Killing Local Solar

“As households adopt rooftop solar, they transform generation and its ownership, shifting away from utility monopolies and making power production their own.”
Paul Hawken, Drawdown

“As far as the future is concerned, it is not a question of foreseeing it, but of making it possible.”
Antoine de Saint Exupéry, Citadelle, 1948

December 17, 2019 will be remembered as an important day in the history of Redding, California, and its relationship with the planet on which it resides. For that was the day a majority of its elected representatives on the city council publicly voted to “kill” the best, local hope for non-polluting, renewable energy available to us if we hope to avoid a catastrophic transformation of our climate.

Three councilmembers – Julie Winter, Kristin Schreder and Erin Resner – accepted the Redding Electric Utility’s argument that a fair rate of payment to customers with rooftop solar is 6.08 cents per kilowatt hour when they sell their excess power back to REU.

By contrast, a consortium of Redding’s solar companies had proposed an alternative rate of 12 cents per kilowatt hour as the most reasonable compromise between the previous rate of 15 cents and the new six-cent rate.

Councilman Michael Dacquisto had argued that the clear intent of the council was to ensure fairness for everyone and make sure the rate they established would “pencil.” Dacquisto defined the term “pencil” as meaning the minimum amount necessary to “keep the (local) solar industry alive.” Dacquisto said the six-cent rate failed the fairness test and would in fact “kill” the local solar industry (at least within the city limits), adding, “We can all agree on that.” Mayor Adam McElvain voted with Dacquisto in support of the 12-cent rate.

The main reason given by those voting for the six-cent rate was that the previous rate of 15 cents was an unfair subsidy benefiting customers with solar panels and harming non-solar customers, especially “poor people” who cannot afford them.

Dacquisto pointed out that REU said this “unfair subsidy” amounts to $900,000 a year which means the 43,000 customers without solar would pay an extra $1.75 a month on top of their average electric bill. If we assume the average “poor person” in Redding is paying much less than average on their electric bill, we can see their portion of the subsidy would amount to less than a dollar a month. The question is whether this small cost-shift justifies crippling Redding’s local solar industry when scientists tell us the climate crisis requires that we urgently transition from fossil fuels to renewables, such as solar panels.

In addition, as Dacquisto pointed out, REU (and/or previous city councils) have never had a problem with subsidies before this. In fact, the councilman pointed out that REU has 10 different rate structures for specific customer groups, which suggests that those who pay more, subsidize those who pay less.

David Ledger, one of the members of the solar committee selected by the city manager to advise them on this issue, spoke at the public meeting regarding his concerns. He said that REU provides subsidies to low income customers, provides new homeowners with a $3000 subsidy and new businesses with a 25% discount on their utility bills. The cost of these subsidies is passed on to other REU customers. Why aren’t we concerned about these subsidies? The only subsidy REU and the council appear to oppose is one that helps local citizens dramatically reduce their carbon footprint. Why is this?

Could it be because it is the one subsidy that also reduces REU’s revenue? It would not be surprising if REU viewed residential, rooftop solar as an economic threat. The Sun’s energy is free, after all. As more people switch to solar, less revenue flows to REU. But which is more important – REU’s income or maintaining a livable planet for future generations?

Back in 2008, I had a conversation with Paul Hauser, REU’s new director at the time. He admitted to me that he was strongly opposed to anyone in Redding putting solar panels on their roofs because he said it would be unfair to customers without solar. I was stunned. If everyone thought this way, the whole world would continue to burn fossil fuels, which would be catastrophic. Jim Feider, who was REU’s Director from 1997 to 2008 said much the same at the recent public meeting. He stated even a six-cent subsidy was too much and was an unfair “burden” on non-solar customers.

Are Subsidies Unfair?

But is it unfair? As the Environmental and Energy Study Institute (EESI) recently stated, “There is a long history of government intervention in energy markets. Numerous energy subsidies exist in the U.S. tax code to promote or subsidize the production of cheap and abundant fossil energy. Some of these subsidies have been around for a century, and while the United States has enjoyed unparalleled economic growth over the past 100 years – thanks in no small part to cheap energy – in many cases, the circumstances relevant at the time subsidies were implemented no longer exist. Today, the domestic fossil fuel industries (namely, coal, oil and natural gas) are mature and generally highly profitable. Additionally, numerous clean and renewable alternatives exist, which have become increasingly price-competitive with traditional fossil fuels.”

According to the International Monetary Fund (IMF), in 2017, the governments of the world subsidized fossil fuels by $5.2 trillion, which includes nearly $300 billion in direct cash payments. These are referred to as pretax subsidies. When we factor in “the full societal and environmental costs,” of burning fossil fuels, the IMF finds an additional $4.9 trillion of post-tax subsidies, according to Robinson Meyer, writing in The Atlantic.

