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Sunday, October 26, 2014

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The past year has seen a lot of action on Community Choice Aggregation, and Local Power Inc. continues to rake in good press on our leadership. Next month I will join the manager of California's largest PACE program Renewables LLC and SolarCity at NorCal Solar to talk about the emergence of CCA as a revolutionary platform for solar development. In California, some ten counties are now actively preparing CCA programs for implementation as San Francisco's Local Agency Formation Commission completes a peer review of the business case and program design that LPI completed for the City last year. Meanwhile, Sonoma Clean Power, which is the state's second CCA to come online, just announced that it has doubled the amount of solar photovoltaics online countywide in a single stroke of the pen, signing a contract to install seventy megawatts. Nationally, I just returned from a speaking tour of New York State and Montana, where CCA has attracted the attention of both activists and policymakers. In New York, where last year's hurricane devastated the state with flooding, power disruptions and a doubling of Winter rates, Governor Cuomo has installed new leadership at the New York Public Service Commission with orders to find the best ways to implement distributed energy resources - the so-called Reforming the Energy Vision (REV) proceeding. Prompted by local activist group Citizens for Local Power, LPI prepared CCA legislation for New York state earlier this year, and the PSC appears to be interested in CCA as a platform for distributed energy resources to  enhance local energy resiliency. Finally, CCA continues to grow at a record pace throughout New Jersey, Massachusetts, Illinois and Ohio, promising yet another year of dramatic growth, with growing recognition of its radical potential to open the market for distributed generation, energy efficiency, storage, and microgrids. Today, some five percent of Americans receive their service from Community Choice Aggregation: it is thinkable that this figure will reach ten percent in the near future, making CCA a significant and permanent element in the American energy system. To review recent articles, sign up for updates or twitter feeds, check out Local Power's news page.  If you prefer facebook, connect with me here.

Thursday, November 21, 2013

California Gets Second CCA - Sonoma Clean Power Blows Past Marin on Local Power



I am pleased to announce that it is official: California finally has a Community Choice Aggregation with a focus on energy localization, as applauded by an editorial of the local daily (PD Editorial: "The promise of local power contracts"). Local Power Inc. spent many years helping Sonoma county and the Sonoma County Water Agency design this program with significant funding from the California Energy Commission.
We collected a mass of PG&E data and other government data, and used the data to come up with a localization regime for Sonoma county, which reached a localized portfolio of 67% by 2015), including a significant portion of power from a local Geysers geothermal expansion.

Sonoma Clean Power officials say the three-year contract will allow them to be competitive with rates by Pacific Gas and Electric Co., according to a Santa Rosa Press Democrat article, in a 10-year deal with a subsidiary of Calpine Corp. that will "fulfill their promise to spur local green energy generation and support local jobs." The deal will account for 15 percent of the agency’s overall supply as it begins rolling out to customers next year, and will make up for a little under half of the agency’s initial renewable energy portfolio according to the Press Democrat , which quoted Sonoma Clean Power's statement that "the power venture’s political standing, if not its business future, depends on staying true to that mission. “This is a really good start. I think it gives us credibility,” said Sebastopol Mayor Michael Kyes, an agency board member who has pushed for pursuit of local power. Another Sonoma Clean Power board member, Supervisor Shirlee Zane noted, the county wants the company “to expand as we expand and create those local jobs.”

We at Local Power Inc. are very pleased that a CCA has finally gone beyond the Marin-type green supply business model, and to include a first step of localization - signing a long-term agreement with an existing local renewable power operator to expand its capacity. This is an example of a CCA telling the market what it wants rather than asking what it can have.

While Marin has improved a great deal on PG&E in terms of greener power at the same price, with a 50% renewable mix that is price competitive with PG&E's 20% renewable mix, it has limited it self to a more conventional old business model based on CCAs pursing green power in other states like Ohio and Illinois, which have tended to focus on getting greener power content, or renewable energy credits.  The first CCA in California, Marin neglected local resources and imitated a supply-centric business model of power plant owners. Marin declared victory early without physically doing anything different - "The biggest change you'll never notice" was Marin Energy Authority's marketing campaign, though approval of the agency was achieved with a promise of localization. Three years later, no significant localization has been delivered - as of today, the agency's web site's "Local Power" page refers to a single solar array at the airport.

The Sonoma CCA's motto is "Local. Renewable. Yours."  With its commitment to true localization in physical plant and customer ownership, Sonoma has provided needed leadership to other CCAs now investigating or pursuing green power strategies among 1300 municipalities and 5% of the U.S. population under CCA service, most coming online in the past few years. Sonoma Clean Power will produce local green jobs, cause local tax revenues, achieve major regional greenhouse gas reductions, enhance local resilience and permanently eliminate energy dependency upon remote grid-based resources. These are mainstream, national policy goals.

San Francisco will hopefully provide additional leadership for Sonoma on direct financing and development of new local projects. Sonoma was blessed with a no-brainer low-cost resource with a willing operator, Calpine. So some will say "that was easy" because a high-capacity, low-cost resource is so conspicuously available in Sonoma county. But the truth is,  every city and county has a number of local renewable resources - solar, wind, wave, river, and most important - energy efficiency measures.

San Francisco is still debating how to get local build-out into it portfolio, where Local Power Inc.'s analysis has indicated a combination of energy efficiency solar photovoltaics, wind, battery storage, and other technologies will achieve the full "CCA 2.0" business model - building rather than buying more of your power. Sonoma's deal with Calpine is an important step forward by purchasing power from an in-county facility, and Sonoma Clean Power has indicated it plans to issue revenue bonds, like San Francisco, to actually finance and build new local renewable resources. San Francisco's voter approved the Solar Bonds a decade ago - "solar neighborhoods" being a cornerstone of CleanPowerSF since the beginning.

Defensively, Marin Energy Authority's staff have criticized Local Power Inc. for pushing so hard for localization and local green development to be central to CCA, claiming it was smarter to "start with baby steps" and implying that localization itself is the problem. So, with Sonoma's decision to go local, we are vindicated that localization is both technically and economically feasible in any of the 1300 CCA municipalities in America today, and we are grateful for the leadership of Sonoma municipalities and county, water agency staff and Sonoma activists, in particular the Climate Action Campaign, for getting us a step further towards The Real Thing. Next - look to San Francisco!

Thursday, August 1, 2013

San Francisco Turns the Corner as CleanPowerSF In-City Buildout Strategy Takes Hold

San Francisco – August 1.  I am pleased to report that CleanPowerSF has achieved an important new program realignment for the City's Community Choice Aggregation (CCA) program, which became evident when the City's new CCA Director presented an updated CleanPowerSF business model and strategy to members of San Francisco's Public Utilities Commission and Local Agency Formation Commission -  re-centering CleanPowerSF's focus on building local renewable power generation and efficiency in the City to serve local demand, using the CCA's ability to augment revenue bonds to finance the new infrastructure based on CCA ratesetting authority and substantial annual revenues. While there remain improvements to be made, and important weigh-in from the Board of Supervisors on the amount of revenue bonds to be issued, this is major news for Local Power, and we want to register this judgement publicly.

At a July 9 joint hearing of the two key Commissions governing and operating CleanPowerSF, including several city supervisors, CCA Director Kim Malcolm outlined a return to the original concept of CCA as a means to build distributed local renewables at scale, reducing consumption to repay solar bonds from the surplus. “Unlike Marin, San Francisco was conceived as a build-out program as well as a procurement service to customers.” explained Ms. Malcolm in the televised meeting. “So it is a little bit different business model and they have different circumstances.”

California’s first CCA, the Marin Energy Authority, is primarily focused on greener power procurement, or the purchase of greener electricity from suppliers the grid. But the City's CCA Director confirmed that San Francisco will focus the City's competitive electricity program on building local renewable power in San Francisco neighborhoods, in effect adopting Local Power's strategy and program design including numerous related recommendations Local Power made to SFPUC staff and Commissioners earlier this year.

Fortunately, Local Power's business model is starting to take hold in California. A similar focus on localization is being pursued north of Marin in Sonoma County's CCA, where a newly formed county/city-led joint powers agency, Sonoma Clean Power, has already been formed and held its first meeting last week, already including 2/3 of the countywide energy demand eligible to receive the service. Local Power Inc. also had a major role in helping the County and its water agency define the feasibility and strategy of energy localization, collecting and analyzing PG&E data for the county, and defining the economic feasibility of localization in Sonoma County, as a partner with the county water agency and data collector/manager for all of Sonoma's local governments.

