Thursday, May 7, 2020

Planet of CCA: From "100% Renewable Cities" to Local Green New Deal


http://LocalGreenNewDeal.org

  • The global climate emergency is a crisis of policy and political will. It is not a lack of cost-effective technology. Above all else, we are blocked by fear of disrupting the economy. The United States is central to this problem, both as the world’s second largest cause of greenhouse gas emissions and as a global policy leader. Establishing an economically viable model for climate mobilization in America is of paramount importance globally.
  • In 2020, Local Power is launching a nationwide technical and educational resource for communities and municipalities with democratically-run local energy programs called Community Choice Aggregation (CCA) to ramp up their programs for climate mobilization, following a new model we call CCA 3.0. Local Power’s Local Green New Deal project has been created to drive an implementation and replication process through educational engagements of communities, technical assistance to municipal staff and elected officials, and an international clearinghouse of best practices. ​

http://localpower.com/CCA_30.htmlThis is what climate mobilization looks like.

Municipal governments lead climate action, but lack the legal framework to scale up their impact; CCA 3.0 provides that leverage. CCA 3.0 "cools" the grid by placing storage and generation behind the meter. It empowers local governments to drive greater distributed power by enabling them to invest in their residents and businesses. Funded with municipal "Green Bonds," CCA 3.0 ensures that local money stays local, employing data to match technologies to place, using customer shares and cooperatives to turn monthly utility bills into energy equity accounts.

As we demonstrate below and in great detail in our study, all of this can be deployed immediately.


The Opportunity

CCA 3.0 energy transformation is defined here as a 50%-85% across-the-board greenhouse gas reduction for an inclusive geographic community, and completable within a five- to ten-year period from today. With 1500 municipalities and 30 million Americans under CCA service, CCA 3.0 is based on a mature and globally replicable ​model for climate mobilization. It has the ​ immediate ​ potential to answer the ​United Nations’ call for worldwide energy transformation in the next decade "to avert irreversible damage to the Earth's ecology."

The CCA 3.0 program was designed by Local Power, creator of CCA​, to work ​under existing law in states with CCA that make up half of U.S. energy demand: California, Illinois, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, Ohio, Rhode Island and Virginia. CCA 3.0 can be replicated starting within one year for U.S. states in the process of adopting new CCA legislation, such as Wisconsin, Colorado, Maryland, Washington, and Utah. Moreover, CCA 3.0 is implementable starting within two years in the European Union and most other countries’ energy markets with enabling legislation. Half the U.S. can complete climate mobilizations within five years, states introducing CCA laws within six or seven years, and other countries that authorize CCA within seven or eight years.

The Problem

The cost of energy from integrated green energy technologies has been competitive with grid power and pipeline fuels for many years. There has been a dramatic decline in the cost of Distributed Energy Resources (DER), including solar photovoltaics, electric vehicles, microgrids, and efficient electric HVAC and hot water systems. Regulatory capture and flawed energy market designs have trapped developers of these strategic technologies in a systemic dependency on utilities for access to functionally captive energy users.

The technical feasibility of integrating DERs has also existed for many years. However, efforts by states to set up markets to encourage rapid deployment of such technologies have been stuck in startup mode for a quarter-century. Centralized megaprojects continue to dominate the renewables market today, driving up carbon-causing transmission line overdevelopment and new fossil investments to accommodate their intermittency. As a result, DERs remain relegated to niche markets. Ratepayer and taxpayer subsidies are invested in a manner that delivers little impact on carbon emissions. Based on renewable energy company door knockers and pyramid scheme marketing, or inherently limited utility contracts based on regulatory mandates and fees, marketing and customer acquisition cost represents around half of the installed cost of solar today. DERs are siloed as a luxury item limited to the few, with marginal carbon impacts.

Inadequate state-level policy decisions of recent decades have created a dysfunctional market that blocks climate mobilization. The vast majority of residents and businesses are functionally redlined by this market from energy transformation, largely limited to options of Renewable Energy Credits (RECs). RECs pay middlemen “market incentives,” but do not result in physically changing a customer’s energy supply. The result is that the combustion of fossil fuels required to provide “renewable” products and services has been reduced little if not at all. For affluent or devoted businesses and residents willing to pay more for a “premium green” REC product, state governments have created a "virtual" paradigm of renewable energy procurement. This form of REC procurement certifies transactions, pays suppliers and signals good consumer intentions,​ but does not actually cause physical carbon reductions.

DERs can fix this problem, but are prevented by incumbent-protecting markets and state regulations. Conventional solar, like RECs, remains a niche market for the few. Even with incentives and rebates, the utility tariff-based business model and physical configuration of solar virtually ensures superficial climate impacts. Inherently limited business models created by states under undue influence of incumbent utilities and financial institutions has created this problem. This is not a technological problem, nor a problem of the cost of DER technologies. DER development is limited to serving only A-list customers with strong credit ratings who own their buildings. Conventional rooftop solar is wired for export, not demand reduction. Under conventional market design, neither RECs nor DER can come close to the level of physical change that the climate emergency demands. CCA was originally created as an exit strategy from that market. CCA 3.0 creates the pathway to a new system entirely.

The Solution

Market design has always been the real solution to climate mobilization.
Community Choice Aggregation was created as an alternative to supplier-controlled markets: a younger brother idea that grew up alongside electricity and gas industry deregulation of the 1990s. CCA was developed to directly confront climate change.  Democratically stewarded by municipal governance, CCA enabled local public oversight of energy procurement for residents, businesses and governments that did not opt-out. Deregulated customer choice regimes adopted in most U.S. states have benefitted only a small minority of large industrial and commercial customers. By comparison, CCA has proven uniquely successful at extracting economic benefits for all energy users. CCAs have consistently outperformed both utilities and energy marketers in the sheer magnitude of green power they have bought and built while also reducing consumers’ energy costs.

CCA is widely regarded by Democrats and Republicans alike as the one success story to come after a quarter century of electricity and gas industry restructuring. CCAs serve one in ten Americans. Saving over thirty million Americans billions of dollars on their utility bills, CCAs have caused some of the largest greenhouse gas reductions in history. Purchasing green power well above required state levels, CCAs have also built many billions of dollars of additional new renewable energy facilities beyond state requirements. CCAs are proving out important innovations in the DER space, too, as detailed in our 2020 report, ​ CCA 3.0: Accelerated Greenhouse Gas Reduction. In this last respect, California CCAs have physically added whole new levels of renewable power that would not be there otherwise today.

The Situation

While CCAs have outperformed the market and proven a viable path to climate action without taxes or fees, they have yet to fulfill their true potential. To be truly successful, CCAs must achieve impact on a scale that is commensurate with the unprecedented magnitude of climate crisis. Their impact has evolved exponentially with the advent of a second generation CCA (“CCA 2.0”) developed by Local Power for California, focused on building large-scale regional renewable generation. However, the climate emergency calls for swifter action. In 2020, a second exponential leap is needed to give CCA programs the leverage to act as administrative umbrellas for climate mobilization across all customer types and all energy uses in a community. This focus on customer ownership will unlock widespread investment in physical, local decarbonization throughout the private sector. Existing consumer payments for power, gas, diesel and gasoline will repay this investment. Our third iteration of CCA incorporates lessons learned and best practices from 25 years of growing CCA, including three commissioned national surveys. CCA 3.0 is designed to overcome past limits to achieve the physical energy transformation of whole municipalities and groups of municipalities in a five-year schedule.