What does this mean? According to Meyer, “The burning of fossil fuels releases deadly air pollution, hastens the destruction of the climate, and (sometimes) increases traffic fatalities. And since all of those things kill people, they also depress a country’s tax base. Account for both the harms and the smaller tax base, says the IMF, and you produce an overwhelming number.”

Every year, for example, about 90,000 Americans die because of air pollution produced by fossil fuels, not renewable energy. This means our fellow citizens, “subsidize air pollution with their life.” Globally, air pollution causes an estimated 600,000 deaths each year in children under five, mostly from pneumonia.

One study “linked 400,000 deaths worldwide to climate change each year,” and predicted this number will grow to 600,000 per year by 2030.

According to the IMF, the U.S. is the second largest subsidizer of fossil fuels in the world, totaling $649 billion. The IMF stated, “Efficient fossil fuel pricing in 2015 would have lowered global carbon emissions by 28 percent and fossil fuel air pollution deaths by 46 percent, and increased government revenue by 3.8 percent of GDP.”

And while some members of our city council are concerned about hurting poor people by subsidizing energy usage by solar customers, our ongoing dependence on fossil fuels is devastating to the poor. Meyer writes, “The burning of fossil fuels demands the grant of something valuable, not from one equal to another, but from the poor to the rich, from the weak to the powerful. The wealthy can and do burn more fuels, after all.”

According to the World Bank, if allowed to continue at the present rate, human-caused climate change could force an additional 100 million people into extreme poverty in the next ten years. 

According to the United Nations Office for Human Rights, “Climate change will have devastating consequences for people in poverty. Even under the best-case scenario, hundreds of millions will face food insecurity, forced migration, disease, and death. Climate change threatens the future of human rights and risks undoing the last fifty years of progress in development, global health, and poverty reduction.”

They tell us, “Climate change will have the most severe impact in poor countries and regions” and “Developing countries will bear an estimated 75-80 percent of the costs of climate change.” As Oxfam reports, “The people least responsible for causing climate change bear the brunt of its impacts. Poor communities, particularly women and marginalized groups, face the greatest peril.”

According to the IMF, each additional ton of carbon we add to the atmosphere (which comes from burning just 86 gallons of gasoline), adds “$40 of global costs.” Because our global emissions are so high and so damaging (compared to zero from renewables), this alone adds over $1 trillion in costs to all of us.

Who is subsidizing who? Aren’t all of us who are driving electric cars and powering our homes with solar panels, subsidizing those who are burning carbon fuels and irreparably damaging the planet?

So, What’s the Problem?

In his book, The Long Thaw, climate scientist David Archer reminds us of what we are doing to the only planet on which life is known to exist by continuing to rely on fossil fuels instead of renewable energy. He writes that we add 20 pounds of CO2 to the atmosphere for every gallon of gasoline we burn, and obtain a benefit of 2500 kilocalories of energy. As we know, the CO2 we emit will trap “Earth’s radiant energy by absorbing infrared radiation,” for hundreds of years. About a quarter of our emissions will last thousands of years.

Archer writes, “If we add up the total amount of energy trapped by the CO2 from the gallon of gas over its atmospheric lifetime, we find that (it) ultimately traps 100 billion kilocalories of useless and unwanted greenhouse heat. The bad energy from burning that gallon ultimately outweighs the good energy by a factor of about 40 million.”

As far as I can tell, REU and the council are not considering the huge cost all of us are paying as we continue to ignore the climate crisis. We are running out of time. Instead of creating barriers that prevent people from quickly transitioning to renewable energy, REU and our city council members should do all they can to facilitate a rapid shift away from fossil fuels.

For decades, climate scientists have warned us that the likelihood of catastrophic or dangerous climate change increases as we burn fossil fuels for our energy and transportation needs. They set 1.5°C or 2.7°F as the critical guardrail that we must avoid if we wish to preserve a healthy planet for future generations.

In order to achieve this, all of us must strive to live within a strict carbon budget. According to an Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) special report that examined how much carbon we can still burn and not exceed 1.5°C warming, as of January of 2018, we only had 420 gigatons (GT) of CO2 left to emit. Two years have now passed, and we have burned through 80 GT (40 GT a year) of our greenhouse gas budget, which means we only have 340 GT left. This gives us only about 8 and a half years! If we continue to drive gas-powered cars, fly on airplanes, use electricity from coal and natural gas and raise (and eat) livestock at the same pace as we have in recent years, we will have committed ourselves and our heirs to an extremely hot and hostile planet.