In San Francisco, the July 9 joint hearing of SFPUC and SFLAFCO commissioners is a significant shift from previous staff’s earlier focus on procurement, a strategy that can give the City more control of energy it buys as to its GHG content, but would have been too expensive to afford investment in local resources that are needed to make the leap-of-business-plan, from a supply-based to a demand-based financial structure for the City - critical to delivering on the potential of Community Choice. CCA Director Malcolm's change is an important indication that CleanPowerSF will stay on track to meet the neighborhood solar innovation by San Francisco supporters and activists for more than a decade - and will finally answer the mandate of San Francisco voters when they approved the City’s solar finance authority, Proposition H - the "Neighborhood Solar Initiative" which has remained a key component of CleanPowerSF's "build-it approach," in 2001.

Local Power Inc. pioneered the CCA model, writing both the original state laws in California and Massachusetts, and San Francisco's unique local revenue bond charter authority that LPI conceived and drafted as an upgrade to our original CCA model - allowing purchasing aggregations to build and purchase power from their own local renewable facilities. We draft a plethora of ordinances, plans, studies, program design, and specifications in many hundreds of pages, since the original CCA ordinance was adopted and signed by Mayor Newsom in 2004. All along we have asserted that a substantial localization is economically feasible with competitive rates. We are glad to have won a contract to prove this mathematically to SFPUC, so that our change of business model - CCA 2.0 - can replicate and transform the energy industry. Local Power Inc. has proven in our deliverables to SFPUC that a $1B investment will deliver a $600M return in investment to the City, at rate parity. Were we allowed to complete a final draft of this model, we anticipated based on our many runs of the data that even greater localization at rate parity is economically feasible. With all the conjectural journalism, PR wars and straight propaganda surrounding CleanPowerSF, it is hard for people to know what is really going on. The answer is: pretty damn good, and I don't say that casually.

(Download summary version of Local Power Inc.'s work for CleanPowerSF - publicly released by SFPUC here in PDF format).

SFPUC’s response to Local Power's input is a significant starting point with the agreement to start building at launch. The question is obviously how large - we said $1B over 10 years. A substantial local build-out component as part of the program launch – $200M is a substantial amount for the first few years of startup based on limited initial participating customers, but the annual revenue bond issuance schedule for planning a decade of development, $1B is not so outrageously large an amount. The number of $200M should therefore rise if we are implementing a citywide program - not just a permanent startup.

Moreover, the decision to actually issue bonds must be the Board of Supes and Mayor, says the Charter (9.107.8). Therefore, it is appropriate that the Board of Supervisors and Mayor deliberate and hold hearings on an ordinance authorizing H bonds in coming months.  If Supervisors are uncomfortable with $1B of local investment, other supplemental public investments might be considered from Pension Funds currently being divested from fossil investments, and other supplemental options exist to get CleanPowerSF's In-City Buildout to the scale that is both possible and called for by the citizens of the City when they approved the H Bond "neighborhood solar" authority.

In its work for SFPUC completed in March, LPI recommended $1B in investment for extensive solar roofs, wind, extensive efficiency measures, and co-generation.  SFPUC staff claims a debt capacity of $200M for localization even at year 2.5. In our view, this is a policy matter - it just a question of how much city leaders will authorize in H Bonds to deliver on the true promise of CCA to accelerate localization.

I responded to the news by saying that while staff mentioned a lesser investment capacity of $200M, this is a start. Now the Board of Supervisors and SFPUC Commission may consider providing guidance to accelerate offering service citywide to any eligible resident or business, in order to raise more revenue and increase debt-carrying capacity.  Mentioning $200M  of H Bond carrying capacity and starting Buildout at launch indicates staff have internalized the need to make localization the integral focus of CleanPowerSF - unlike in Marin and other CCAs, where the focus was more on Renewable Energy Credits, with the supplier (Shell) more in control. Getting it right from the start – which is launching the In-City Buildout from day one – is the key to achieving real, scaled change with CleanPowerSF. From Local Power’s perspective, this is a welcome shift on part of CCA Director Malcolm, and vindicates the work my company did for the City even though our recommendations may have seemed controversial to some staff members when we submitted and presented to the SFPUC Commission and Rate Fairness Board, but not yet at the Board of Supervisors, which under the Charter must authorize H Bonds by ordinance.

The City's renewed focus on the in-city build-out from day one, is an auspicious starting point on the scale that is needed for CCA to be realized.  Locally generated clean power on a City-wide scale is a new kind of power which departs from the highly centralized model of traditional utilities. Energy localization - local ownership, local renewable generation and energy efficiency, means that CleanPowerSF will take a behind-the-meter approach to energy service, and this is the essential leap required to stop imitating conventional supply side utilities.  The model also establishes local control, community energy security and permanent energy independence – unlike strictly green supply products that “monetize” benefits to other parties but do not change physical supply.

Community Choice Aggregation has exploded around the country over the past two years, now resulting in some 1200 cities across the country pursuing the aggregation strategy as a means to dramatically reduce greenhouse gas emissions with little to no impact on rates.  Local Power Inc. started this movement and has worked tirelessly for two decades to realize its potential as a game-changer to mainstream decentralized, customer-owned renewable technologies.

SFPUC staff and commissioners’ statements include the following related changes:
  • Most importantly, the In-City Buildout will begin at program launch rather than waiting until later. SFPUC predicts the CCA revenue alone will provide a $200M bonding capacity over 2.5 years. Staff are preparing an In-City Buildout map. 
  • Accordingly, SFPUC announced that the GoSolar program to be integrated as a component of CleanPowerSF, bringing financing for customers into the service’s business model. SFPUC assures that In-City Buildout funds are assured, and that the program has headroom for reducing the rates further.
  • As Local Power strongly recommended, SFPUC also changed its procurement strategy, both in terms of Renewable Portfolio definition and in terms of getting lower prices from Shell so that surpluses are created for H Bond financing of localization. 
  • SFPUC took our advice to renegotiate lower prices with Shell and use lower cost RECs to reduce cost while focusing investment on In-City Buildout. SFPUC renegotiated with Shell and reduced “not-to-exceed” rates to 11.5 cents, but expects it could set rate comfortable under 11 cents. With PG&E at nine cents CleanPowerSF is within striking distance of a competitive rate. Expected CleanPowerSF bills are now within a couple of dollars of PG&E’s proposed all-REC tariff, and some are calling on the Commission to meet-or-beat the tariff. 
  • SFPUC staff have finally taken LPI's recommendations that SFPUC use city-owned hydroelectric power at Hetch Hetchy to reduce costs and fossil power dependence in the community’s power portfolio. They agreed that to accomplish this they need to build up the agency's transmission scheduling capability internally. LPI also recommended that the SFPUC create new in-house expertise in Behind-the-Meter renewable generation projects, demand response and energy efficiency applications, presently seeking a full-time manager to advance the critical behind-the-meter opportunities identified by LPI in our work for the SFPUC - the very opportunities that unlock decentralized energy as "baseload-quality" infrastructure.  

Thursday, July 11, 2013

California CCA Count Rises to 3 Counties in Bay Area - 10 Counties Statewide

Sonoma County has formed the third Community Choice Aggregation in California, joining some 1200 municipalities nationwide now under CCA service. Sonoma Clean Power, whose local towns have already joined 2/3 of countywide electricity demand, will be larger than Marin Clean Energy to the south, and rival San Francisco's CleanPowerSF program in scale. Like San Francisco, Sonoma is strongly focused on energy localization in addition to greener power - on local green jobs, local business benefits, and augmenting local solar finance.

Now there is a new generation of counties all over California, from Del Norte to San Diego, that are in varying stages of public hearings on CCA. The infographic representation of California counties above is based on actual population size. As you can see, Community Choice has already changed energy in California (and already has nationwide), but is about to become a major part of our electricity system.

We at Local Power are committed to making this movement Real - really focused on a demand-side approach, a change of business model from monopoly supply-centered to demand-centered and customer ownership-centered. With the emergence of localization-focused CCAs, we have achieved a huge leap from the green supply paradigm of the 1990's. This is the unique strategic opportunity of CCA in the U.S. - specifically of demand aggregation as a distinctively demand-centric. San Francisco and Sonoma recognize this opportunity, and we hope you understand how profound and unique an opportunity it is for those who want decisive, meaningful action on climate change, and want it now.

Local Power is proud to have played the part we have in shaping the progressive vision of the CCAs in Sonoma and San Francisco, and look forward to working with local officials in California, Illinois, Ohio, Massachusetts, and New Jersey - states where CCAs already serve 5% of the U.S. population. We feel that Community Choice has now earned the title of a national movement, and offers activists, communities, and policymakers in all states an unprecedented chance to achieve the kind of concerted effort and policy alignment that American was once known for - and the power of local government, more than any other public or private, to transform markets and build publicly needed infrastructure.

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

With San Francisco, a Whole New Environment in California Energy

The past two years have yielded a huge expansion of Community Choice Aggregation (CCA) from just a handful of CCAs in a couple of states into a national phenomenon including major cities like Cincinnati, Chicagoland, and  800 U.S. municipalities now under CCA service. The movement Local Power started has received a profound shot in the arm by recent approval to launch San Francisco's green power program, CleanPowerSF, in which Local Power has been deeply involved for over a decade and prepared many of the elements of the program. This is a long-awaited launch of a program that will have a profound impact on not just the growing California CCA movement but at the national energy policy level. San Francisco will provide intellectual leadership for a growing number of cities that see the logic not just of aggregation, but solar & efficiency finance, and green jobs.

