown penalties. But the most powerful tool for the SWRCB lies in its authority to determine beneficial use. This means the board gets to decide what water can be used where, when and how on a case by case basis.

The order imposes requirements on farm water users; ratcheting up farm water use reporting mandates, the failure of which is punishable by the state.

Suspending reality, environmental activists issued statements slamming the order for exempting agriculture from 25 percent conservation requirements. They ignore the fact that farmers have been hit hard repeatedly over the past four years and have met their conservation requirements.

Receiving zero percent of their water right last year, on farm conservation practices implemented during this historic drought included:

  • Fallowing approximately 800,000 acres of fields
  • Downsizing 17,100 employees
  • Increasing consumer prices on domestic produce by estimated 10-25 percent, and taking a 4% loss in production value.

Asking a farmer to conserve 25 percent of zero, while you can’t figure out what day to turn your sprinklers on, , is an insult to your intelligence, not theirs.

Zero from zero is zero.

All these orders and actions are like the proverbial image of rearranging deck chairs on the Titanic. You can’t put a bandage on a gashed jugular and expect to survive. Our crisis won’t be avoided by conserving, we must tackle the problem head-on if California is to provide equitable and reliable water supplies to families, farms and fish.

The real question is “what kind of future does California want to have?” One that continues the tradition of the last century, fostering innovation and growth or one that says the Golden State’s glory days are past, so simply maintain status quo. Establishing water supply reliability provides opportunity for prosperity and growth for all.

True power doesn’t come from regulation, but from solutions and commonsense.

To provide an equitable and reliable clean water supply to all water users – farm, urban and environmental – the state and federal officials must address:

1)    California’s grossly dilapidated and inadequate water infrastructure statewide – including storage, recycling, and access,

2)    Revamp our 50-year-old water and environmental protection policies to accurately identify and address our 21st century concerns. We need to employ 21st Century science, technology and modeling tools to achieve attainable and sustainable results for the health of all California.

Conservation and regulation sound good at a press event. But the reality is those approaches are woefully inadequate at solving California’s root problems.

Aubrey Bettencourt is Executive Director, California Water Alliance

Originally published by Fox and Hounds Daily

An Engineered Drought

California governor Jerry Brown had little choice but to issue a belated, state-wide mandate to reduce water usage by 25 percent. How such restrictions will affect Californians remains to be seen, given the Golden State’s wide diversity in geography, climate, water supply and demography.

We do know two things. First, Brown and other Democratic leaders will never concede that their own opposition in the 1970s (when California had about half its present population) to the completion of state and federal water projects, along with their more recent allowance of massive water diversions for fish and river enhancement, left no margin for error in a state now home to 40 million people. Second, the mandated restrictions will bring home another truth as lawns die, pools empty, and boutique gardens shrivel in the coastal corridor from La Jolla to Berkeley: the very idea of a 20-million-person corridor along the narrow, scenic Pacific Ocean and adjoining foothills is just as unnatural as “big” agriculture’s Westside farming. The weather, climate, lifestyle, views, and culture of coastal living may all be spectacular, but the arid Los Angeles and San Francisco Bay-area megalopolises must rely on massive water transfers from the Sierra Nevada, Northern California, or out-of-state sources to support their unnatural ecosystems.

Now that no more reservoir water remains to divert to the Pacific Ocean, the exasperated Left is damning “corporate” agriculture (“Big Ag”) for “wasting” water on things like hundreds of thousands of acres of almonds and non-wine grapes. But the truth is that corporate giants like “Big Apple,” “Big Google,” and “Big Facebook” assume that their multimillion-person landscapes sit atop an aquifer. They don’t—at least, not one large enough to service their growing populations. Our California ancestors understood this; they saw, after the 1906 earthquake, that the dry hills of San Francisco and the adjoining peninsula could never rebuild without grabbing all the water possible from the distant Hetch Hetchy watershed. I have never met a Bay Area environmentalist or Silicon Valley grandee who didn’t drink or shower with water imported from a far distant water project.

The Bay Area remains almost completely reliant on ancient Hetch Hetchy water supplies from the distant Sierra Nevada, given the inability of groundwater pumping to service the Bay Area’s huge industrial and consumer demand for water. But after four years of drought, even Hetch Hetchy’s huge Sierra supplies have only about a year left, at best. Again, the California paradox: those who did the most to cancel water projects and divert reservoir water to pursue their reactionary nineteenth-century dreams of a scenic, depopulated, and fish-friendly environment enjoy lifestyles predicated entirely on the fragile early twentieth-century water projects of the sort they now condemn.