CCA 1.0 proved the feasibility of greener power at lower prices than regulated and deregulated power suppliers. CCA 2.0 proved the feasibility of building additional renewable power above
regulatory requirements, at competitive prices with brown power. Today, CCA 2.0 programs in California constitute fully sixty-seven (67) of all seventy-two (72) ​U.S. cities with 100% renewable energy in 2020, including RECs and built renewables.​ That being said, climate mobilization requires a much larger energy transformation than CCA 2.0 has achieved. CCA 2.0’s limitation is due to a lack of programmatic focus and resources on ​demand reduction.

Systematic grid/pipeline demand reduction is the essential key to scaled, accelerated and sustained carbon reduction. ​  While Local Power’s CCA 2.0 model succeeded in delivering an exponentially greater carbon impact than the Renewable Energy Certificate purchases by CCA 1.0 programs, climate mobilization-scale greenhouse gas reductions require removing electricity demand from the grid, and fossil fuels from pipelines. The “subtractionality” of energy demand for grid/pipeline energy resources, not merely “additionality” of renewables to the grid, is the next step. CCA 3.0 can meet the United Nations’ 2030 deadline, carrying a ten-fold to thirty-fold increase in carbon reduction potential compared to CCA 2.0.

The Details

U.S. municipal governments already lead climate action, but often lack the state legal framework to leverage the scale and impact of local programs. CCA 1.0 and 2.0 increased this leverage with impressive results, but a different operational and technological business model is needed.

CCA 3.0 employs a cutting-edge behind-the meter onsite interoperable renewables and flexible storage technology strategy. The result is a reduction in physical grid- and pipeline demand at the onsite and community levels. CCA 3.0 calls for a focused municipal program design and staffing plan to engage customer investment in DERs. Under CCA 3.0, CCA 2.0’s core centralized energy procurement strategy is refocused around a community redevelopment-centered operational business model. CCA 3.0 program design sets in place a series of strategic changes, enabling implementation of locally built, locally-owned, locally-used and locally-shared renewable energy systems on a parallel, CCA-wide basis.

CCA 3.0 refocuses CCA agencies and municipalities to drive development and engage customers in voluntary customer DER investment. CCA 1.0 offered discounts and purchased energy from existing renewable suppliers or purchased conventional fossil supplies with RECs as “mitigation.” CCA 2.0 offered bill neutrality and built more new renewable facilities to "add" renewables to the grid. CCA 3.0 takes the final major step in decarbonization: customer equity investment to subtract load from the grid from the bottom-up, through deployment of a renewables-plus-storage platform.

CCA programs identified in our ​ CCA 3.0 Report ​ demonstrate that a “cooling” of the grid and “lightening” of pipeline load is immediately deployable, and technically and economically feasible. Integrated DERs can replace city-wide or town-wide community's load on the power grid and gas/heating oil (heat and cooling sector), as well as gasoline/diesel pipelines (transportation sector).

CCA 3.0 is a platform for removing communitywide greenhouse gas emissions sources by avoiding grid consumption, “peaking,” and fossil fuels for heating and transportation. CCA 3.0s will build renewably powered microgrids with electric vehicles and HVAC/hot water systems as flexible storage to minimize importation of energy, while eliminating exportation of onsite power. This critical strategy removes grid barriers to DER deployment, because installed systems do not flow onto or congest the local distribution grid. Therefore DERs may be installed ubiquitously throughout a CCA’s service territory without delay or disruption by incumbent utilities.

CCA 3.0 creates a customer investment space outside the conventional market. Whereas CCA 2.0 uses conventional financing that limits eligibility to consumers with minimum credit scores and collateral, CCA 3.0 employs a municipally-administered energy sharing and cooperation platform based on public finance. The platform extends eligibility to every single resident and business owner who does not opt-out of the service: a new option to the entire community. CCA 3.0 localizes investment to the entire community. CCA 2.0 programs have depended mostly on outside tax-appetite (avoidance) financing to build absentee-owned facilities, exporting the community’s energy dollars to Wall Street. CCA 3.0 employs municipal Green Bonds​ to leverage ​voluntary customer investment ​ propositions based on a projected customer return-on-investment to every single energy consumer in the community. Inclusive of all energy use, and ubiquitously deployed independent of financial market and federal tax code fluctuations, CCA 3.0’s definition of energy transformation as a community transition, rather than merely a commodity service, is key to effective community-wide engagement and mobilization.

This is what energy transformation looks like: retrocommissioning private homes and businesses that consume 95% of all energy and eliminating physical demand for grid power and pipeline fuels. Customer engagement and ownership is enabled by active and passive protocols, including an “opt-up” system of shares that enrolls CCA customers through a voluntary check-box option, and an “opt-with” neighborhood microgrid cooperative option operated by a CCA agency, and billed by a municipality.

CCA 3.0 programs can be run by much smaller agencies than CCA 2.0 required. CCA 3.0 sets up a partnership with existing member municipalities’ local service agencies to finance projects and engage residents and businesses as owners of DER. This is done through a “universal share offering” and CCA/municipal protocol for managing customer loan/equity accounts. Municipalities in a CCA will individually vote to participate as DER loan administrators and to develop municipal DERs as shares assets. CCA rate design will incorporate protocols for customers to receive bill credits based on DER equity accrued. Municipal staffing costs will be collected from DER loan contracts, while CCA staffing recovers costs from monthly electricity/gas bill charges. Joint Powers Entities of multiple municipalities, or individual municipalities, may implement CCA 3.0.

------------------

For 25 years, Local Power has pioneered innovative programs for municipalities, passed legislation and educated the public. Creating CCA 1.0 in Massachusetts in 1994, Green Bonds in 2001 and CCA 2.0 in 2004, we co-founded California’s first CCAs, including Marin Clean Energy, CleanPowerSF and Sonoma Clean Power, causing an historic transformation of California’s energy system and leveraging billions of dollars in local renewable development in the past few years. More recently, we assisted in the creation of a statewide CCA regime in New York. Since 2015, we have developed a new system for energy transformation, releasing ​ CCA 3.0 - Accelerated Greenhouse Gas Reduction ​ in March, 2020. Paul Fenn, who leads our technical work, has been quoted and featured in hundreds of media outlets in the past two decades, including The New York Times, ​The Wall Street Journal, Truthout ​ and ​The Nation, ​Bloomberg ​and Fast Company; and is the focus of many academic studies, including books by ​Cambridge University Press and ​MIT Press. ​ We access a team of experts with diverse skills and experience based on our varied project needs, from program design, negotiation and launch to data analysis, policy, legal, engineering, governance, education, and campaigns. ​ 

Tuesday, May 5, 2020

Planet of the Neoliberals: Environmentalism and Policy Collapse




From climate change to nuclear proliferation, deforestation to species extinction, resistant bacteria to psychotropic drug proliferation, collapsed schools to media consolidation, civic idiocy to identity politics, endless warfare to mounting terrorism—all are extensions of the dialectic of enlightenment (Horkheimer and Adorno, 1969) into the atmosphere, the ocean, genetic evolution and culture, and so on. At center is a dialectical silence echoing an untenable myth that nation states and the marketplace must define the theater of human history: an empty stage of human culture that has replaced slavery with machines, and democracy with imperialism, knowledge with information, and political liberty with culture war and overconsumption. As all crises are rooted in a common epiphenomenon, any solution must lie in a transformation of not merely policy but of democracy, economics, and the idea of knowledge as well, as they are practiced throughout our culture. It is up to us: we are today on the cusp of either catastrophe or transformation, the midnight hour at which the Owl of Minerva must finally take flight, or every crisis will indeed combine into an epochal, permanent darkness.