San Francisco's ordinance to launch CleanPowerSF power service in Spring of 2013 also provides for the issuance of Requests for Proposals or RFPs - solicitations to developers of solar, wind, other renewable energy, energy efficiency, and other green technologies for rollout in San Francisco in the near-term (small footprint, easy to permit), medium-term larger projects, and long-term major projects requiring exhaustive state environmental permits. The In City RE/EE rollout will install a portfolio each year based on a financial model, deployment report and solicitation documents Local Power is now preparing for the San Francisco Public Utilities Commission, which operates CleanPowerSF.

An already vibrant movement for greener, more local power in states constituting 25% of the U.S. electricity market is now underway not only in Marin County, but also San Francisco, with dozens of local governments not far behind. Focused on scaled energy localization to make their community not just renewable but locally powered and customer-owned, CleanPowerSF starts with a small amount of power from a global conventional power provider. Our task is to advise the City on how the SFPUC may operate and control wholesale power procurement planned with decentralized demand reduction, in order to achieve a smooth citywide transition to local green power.

CleanPowerSF starts with a 100% renewable power service for a small initial group of early adopters (all residential 30 MW - less than 10% of the aggregated private sector), which will be followed by construction of a new, local, renewable infrastructure to power the CCA, while phasing in commercial customers and remaining residential customers citywide over the next couple of years.

Part of this focus is carbon. The San Francisco Public Utilities Commission's General Manager Ed Harrington spoke eloquently when he remarked to Supervisors that just Phase I of the CCA program (less than 10% of customers enrolled) will provide ten times the greenhouse gas reductions of all City policies of the past ten years combined, at a tiny fraction of the cost. But another rising criterion for municipalities is how to deliver green jobs today - the opportunity to get local jobs because the power generation is being brought to smaller local renewable developments. Localization creates local jobs because smaller companies can win this work, and local labor can be trained and prepared to work for these companies building here in the community.

Many other California communities are seeing green when they consider energy localization - not just global carbon reductions like CleanPowerSF or Marin Clean Energy on the other side of the Golden Gate. It is the green of monthly utility bill dollars not leaving the city or county. PG&E has claimed it is a "local company" compared to Shell North America. But it cannot compare itself to the city of San Francisco, which controls this program and intends to localize its energy supply using its solar "H" bond authority, both to build city-owned plants and to offer financing so San Francisco residents and businesses. This is localism in the true sense - not greenness defined by the logo or corporate identity of a wholesale power supplier like Green Mountain Energy, but greenness defined by  municipal financing, localization, and reducing our dependence on these companies through fundamental change.

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

PG&E's New Strategy to Stop CCA - Goldfinger Comes to Cali

Call it PG&E's "Goldfinger" strategy. Last week, Pacific Gas & Electric's manager of local government partnerships was sworn in as chairwoman of San Francisco's Democratic Party Central Committee (SFDCCC). Her name is Mary Jung. Read that again.

Indeed, PG&E's person in charge of dealing with the City of San Francisco on its energy partnership is now officially in charge of the SFDCCC. Thus, understand that as San Francisco approaches its final action to bypass PG&E under the City's longstanding Community Choice energy program known as CleanPowerSF, Ms. Jung is now in charge of the single committee that endorses San Francisco Democrats' local and state candidates for political office, and allocates SF Democratic Party campaign funds to those candidates.

The Community Choice (CCA) movement in Northern California appears to have caused energy giant PG&E to form an unprecedented new kind of political machine. Failing in its 2010 campaign for a corporate plebiscite to pre-empt the legislature's CCA law allowing California communities (half in PG&E service territory) to choose their energy supplies, the energy corporation is now systematically infiltrating key local and state political positions - positions that give it a disturbing new level of control in state and city politics. Caught ordering highest level staff to spy on energy activists, PG&E has recently asked a California Public Utilities Commission Administrative Law Judge for a protective order attempting to seal details of how the top management of PG&E infiltrated and spied on activists in the months following its failed 2010 proposition to block Community Choice in California.

Mary Jung's appointment signals more than just a new, more virulent PG&E machine, but also appears to outline a more insidious corporate strategy. The story of Jung's election reeks of political manipulation. Replacing the progressive former Board of Supervisors President Aaron Peskin, a leader for city progressives, who had retired from the post and did not seek re-election, a mysterious thing happened at the DCCC election meeting last week - a classic kind "accident by design": while many members of DCCC claim to be progressive Democrats, somehow nobody ran against Ms. Jung. An expected progressive challenger to the PG&E government partnership manager's campaign to chair the central committee somehow failed to formally announce candidacy at this meeting - and so, as if by mistake or some hard to imagine consensus, PG&E's government relations person has been unanimously voted chairwoman of San Francisco's Democratic Party Central Committee.

The San Francisco Examiner spinned the story of a takeover of the notoriously progressive committee by a "Moderate," and said nothing about the spectacle of badboy energy corporation PG&E's coup over San Francisco politics. The election of Mary Jung as SF Democratic Party chair would be merely disturbing were it not for the fact that California Jerry Brown's number two and shadow, Nancy McFadden, was hired away from PG&E as Senior Vice President of PG&E, and a woman personally in charge of blocking a major movement by its customers to win energy independence from PG&E under Community Choice Aggregation. Today both Sacramento and San Francisco appear to be under this corporation's political control.

The move signals what the new PG&E CEO calls "finding our way" again after the energy corporation's failed $60M 2010 campaign to block the Bay Area Community Choice movement's efforts (Proposition 16). Community Choice (CCA) is now active in cities and counties throughout PG&E's service territory - to depart from PG&E power to competitive suppliers, and to localize communities' power supplies through renewable energy and customer-owned efficiency measures. Assembly Member Jerry Hill wrote recently in the San Jose Mercury News that Californians should not be fooled by incoming CEO Anthony Earley's brand-new $10 M public relations campaign to make Californians think well again of PG&E, whose political attacks on CCA led to the early retirement of former CEO Peter Darbee after voters rejected Prop 16 by 300,000 votes.  PG&E had already spent hundreds of millions of dollars lobbying against and litigating against Community Choice Aggregations in San Francisco and Marin, not to mention Sonoma County and San Joaquin County, since the CCA law was adopted in 2002. Prop 16 masterminds Darbee and McFadden decided to roll the campaign donation dice and spent $60M to fool California voters into blocking CCAs with a two-thirds supermajority requirement before municipalities could implement - all across the state. It would have turned a decade-long state process to make CCA possible, and impose a Prop-13 style handcuffs on municipal energy in the state. After losing PG&E's record spending initiative against a hardly funded grassroots campaign of CCA activists at powergrab.info, CEO Peter Darbee wrote a concession letter to the public comparing himself to British Prime Minister Tony Blair, claimed to be working on high principles, and said PG&E would "respect the wishes of  voters." Is this what the new PG&E CEO meant in his new PR campaign claiming PG&E hat "lost its way"?

Because PG&E's "local government partnerships" provide its bastion against CCA programs (PG&E has made partnership funding dependent on not implementing CCA), Mary Jung's role in fighting CCA cannot be overstated, and her election to this post is deeply disturbing. As many other California counties (ironically awakened to CCA by Prop 16) are now moving to implement energy localizations (such as the counties of Alameda, Humboldt, Yolo, San Luis Obispo, and Santa Cruz), PG&E's strategy has in fact shifted to poisoning the regulatory environment for retail competition through state-sanctioned cost-shifting between generation costs and distribution costs to make CCA customers pay for generation costs even if they find new power suppliers.

That is not all. PG&E quietly won major reversals of state policy in the first months of the Brown administration. The company has persuaded Jerry Brown's CPUC Commissioners to undermine longstanding basic principles against cost shifting between customers, and California's only great achievement in conservation policy in the past quarter century - "smashing" the state's landmark conservation incentive system of block tier pricing early last year in the PG&E General Rate Case.  After orchestrating the 1996 deregulation bailout, 2000 energy crisis and subsequent bankruptcy bailout, bullying the CCA movement like a monolythic industrial nightmare, and leading the global nuclear industry revival, this energy corporation has infiltrated the highest levels of political power in Sacramento and San Francisco, even beyond the wildest dreams of Willie Brown. Meanwhile, the CCA Crimes Act, AB976, introduced by a PG&E affinity union, just passed the Senate Appropriations Committee, would create a special new crime in state law that only applies to CCA consultants (like Local Power Inc., my company, which created CCA), who work for a CCA in preparation for implementation of a local energy service, would be classified as criminal if it helped the same government implement that CCA program.