A recent United Nations report warned that if we fail to take this seriously and continue business as usual, the Earth will warm by 7°F in the next 80 years. If we hope to avert catastrophic climate change, we need to immediately begin reducing our greenhouse gas emissions by 8 percent every year, starting now. By 2030, we will need to produce 50 percent less emissions each year than we do today to avert disaster. Scientists tell us that we have a 67% chance of keeping the Earth from exceeding the 1.5° limit if we follow this course. And in case you were wondering, we need to be completely carbon-free by 2050. One thing all scientists agree on is that we should have begun decarbonizing decades ago. The longer we wait, the more hopeless it becomes.

So, What’s the Solution?

I was recently asked to provide ideas for solutions to the climate crisis. The easiest answer to this request is to encourage people to read Paul Hawken’s Drawdown, The Most Comprehensive Plan Ever Proposed to Reverse Global Warming. And then work locally with fellow citizens to transform our community away from head-in-the-sand, climate science denial and avoidance and toward responsible stewardship of our most precious resource, the Earth itself, whose fragile balance of ecosystems allows life to exist.

In that book, you will find Rooftop Solar, listed at number 10, out of 80 solutions to the climate crisis. In other words, Rooftop Solar is the 10th best solution “based on the total amount of greenhouse gases they can potentially avoid or remove from the atmosphere.”

This is what our city council wants to discourage in Redding. If we can join with the rest of the world in transitioning globally to at least 7 percent electricity generation by 2050, we can avoid 24.6 GT of emissions and save $3.4 trillion in home energy costs. Why wouldn’t we do our part?

In Drawdown, Hawken writes, “Numerous studies show that the financial benefit of rooftop PV (solar photovoltaics) runs both ways. By having it as part of an energy-generation portfolio, utilities can avoid the capital costs of additional coal or gas plants, for which their customers would otherwise have to pay, and broader society is spared the environmental and public health impacts. Added PV supply at times of highest electricity demand can also curb the use of expensive and polluting peak generators.

Some utilities reject this proposition and posit contradictory claims of rooftop PV being a ‘free rider,’ as they aim to block the use of distributed solar and its impact on their revenue and profitability (my italics).

“Others (like PG&E?) accept its inevitability and are trying to shift their business models accordingly. For all involved, the need for a grid “commons” continues, so utilities, regulators and stakeholders of all stripes are evolving approaches to cover that cost.”

So, what are we going to do? The majority of Redding’s City Council members, good-intentioned as they may be, are now on record as discouraging Redding’s residents from getting free energy from the Sun and preferring that they pay REU to provide them electricity that comes from the burning of fossil fuels and eats away at our dwindling carbon budget.

But this can change. We do live in a democracy. We do have options. Each of us has a voice and a vote. We can go to city council meetings and let our council members know that we believe the climate crisis should be taken seriously. We could let them know that we want them to support and subsidize residential solar and wind and any other form of energy that comes along that doesn’t add heat-trapping gases to the atmosphere.

It is not too much to ask. In fact, it is the very least we can do. And it is time. We can change and we will but we need everyone on board. Please join us. Whether we like it or not, a new, brutal world is already here and will be getting worse. Even here in our community. That is inevitable. The next decade is the most important ten years in the history of humanity because we – you and me and everyone we know – will get to decide (by our actions) how bad—or good – the future will be. Future generations will bless or curse us depending on what we do with our brief time on Earth. I believe we will do the right thing. I hope you do, too.

Douglas Craig
Doug Craig graduated from college in Ohio with a journalism degree and got married during the Carter administration. He graduated from graduate school with a doctorate in Psychology, got divorced, moved to Redding, re-married and started his private practice during the Reagan administration. He had his kids during the first Bush administration. Since then he has done nothing noteworthy besides write a little poetry, survive a motorcycle crash, buy and sell an electric car, raise his kids, manage to stay married and maintain his practice for almost 30 years. He believes in magic and is a Dawes fan.

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33 Responses

  1. Avatar Bruce Vojtecky says:

    As I am not an educated climate scientist and did not spend a night in a motel room, like one poster on here, studying climate change I will post what I know.
    Arizona used to have a solar subsidy fund but canceled it a few years ago because of cost. That has not stopped Arizona residents and businesses from installing solar. Everywhere here in Phoenix solar leanto parking lot covers provide shade as well as energy for the schools and businesses. When the FRYS store on Bell Avenue was installing their leanto panels I talked to the manager and he said those solar panels would save that one store $10.000 a month. In the extreme Phoenix heat I don’t doubt that.
    As far as home panels there is a problem when the roof leaks and the panels need to be removed to repair the roof, this has to be done by the solar company or the warranty is void. No competitive bidding.

    • Tom O'Mara Tom O'Mara says:

      We have had solar for 27 years and have had two roof leaks, both of which I have fixed. I installed all of our collectors on the roof myself, so I had a good idea where to look, and I was right both times. When it comes time to re-roof, we will deal with re-installing the collectors, but in the meantime, we have had 27 years of hot water and 19 years of solar electricity generation w/o fossil fuels.