Environmentalism, which focuses on the defining epiphenomenon of climate change, is profoundly defensive, dissembling a negative posture toward the world, but falling into it, to a point of myopia. Environmentalists oppose windmills as passionately as a coal plant and smart meters as passionately as nuclear power. Environmentalism is paranoid. Activists run from issue to issue like children at a haunted house, encompassing, ultimately, an existentially passive position: a fixed position in empty time by which the past races ineluctably: Benjamin’s Angelus Novus. Like Irving’s Rip Van Winkle, we awaken from a sleep of denial—to regretted oceans, regretted forests, lists of annihilated species, giant industrial aberrations, and profoundly undermining trends, as if they had already happened, yet also as if nothing ever happens. Passing seamlessly from denial to resignation, a rising fatalism perceives that an existential condition, not actions, condemn humanity to inevitable ruin. Environmentalism is the penultimate pragmatism and utilitarianism, which is to say that it is defined by the absence of theory—by the active trivialization of the idea of nature, which is scaled to the global and inclusive, into the empty concept of “environment,” which is simply de facto, decontextualized and dehistoricized.

Environmentalism is the vision of the dead watching the living in horror. Symbols of a pristine paradise ruined by people regurgitate the Biblical sense of blinded fallen-ness, but with pagan, misanthropic promiscuity. Energy’s destructiveness is not merely an environmental problem. Ours is a life made intense by compulsive work and consumption, devoted to filling time that has been made empty by systematic social displacements. Energy replaced slavery in more ways than one. Big business, through energy and mineral exploitation, has reinvented the conditions of medieval lords, repatriating a new position independent from any democratic government. As with white flight and globalization, under US/UK liberalization and deregulation regimes, corporations have off-shored the wealth of all nations that comply with Pax Americana.

Globalization is trade imperialism, and free trade is the global imperialism that it espouses progressively against the slavery-based and metallurgical empires of old.

A financialized feudalism has opposed itself existentially to democracy since World War II: led, ironically, by the United States, which itself is mired in the multiple personality disorder of homeland politics under empire. Free trade agreements have subverted all constitutions and disempowered all states. Big business, which is the continued force of the de Medici family and the industry that financed the Crusades a millennium ago, has reinvented the medieval land- and violence-centered definition of noble political rights into a contractually centered, financial definition of political rights based on laundered violence. Moreover, Big Business has acquired the Fourth Estate to control political discourse within the democracies it has subverted.

Financial interests represent a new utopia based on commodity fetishism rather than political freedom. Not eliminating slavery, the energy industry has replaced and universalized it as “modernization” with machines and fuels: petroleum, coal, gas, hydro-and nuclear-powered machines. Energy slavery  defines a new vision of progress erected upon a condition of permanent warfare over fuel resources and imperial corruption of those “cursed” with natural resources. Energy corporations control the resources in agreements with foreign princes and governments. While operating under European and American banners, many are functionally placeless and no longer politically loyal to their mother countries. As with Rome, globalization comes at a price—with new emperors born in the provinces and emergence of imperial disloyalty to one’s somehow reduced homeland.

Historically, the electricity industry is the hardest industrial sector to change; it is the single largest cause of crises worldwide; and it represents the largest concentration of capital that exists in the world’s economies. Indeed, rather than protect the homeland borders, the control of foreign energy resources and defense of global supply chains defines US military objectives. Nuclear power adds new kinds of domestic and foreign military threats based on the proliferation of nuclear materials in plants and uranium enrichment facilities, necessitating a militarization of the homeland, too, where energy is the center of the domestic economy, controlled mostly by monopolies and cartels traded on Wall Street.

The energy industries both cause climate change and actively campaign against anyone who tries to do something about it, leading the Left in a circular dance between bad regulation and criminal deregulation. Resisting or misdirecting technological change for decades, they have corrupted and controlled governments, using extra-constitutional leverage to erect barriers to policymakers and competitors who might achieve public technological objectives inimical to their private interests. This revolt of true elites has produced carbon policy collapse worldwide as well as a rapidly collapsing atmosphere and ocean die-offs from increasing acidity, radiation, and war, and created artificial pressure for nuclear and gas-fired power plant development as “bridge” strategies that are actually off-ramps— political betrayals. Fuel is a destructive business upon which electricity generation was built, but from which local power must now decidedly divorce itself.

Today America is a detritus of failed markets, and Europe continues to imitate American economic policy mindlessly, under the free trade, deregulation, and austerity regimes of the EU. Changes in trade or military policy have become more unthinkable than cultural transformation, world war, or genocide. Facing an eclipse of enlightenment as if suddenly today, Americans and Western Europeans face a crisis in our self-image as champions of freedom and democracy around the world, because we ourselves no longer practice political freedom, nor political democracy, at home.

We live within manufactured fictions, and these fictions prevent us from being able to change.

In energy, the predominating fiction is the kilowatt-hour. Samuel Insull built the electric industry on selling energy in time—a commodity we have internalized. We pay rates per kilowatt-hour, and regulation of energy costs is focused not on how much we have to pay in our bills but in how these rates are structured and set. When economists assess economic feasibility of technological change, they compare the old with the new in terms of rate savings by the minute. The economics of energy thus rests not on how much energy costs us in our electricity bill each month but on the rates per kilowatt-hour: just one charge or measurement of 8760 hours per year per meter, per building, per block, per substation, per municipal boundary, or per transmission control area. These are nonlinear factors radically impacting actual fixed capital costs: an implicit financialization of need.

Allowing rates to define energy, as if it were paying for gallons, excludes energy efficiency (as unconsumed energy) from the core economic and environmental equations of policymaking and relegates grid energy demand reduction (on-site renewables, efficient appliances) to a mental and administrative ghetto—a welfare program attached by legislatures, but not counting in the customer-facing economics of delivered energy needs. Renewable energy and energy efficiency do not require commodity fuels: reducing demand for energy is not counted in “rates,” which define the supply-side ideology underlying energy economics.

The United States has built a kingdom of fictions upon Insull’s foundational fiction. Having a flawed, supply-centric idea of what energy is, all of our concepts and laws concerning changing energy have had to be fictions too. In the fiction that electrical transmission has enabled, we have a timeless concept of energy as something that is omnipresent and constant, rather than the product of a fire that is burning somewhere and fuel extracted somewhere else that is being pumped into that fire—and consumed. The kilowatt-hour facilitates this fiction by reproducing the structure of fuel combustion in a charge-per-minute. It is a fiction that obliterates energy literacy and marginalizes fuel-free technologies, particularly those that may be installed behind the meter and outside an incumbent monopoly utility system’s infrastructure. Rates are thus a reification of corporatism itself.

Throughout the world, green power is defined by two policies: Feed-In Tariffs (or less generous Net-Metering Tariffs) and Renewable Energy Certificates. Both are neoliberal, growth imperative-sustaining fictions designed to accommodate a supply-centric system that will not change but merely be added to. Under such tariffs, utilities pay a consumer who elects to install solar panels on her rooftop for the power that is generated, as if it were to feed into the utility’s electrical transmission grid. Marketing materials say the utility will pay you for your power, that your meter will run backward, which it does, this fiction of supply, like water as it were, this metaphor of physical flow. Intuitively it seems real, yet it is another financial fiction: a mechanistic arms-length effort to cooperate with society anonymously under engineered conditions of location neutrality, under which actual physical cooperation with community members has been systematically rendered  uneconomical.

