Whenever the talk turns to ending the era of fossil fuels, it seems somebody is sure to say, “We can’t phase out natural gas too quickly. That would break the grid.”
It is true that the transition to all-electric buildings and vehicles requires expanding our electrical infrastructure—the vast network of power plants, substations, and transmission lines that make up the grid. And safe, reliable delivery of electrical power is absolutely critical. The task is becoming more challenging as the changing climate brings disasters like severe storms, flooding, and extreme temperatures.
For example, during the “Texas freeze” of February 2021, a power outage lasting several days affected more than 10 million people, caused 111 deaths, and cost economic losses totaling around $155 billion. And across the US, hotter weather is causing millions to use their air conditioners more. But thanks to innovations in power distribution, battery storage capacity, and energy efficiency, this increasing demand can be met without relying on so-called “natural” gas.
The power grid is rapidly evolving into a “Smart Grid” capable of two-way communication between a power company and its customers, allowing the system to sense and respond to what’s happening along its transmission lines. The Smart Grid will use distribution intelligence to re-rout power automatically in case of trouble; detect and contain outages; and, after an outage, restore power to higher-priority users (say, hospitals) first. This new technology is making the grid much more reliable and resilient than before.
The grid can connect power sources as well as power users. Buildings that produce their own power, with rooftop solar for instance, are of course much less vulnerable to outages. What’s more, these local power sources can transmit the power they produce back to the grid when need be. And they can be networked to create a Virtual Power Plant (VPP), replacing or supplementing energy from the power company during emergencies like severe storms or peak demand times like heat waves.
VPPs can reduce or eliminate the need for peaker plants—gas-powered plants that supply electricity when renewable energy sources are less available. Peaker plants usually switch on between 4pm and 9pm, polluting the air with greenhouse gases. Contra Costa County is home to two peaker plants, both located in Antioch.
VPPs are already happening in the Bay Area and elsewhere.
In October, the CA Public Utilities Commission approved a rule change that prevents farms, schools, and many apartments and businesses from directly accessing the energy produced by their own rooftop solar panels. Now, solar-powered properties that have more than one meter must buy the energy back from the utility at full price—despite the fact that the utility did not pay for those solar panels and does not own them. This is just wrong.
In a last-minute change, the CPUC revised the ruling to allow apartment tenants to directly access the energy from rooftop panels. However, apartment building owners are not allowed to directly use the energy to power common areas like elevators, hallways, laundry rooms, outdoor lighting, and EV charging stations. With no incentive for owners to install solar panels, tenants will likely not get access to solar energy for their homes.
Another predictable result is many fewer EV chargers for apartment dwellers.
The excellent folks at Solar Rights Alliance are urging all of us to take this battle to the state legislature. It’s time to tell our senators and assemblymembers to introduce legislation reversing the CPUC’s decision. Find out more about the issue and see a sample calling script here.
A new master developer, Brookfield Residential, is set to sign a Term Sheet with the City of Concord to develop the Concord Reuse Project (that is, the old Naval Weapons Station). Once the Term Sheet is signed on January 16, it’ll be time to let Brookfield hear from our community about our vision for the project.
This is a huge undertaking, with homes for 45,000 residents, a college campus, a sports complex, and commercial areas. We need to make sure the buildings and streets are designed with the environment in mind—with no gas pipelines; with rooftop solar and heat pumps; with safe, pleasant walkways and bikeways; and with native trees and shrubs to provide natural cooling.
If you live in Concord, please shoot an email to firstname.lastname@example.org, and we’ll let you know how you can get involved.
Contra Costa County’s draft Climate Action Plan (CAP) 2024 Update lays out pathways to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and deal with effects of climate change like wildfires, drought, and floods.
All of us are encouraged to comment on this important document between now and January 31, 2024. You can find it here. While reading, you can click at any point and add your comment about that specific section.
Emily and Lisa
The time for climate action is NOW!
©350 Contra Costa Action
This message has not been expressly authorized, requested, or approved by any federal, state, or local candidate, candidate’s committee or their agents, or by any ballot issue committee.
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