  2. Avatar Annelise says:

    Excellent reporting. Thank you for keeping us informed! What local groups are working on this? Who can we join with?

  3. Doug Craig Doug Craig says:

    Thanks Bruce for your comment. I don’t think there is any doubt that installing solar panels is cost-effective. We zeroed out our PG&E bill for 11 years from 2007 when a local solar company installed 32 panels on our rooftop until the Carr Fire burned them up in 2018. Over that time our home avoided emitting about 65 tons of CO2 that it would have emitted if we had not installed panels. We never had a single problem with the panels. When we had a local roofing company re-roof our home a few months before the fire, we paid the local solar company to remove the panels and re-install them on the new roof. I suppose we can find instances where solarizing a home or business does not pencil but that is the exception not the rule. Renewables are now cheaper than fossil fuels without subsidies and yet we (you and me) are subsidizing the ExxonMobils of the world through our taxes to continue to destroy our climate. Is this not absurd?

    We purchased our current home within the Redding City limits four months after the Carr Fire and within days after we closed escrow and before we moved in I met with a local solar representative to fully solarize this home. The week after that I purchased my second electric car. The proof that solar panels and other renewables are the wave of the future is obvious to anyone paying attention. This is the end of the fossil fuel era. The only question is how quickly we make the transition and if it is already too late to avoid catastrophic climate change.

    Please understand the Carr and Camp fires and the fires currently raging in Australia are nothing compared to what is coming. The world is steadily growing hotter and drier and more devastating fires are inevitable. Hurricanes will be much worse in the future. Flooding and sea level rise and species extinctions and millions of deaths are locked in now. But as your comment suggests, too many of us can only see the climate crisis and our efforts to avoid it as an economic inconvenience. Sadly, we are not treating this as the existential threat that it actually is. I applaud anyone who wakes up each day and seeks to do all they can to reduce their carbon footprint and wake up others to do the same. Our money will mean nothing on a devastated planet and our children and grandchildren will know what we did or did not do to save the climate for them and their children and grandchildren.

    Having said that, in today’s RS, Dan Beans, REU’s Director, wrote, “REU is currently a 65% renewable energy utility, meaning that 65% of the energy consumes is from renewable sources such as wind, solar and hydroelectric. REU is also on track to meet California’s mandated carbon-free energy goal of 100% by 2045.”

    If true, this is good news and REU and city leaders are to be applauded. The question is how much do we depend on Shasta Dam for our energy needs and what will we do when the snowpack is gone in the future, hotter world we are creating? Can we be carbon-free when the droughts return and Shasta Lake is critically low? How can we generate hydroelectric power without water?

    And why would we not want to help our local citizens to put panels on their roofs like the rest of humanity? Won’t this help us get to zero carbon sooner? And we need local leaders to seek to educate local citizens to the reality of the climate crisis. We can’t treat this as a liberal environmental issue when it is an effort to save human civilization. We need more electric car charging stations and yes we need a carbon fee and dividend plan that will put an appropriate price on gasoline and return monthly checks to the public as we subsidize electric car purchases. That is, if we value life more than money. Otherwise, look around and accept that all of this gets steadily worse. Much worse. We all get to choose the future by our actions today.

  4. Douglas Craig Douglas Craig says:

    In response to your question Annelise, we have a local chapter of Citizens Climate Lobby, we have a group called North State Climate Action and a FB group, Redding Climate Coalition and First United Methodist Church’s Whole Earth and Watershed Festival will celebrate the 50th anniversary of Earth Day in April. I will post soon about contact information and meeting times.

  5. Avatar Mark D Twitchell says:

    It’s been my feeling that REU has been anti-solar for some time. About a year ago, I was contacted by an out of the area solar contractor who indicated that a solar installation on my roof would save me a considerable amount from my REU bills (and, of course, be more beneficial for the planet). They proposed (as I remember) a system generating about 17 KW/hour at a cost of around $45,000. That seemed a tad expensive to me, so I went to a local solar contractor with that information. He was quite surprised that they had proposed such a large system and told me that the planning commission needs to be contacted so they can determine the appropriate sized system for my installation.
    I was then informed that the maximum system I could install was a 6.97 KW/hour system, based on my average use over the past year of 12,210 KW/hours. After discussing this with the local contractor, I determined that there was no financial incentive to go solar: my payments on the solar system would equal or exceed my savings from going solar, even considering any rebates available.
    It seems odd that the state of California is pushing solar energy via rebates, etc., and REU seems to be making it harder, or at least cost-ineffective within the city limits.
    Based on my conversations with the original contractor, who claimed to have installed solar systems up & down the state, I can’t help but wonder if other cities with municipal utilities do the same, or is this just an REU policy?