To understand the fiction of price itself, one must acknowledge the challenge. The tariff is inherently cost-imposing on transmission and distribution, but causes no impact upon generation. Tariffs require no changes in the utility system itself, no reduction in fuel procurement, no reduction in spinning reserves or idling power plants that ramp up and down based on fluctuating system demand. It requires no change at all; the random, non-engineered principle of deployment and technology selection has resulted in a machine-gunning of solar panels strewn across the landscape. Not one iota of design was used to match intermittency of capacity, which is utterly predictable for renewable resource technologies like solar photovoltaics, with the known schedule of demand for any given customer at any given location—facts known to both the utility monopoly and the customer. Most solar systems are installed on homes that are empty between 10am and 4pm each day, when solar panels generate power. Tariffs impose a degenerate timelessness under which yet another commodity form supplants actual redesign of the resource, with a distorted, ineffective physical impact on known, geographically specific patterns of energy consumption during the night and morning vs. during the day.

The blindness of tariffs results in a double cost: the cost of paying for the solar and the cost of upgrading transmission systems to export on-site solar power. A blind selection of technology and location has de facto forced local phenomena into export transactions that constitute the ultimate neoliberal method of “prosperity.” The customer must ultimately pay twice, while the utility has arranged to suffer no loss of revenues from reduced sales. The result is an apparent fiction that renewable energy is high cost, and ultimately a decision to discontinue renewables development, raise rates , or reopen coal mines to close nuclear plants, or vice-versa.

Adding resources in a symbolic, ineffective way is another case of cutting the baby in half: give politicians (and voters) what they want, which is sacrificial expenditures on solar panels as spectacles of change, while not actually changing anything at all at the system level—no reduced budgets for substations and transmission lines based on reduced system demand, no reduced fuel sales for gas and coal companies, no degrowth, and no substantial decarbonization of energy. Everyone is happy in this bloated national fiction of greenness: a simulation that ironically represents the greenest strategy available to mainstream policymakers. This is policy collapse under an unquestioned regime of naïve economism.

But there is nothing unique in the comforts of fiction. Even solar leaders are guilty of solar tokenism or charity—not re-engineering the grid utility to accommodate operational management of intermittent resources, storage, and demand levels, but randomly placing solar panels according to isolated consumption decisions upon a network of raging fire: a spending of money, a statute, or idol, not an integrated resource displacing grid supply. The industry is intellectually trapped in (and dependent upon) this two-dimensional metric universe, siloed in feudal dependencies upon the energy monopolies, each naïvely accepting its trap as a “business model.”

Western democracies are proceeding with climate change along lines that obey this fiction and pretend a solution may be found that does not require physical change, only piecemeal additionality. We ignore the difference between policies that turn off fossil plants and policies that do not turn them off. We implicitly exclude scenarios where the owners of legacy power plants and transmission infrastructure may be stranded, even bankrupted, and instead pour billions of dollars on supply-centric schemes of renewables development that only compound the claims of economists that any real change will result in higher prices. It is all an outrageous fiction: a political charade, expressing only an inability to make decisions within zero-sum games. Unless something has to give, the rhetoric of change is all much ado about nothing.

The lie is that technology decides our fate, not politics. The lie is that markets exist independently of government, like the water that fish inhabit, and cannot be questioned. Yet research conducted on California cities and counties by this project that analyzed detailed, previously unavailable, customer meter data, as well as system-level aggregated demand data, and geographically specific renewable generation data has proven clearly that much greater change is achievable economically, without higher electric bills or even higher rates (Local Power 2008a, b, 2013a). But all of this is possible only with the political adoption of the policy structure based on a determination to bring about real change irrespective of damage to the incumbent monopolies (Local Power 2013b). Given this political will, the energy system of any city or county can be physically transformed over a five-year period without increasing the cost of energy, presenting a scaled opportunity to achieve region-wide greenhouse gas reductions without higher rates or taxes: the two conventional choices that voters and decision-makers face and typically refuse to make.

The fictions upon which policy discourse is constructed also support the fictions that comfort people. The idea of solar power has its appeal in some latent paganism: a desire to return to the sun. The idea that we can power our lives on the sun is symbolically beautiful and elegant. But it is irresponsible.

Renewable resources are prolific, each with its own temporal pattern of generation and demand levels. Locational energy demand has a corresponding, temporal intermittency, and these patterns must be matched by rationally chosen technologies. Some communities have lots of daytime commercial energy use; other communities have a strictly nighttime residential need pattern.  Conversely, every location in the world has a unique pattern of renewable resources: some have year-round sunlight; some have windy areas, biomass waste from farms, waste heat from commercial boilers, ocean waves, underground geothermal heat, or rivers; and each one of these resources occurs intermittently at different times of any given day.

Our transcendent, import-oriented system ignores this problem and opportunity to integrate technologies locally to create benefits at the meter, substation, and commodity electricity market cost patterns. In a market equation of producers and consumers, the reality of community is simply ignored. Producers have the prerogatives of ownership and consumers merely of infantile, uninformed “choices”: the Astroturf paradise of neoliberalism. Whereas tariff programs appeal to the sun worshipper by encouraging her to select her favorite goddess, and the utility will pay her a credit to make it seem real, there is no consideration given to the pattern of life in a home or business, a block, a neighborhood, a city—in deciding which technologies are best suited to a place and way of life. Trapped in a fiction of pagan fetishes, there is no enlightenment: only a hermetic symbolism facilitated by state-sanctioned fictions—a virtual displacement of reason itself.

Chaos results from even the best-intentioned state-mandated ignorance. Germany reached its limit of randomly inserted renewables in the mid-20 percentiles, meaning that its ability to afford grid upgrades reached its limit when renewables deployed in this mindless way reached about 25% of the power generation. For example, American utilities are demanding ratepayers pay for huge transmission upgrades claiming it must have them, and consumers must pay higher rates and new “access charges” if governments insist upon higher levels of renewable supply. It is all a charade of stasis: an oligarchic resistance to change and a failure of democracies to force it.

Research indicates that the limit of a designed (vs. marketed) approach that builds portfolios from the ground up rises from 25% to 80% without increasing the cost of service and is achievable in a five- to ten-year period vs. a 50-year period. This is real change: massive greenhouse gas cuts and permanently reduced physical system demand, a leap out of the limited market fictions that cripple energy and climate policy today.

The climate debate pretends that the ability to change is a problem of the cost of technology—the price of solar power vs. the price of coal-fired power. Price is the ultimate fiction, a yawning apology fixed in a naïve rhetoric to the effect that the people, not the corporations, cannot afford change. Our civil society is trapped in an absurd fiction: a protection racket. The extortionist would suggest that you could stop smoking without harming the tobacco companies, who must naturally be entrusted with reducing smoking: such is an industry-dominated energy policy. Unless those fires go out, climate change goes on. Yet climate change is a zero-sum game: nature does not lie!

References (order of appearance)


--Local Power Inc. 2008a. Sonoma County Community Climate Action Plan Energy Element. http://localpower.com/SonomaCleanPower.html.
--Local Power Inc 2013a. CleanPowerSF In-City Build-Out Business Plan and materials, City and County of San Francisco. http://localpower.com/CleanPowerSF.html.
--Local Power Inc 2013b. Preliminary Budgetary Estimates, CleanPowerSF In-City Buildout Report. http://localpower.com/CleanPowerSF.html

--------------

Excerpt from Paul Fenn, "Enlightenment and Power," Enlightenment in an Age of Destruction: Intellectuals, World Disorder, and the Politics of Empire (Palgrave Macmillan/Springer, Critical Theory and Radical Practice Series - S.E. Bronner, editor, 2018).