In short, PG&E's "new way" is to take it underground - not to play politics publicly, but secretively, as if to imitate not Tony Blair, but James Bond, or Goldfinger. Given PG&E's claims to have taken a new turn and reformed itself, following the assault it has already conducted against local and state government in recent years to block Community Choice, clearly there is a strong case here for illegal anti-competitive behavior under federal anti-trust laws, as well as evidence of the need to prevent this kind of political corruption from continuing to threaten the sovereignty of California's state and municipal democratic institutions.

Monday, June 25, 2012

800 Cities

I find my blog being reduced to the usual CEO announcements of exciting new evidence of a big new thing, but I must acknowledge being overwhelmed by events as Community Choice Aggregation lifts off into a major component of the United States electricity system. Last week, Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel announced his support of a CCA measure to be placed on the November 2012 ballot, just after the City of Cincinnati signed a 100% renewable mix (using RECs, but hey, wow) a couple of months before. San Francisco surges forth - a CCA in which Local Power Inc. is intimately involved - with a plan to go green not just with Renewable Energy Credit trading, but with rapid and major physical energy localization using the City's Charter Revenue Bond Authority to finance city-owned and customer-owned In City renewables. After so many years promoting this vision and outcome of CCA, its time appears to have arrived, with such a proliferation of CCAs nationwide that it has become challenging to announce each new CCA, or to even track their progress.

800 cities and growing  means that the CCA structure has taken off - broken green power records overnight, again and again. With the attention of the Environmental Protection Agency, which has given awards to two green CCAs in recent months (Marin Energy Authority, California and Evanston, Illinois), and the state of California, which will celebrate San Francisco as the first large scale implementation of Governor Brown's decentralist energy policy, CCA now looks likely to go statewide, with the Bay Area becoming a group of several large CCAs (Marin County, San Francisco, East Bay Municipal Utility District, and Sonoma County), and San Diego and countywide municipalities forming one or two CCAs down South. In Central California, three contiguous counties (San Luis Obispo, Santa Cruz, Monterey) will likely implement one or more CCAs regionally, and in Edison's service territory Rancho Mirage and Palm Desert look to be preparing with other area municipalities to form CCAs. I am told the combined annual revenues of the list of startup California CCAs alone is $35 Billion.

Achieving lift-off also means there is a need for CCAs to focus on energy localization. Too many CCAs have chosen to start programs the "easy way" by starting their programs just with power generation, and promising to get around to developing local renewable energy later. CCA governing boards need to realize that the opportunity window for planning local solar, efficiency, and other innovate small footprint green technologies is at the outset of the program, when the structure of the contracts with suppliers are put into place. CCA is only a means to an end, not an end in itself - for suppliers, getting the deal may spell success, but the communities supporting CCA want the REAL thing, not just the usual rhetoric. Big votes to approve an agency or going out to bid are the times when smart thinking can be put into agreements to get the energy localization put right up in the start of the service, showing results in just a few years that you will notice. Getting clear framing established and shovels in the ground during the start-up is essential for shaping the power deal.  A lot of people out there like to talk the talk of localization as a way of winning public support: CCAs must honor the trust that has been given them.

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Revolution in Illinois

Yesterday, voters in the vast majority of 300 Illinois cities approved Community Choice Aggregation (CCA) programs, adding over a million customers to be served by CCAs nationwide.
In the Chicago area, 80 percent of cities approved the CCA measures, resulting in over a million new customers receiving power service since LPI developed CCA. Several million Americans have received CCA service since the late 1990's when Massachusetts adopted the first CCA law and Cape Cod towns formed the Cape Light Compact. With many major California cities and counties now forming CCAs, and many new CCAs like Cincinnati and Hampshire County Massachusetts forming CCAs on the East Coast, Local Power Inc. may finally announce the existence of a major national movement that already serves a substantial portion of America's electricity demand.

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

CCA Goes National With Cincinnati

Greenpeace's blimp over Cincinnati was a rallying flag; Community Choice has finally reached a nation-wide audience. With the City of Cincinnati mobilizing to implement a 100% renewable power service Citywide to all customers using Ohio's decade-old CCA law, the profile of a new idea, now over a decade in the making, has assumed the mantle of an achieved new reality. With dozens of new CCAs being implemented, 150 cities and counties moving to implement CCA in Illinois, and San Francisco now moving joining Marin and other California cities and counties to implement this vision of a new kind of power, Community Choice Aggregation has finally become a palpable national movement.

In past years, CCA in one state was considered separate from CCA in another. Today, California's CCA movement, determinedly focused on greening the power supply, changing the business model, and implementing local green power projects, has gripped the imagination of American cities facing de-funded state budgets, collapsed property tax-based revenues, and a stagnant economy. The idea of a  dramatically more renewable power supply at competitive prices with monopoly power is now shared between Cape Cod, Cincinnati and San Francisco Cities, large and small, rich and poor, rural and urban. Perceiving the power of aggregate purchasing, solar finance and local control, are turning to CCA for the true opportunity it was meant to provide from the start. Check out the Local Power News page or my daily news aggregator, Power Grab News.

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Revolution in Boulder

It is a month now since voters in Boulder approved a city charter amendment to create a green utility. The City hired Local Power Inc., a year ago to advise them on a strategic framework for evaluating its energy options due to the expiration of its franchise with energy giant Xcel, based in Minneapolis. We suggested that they focus their efforts on "energy localization" rather than "takeover," and the City Council embraced this vision - a new business model focused on decarbonization, local jobs, customer-ownership, and demand reduction: Local Power not in our usual formula of a Community Choice Aggregation (Colorado has no CCA law), but a new kind of municipal utility.  If you are interested, LPI's "Localization Portfolio Standard," which outlines the economic and technical feasibility for energy localization in Boulder, is posted on the City's web site.  Our company press release is here. Boulder produced a great video here. Van Jones gave a speech on the campaign here.

Last week, city staff affirmed the City's intention to go ahead with the localization paths we identified in the Localization Portfolio Standard, and we look forward to working with the City in its efforts to implement. Sarah Laskow of Good magazine said "this week's vote was the energy equivalent of closing an account at a national bank in order to buy into a local credit union. Instead of just one person leaving the utility, though, this is an entire community." An excellent metaphor, comparing Boulder's green power revolt to the Occupy Movements community bank revolt, except Boulder's plans would not merely take over and imitate the old institution, but create an entirely new one, reverse-engineered: a municipal utility designed anew, with a new business model focused not on selling power and gas to service its debt (the traditional model for utilities public and private), but instead focused building on selling the utility's new plant to its customers - in Community Solar arrays and other neighborhood-scale renewables, while standardizing technologies to reduce everybody's energy consumption, and making every building in the City a "smart building."

Boulder's vote in November is historically significant not only as one of the only major votes for municipalization in America since WWII, but more so for the fact of its positive motivation. Like CCA communities in San Francisco, Marin, Cape Cod and elsewhere, the Boulder City Council put the 2B and 2C items on the ballot for the same old reasons that the traditional municipalization battle was fought: not because of hatred for Xcel, nor for high rates. It was a new campaign, motivated by the community's near-unanimous support for green power and economic localization - a desire to innovate in a way that utility monopolies have proven themselves unable, or unwilling, to do. Just as with PG&E's inability to stop CCA in California with Proposition 16 last year despite over $60 Million in campaign expenditures, Xcel was unable to stop Boulder, I believe, because the old slogans and strategies, designed for the old municipalization battle, were ineffective against the positive platform erected by the mayor and city council.

Economic localization initiatives like Boulder may prove the most compelling path for energy. The climate crisis goes on unabated, nuclear proliferation mounts, the mountaintop removal and fracking grow day by day in a collapsed political world that neither Obama, nor governors, can impact with policy or plan. In comparison, using local control authorities like a franchise, a local election, or Community Choice offers a relatively direct, simple, and trustworthy means of proving that democracy is not inconsistent with clear thinking and bold action.


Wednesday, October 26, 2011

The Real Marin Taliban: Stewart Brand's Nuclear Revival

Stewart Brand, a fellow Marin-ite who is internationally famous for leading the nuclear industry revival in the United States over the past decade, and helping President Obama embrace Dr. Strangelove, embodies the odd combination of cool hippy and self-hating liberal that defines Marin's post-hippy, ΓΌber-yuppy chic. After the Fukushima disaster Brand was asked by interviewer Arnie Cooper if his pro-nuclear remarks still stand from his interview with The Sun, and Mr. Brand insisted he was unmoved by the meltdowns of Tokyo Power's plants. So was the Obama administration, coincidentally, which recently announced its continued support for nuclear power  at the United Nations after the Fukushima disaster. Even though many Americans oppose plants here, this apparent refusal to learn from Fukushima has caused a nuclear rush by China, India and Russia, portending 125 new nuclear plants there and causing a global uranium mining boom.