    • Tom O'Mara Tom O'Mara says:

      While everyone’s house and family size are different, the 12,000+ KwH annual usage seems a little high and perhaps amenable to some conservation solutions. We have a 4.5 KW solar system which produces about 7,000 KwH per year, close to 100% of our needs for a 3,100 sq.ft. house including
      a hot tub, chest style freezer, and charging one electric car.

      If we were all marooned on an island (which we actually are), we would quickly get to work on how to allocate water, food, and shelter resources, including conserving them. It we were actually serious about the climate emergency, we would similarly have personal carbon/fossil fuel budgets from which we could then make intelligent decisions. We have obviously not reached that point of consciousness yet.

      • Douglas Craig Douglas Craig says:

        “If we were all marooned on an island (which we actually are), we would quickly get to work on how to allocate water, food, and shelter resources, including conserving them. It we were actually serious about the climate emergency, we would similarly have personal carbon/fossil fuel budgets from which we could then make intelligent decisions. We have obviously not reached that point of consciousness yet.”

        This says it all…

        Thanks Tom.

      • Avatar Mark D Twitchell says:

        Tom, your comment made me take a look back at REU bills. Last August showed 1613 KWH, while last month’s was 685. I do have some conservation “fixes” in mind. Upgraded windows would make a big difference, I’m sure. Also, I’ve noticed that there are no vents on my roof, none. The living room has a raised ceiling, so no attic there, but there’s attics on both sides. There’s the usual soffit around the base of the roof, but no way for hot air to escape (was that even legal? My house ain’t that old.) Since a new roof is in the near future, I am curious to see just how this change will affect my energy bills in the summer.

  6. Avatar Bruce Vojtecky says:

    I posted on another article that the July 2017 issue of High Country News had an article on Pinheads. It pointed out how ineffective the Western United States distributes electricity. 38 different entities control the distribution of energy in a hap hazard way with no input with each other. The energy produced now is often wasted when it could be used somewhere.

  7. Avatar Jeff Morrow says:

    We can make our own electricity, but we can’t make our own gasoline.

  8. Avatar Fred Castagna says:

    I served as chairman of the committee which advised the City Council on this solar matter. We were tasked with finding and recommending a credit rate which would continue to make the Redding solar industry viable. Unfortunately we could not do so. The committee was advised by the City’s legal counsel foe elect rates that providing a credit rate which moves costs to non-solar customers would violate California law and potentially invite a lawsuit.

    I have a solar installation on my home and I am a strong proponent of energy self-reliance. In addition, there are legal experts who believe the public benefit of solar should and maybe would outweigh the marginal cost to non-solar customers. However, I can understand Councils reluctance to find itself in a test case.

    There is an additional issue looming over the solar industry. The federal tax credit of 30% of the installation cost was reduced to 26% beginning on the first of this year. Within a couple more years it will be gone altogether. Therefore, even at a $.12 credit rate the current cost of installing a system would not make economic sense. Many in the industry believe that the federal credit may be extended and that possibly California will provide an exception to current law for solar credit rates. Without these two actions the future of residential solar in California will remain cloudy.

  9. Avatar Richard Christoph says:

    Spot on, Fred, though for PG&E customers, solar remains an attractive option. REU’s low rates per kilowatt hour make solar less appealing financially, but still worthwhile from an environmental perspective.

  10. Doug, what an incredibly important column, and what’s doubly spectacular is the high caliber of comments that have added to this crucial piece of writing.

    Thank you!

  11. Avatar Dean Germano says:

    We had Solar City install our roof top solar system on our Redding home a few years ago. It was pretty expensive, even with the rebates and it would take about 10 years to get to the payback. At the time, the Solar City rep, in response to my question about replacing my roof tiles in future stated, the company would take the system off my roof once at no cost. Fast forward to our hail storm last year, my roof tiles needed replacing. Since then Solar City was bought out by Tesla. I quickly found out that there was no provision in my contract with Solar City about removing my system for a roof tile replacement. In many ways this is my own fault for not checking the contract (despite the rep telling me several times this was the policy). When I asked how much to do this work (take the system off my roof and restore it) he quoted me nearly $12,000!!! For those of you who are considering roof solar please make sure this is addressed in your contract or at least be aware. On top of everything else, when asked when they could do the work Tesla shared that the earliest they can do this is perhaps next June!!

  12. Frank Treadway Frank Treadway says:

    Thanks Doug for this complicated and full explanation of the solar dilemma in a City that owns its own utility company. I wonder if Roseville, Sacramento and other cities who own their utilities are doing the same thing to their customers ?
    I say a petition to call for a re-vote on this is in order; or a ballot measure ?