Sunday, May 3, 2020

Planet of the Sleeping Giant: Film on the Pathways and Barriers from the Trenches of Climate Mobilization



 View The Sleeping Giant, a Local Power Film by Yoni Goldstein and Charles Schultz


Tuesday, April 28, 2020

Review of Planet of the Humans: What They Get Right and the Environmentalists Get Wrong


Planet of the Humans has stirred the resentment of many a climate crusader. Yesterday, the chair of the Sierra Club California Energy and Climate Committee instructed committee members (I am one) not to “watch or promote” Planet of the Humans. Today, climate scientists called for the film’s suppression. Enticed by such parental warnings, like an aroused teenager, I just had to watch it.

The film, produced by left-wing film idol Michael Moore, appears to expose and debunk current environmental initiatives for “100% renewable cities” in the United States. Sierra Club activists view the film as undermining climate action on Earth Day. But as the creator of Community Choice Aggregation, which accounts for 67 of 71 U.S. cities that have actually achieved 100% renewable electricity as of 2020, I feel compelled to speak up.

There is some truth to this film, hidden behind a multitude of glaring falsehoods. It is important to explore what the film gets right. As climate activists in the era of climate disruption, we must be clear about what our carbon reduction polices are actually going to achieve, as we push local communities around the world to implement Green New Deal programs, Paris Agreement targets, climate mobilizations, and renewable energy initiatives. Let us not get caught up, after all, in lies created not by environmentalists, but by utilities and governments that have propagated them. They are not our lies, and therefore we need not keep them, but renounce them when clearer, bolder, more concerted actions are required to meet the United Nations ten year horizon for “worldwide energy transformation to avert irreversible ecological damage to the planet.”

The main message of Planet of the Humans is that renewable energy and electric vehicles and other technologies cannot stop climate change, but merely introduce new forms of pollution and environmental destruction. The film’s sense of hopelessness is mesmerizing. Reviewing the progress of renewable energy in recent years, film director Jeff Gibbs sniffs out contradictions and presents them in a kind of cascading epiphany of juvenile disillusionment. Wind farms' intermittency requires massive natural gas power plants. Solar farms destroy the desert. Lithium ion batteries involve new forms of sea-bed mining for rare earth metals. Each solution to climate change creates a new problem, to the extent that it merely repowers the same economy, and the same civil society. Conclusion: humanity is destructive.

Yet, between these layers of accusation lie some very, very important and salient truths.  Planet of the Humans presents harsh realities about our world, mixing up cause and effect, technology and policy. We must unpack these conflations.

In doing so, we find dominant neoliberal currents, often unconscious, at the heart of the environmental movement that profoundly undermine its impactfulness. By continuing to gloss them over in the era of Trump, mainstream environmental organizations are in fact sowing the seeds of counterrevolution. I know this, because I come up against it every day in the very green energy movements I have started, led and in some cases lost to neoliberals who don’t even know they were neoliberals, whose approach to greenhouse gas reduction is to promote the technological fixes and market solutions that are the idols of capitalism, presenting the illusion that solving climate crisis is as simple as a new line of products to consume.

Gibbs and Moore’s critiques are real, but they oversimplify the problem they describe as an existential crisis with no exit. This delivers them into the pessimistic catch-basin of "overpopulation" theory: we simply have to die to solve climate change. This leathery insight is indeed the conclusion of Planet of the Humans.

However, if you look at infrared satellite images of global greenhouse gas emissions, you will quickly observe physical sources do not correspond to high population areas, but to modern economies: that is, machines. Automobiles, power plants and heating fuels cause climate change, not people. Let us look at China as an example. Before it was “opened” by the Clinton Administration to investment from the West, it had very low carbon emissions. In just a couple of decades, its industrial modernization has made it the epicenter of climate catastrophe. Constant driving, overconsumption, and parasitic capitalism have caused climate change. Therefore, to stop climate change, we must alter modernity, not blame people or wallow in misanthropy. Specifically, we must remove the growth imperative from energy. To do this, a climate mobilization strategy must wean itself from neoliberal dependency upon incumbent energy corporations and financiers who require consumption growth in their business models in order to profit from its development.

Oddly, Planet of the Humans reproduces the fictions of neoliberal environmentalism, failing to get to the truth by reifying technology as the problem. This is much as the environmental movement has reified technology as the solution. We must understand that the failures in renewable energy result from policy, regulation, and market design, not technology. By merely focusing on the unwanted attributes of the technological manufacture of solar panels, electric vehicles and wind farms, the film makers betray a naivety about the real reason we are failing.

Meanwhile, environmentalists criticize Planet of the Humans with a similar naivety, citing the film’s "lies" and "attacks" on what they consider to be promising progress. Where their critique fails is in seeing any progress made as close to remotely adequate relative to the scale of the climate crisis, and the hyper-speed by which we must attack it.

Planet of the Humans states that the 100% clean energy movement led by Sierra Club with a $80M donation by Michael Bloomberg has created a renewable front for natural gas. This would seem to imply a nefarious conspiracy, but in fact it merely reflects the state of things, to which Sierra Club and other leading climate warriors have wearily adapted themselves: a state-sanctioned system of salutary fictions.  Because environmentalist leaders, facing limited political options, blur the lines between what is real, and what is symbolic with respect to “clean” energy, they leave themselves open to charges of falsehood. 

Indeed, the renewable energy industry is guilty of the propagation of convenient fictions. Since the 1990's, renewable energy policy has remained inside a neoliberal envelope, widely adopted by state governments and environmental champions of such policies. These policies are the holy grail of renewable energy in 2020, and they include: Renewable Energy Certificates, Carbon Credits, Greening the Grid, Net Energy Metering, and Feed-in Tariffs. Together, these fictions are a startup strategy to begin something new, not an end game strategy to transform energy.

The first fiction is embracing Renewable Energy Certificates (RECs) as real, when they are not. The 100% renewable movement is certainly guilty of this, because it does not distinguish between physical and symbolic actions. A Renewable Energy Certificate is a legal invention, not energy: yet the legal invention authorizes its purchaser to call it renewable energy. This is confusing because it is untrue. REC state laws in the most pro-renewables states allow a seller of coal-fired power to claim that his product is 100% renewable, because he purchases RECs from out-of-state wind farms such as in Texas. This is referred to as "mitigation" under state laws throughout the United States and blurred into legal definitions of "green power." This thinking follows a logic that the environmental movement has been trained to accept, from day one of electric industry restructuring in the early 1990's - a market logic. RECs are a financial, not a physical, transaction and so no, we are not building renewable energy, and yes, the power plants generating the power you are purchasing as 100% renewable are in fact coal-fired. The rationale is that the RECs we have purchased will create an "incentive" upstream in the market to become greener.

The fiction of Carbon Credits is that laws allow corporations causing massive amounts of carbon pollution to claim they are 100% carbon neutral by purchasing them. Again, the same claim is made that the purchase of such credits sends an "incentive" to the market to reduce carbon.