So the stakes of Brand's nuclear vanguard are high, and real. As the Marin Energy Authority is now the first big effort of a California county to go solar under California's Community Choice Law, AB117 (San Francisco and Sonoma not far behind), and Brand has likely been offered (as I am) 100% renewable energy from that new service, I am compelled to examine Brand's repeated statements in his Sun interview that renewable energy is unfeasible, and that only nuclear power can save the world from climate change:

"Solar doesn't add a whole lot of power to the grid, but it's valuable in individual situations. We have a solar electric fence." (p.11, the Sun, 9/13/11)

Indeed, Brand's attitude emerges from monotonal platitudes to a kind of noir chic. In one moment he complains that solar farms take up too much desert; in the next he proclaims that nuclear power is....perfectly safe. The outraged silence surrounding his expressions appear as poetry, as the gesture of a liberated mind. As with much New Age thought, Brand's has a mesmeric quality, and with great success. Stewart Brand has done more than perhaps any other American to raise nuclear power to respectability, much as he has brought similar legitimacy to the companies seeking to sell Genetically Modified foods (GMOs) in the U.S. (Europe bans them), while opposing even labeling. In many ways his posture is the classic self-hating liberal,  poo-pooing his former allies the environmentalists - you can't handle the truth, etc.. Crowded with eco-intelligentsia, it is shocking that Marin accepts America's nuclear revival preacher still today as a cool sort of New Ager rather than an apostate Taliban - and that there is so little controversy here about his decisive role in selling nuclear revival to the world. Did he refuse Marin Energy Authority service? Is he still a PG&E customer? Will he similarly ignore San Francisco's efforts to localize power supply and secede from PG&E's power plants, all while giving world tours on the impossibility of green power? Of energy localization, energy independence? Did he bother to vote against Prop 16 last year - the PG&E ballot initiative that would have blocked California's energy localization movement?

The political naiivety of Brand's nuclear revival is particularly shocking unless you consider its casualness - with a New Age lightness, even cavalier, about the causes of global economic and ecological meltdown. "So I don't buy the idea of profit being evil," he told interviewer Arnie Cooper of The Sun. "The same goes for large corporations. Size isn't everything. There are lots of mean, harmful, little companies that are not public and have no real accountability to anyone. They're dumping poisons in the ground, and nobody tries to stop them because they're just little companies."

Trained in his futurist art by the author of The Population Bomb (Paul Ehrlich), the "co-evolutionist" blames human over-population, not industrial and political collusion, as causing the ecological problems of our time. Never mind Occupy Wall Street - deforestation in the Amazon, he says, is caused by small subsistence farmers, not the longstanding imperial prerogative of global corporations to exploit the regions for cheap food, rubber, oil or jungle DNA. Like Alice in Wonderland, Brand ate from the mushroom and cannot ascertain scale or size - it is all the same, depending on the moment.

Brand's grand solution is ultimately very similar to Obama's - put sulfure dioxide into the atmosphere to offset warming, a global nuclearization, and GMOs. His implicit directive is, how must society adapt to allow continued hyper-growth. Rather than question the technologies and more importantly the hyper-growth, corporate-controlled and globalist energy policies of America during the decades of Brand's tenure in American intellectual life, the very policies that have caused the mass extinction, climate collapse, ocean death, human displacement, social and cultural collapse of the past half century, Brand says implicitly there is nothing to be done (the patient is addicted, administering opium) - but turn it to ten BABY! 

On the other hand Brand's idea of public opinion is naively oblivious to the role of corporations in preventing energy independence and green power, localization. "Unfortunately climate change has become a partisan issue," he says to explain American doubt about climate change. "If liberals and environmentalists think something is critically important, conservatives automatically dismiss it. They're blinded by the mistaken idea that climatologists have some sort of hidden liberal agenda." In other words Brand regards the economic policy choices of governments in the context of Climate Collapse to be defined by psychological misrepresentations rather than propaganda by corporations larger than most governments in revenue and political power - rather like my own experience - aka California's Community Choice movement - being attacked with $68 M by Pacific Gas & Electric through Proposition 16 last year. The largest industrial sector, energy corporations are the embodiment of corporatism following decades of globalization, deregulation, off-shoring, financialization, and oil diplomacy (war). So this is no small oversight.

In the program Brand advocates, the "comprehensive designer" - intellectuals who transcend specialized knowledge and taking a systemic approach to making technological breakthroughs into "tools for human happiness,"  Brand's platitudinousness resurfaces, a latter day, post-industrial Jeremy Bentham, embracing whatever technology develops, viewing it as a tool, like the global nuclear industry revival he champions and has successfully finessed here and in the developing world. The nuclear happiness machine even extends to Iran's nuclear program in the interview, so divorced from military realities associated with uranium enrichment.

Like Francis Fukuyama's End of History and the thought of so many market fundamentalists of the last twenty years, Stewart Brand's thought is product and producer of his era and assigns permanence to the hypergrowth of recent decades - it is part and parcel of his political naivety.  "People who live in the developing world are moving towards more grid power and electricity, thus putting more carbon into the atmosphere." This is the hyper-growth capitalism version of "shit happens." Brand glides effortlessly from bland platitude to yawning directive; "that's why nuclear power, which doesn't create much carbon pollution, looks good to me. Climate change is a planetary problem, and the responses need to be planetary."  Rather than question globalization as the official policy of the United States government for decades, Brand snores through his economic fundamentalism; ultimately he finishes his tune with the little ditty that a planetary problem needs a planetary - that is to say, "big" - solution. And nuclear plants are big. Solar panels and building retrofits are small, so cannot address big problems. 

In light conflations, Brand falls waking forward into a sleep of the Zeitgeist - of historical political and philosophical history, humanity's consciousness of itself, in this case a sleep of Death - ultimately the worship of Death. Brand appears to regard Mexico City-size giga-cities and depopulation of the countryside to be an ecological restoration policy. Displacement is thus reinterpreted as green - here Brand shows the kinds of syllogism that makes some people fear ecologists as anti-human - 'eco-nazi'. The ghetto-ization of America is interpreted as "adaptive" behavior, rather than a failure of civilization, and an evil to be feared and avoided. Brand is ultimately a dystopian thinker, highlighting a future darkness so as to elicit fear and thus lower expectations, making pliable and compliant those who once boasted to be an enlightened democracy - the United States of America. All boats drop with Brand's tide, embracing catastrophe on a great death-centric view which he has christened The Long Now - a longer term thinking beyond the horizon of written human history.  

Mr. Brand's Buddhist rhetoric appeals to Catholic pessimism, an obsession with human sinfulness, failure, and the need for cruelty and ultimately war and holocaust. This mind would accept any lowering of the cultural or aesthetic bar, would smile upon dictators and toast war generals. He has no feeling, is disembodied; beneath the LSD countenance is a cold, hard steel. The new hippy vision is thus ultimately a strain of eco-dandy-ism, as I have pointed out in longer pieces on Brand and the other leading nuclear revivalists - "Philosopher Pawns"(2011) as well as "Climate Panic" (2004).

The Jim Jones-ist wacko-plex of my childhood, from Sausalito to Berkeley, or Oakland, where I was born, and have worked in politics during the past 20 years, has included spending some time with Brand's contemporaries and green capitalist ilk, including Paul Hawken. I would once have counted these people as allies, but environmentalism must mature into more coherent ideas that redefine "green" friends as opponents who would embrace nuclear, or war, or GMOs, in the name of green. As with other ciphers of other crusades, Brand's syllogisms include valuable victims, including the re-introduction of wild nature into urban areas, and more effort to conserve water, but he conflates these simple accouterments of public utilities with provocatively mad extremisms, appealing to the intellectual anti-political types (why he is successful?) but ultimately daft.

The lightness of Brand's being is, indeed, unbearable. There is no they there, in this futurist vision - it has a stoned Turkish quality, to recycle a discarded expression. A "let them eat cake" hurled at the collapse of modernity, a shrug to nuclear catastrophes, and ipods for refugees. He obviously does not care very much for anything in particular at the great Archimedian distance from which he speaks, and as with many other Bay Aryan sorts, regards this emotional detachment as an intellectual virtue - the maniacal transcendence of the New Ager, EST variety - the karmic absence of desire or connectedness to the living world - and lording this attitude over those of us who are afraid and want actual solutions to the fundamental problems now facing us all.  

Thursday, August 4, 2011

Et Tu, Jerry?

There have been some positive developments on the energy front recently. The California CCA Crimes Bill, AB976, was delayed for another year in the California legislature following vocal opposition from California municipalities and Community Choice activists at the legislative hearing. This is good news - no dirty tricks got through this year. Germany and Japan are learning the lesson of Fukushima even if President Obama cannot - that is a consolation anyway. And Jerry Brown has recently indicated that his administration will now focus its efforts on implementation of the new Governor's energy policy to bring an historic amount of renewable distributed generation to California's communities.