    • Douglas Craig Douglas Craig says:

      Great question Frank. I know a couple people who might be able to answer your question. I will reach out to them and see if they could post a response. I do not think a petition or re-vote is necessary at this point. All council members, who I respect by the way, said they would like to re-visit this issue in one year. So I think that means, after this one-year experiment, we will have enough data to have a re-vote and who knows? Maybe one or two of the council members who voted for the 6 cent rate will be willing to raise it to the more reasonable (in my view) 12-cent rate.

  13. Avatar Anonymous Heckler says:

    Solar is great. I read a piece by the REU director this morning that REU is planning a “utility-scale” solar project that will deliver energy at a quarter of the cost of rooftop solar. Renewable energy that doesn’t drive out bills through the roof? Sounds like a sensible plan to me.

    Six cents per excess kilowatt-hour is deemed too small by the solar folks. How does that compare with the wholesale cost of other renewable sources the city purchases?

    Even if you have a net zero home, you rely on the power grid, right? You get power at night and rely on the grid for AC voltage. You’re not remotely self-sufficient. Those benefits of being tied to the grid have real costs. So buck up and pay the bill.

    • Avatar Robert Baker says:

      Globally, onshore wind schemes are now costing an average of $0.06 per kilowatt hour (kWh), although some schemes are coming in at $0.04 per KwH, while the cost of solar PV is down to $0.10 per KwH. In comparison, the cost of electricity generation based on fossil fuels typically falls in a range of $0.05 to $0.17 per KwH.
      The figures are contained in IRENA’s Renewable Power Generation Costs in 2017 report, which was released on January 13, the first day of the 8th IRENA Assembly in Abu Dhabi, the capital city of the UAE.

  14. Avatar Paul Hawken says:

    Craig, your piece was so well done. The next book is called Regeneration: Ending the Climate Crisis in One Generation and speaks directly to your intelligence and purpose which you expressed with journalistic precision and elan.
    My best.

    • Douglas Craig Douglas Craig says:

      Thank you Paul! What an honor to have you comment. Thank you so much! I look forward to reading your new book. If you have time in your busy schedule I would love to interview you on a local radio station here in Redding, California, KKRN. Thank you again.

  15. Avatar Pete Marsh says:

    Doug, like many others I congratulate you on another thoughtful and meaningful article.
    Frank Treadway asked a great question about what other Publicly Owned Utilities (POU, aka “municipal utilities” or “munis”) such as Roseville and Sacramento are doing on this issue. The very short answer is, sadly, mostly the same thing.
    More specifically: there are 42 POUs in CA, serving roughly 1/3 of the electric meters in the state. California’s three large Investor Owned Utilities (IOU: PG&E, SCE, and SDG&E) serve the other 2/3. Both POUs and IOUs are subject to laws passed by the legislature, and SB1 of 2006 required that all utilities statewide, both POU and IOU, provide net metering to their customers to incent home owners and business owners to install solar systems to accelerate the progress of this economy, the world’s ~6th largest in recent years, towards a 100% renewable energy economy. For about a decade, it worked as intended: in 2019, we celebrated “a million solar roofs in CA” (https://www.latimes.com/environment/story/2019-12-12/california-clean-energy-milestone-1-million-solar-roofs), a seemingly audacious goal of the 2006 law. What does that mean? Out of (very roughly) 15~20 million residential and commercial rooftops in CA, 5% or 6% are now generating their own electricity right on their own property instead of relying on oil that is drilled in the Middle East, carried by ships to refineries, then by pipelines to generating plants, then by poles and wires to our houses. Elegantly simple, and incredibly effective for a little over a decade.
    Why not longer?
    Because SB1 had a self-regulating limit: when residential solar installations in each utility company’s territory reached 5% of its peak demand, that utility was no longer required to offer net metering. For California’s three IOUs, that threshold was reached in 2016 and 2017. Those utilities out on a concerted effort to replace net metering with much less favorable tariffs. But the IOUs are subject to regulation by the CPUC, and CPUC wisely disallowed their solar-killing tariff proposals; NEM 2 is roughly 15~20% less favorable to customers installing solar, but still very cost effective for most. The state’s 42 POUs, however, are not subject to CPUC oversight; most are governed by city councils, a few by regional bodies that are elected or appointed. So when the POUs began reaching the 5% threshold in about 2017, they didn’t have to persuade a knowledgeable body such as the state PUC; they only had to convince the local city council. And it should surprise none of us that while council members in these cities ran for office on a variety of platforms, none of those were to provide educated and substantive oversight of the local electric utility.
    In this reality, 13 POUs have thus far convinced their local city councils that net metering is NOT a good way to enable citizens to make their own investment decisions to accelerate society’s progress toward a 100% renewable energy economy, rather than merely, for instance, on which social media platform or other stock to bet. These POUs have instead cast net metering as an evil cross-subsidy, despite its incredibly small factual impact. (The 13 POUs are: Imperial Irrigation District, Modesto Irrigation District, Anaheim, Turlock, Roseville, Palo Alto, Merced, Lodi, Alameda, Lathrop, Moreno Valley, and even Shasta Lake).
    Fortunately, the state’s two largest POUs are not as easily manipulated. Sacramento (SMUD) and Los Angeles (LADWP) both have Boards of Governors or Commissioners that focus exclusively on electric rate issues, and are therefore more topically well-informed than city council members who are trying to grapple with a plethora of challenging issues. And in both cases, those utilities have not implemented solar-killing tariffs. LA, a leader in renewable energy, has instead used its size and resultant purchasing power to land a world record-setting 20-year contract for incredibly inexpensive solar power and battery storage: 2 cents / kWh for 400 MW of solar generation and 1.3 cents/kWh for 800 MWh of storage (https://www.utilitydive.com/news/los-angeles-solicits-record-solar-storage-deal-at-199713-cents-kwh/558018). SMUD, meanwhile, came surprisingly close to being much less forward-thinking: SMUD staff proposed in early 2019 a tariff very similar to REU and the other POUs that would have killed citizen investment in solar there. However, after huge public outcry, the SMUD Board of Governors denied staff’s proposal and directed formation of a committee to evaluate the issue thoroughly. That process is expected to entail many meetings over 18 months, a responsible and deliberative process that will undoubtedly result in a more thoroughly-vetted tariff that will continue to place value on citizen investment in a renewable energy future.