It’s now popular to deride California agriculture in cost-benefit terms, given that its share of state GNP (anywhere from 4 percent to 8 percent, depending on how one counts related industries) supposedly does not justify its huge allotted consumption of state water (anywhere from 65 percent to 80 percent). But note the irony: California supplies a staggering percentage of the nation’s fresh vegetables and fruits; it’s among the most efficient producers in the world of beef, dairy, and staple crops. One can purchase an iPhone 6 or a neat new Apple watch, but he still must eat old-fashioned, pre-tech food. There are no calories in Facebook, and even Google can’t supply protein. On the other hand, I can live without an iPad. Who is to say which industry is essential and which isn’t? Insulin and antibiotic production constitute a micro-percentage of GDP, but is their water usage less important than Twitter’s? Is a biologist who studies bait-fish populations in the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta really more important than a master tractor driver whose skill gives broccoli to thousands?

We’re suffering the ramifications of the “small is beautiful,” “spaceship earth” ideology of our cocooned elites. Californians have adopted the ancient peasant mentality of a limited good, in which various interests must fight it out for the always scarce scraps. Long ago we jettisoned the can-do visions of our agrarian forebears, who knew California far better than we do and trusted nature far less. Now, like good peasants, we are at one another’s throats for the last drops of a finite supply.

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.

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

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

Prison Time For ‘Environmental Crimes’ Has Doubled In 4 Years

In 2014, the Environmental Protection Agency charged 187 defendants with environmental crimes and sentenced offenders to a combined 155 years of jail time. That’s more than double the amount of jail time eco-offenders were sentenced to in 2010, according agency data.

The EPA, however, charged significantly fewer people for environmental crimes in 2014 compared to 2010, reflecting the agency’s strategy of going after larger, more lucrative criminal and civil cases.

“By taking on large, high impact enforcement cases, EPA is helping to level the playing field for companies that play by the rules, while maximizing our ability to protect the communities we serve across the country,” Cynthia Giles, head of the EPA’s Office of Enforcement and Compliance Assurance, said in a statement.

EPA data shows the agency raked forced companies and other offenders to pay $9.7 billion in actions and to pay for “equipment to control pollution and clean up contaminated sites” as well as $163 million in civil penalties and criminal fines. The agency also got offenders to pay $453.7 million to clean up Superfund sites.

EPA enforcement actions resulted in 141 million pound reduction in of air pollutants and a 337 million pound reduction in water pollutants, according to agency data. Enforcement actions also cleaned up 856 million cubic yards of contaminated aquifers.

“Despite challenges posed by budget cuts and a government shutdown, we secured major settlements in key industry sectors and brought criminal violators to justice,” Giles said. “This work resulted in critical investments in advanced technologies and innovative approaches to reduce pollution and improve compliance.”

But probably EPA’s most startling statistic is its more than doubling of prison sentencing for environmental criminals in the last four years. In 2010, the EPA successfully charged 289 defendants, garnering 72 years in prison sentences.

Jail time for offenders has now doubled to 155 years among a successfully convicted group of only 187 defendants.

So who were some of the top environmental criminals of 2014?

Mark Kamholz, the environment control manager at the Tonawanda Coke Corporation, was convicted of violating the Clean Air Act and other federal laws and sentenced to one year in prison, 100 hours of community service and a $20,000 fine.

All this for “releasing coke oven gas containing benzene into the air through an unreported pressure relief valve” and because a coke-quenching tower did not have federally mandated pollution control technology, says EPA. Kamholz order another employee to conceal the fact a pressure valve was releasing pollutants into the air.

The Tonawanda Coke Corporation was hit with fines as well. The company was forced to pay a $12.5 million penalty and pay $12.2 million in community service payments for violating federal environmental laws. The EPA says this is “one of the largest fines ever levied in an air pollution case involving a federal criminal trial.”

Ohio waste disposal company owner Benedict Lupo was sentenced to two years in prison and a $25,000 fine for ordering his employees to dump waste from hydraulic fracturing operations into a tributary of the Mahoning River. Lupo illegally dumped fracking waste into the tributary 30 times in 2012 and 2013, having his employees dump the waste at night when nobody else was around.

Robert Lewis, a hazardous waste transporter, was sentenced to 10 months in federal prison for illegally storing hazardous waste in a self-storage facility in Macon, Georgia. He also illegally stored waste in Rex, Georgia and at his home in Albany.

And finally, Benjamin Pass, the owner of a recycling business, was sentenced to 42 months in prison and forced to pay $21 million in fines for “mishandling of used oil contaminated with polychlorinated biphenyls (PCB) that led to widespread contamination and millions of dollars in clean-up costs.” Pass also fined $539,000 for not paying incomes between 2002 and 2011.

This article was originally published by the Daily Caller News Foundation