This is also good news. But Governor Brown III is going to need some new help, and some better advice than he has received recently based on his public remarks, if he is to pull anything off. He told the New York Times that "(W)hen local communities try to block installation of solar like they did in San Luis Obispo, we act to overcome the opposition." Jerry mischaracterizes the true opponents of renewable distributed generation - PG&E and the would-be power monopolies of California who appear to be advising him that environmentalists are actually the problem.

Sound new and smart to you? I remain concerned. Meanwhile, Governor Brown has remained studiously silent on Community Choice programs in Marin, San Francisco, and Sonoma, where real efforts are underway to bring real, scaled renewable distributed generation to California in a big way. There is much of Northern California looking to implement energy localization with CCA but Jerry's silence is reminiscent of former Governor Schwarzenegger, who liked to get along and go along with the big boys, make a nice speech, hang out with celebrities and super-rich, while having all the right opinions. It is political fence-sitting. Unfortunately, the governor appears to be taking a "Lite Green" approach reminiscent of former Governor (and Brown aide) Gray Davis, with an Obamasque absence of coherence that distinctly smells of PG&E, dissembling, and misdirected hubris.

Bad news started shortly after Brown's election when he hired former Number 2 at PG&E Nancy McFadden as the Number 3 in his new administration (Former PG&E Number One Peter Darbee then shortly thereafter resigned from PG&E in disgrace - largely for what he did with Ms. McFadden on Prop 16). Considering that Ms. McFadden's $46M corporate anti-CCA missile was the ultimate threat to renewable distributed generation in California last year, I could not help feel provoked by this apparent indifference to the actual outcome in California's infamous, prolonged energy policy crisis. It reeks of America's chronic political problems with corporate domination of government, and  I cannot help but think that a contradiction has begun to appear putting Brown at variance with his ambitious campaign materials on energy policy.

Having written Jerry's mayoral platform when he first ran for mayor of Oakland in 1998, I am familiar with the dynamics of forgetting campaign promises, and the Governor's saber-rattling talk about crushing environmentalists like those on the Mexican border who opposed the Sunrise Powerlink, or San Luis Obispo, where activists opposed a huge solar power plant but are actively proposing local distributed renewable generation to actually serve San Luis Obispo communities, which my company Local Power is now in fact helping San Luis Obispo County to analyze. To discuss NIMBYism out of context is dangerously misleading, because Jerry is blaming environmentalists for blocking green power when in fact his friends at PG&E are blocking it with everything they've got. This behavior is not good news for solar in California.

PG&E crushed and marginalized energy efficiency and blocked greener competition ruthlessly while Brown was Attorney General in recent years. The governor knows all about PG&E's corporate governance problem, deregulation, utility gaming and market manipulation, the bankruptcy bailouts, Prop 16 and abuse of the political process, San Bruno, and the rest. But today he shows not a sign of genuflection. He should know how to judge whether to place hope in California's mega-utilities to deliver energy decentralization in California - or to focus his mental laser beam attack on actual market barriers like PG&E that sling multi-million dollar budgets like a six-shooter, not Sierra Club volunteers defending their land.

There is scent of a bully here - and inside every bully is the heart of a coward.  If Jerry chickens out and pretends he can patsy-cake PG&E, Edison and Sempra into doing the right thing, while being tough on environmentalists! Alas, he is sadly mistaken. Gray Davis failed and was recalled because he was bullied by PG&E and the utilities, and didn't have the courage to confront bad actors and use the power he had to force real change on an industry that has totally succeeded in blocking change for decades. Instead Governor Davis tried to do a deal and fake it to the public, and got wiped off the map - will Jerry learn from Gray's Christmas Past?

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

AB 976: RoboCorp Attack on Local Power Inc.?

California’s statewide International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers (IBEW) has found a Los Angeles-based junior Assembly Member to file legislation, to be heard in the California Assembly this month, that would create a new crime in California – a crime that regulates what I do for a living. My small California-based company, Local Power Inc., is a longtime consultant to the city of San Francisco as well as Sonoma County helping prepare these communities to implement Community Choice (CCA). After a dozen unpaid years pushing for CCA in Marin County, we opted not to try to be a consultant, and instead bid to actually provide power and localize energy production. With broad stroke language, AB976 would appear make it illegal for my company to help these cities implement their CCA programs.

Government consulting is a competitive business with much stricter fairness and transparency than a monopoly like PG&E offers. We competed against Shell and lost for Marin’s business - Local Power Works lost, and Shell got to eat PG&E’s lunch. That is American competition no? I raised the money to pay for organizing our consortium of local companies and spent $150K to write Local Power Works' bid. AB976 would police my clients for doing business with us and prevent us from working if our programs are successfully implemented. Hm?

Local Power Inc. is not criminal for creating CCA and forcing competition on PG&E. To PG&E or the IBEW or the bill's sponsor, competition is criminal - and small companies like Local Power Inc. are sleazy consultants trying to fleece local governments in California. PG&E is free to write bills like AB976 or Prop 16 and pay to get them passed - like proposing a constitutional amendment to preempt local governments doing CCA, or a law to criminalize PG&E's competitors. It is PG&E that should be policed, not local governments or Local Power Inc..

LPI is not criminal for writing San Francisco’s solar bond authority and seeding the solar finance movement in America. PG&E does have issues that call for policing – it runs a political machine that is hostile to the green power efforts of communities in Northern California.  Enron was no better, but PG&E has become comparable in its banality - its use of the 'good government' ruse to harm the public. Peter Darbee didn’t resign last month for nothing. But does America have a political memory? Now with Assembly Member Hall's bill, the IBEW would banish memory itself  – making it illegal to work for a decade or more for a government to design and implement CCA. This bill would amount to criminalizing the CCA movement in California.

AB976 would invent a new crime just for us.  I live in the Bay Area living in Oakland, Berkeley, Richmond, San Francisco, and Marin. I work for these local governments because this is where I live - part of our true interest in localism. Is this a crime? Local Power has spent thirteen years in San Francisco preparing its H Bond and CCA Program, Marin County thirteen years too, and Sonoma County six years. Funny that the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers would come for my job!  Would they like similar restrictions on PG&E, a mega-corporation? Unions – against local governments and for monopolies? Our medieval fathers would weep.

I am not accustomed to playing the special interest, so I suppose the IBEW, (was PG&E behind this? I do not know) is teaching me a lesson for being such as high-handed activist: it appears that my small business, extant for 15 years but still very small, is being branded as a potential criminal. Goliath calls David bully – when in fact the real bully has a black eye for being playing RoboCorp with California governments less than a year ago.

The bill is now in third reading after passing unanimously out of committee. Assembly Member Hall is sponsor, and it has passed the Assembly Appropriations committee.  The bill would make it a crime for Local Power Inc. (localpower.com) to help cities implement the plans we are helping them make for large-scale energy localization – through “CCA” – Community Choice Aggregation. PG&E has been fighting the right of communities to purchase their power from competitive suppliers. They have spent hundreds of millions on Public Relations to fight Community Choice in the Bay Area ($46M on Prop 16 in 2010), as much on lawyering and lobbying, and have lost at the voting booths. Whereas Prop 16 required supermajority support for a municipality to even investigate CCA, AB976 would now propose to criminalize the companies that work for CCAs: in effect, to police local governments, which are already subject to Brown Act and Sunshine Act laws.
The bill says any consultant performing work for a CCA in preparation for implementation of a local energy service, would be classified as criminal for helping the same government implement that program.
Last year PG&E failed in its floating of Proposition 16.  They put it forward as a good government bill to prevent government abuse, but it was recognized for what it was: corporate attack on the government’s ability to govern where it has any impact on PG&E’s quasi-monopoly revenues. The voters rejected Prop 16. Assembly member Hall’s bill, AB 976, is a test of the legislature’s stupidity – would it accept the proposal of a corporate market abuser (CEO Peter Darbee just got fired for what he did on Prop 16) as if to prevent CCAs from being criminal? Failing to win public approval of the state to police local governments who dare implement the 2002 CCA law, PG&E’s handlers now shuffle forward a bill and ask the legislature to criminalize the firms that work with local governments
PG&E has no such requirements -  energy monopolies are quietly left out of AB976. PG&E can continue to consult the local governments in its service territory on any energy of energy efficiency programs they have or want to have (witness PG&E’s foray into Zero Energy Cities)  but also control the electricity services that are physically provided for all of Northern California: and have controlled them for a century.
What is worse, unlike municipalities, which are elected and transparent, California’s electricity monopolies have closed meetings and are Wall Street oriented. Who is policing whom?  Corporations over local government. Sounds like globalization to you?