The use of “incentives” pervades renewable energy and carbon policy, and profoundly undermines the ability of people to be able to differentiate between the real and the unreal. Today, the environmentalist establishment is guilty of propagating unreal policies in order to galvanize public support of oversimplified, financialized, superficial paths to carbon reduction. Given the mounting urgency of bringing about dramatic carbon reductions to avoid passing the threshold of being able to avert climate catastrophe, movements for climate mobilization must take notice of decades-old incentive schemes that were never designed to do anything but stimulate infant green industries, not physically transform and decarbonize the energy system.

A third fiction is the notion that we can green the grid. The effect of this approach is the equivalent to pissing into the ocean, a growing ocean, of global demand. Adding wind farms and solar farms to the grid is caught in a permanent dilution where, as Planet of the Humans points out, grids require solar farms and wind farms that generate power 20-30% of the time backfill with gas plants to generate 70-80% of the time. This gives the lie to “economies of scale.” As long as renewable energy is not local, meaning sited at the location of use, and indeed smaller, this intermittency will continue to require significant fossil fuel in tandem, and - as the film rightly points out - natural gas is not clean energy: quite the contrary, it is as harmful to the climate as coal.

This brings us to the final, least understood fiction of all. Virtually all on-grid solar systems in the world today are wired, used and paid for on the same fictional principle as RECs, Carbon Credits and the green grid: not to reduce the need for grid power in a building, but to sell power back to the grid. Net Energy Metering (NEM) and Feed-in Tariffs (FIT) are guilty of deliberately avoiding reductions in grid energy demand, and in maximizing energy transactions and grid use, rather than reducing demand and grid use. NEM and FIT render the carbon benefits of solar superficial, and drive up the need for more grid investment, resulting in more fossil fuel use.

These failings of renewable energy are not the result of solar or wind technology and its waste: but of how they are designed, how owned, and controlled. Planet of the Humans makes the fatal mistake of correctly identifying some of the cracks in the edifice of carbon reduction, but widely misses the mark of causality. Their insistence on a kind of sentimental asceticism, for example that solar panel manufacturing requires energy and metals, is a silly, millimeter-deep insight. That windmills are made of steel and concrete is an utterly foolish objection, reflecting an absence of perspective or proportionality, and an eco-Manichean view of all economic activity as dirty and evil. It is critical to parse the fact from the fiction here in order to avoid the existentialist, misanthropic malaise into which this film, in the end, settles, while also agreeing that the alarm raised - that conventional, incrementalist solutions are not adequate - is certainly heard. Planet of the Humans’ successful sniffing out of ironies concealed behind legal platitudes is limited by a resignation and pessimism of the death instinct that is antithetical to our survival and sustainability. We must navigate through the Valley of Subtleties that distinguish hypocrisy from irony. 

Turning away from technological fetishism, negative or positive, we must turn to politics. Why do all of these neoliberal policies have in common the quality of changing individual human behavior (choosing green) without changing the system (actually decarbonizing)? Because deals were made, and "necessary illusions" endorsed. The energy industry, and state governments under their undue influence adopting renewable energy laws, created them to work that way. Electric utilities did not, and do not, want their profits reduced, their revenue requirements changed, and their business models threatened. State mandates can force consumers to pay money toward a good cause, but not force utilities to reduce corporate profits. So it was therefore arranged to measure progress in ("other people's") dollars spent rather than carbon cut. It is a classic study in making progress while not rocking the proverbial boat: incrementalism hidden in a message of moral sacrifice.

The good news is that movements are currently underway to change all of these things, but these are not technological movements. They are not led by billionaire geniuses, big foundations nor even most of the “big” environmental NGOs, but by municipal governments and the activists who support them. Importantly, the centralization of renewable energy development, the obsession with maximizing transactions rather than demand reduction (the growth imperative) and its ineffectiveness as a carbon reduction strategy, are valid insights that mainstream environmental leaders and their campaign messages continue to miss.

Decentralization is a critical pathway, with major movement underway across the nation and world, that the film also simply fails to acknowledge at all, as if it didn’t exist. In fact, the community energy movement is underway, led by a different breed of environmentalists. Local installation, pairing local generation with local use, with local investment, neighbor-level sharing and cooperatives, and interoperable use and storage of onsite energy, present widely replicable, proven strategies to actually, physically, and enduringly slash carbon emissions.  In fact, of the 100% renewable US cities today, many of them, known as Community Choice Aggregations, are taking just this approach.

The film’s snapshot of green energy is a little old, but so is the propaganda of mainstream environmentalists now (idiotically) calling for Planet of the Humans to be censored from the internet. Community energy programs are focusing on deployments of renewable energy technology to not purchase Renewable Energy Certificates, build green megaprojects or implement Net Energy Metering programs, but to finance and build new local renewable, demand-reducing facilities in the urban core. They are physically building renewable energy, microgrids, urban heat loops, and energy efficiency automation in a way that reduces grid demand rather than merely selling back power to the grid. Not only that: they are focusing on climate equity, customer ownership and sharing, and local job creation, so that the majority, not the select few, can participate in and benefit economically from local renewable energy. These movements, which represent the cutting edge of climate action, are finding ways not merely to add green power to a brown grid, but to physically reduce the need for fossil fuel combustion, and to displace demand for heating and transportation fuels.

None of this is on the radar of Moore’s film, but neither is it clearly distinguished in the minds of mainstream environmental groups that promote 100% clean energy cities.  Environmentalists and lawmakers need to learn to get real about carbon reduction if we are to meet the urgent 2030 deadline recently set by the United Nations. We need to get out of startup mode and into endgame mode, that means a radical physical transformation in three years, not ten, to even come anywhere close to reaching the UN targets by 2030. We need clearer paths to radical decarbonization that overcome the glaring contradictions caused by bogus strategies to green the grid, sell renewable energy and carbon credits, and net meter solar. This is a shift from greening to weaning ourselves from the grid: from additionality to subtractionality of carbon, from carbon taxes and fees to energy equity.  Planet of the Humans may be wrong on the details, but environmental activists would be remiss to ignore its message and maintain the useless fictions of neoliberal environmental policy in the era of climate crisis. In the final analysis, this film is a needed call to arms for the environmental movement to embrace an End Game scenario for climate action, effective immediately. THIS IS NOT A DRILL.

-------

Paul Fenn is the author of CCA 3.0: Achieving Greenhouse Gas Reduction (2020), co-director of the Local Green New Deal (localgreennewdeal.org), president of Local Power LLC (localpower.com) and co-author of Enlightenment in an Age of Destruction (2018). He lives in Massachusetts.

Tuesday, December 10, 2019

100% Renewable Cities are Almost All CCAs!

UCLA Luskin School's December 2019 report on U.S. cities and counties with 100% clean & renewable energy "achieved" show that nearly all of them are California CCAs!   Sixty-seven (67) of Seventy-two (72) U.S. cities (yellow dots below in UCLA study) with "achieved" 100% clean/renewable energy supplies are new CCA 2.0 programs in California.  The other five are municipally-owned utilities in five different states.  Local Power LLC can legitimately say that the CCA 2.0 model we established in California starting in 2004 literally accounts for 95% of the 100% clean/renewable cities movement in America. Just wait until CCA 3.0, which is specifically designed for greenhouse gas reduction, takes root across the country!

Click on the maps for a closer view.  You can download the UCLA Report Here.
 