  16. Avatar Randy says:

    It sounds like there needs to be an engineering solution to mounting and maintaining solar arrays on roofing surfaces. Something like ‘roof racks’ that pack bicycles and kayaks at highway speeds. If local governments are not up to the task of dealing with our climate/energy crisis maybe we should look to the Native Americans. https://www.pressdemocrat.com/news/10536083-181/blue-lake-rancheria-tribes-microgid?sba=AAS

  17. Avatar Randy says:

    “Since humans began farming, the number of trees on earth has fallen by 46 percent. Carbon emissions from deforestation and associated land use change are estimated to be 10 to 15 percent of the world’s total.” (https://www.drawdown.org/solutions/land-use/forest-protection)

    We really need to stop the logging practice of clearcutting. Unless you happen to own one of the logging corporations making the money, ecosystems are a far greater value than any monotary rewards of this mindless destruction of our biosphere.

  18. Avatar Randy says:

    Wow Pete, thanks for simplifying this confusing issue into language and terms we all can understand and influence.

  19. Avatar Stupendous Bob says:

    If you need a feel-good coffee table book to virtue signal your moral superiority, then Drawdown is the book for you. If you’re after real, properly documented descriptions of realistic solutions addressing the climate catastrophe, then the book is a waste of trees. The book does not even begin to explain the calculations behind its emission reduction claims. Most of the proposed solutions are tech based, but what drives much of the carbon emissions of our species is our consumptive way of life. Drawdown assumes, based on solutions presented, that we just have to swap our current technologies with carbon reducing ones and we have some hope of solving things. That is the great lie. A book with this much hype about solutions did not address Western society’s over-consumption of manufactured items for its own sake. Delivery of food and the latest trendy gadget or accessory to display on your FB or Instagram page for a while on its way to the landfill or ocean is no way to ensure a sustainable future.

  20. Avatar Sandy McNamara says:

    Thank you Stupendous Bob for giving us an alternative view of our ‘human created climate catastrophe’! Try as I might I can’t see how Doug Craig’s view that all we need is to put solar panels (manufactured, consumer-purchased items) on the roof of our single family dwelling and then plug our second recently purchased electric car into our electric-car-plug-equipped garage attached to our upper-income single-family dwelling in the Redding area (which, I understand for Doug, was an insurance replacement for his home that very sadly and sorrowfully burned down during the Carr Fire – the fire which burned 230,000 acres and destroyed some 1,200 homes and was explained as being started by an out-of-control spark from a flat tire near Whiskeytown Lake).

    Alternatively, I live in a very well maintained older apartment in downtown Redding. The only way I could own an electric car is if I would string a utility electric cord out to my car from my kitchen window, some many yards away. And then I would have to try to convince my landlord to put solar panels on his apartment complex for the reasons outlined by Doug Craig, including passing on the installation cost to current utility customers (who have not yet been evicted from their home due to lack of funds to pay their mortgage or rent payment because of job loss or the massive inflation of the cost of living, especially for young people today).

    Meanwhile the controllers of our earth spray our skies with questionable heavy metals (due to the geoengineering of our weather) and China, for example, becomes a vast country of millions of new cars spewing pollution and smog-forming exhaust, when before, historically, they traveled by bicycle, rickshaw, motor bike and walking. They are now suffering massive, suffocating smog in their larger cities.