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Philosopher Pawns: Climate Change, Nuclear Revival - Market Fundamentalism Ignores Local Power


As Fukushima poured its iodine clouds eastward toward the West and its millions of gallons of radioactive water into the Pacific, a famous ecologist burst forth publicly with enthusiasm for nuclear power. George Monbiot, the British Climate Change authority and journalist, felt compelled to declare his support for nuclear power plants, he said, in order to pre-empt a rising tide of opposition to the Nuclear Industry's revival, which I have written about since the 1990's.
Fukushima, Monbiot feared, would cause the construction of more coal-fired power plants to make up the difference in an ever-growing global demand for electricity supplies.
His dread was expressed most profoundly in the inability of renewable energy to provide an economically feasible alternative to coal power - "the baseload problem," Monbiot and others like to say. The intermittency of renewables is perceived to pose an insurmountable problem.  Monbiot's fatalism about coal, understandable in a global Race to the Bottom in all policy arenas from Washington to London, Berlin to Beijing, not just in energy policy - yet Monbiot's platitudes are based on profoundly poor, even superficial understanding of energy economics, blinding him to the dramatic opportunities for renewables to replace coal or nuclear baseload plants worldwide in the immediate term - without increasing the cost of energy even in cheap energy markets based on coal-fired power at the center of America’s economy.
By over-depending upon economic figures from the fosil/nuclear/import-oriented incumbent energy industry (whose way of doing business has caused climate change) Monbiot thus reproduces the desperately narrow mentality of said Race to the Bottom. This is the error of coming out for a nuclear solution to Climate Change; it is hysterical – a panic reaction. Let's take a comparable policy challenge - reducing smoking. Governments do not ask Tobacco companies how much it will cost to reduce smoking. When the U.S. turned against smoking, the political alienation happened over night. The day before it was King Tobacco; the following day those interests became pariahs unwelcome at Washington social engagements. The idea that the government would ask the tobacco industry to please reduce smoking by its customers would have been ridiculed as irresponsible. But with Climate Change, the mainstream policy debate has studiously ignored the question of causing economic harm to power plant owners, who (ahem) own the large concentration of fixed capital in the world. Their prerogative to remain profitable despite Climate Change is the major political problem defining the economics of renewable localization, because the systems they adopt to comply with government mandates like Feed In Tariffs invariably impose a premium to recover losses from reduced fuel consumption. Monbiot's policy framework is limited to carrots and sticks - ultimately the feed-in tariff - a poverty that makes nuclear the only option.
The Enlightenment leader Voltaire said sometimes the most dangerous man in the room is the one who says everything is going to be alright. In a crisis, to be comforted by such a man, is folly. Monbiot, like British climate scientist and nuclear revivalist James Lovelock, is justified in being sufficiently alarmed by Climate policy collapse and epochal catastrophe that would follow that. I admire both men for their clear read of the Climate Change / Energy industry trainwreck over the past decade. The problem is, the time is up. The energy industry is the problem, not the solution; public works built bridges when banks would not – not to mention water and sewer systems – the public side of life. Why no consideration of public works to address this mounting crisis? 
Great crises and great events are not consensus-based; they are political, they involve decisions being made and actions being taken.  Our somnambulistic U.S. climate policy players (among which are counted some of its worst energy corporations, like self proclaimed “eco-warrior” Pacific Gas and Electric) where I live have obscured this fact with astro-leadership, which is to say, public relations - greenwashing. When a terrorist attacks New York and Washington with airplanes, our governments jump militarily to destroy entire nations; but when the energy industry threatens humanity on a far greater scale, the corporations causing it are consulted, asked for their ideas on how to handle the problem, and ultimately coddled with incentive packages and tax breaks, perhaps a new tariff or 30-year goal. This is a political problem - of corporatism, not an economic problem, as Monbiot and Lovelock naively assume.
History did not end. The surrealism of pay-to-play industrial democracy has brought a new kind of corporate hubris in a fiscal collapse following a global deregulation and liberalization; in my own struggle last year, Proposition 16 attacked the efforts of governments to implement green power public works in California last year by a corporate plebiscite. $46 Million was spent over six months to persuade voters to block City and County governments from implementing some of the world’s leading efforts to attack climate change. PG&E attacked local governments mind you just as they were being hit with sudden property tax collapse and 50% budget shortfalls to start the collapse ball rolling. Again, this is politics, not some iron law of green economics. PG&E is America's leading Nuclear Revivalist, Mr. Monbiot - while crushing green public works by municipalities. In this historical moment it is not green power itself that poses the main challenge, but effective democratic action – doing the Right Thing – not choosing the (cough) lesser of two evils. That is what we have been doing since Kyoto: our two nations have already suffered our Blairs and Clintons.
Over my career of 18 years in energy- , arithmetic has not ruled energy costs – but bailouts, state-authorized shock doctrine, and laundered structural failures. This failure of ideology is a uniquely American and UK prejudice for oligarchical, imperial-style control of energy as a strategic commodity. It is the detritus of the Cold War and the British Navy before that. But it has spread throughout the world under energy liberalization policies our governments have championed. Many are more comfortable blaming overpopulation for climate change rather than question Western hypergrowth, and feel more comfortable discussing depopulation (more imperialism) rather than questioning the prerogative of energy corporations in our political life - the very maw of hypergrowth. Our nations are intellectually encumbered by this Market Fundamentalism: we literally cannot see the solution to climate change, nuclear proliferation, oil war, sprawl transportation, species extinction, and the epi-crisis that is Energy itself. 
In energy, markets might control technology, but politics controls markets. The power of a local government to build infrastructure is not limited to markets.  In finance, the ability of a government to control power revenues or sell bonds is the basis of a non-linear investment opportunity – the opportunity of “public works.” My own work is reinventing energy public works to cause relocalization by local governments and cooperative ownership structures to create the space for real change. This is not a market structure, not a tariff as in the Feed-In Tariff and Net Metering arrangements between owners of renewables and monopoly utilities. Such schemes are constrained to build change within an industrial detritus of legacy investments in obsolete coal, methane, oil, and nuclear power plants and fuel supplies, high voltage power lines and substations, pipelines and related financial obligations. Monbiot limits his analytical universe to the sectoral green power industry growth curve assumptions, which determine his bandwith of greenhouse gas reduction potential in local distributed renewable technologies, efficiency conservation technologies, and so-called “smart grid” applications of a dozen or more competitive technologies.  It is a fatal flaw. Energy Localization – Community Choice, H Bonds, Community Solar Shares, and other related strategies change the foundation upon which pricepoints and growth curves are built. This non-linearity of public works, Monbiot and Lovelock fail to perceive.
Over the years I have admired Monbiot's work. His dressing down of the California solar cheerleader squad in his 2006 book Heat was totally on the mark. But Monbiot assumed that was all there was to solar. To assess wind economics, Monbiot like Lovelock always assumes British or U.S. industry markets and their trend curves are the final word on what is physically achievable - if the utility industry he so blindly parrots were to itself to take a hit.
The Market Fundamentalists all mistake the interests of a power plant owner with the interests of the energy user. The grotesque spectacle of ecologists nuclear revivalist Born-Agains is not unique to Monbiot, who follows in the steps of Gaia Theorist and technologist – actually a genius, but profoundly mistaken - James Lovelock, "Greenpeace Dropout" eco-contrarian Patrick Moore and Marin New Age “green capitalist” Stewart Brand. All share the demeanor of the recently converted, a sunny tabula rasa innocence, a jettisoned former conviction replaced by an imperfectly attained new wisdom - a hubristic resentment of abandoned loyalties, a trace of guilt, an ambiguity verging on paranoia - a skepticism posing as certainty. Like when left atheist Christopher Hitchens came out supporting Bush's Iraq invasion right when it made a political difference in Congress, cheerleading for Dr. Strangelove in the Fallout of Fukushima is high-stakes territory resembling intellectual folly.
The No-Man's land between knowledges is most terrifying to the philosopher, who would possess wisdom, an organic remembrance of pure unencumbered history, and thus producing reliable theory, even a tradition - appropriate attitude and the right questions, a steady practical management of the New. But the Nuclear Revivalists get it wrong - dyslexically wrong.  The 20th century eradicated what remained of the Enlightenment through a process of Specialization that has rendered coherent scientific knowledge very difficult to accomplish.
Energy and the ecological and economic crisis the Energy Industry has caused, presents a particular challenge to philosophers because of the many-layered forms of knowledge required to comprehend Energy. Monbiot, and the Nuclear Revivalists are in a sense victims of this silo-ism (post-enlightened solipsism?) of knowledges in our time, rendering them over-dependent intellectually on specialists in fields of knowledge in which they have no direct competence.   While brilliant and honest, Monbiot and the genius Lovelock have fallen into an intellectual blind spot. Lovelock, as I have written in some detail, is politically illiterate, and economically naive to the point of possessing a fundamentalist naivety - a worshipper of economists as if they were naturalists rather than ideologues and minions of corporate power - and of imperialism, for example. Monbiot, less naive politically, is uneducated in energy economics, depending upon status quo industry statistics for his estimates of the cost of renewable energy relative to the cost of conventional power. This is a drab statement admittedly, to make it plainly – an understandable but damnable mistake.