Monday, February 25, 2019

The Green New Real


I am gratified and honored by the inclusion of Community Choice Aggregation in Bernie Sanders' Green New Deal, drafted by UMASS Amherst economist Robert Pollin, under the third bullet list of actions that Bernie will undertake when elected: "We will end greed in our energy system:"

"The renewable energy generated by the Green New Deal will be publicly owned, managed by the Federal Power Marketing Administrations, the Bureau of Reclamation and the Tennessee Valley Authority and sold to distribution utilities with a preference for public power districts, municipally- and cooperatively-owned utilities with democratic, public ownership, and other existing utilities that demonstrate a commitment to the public interest. The Department of Energy will provide technical assistance to states and municipalities that would like to establish publicly owned distribution utilities or community choice aggregation (CCA) programs in their communities. Electricity will be sold at current rates to keep the cost of electricity stable during this transition" (emphasis and acronym added - source).

I am a fervent supporter of this policy, and believe the Green New Deal to be the federal concomitant of leadership at the local level in 1500 American cities and towns through Community Choice Aggregation. In order to answer the United Nation's recent eleven year time frame for a "profound transformation of energy," America's economy must transition to new ways of surviving, based on more local resource orientation, local resilience and new forms of economic development, top among them the way we use energy for power, heat and transportation. The rapidly expanding movement for climate action through CCA throughout the United States would be a natural administrators of contractors and program staff involved implementing local and regional "climate works" projects.

It is crucial to act locally while supporting global and national initiatives: not to be lulled to sleep into a political daydream, and recognize the urgency of the United Nation's March 2019 warning that the world has eleven years to undertake a profound transformation of the energy industry in order to avoid irreversible damage to our planet. It is important to place a shake of salt on the matter, which is the likelihood of federal leadership within the UN's eleven-year time frame.  

It is also crucial not to view the present in terms of recent decades, and place all your eggs in one political basket. We have been here before, after all. The Green New Deal is not new. That was 2005. I gave a speech calling for it in Marin County then (click on video to view), to get San Francisco, Marin and other Bay Area cities to launch energy plans to solve climate change in a single public works project, "the scale of a bridge," through decentralized local energy technologies. Then in 2008, when Obama was elected, I and others called for him to implement a Green New Deal to solve climate change. My proposal was called "Climate Works" using federal "Climate Bonds." Obama's staff didn't bother to reply (nor Waxman/Boxer). The political conditions of the New Deal (a radicalized Congress), were simply not there for doing important, huge, things. 

The proposal, through popular, didn't happen in Washington, first because of Bush's natural enmity, but then because Democratic Obama couldn't get his own party to prioritize it during the first two years of the administration while it had a Congressional majority. Meanwhile, from 2005 to 2009 and 2013, Marin Clean Energy and CleanPowerSF were launched, and the rest of the Bay Area and most of California soon followed, all focused on systemic carbon reduction. "Community Choice Aggregators" are now approaching half of California customers, and also across the Midwest and Northeast US. The US is a big ship to turn, but thousands of smaller ships turn more quickly, while appearing slow. As thousands of cities and towns change, the market changes, barriers are removed, costs are lowered, and more energy systems transformed. It is like the tale of the hare and tortoise. 

Today, we dreamily re-ruminate a dream of Franklin Delano Roosevelt, but in reality the federal government has been good for little for many decades. Yet psychologically, the national ritual of federal debate and legislation creates the illusion of achieving something as if through gesture or catharsis (as if to reform public morals!). 

Local governments mostly do things, actually - unlike state politics, which "achieves" things in brief spectacles followed by national nap and a nice glass of amnesia. With local government, doing things takes time, but something actually happens: only the the tortoise can actually make it to the finish line. I'm glad Bernie's version of the Green New Deal recognizes the central role that CCAs and traditional municipal utilities and cooperatives play in designing and implementing projects that the federal government supports.  

A transformation of energy and other infrastructure requires planning, design, and purposeful coordination of local public agencies. The original New Deal, I said in my speech before Robert F. Kennedy Jr.'s anti-coal keynote at the Marin County Municipal Auditorium, was entirely based upon the municipal leadership of the Huey Longs of Winn Parish Louisiana, a Socialist/Populist Bastion; or the "power broker" Robert Moses who organized the planning of steel bridges in New York City, quickly copied by cities worldwide -  locally implementing a vision that had originated in the Populist, Progressive and Socialist movements of the late 19th century. Today, our Cold War mental image of public works is federal with Roosevelt's face on it, but in reality municipalities do this job. The New Deal was in this sense an emulation, co-optation or standardization of municipal public works that were already underway, asserting federal control over such projects, trading cooperation for federal funds: and postwar America was born. 

In this sense the New Deal was a watering down of a more radical municipal trend. On the one hand, the striking factor of the New Deal was its highly competent administration, scalability/impact, and cost-effectiveness in employing people during the crisis. It had to re-standardize the economy under a federal system, fundamentally marginalizing state and local governments. On the other hand, the system it created manufactured a yawning political complacency in American civil society. As America got rich with massive growth in the postwar years, many municipalities even granted their energy utilities "perpetual franchises" during these decades of corporate utopianism and the peaceful atom, reflecting the la-la land quality of political leadership concerning the energy sector, which was the focus of intense anti-communist propaganda campaigns of both the U.S. Cold War complex and Madison Avenue.   

The New Deal was thinkable and possible, because the broader civil discourse had moved so far left after the Wall Street Crash of 1929 that a deal was needed to get socialists to compromise with millionaires, and a regulatory state (not socialism) was thus established and continued through the 20th century. It was, ultimately, a kicking-of-the-can down the dialectical sidewalk. A growing chorus of market fundamentalism between the Democratic and Republican party cabals since then has resulted in a toxic bipartisanship in recent decades, with a consistently inadequate commitment to addressing climate change or any other serious mega-threats, like mass extinction and endless wars.

So much of politics depends upon metaphor. When we think of public mobilizations to face a disaster, the War Production mobilization in WWII comes to mind, and the trip to the moon. "The Apollo Alliance" which most notably promoted the Green New Deal in the Obama era, and after failing was absorbed by the United Nations as the "Global Apollo Program,"  was fixated upon this Kennedy-era metaphor. Today, the Climate Mobilization calls for a Godzilla-style "WWII style mobilization" on climate change. We naturally look to the past (or to fictional archetypes), to grasp for a precedent, when in fact we need to do something new, and in a new way

It is no less imporant to recognize that transforming energy must (1) redevelop the private sector, which consumes 95% of energy, and (2) reduce dependency on grid resources, not merely add green power to the grid. In my 2005 Marin speech, the New Deal metaphors were steel bridges and water and sewer systems/plumbing: these are precedents for the kind of infrastructure change climate change demands. Bridges cross the municipal with scale, but the precedent of plumbing and sewer systems connects small private systems to large public systems, and is closer in this respect to the way in which carbon emissions can be reduced through an integrated powering down of grids and pipelines.  I joked to the audience about how controversial plumbing had been in the time of Cholera debate in the late 1800s, the fear government pipes crossing the lawn, and a residual public denial of the idea of contagion: that Cholera was spread through water contamination. "Today, everyone has a toilet. The idea was extreme at the time. Queen Victoria at one time owned the only Crapper in the world."

Today, though this great hulk of the New Deal was designed to terminate, and did terminate, the 20th century federalized the entire country, converting a formerly local political culture based on newspapers and actual political communities in cities to a national/imperial audience based in T.V., in an era of mass suburbanization, which is is obsessed with the Presidency/Emperor, while neglecting all other forms of democratic participation.