    Did Doug Craig suffer after buying and using an electric powered vehicle of some sort to commute to and from work to reduce his carbon footprint? Yes, he was then crushed from behind when crashed into by a half-asleep driver in a larger gas powered vehicle. Luckily Doug recovered from the devastating accident.

    Neither of these “solutions”, solar panels and/or electric cars and scooters, seem to answer the big question – how shall we live in healthy ways, including healthy families, healthy communities and healthy environments? How do we wrest power from the controllers of this Earth who only want 3 things – all the Power, all the Money, and all the Resources?!

    Just today, 1/18/2020, the SF Chronicle reported that the Feds and the BLM are opening new oil and gas leases across “more than 1 million acres between Bakersfield and Santa Barbara… It means hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, will be allowed in Fresno, Kern, Kings, Madera, San Luis Obispo, Santa Barbara, Tulare and Ventura Counties… along with additional sites near Sequoia and Kings Canyon national parks…and within 10 miles of Yosemite National Park”.

  21. Douglas Craig Douglas Craig says:

    Thank you Sandy for your comments. I do appreciate them. I apologize to you and anyone else if I gave the impression that “all we need is to put solar panels (manufactured, consumer-purchased items) on the roof of our single family dwelling and then plug our second recently purchased electric car into our electric-car-plug-equipped garage attached to our upper-income single-family dwelling.” That is what I am doing because I can do it and it does reduce my carbon footprint. But you are right of course. Not everyone can do what I have done.

    My larger point in this overly long treatise was that we live in a community that is not taking the climate crisis seriously and we are all complicit in that failure. We are out of time. It is as if we have just been told that we or a loved one has a life-threatening disease. We do not have any time to lose. Like many of us, I know what it means to evacuate my home and not know if it would survive. My luck ran out but we are all living on borrowed time now. Like a now-deceased, paraplegic friend of mine once said, those of us who weren’t like him were TABs (temporarily able-bodied). We are all temporarily housed and clothed and temporarily alive. Massive changes are coming and few are prepared. Our stable society and civilization is absolutely temporary. How long it lasts depends on how quickly we awaken to the multiple crises currently enveloping us.

    I have always believed the solution to the climate crisis will not be a single magic bullet but will require multiple solutions that actually get us to a zero-carbon world as quickly as possible. And my logical mind is pretty sure we will fail while my heart prays for my daughters’ sake and for the sake of future generations that we all awaken from our fossil fueled madness and do all we can to restore the Earth.

    Sandy, you are correct when you write, “Neither of these ‘solutions’, solar panels and/or electric cars and scooters, seem to answer the big question – how shall we live in healthy ways, including healthy families, healthy communities and healthy environments? How do we wrest power from the controllers of this Earth who only want 3 things – all the Power, all the Money, and all the Resources?!”

    I gave my first public talk on the climate crisis in 2006 and what I said then is till true today. We can easily solve the climate crisis. I believe that even now. That is not our worst problem. Our worst problem is what Sandy alludes to. Willful ignorance, denial and avoidance of the climate catastrophe only means it will steadily destabilize our climate until widespread ecosystem collapse occurs. This is preventable but only if we comprehend that our current economic and political systems are not compatible with the continuance of life as we have known it. We must wake up and change almost everything about how we live but will we?

    Instead of putting our differences to the side and admitting what is true and exerting all our efforts at solving the crisis, we are at war with one another. I applaud Paul Hawken because he is at least offering us an array of solutions. I believe we will need Carbon Fee and Dividend. I believe we need to massively subsidize alternative energy. I believe we need to invest in technologies that will pull CO2 out of the atmosphere and sequester it underground or in limestone bricks. But I am depending on others to come up with more solutions instead of simply criticizing people like Hawken who has devoted his entire life to the betterment of humanity.

    But we can’t solve a crisis we cannot admit is real which is where we are in Northern California. People in denial about their cancer are not about to submit to chemotherapy and too many of us are still in denial about the severity of our climate emergency.

    To correct the record, Sandy is not correct about me being crushed in an electric car. I did buy my first electric car in 2008 (a big mistake) but I was on my 50cc Yamaha Vino motor-scooter in August of that year when I was crushed between two pickups while waiting for the light to change. I sustained multiple breakages to various bones in my arms, legs, ribs and back. Trying to do the right thing doesn’t always work out the way we planned but it shouldn’t stop us from continuing to do what we can.

    I only ask people to be kind to one another. Just be nice. Fight like hell for the world you believe we need but do it with love and respect. The world has enough hate in it. We don’t need any more.

  22. Avatar Russell K. Hunt says:

    The downside for P,G, and E is in the summer they have to pay other electric companies a billion a year to take the surplus. Batteries are the answer but not practical unless you take a place like Iron Mountain a nd insulate it from grounding . Thus the giant battery is born . Telsa would be proud.

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