We are talking, ultimately about the cost of change. Monbiot has said it is too expensive, so we must have nuclear power. Big Brother talking now, chiding us for our nuclear NIMBYism.  Naive, these philosophers have become pawns of the darkest forces of Status Quo, imperialism, divide and conquer, and are reduced to cheerleading for the least of two epic evils:  nuclear power yes, coal power no.
Monbiot and the Nuclear Revivalists would have us choose between catastrophes because they embrace its dark hopelessness as a new kind of adulthood, a new political maturity. They would father us with this condescending realism, repeating the old saw that what is must be - that the real is indistinguishable from the true.
But what is, must not be. Economics, in energy, is master of technology, but the servant of politics. The synthesis is science - is Enlightenment. Understanding what is possible, today - not just tomorrow - cannot be achieved without this synthesis. Like Lovelock, Monbiot worships at the idol Economics; he states, with little qualification that solar photovoltaic power costs 41 pence per kilowatt hour, pointing to Britain's Feed-In Tariff system of paying solar PV owners for their solar power. And he is right, the Feed In Tariff system of Europe is not the way forward, but nonetheless he uses this number to discredit solar power as a technology. Similar isolated technology economics analysis comprise Monbiot's critiques of renewables as a Carbon solution throughout HEAT and his other writings. This analysis is woefully limited and must be retracted. Monbiot fails to deconstruct the Tariff itself, merely footnoting it as a FACT.
Truth, is solar power has neither an objective price, energy cost, nor a priori carbon impact.   The impact of renewable distributed generation technologies may not be judged in isolation, one by one, but together, operating in parallel as a single integrated location-specific system. Tariffs are flawed, because they are designed as post facto modifications of the incumbent energy industry’s business. It is self evident they have prevented change in the U.S. for fifty years – nearly as long in U.S. and competitor’s imperial claim areas all over the world. Now that the technical feasibility of renewable energy localizations of 50% to 75% over five years cannot be disputed, the economic feasibility is solely in question in Nuclear Revivalists’ central precept that renewable energy cannot deliver a 50-75 physical system demand reduction cost-effectively in five years without increasing power and heat utility bills for any customers.  Technology strategy will differ by place but is achievable today by mature, innovating industries. I repeat, the challenge is political will for historic change, not any objective price of power that Monbiot or anyone else can tag on solar power. Power and heat can be built to carry transporation infrastructure, capturing the Lion’s Share of the extraordinary volume of carbon emissions that must be reduced over the next five years in any region of the world. A ten- to fifteen-year global transformation of energy is technically economically feasible through such localizations, offering a soft landing to 21st Century mankind - without new nuclear plants threatening new catastrophes.
Like Lovelock, Monbiot approaches renewables within the paradigm of fuels. Fuel has a price. Natural gas, coal, oil produce the same power in the UK as in California or Siberia. But renewable technologies produce different volumes of power in different weather conditions, and more importantly, offset different volumes of grid power in different communities based on the regional weather and demand pattern (bedroom communities at night, cities in day). 
Every place has advantages and disadvantages based on not only local resources but local governance authority; if only a monopoly has role of implementing the change, it is germane to estimating feasibility. Where a local government like Sonoma County or Boulder Colorado says it wants to relocalize and physically build a public works rollout of a 50-75% regionalization/relocalization with not one technology but a dozen, not just minority facilities but mainstream distributed power and demand response, targeted capacity balancing with local storage, and smart grid. To speak of renewable energy in this two-dimensional way is a folly of climate change economics. Monbiot had a debate tour but I didn't hear about it in time. I would welcome a debate at any time, San Francisco or London some time in the affordable future. Renewable economics are not defined by commodity prices but by the manner in which they are integrated as intermittent resources to physically replace power plants.
Our time in History suffers not from stupidity but a demoralization, disengagement, and a sense of hopelessness - it is the rational modern attitude in the face of overpowering external forces - and liberalization, globalization, hypergrowth. But philosophers and leaders must not succumb to it; to the extent Monbiot and Lovelock would concede my economic argument, they must admit to some startling non-linear volumetric consequences, namely an accelerated scaled decentralization that could be implemented in short order. I know it is hard to imagine given how dystopian the idiocy of America, Britain and Europe in the Blair/Clinton Era of Bush Obama Non-Policy is - no economy, and no trade policy. It is hard to find a witness or coherent leader in the so-called developed world. That U.S. Trade policy is unmentioned during the world economic downturn shows the deck - the vacuity of policy depth, the unseriousness, the Fame-oriented trivialization of it. But this decadence does not define what is possible, nor what is to be done to stop Climate Change.
Why wouldn't it be that way in the U.S. twenty years after the global victory of Capitalism, Globalization, Liberalism, and Deregulation? In the tired detritus of U.K. and U.S. political discourse, physicists compare Tariff prices and cry Uncle - at the very moment when a real alternative to nuclear power and more militarism is made possible now and without increased utility bills - if the necessary changes are made by local governments, like San Francisco, Marin County, and the City of Boulder are trying to make.
Zeitgeist After Apocalpyse? Will the world end with a whimper or a yawn? The challenges of building major public works in a new category of cause (not plumbing nor bridges, nor hospitals nor trains) are significant, with complex urban environments to work through. These are the focus of my work, how I make a living - figuring out how far, how fast any county or municipal government could transform its community's energy supply, measured in carbon reductions, without increased rates. I can point to portfolios we have designed for several cities, and proposed them to cities in public documents over many years.
Most are posted on my Local Power Inc. website. We are talking about political challenges, not challenges to technical potential or economic potential. Just as it was a political challenge for the U.S. Congress to turn its back on King Tobacco in order to truly oppose cigarette proliferation, so the green power localization / customer ownership / public movement can plan to down nuclear, gas and coal power plants to a grid backup function, dramatically reduce carbon (our last model is 67% reduction built over 5 years - no rate increase – for Sonoma County in California).  Again, I repeat, the Green Nuclear Revivalists undertake an economic rejection of renewables modeled upon the incumbent owner/controller of the utility system to implement. In countries where the government owned or controlled the systems left over from socialist origins, the Feed in Tariffs were easier to implement. In the U.S. a Cold War configuration of mega-utilities, holding companies and cartels control each state market differently - even each municipal franchise agreement.
The reality of Climate Change actions on a scale commensurate with the magnitude of the crisis is, as with telephone deregulation, a trade war. Enron and Pacific Gas & Electric have proven that democracies can be gamed, manipulated, led in a circle. The Keystone Cops aspect of regulation in U.S. or Europe during the Boom to Bust orgy must not suffer the silence of laughter. To suggest the Tobacco companies should have been given responsibility for reducing smoking in the U.S., this was thought irresponsible - but is precisely the primary framework of all U.S. energy policy that is deal-oriented and normative with stooges and dorks played by sharks and cynics. Let's not pretend that U.S. or European governments are limited market-based solutions, when after all the markets have self-combusted? Indeed, today the Local Power model is more possible because the growth maw of hyper-growth economics is so spasmodic, so obviously maladaptive. We do not need a power supply to feed the McWorldization of the world. We need ourselves to be retrofitted and modernized, our Old New Infrastructure now behind countries like Cuba. Liberalization and Globalization are not the way of the future. They are the mad dreams of an old-fashioned economic imperialism. 
The embrace of Nuclear is ultimately an embrace of militarism. It is nightmarish, this epiphany that one must embrace one devil to avoid another. This is the madness of Market Fundamentalism, and its jettison will free souls like Lovelock and Monbiot who cannot tolerate the salesmanship and lies of solar promoters in California a decade ago - who need to see a real path, not just the fog of hope. But in fact my associates and I at Local Power Inc. are at the precipice of implementing community renewable energy localizations and are confident of various strategies that are achievable in electricity service or gas or heat district service that can be engineered with storage, demand response, islanding (virtual power plant replaces dispatchable fossil or non-dispatchable nuclear plant) and other technologies to achieve exponentially accelerated growth curves for all categories of renewable onsite and demand technology.  It is often very challenging to design these systems but so far we are able to model 50-75% physical replacement of a county at price parity, exponentially higher greenhouse gas reductions at price parity,  and a grid-reliability power plant replacement at price parity. In no case does solar, or wind, or any single technology or application provide the key and the economic shape of the solution. With renewable energy, location matters – there are no cookie-cutter solutions.  Being committed to specificity and handling complexity is critical to the economics of energy localization. Again, this is a five-year solution anywere in the world.
I hope Monbiot and Lovelock will reconsider. We need to regroup around the concept of localization, rather than obsession with technology favoritism; Appropriate Technology means adapted to local conditions. This principle of approach should change the desperate terms of debate about Climate Change and Nuclear Proliferation after Fukushima. 

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