Starting in the late 1970's and rising to a crescendo in the 1990's, industries were deregulated and off-shored, welfare "reformed," millions of drug addicts incarcerated, and unions bypassed. Globalization, or foreign investment-oriented trade agreements  have replaced the regulatory state - a replacement that in energy and other heavy industries, failed in  terms of delivering innovation in energy or transportation. Federal regulatory agencies have long systematically failed to protect the food supply from pesticides and GMOs, which aren't even labeled and hardly regulated, with even point-of-origin labeling efforts under a ban. Under this system, America got the McHorrible food system we have.

It's important to remember the downside of war mobilization and the command-and-control economy. During the regulatory state, the American population was exposed to radiation and minorities sterilized. Socialists,  communists, anarchists and libertarians (anybody with their own ideas) were hounded out of universities and important jobs (and off Hollywood and TV), a fact that persists today in America. The regulatory state was Pax Americana to the world in the postwar decades: America, Inc.. By the time of energy industry deregulation in the 1990's, it was an undeniable fact that the depression-era Wall Street solution called utility regulation had amounted to a manifest failure, and that deregulation was necessary to break the mold and start over. The postwar party was over, growth slowed down to a snail's pace in the early 1970's, and the industry itself began to talk about restructuring.

Changing the basic structure of the economy is routinely achieved by big business but is ultimately the natural province of the municipality. The restructuring of the energy industry since Jimmy Carter is the reason why we have done so little about climate change. We cannot go back, or we'll just get the sorry handmaidens - the California Public Utilities Commissions of the world - which are empty husks of their former selves, and serve as blank check machines for the energy mafia.

When you propose to transform energy, this is what you are trying to transform. It is a political force that has controlled the policy discussion for thirty years. Achieving transformation of this industry requires a specific, leveraged direction of approach, with known mechanisms, so that decisions may be made, partners signed and projects built in a timely manner.

We believe, with Schumacher, that Small is Beautiful, and propose, not a federal model of action, but the only reason Green New Deal is increasingly thinkable, pursuant to the last election: a nation-wide movement of local municipalities to implement energy localizations through Community Energy platforms known as Community Choice Aggregation or "CCA." Alongside the growing list of American cities committing to 100% renewable energy (implying intent to aggregate), these are achieving massive carbon reductions at no cost to taxpayers, building their Climate Works programs locally in their communities, as mutual associations, under city council management. 

These cities developing regional renewable facilities, numbering in the hundreds, join over a thousand nationwide that have already taken local control of their energy decision making. They are led by dozens that are well beyond this and into transforming the energy business model through localization and demand reduction.  I am working with several to focus development behind-the-meter in people's homes and businesses, de-growing the grid load from the bottom up.

De-growth is an urban re-development strategy! Giant wind farms and Megagrids ain't!

It is replacing a power plant with a thousand small facilities and building retrofits. In terms of cost center, it replaces fuel with labor and logistics. We are working with cities to help them hire local residents and employ local businesses. 

This is Green Public Works, Green Private Works too, being primarily customer-owned.

De-growth of power replaces the Green-the-Grid model of the Green New Deal and the status quo generally, with a strategy of downsizing the Grid through localization. Technologies are off-the-shelf, and already competitive in price with conventional resources. Microgrid-enabled, solar/onsite renewables, appliance and heating automation, shared Vehicle-to-Building (V2B) Electric Vehicles, and other onsite power and heating technologies embody a strategy not only to localize technology, but localize ownerhsip. Urban areas and  rural areas would follow slightly different models, but, depending on local conditions, you should be able to to provide most of your energy from within 20 miles of City Hall, much of it within 10 miles, based on adaption of efficiency, renewables, and flexible EV storage.

Moreover, unlike the New Deal, Green Public Works is not just about government ownership, but rather customer ownership and community economic benefits.

Rather than building a national grid for wind power, cities make investments to cool down utility substations throughout their jurisdictions, while offering residents a universal equity path, based on the proceeds: a kind of solar retirement fund. Economic benefits would be localized, not off-shored to Wall Street. Rather than raising taxes to pay for more federal workers and enrich the bankers, we would pay for more local workers, working for municipal contractors, and enrich ourselves. These new services, which municipalities manage, provide the funding to run the programs, so you don't oppress the people with unnecessary taxes to pay for it all.

I know we need important election issues, and the Green New Deal is attempting to address the most pressing threat to Americans and all people everywhere. But the how of it matters. The idea of a Green New Deal is to do something big and different. However, the gigantism of it makes Green New Deal somewhat stuffy, standard-issue federal gruel.   It is the classic error of leftists to forget that the state sucks, too. Disruption is more effective than planning. A bit of anarchy can be a good thing in a world of cartels and monopolies presiding over a captive institution: municipal anarchism, not central planning, is the responsible path to Climate Action.

Top-down policy platforms have inherent flaws: as Schumacher said, of gigantism.  In localizations, the city councils give orders to the town administrator, who directs staff managing town contractors. This simple, local democratic milieu presents the millions of  concerned Americans, who support Green New Deal because it is at least on the menu in Plato's cave, with a practical, achievable, scalable local path to a Climate Solution.

And without needing to lob an improbable pass over the U.S. Senate and President, nor resort once again to the passion play for endless marches and public vomiting of cultural outrage. What demonstrations, these? Occupists? It carries the other-worldly scent of religion. We need real demonstrations of Green Public Works to spread nationwide. If we need federal support to do this, it is targeted support we need: backstopping for Solar Bond financing and credit/collateral assistance on power contracts to have better control. We would ask that it actually be adapted to existing municipal activities, not sprayed down from above. There is real work to be done here, not just bragging about how much public money you will spend or threatening draconian measures like travel bans. It didn't work for Syriza in Greece, nor Podemos in Spain, and it won't work in the U.S. What will work is municipal public works.

The 2005 speech introduced California's new Community Choice Law, and the Solar Bond authority that I had recently written and passed in the state legislature and by voters to San Francisco's City Charter (the world's first Green Bond). These two new local powers would be combined, repurposing the kinds of revenue bond investment in toll bridge authorities and public infrastructure, to build wholly new, modular, diverse miniature technologies in the basements and rooftops of the City: the private sector, which consumes 95% of energy. 

It is hard to awaken the Eternal Ones of the Dream from their sleep of a national glory. In the speech I reminded the (very enviro-) Marinites that Germany's celebrated solar program was also created by one city, spread by osmosis to neighboring cities, and to the local state, and only much much later to the catchment of national government. This is how real things happen.  One single city, Aachen (home of Charlemagne, mind you) imagined and created the example that inspired 27 surrounding municipalities, then the state legislature of Schleswig Holstein, then several other legislature solar buyback programs. 

People often forget the upward impact of a municipal policy on officials representing those municipalities at the state level. Here is a principle of cooperation more powerful than the human will. No federal law would have been possible, and would not have happened at all, without the initiative of Aachen's local government with no state support whatever. This dynamic outlines the thinkable and politically feasible where city councils have been enlisted to do battle. Those who said think globally act locally missed an important opportunity to think locally: and to act, not from begging change from the emperor, but articulating and demanding it at home, in City Hall, built from the ground up. 

(The ironic thing is, some Green New Dealers will think me an opponent, and probably say I am too idealistic, or that it will take too long and we need a global solution to bring it to scale! Yawn. Welcome to climate politics, Rip Van Winkle....) 

                                                           (updated October 1, 2019)

Follow Paul Fenn Blog

Popular Posts

Blog Archive