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A 3 Part Look at AB 2145: What it was, What it is Now and Why it Matters

California Assembly Bill 2145 makes various amendments to the rules of forming and running a Community Choice Aggregator (CCA) which is a local, public power utility that serves as an alternative electricity supply to monopoly power companies. AB 2145 was introduced to committee in February but obtained recent infamy after it passed the Assembly floor in late May.  While AB 2145 has gone through many modifications some of the proposed amendments include limiting the size of CCAs, increasing their reporting requirements and the most controversial, removing CCA’s status as the default provider for municipality electricity once approved. Proponents of the bill claim that CCA reforms are fair and necessary to ensure transparency while those in opposition say the “reforms” will cripple CCAs in order to protect existing monopolies. Whatever you’re opinion, the bill’s transformation through the legislature is worth a closer look. Its path may have critical implications about where the power truly lies in legislation. Spoiler alert: it might not be where you think!

In my three part piece I will examine what the bill might have done, the factors that effected its creation and how what’s left will affect community choice for years to come. Stay tuned!

Part 1: Bad Bill Defanged

Two weeks ago proponents of local jobs and clean energy across CA gave a collective cheer as AB 2145, dubbed the Monopoly Protection Bill, was robbed of its most threatening clause. The bill was viewed as an end to Community Choice Aggregators (CCAs) which are the beloved alternative to monopoly generated power.

As it stands right now, CCA serve as an alternative to monopoly produced, no-choice electricity. Instead of accepting power from the region’s mega-utility Pacific Gas & Electric (PG&E), Southern California Edison (SCE) or San Diego Gas & Electric (SDG&E) small governments have the opportunity to switch the provider of their constituent’s energy to a CCA, a small public agency that buys electricity from mostly local suppliers. CCA micro-utility generally have the mechanisms to provide electricity that is more locally produced, more renewable and more cost effective than the state regulated mega-utility.  Sound to good to be true?

Well, the secret to their success lies in 2 little words “opt out.” When a CCA is voted in, the surrounding community is automatically switched so the CCA becomes their default provider and rate payers are allowed to “opt out” if they want to return to the monopoly generated electricity. Having thousands of guaranteed customers gives CCA’s the economy of scale they need for their micro to compete against a larger, established competitor.

Since the opt-out provision came to CA in 2002 two successful CCA’s have launched, first in Marin County and second in Sonoma County.  Today, upwards of 6 more projects are on the table. While not without their controversy, CCA’s are viewed by many as a critical and innovative tool in the fight against climate change through competition.

Yet, if AB 2145 passed the senate in the form that it passed the Assembly, the magic of the CCA would have fizzled. 62nd district Assemblyman Steven Bradford sponsored the bill with an “opt in” clause that would have forced each member of the community with an approved CCA to send in notice that they wanted to opt intothe CCA.  Imagine trying to get every person to not only pay attention to their mail, but to actively respond to it! Eric Brooks of the San Francisco Green Party speaks for the more than 200 organizations listed on the bill as opponents who say that this provision would kill any CCA before it even started.

Of course, Assemblyman Bradford doesn't see it like that. According to Bradford, this bill is entirely different than Prop 16, a failed CA ballot measure pushed forward by PG&E that would have required a super majority (2/3 vote) to form a CCA. Yet proposition 16 would have at least left CCAs in the hands of citizens responsible enough to vote, not to entire populations over-busy and overburdened with junk mail. Jamie Tuckey, communications director of the CCA Marin Clean Energy, says that expecting that type of initiative out of the populous is unrealistic, no matter how much “climate zeal” they have.

Even so, Bradford maintains that his 4 year stint in the Conservation Core outweighs his previous employment for Southern California Edison and proves that Ab 2145 was not about monopoly protection at all, but transparency and choice! This of course, assuming that Californians had a choice in the current system of power company monopolies.

Regardless of Bradford’s intentions, it’s pretty clear that AB 2145, as it passed through the Assembly, was a CCA-Kill Bill. Lucky for CCA supporters everywhere, the “opt in” clause is now off the table.  With that most controversial piece amended out, it’s anyone’s guess if the bill will pass the Senate or what it will mean for CCA’s if it does. But I am getting ahead of myself! Stay tuned for my next installment as I look at how that dangerous clause made it so far through the CA legislator and what eventually brought it down!

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Hello Marla ~ OCR's Summer Associate!

My name is Marla and I am thrilled to be working with OC Renewables as its Summer Associate! Although a native Southern California resident, I spend the school months attending a small but mighty liberal arts college in Washington. I was lucky enough to receive a modest grant from my school that allows me to pursue my interest in sustainability by helping to grow the scope of OCR for ten weeks this summer. Essentially, I am here to help serve the Orange County Community in its pursuits for a more sustainable future!

I am working with leadership to develop a plan to make OCR a more valuable resource for Orange County residents interested in sustainability, green technology, and conservation. To start, we are strengthening our network and looking into revamping the website. When we are done, it will serve as a one stop shop for information on the nonprofits, businesses, and government agencies and programs geared towards environmental concerns in Orange County. The goal is to make information on these organizations centralized and accessible so that every resident who wants to get more involved or just wants to know “what’s going on with the environment in the OC” recognizes that they can turn to the OCR to get them where they want to go!

While transforming OCR into a local sustainability hub is our primary focus, I am eager to hear from you, the Orange County community, what interests or questions you have related to sustainability. What sorts of topics would you like more information about? What kinds of blog posts would you be interested in reading? How can OCR help you promote sustainable living in your life? What do you think are the most important issues related to the environment in Orange County and how can OCR positively influence those issues?

I want to make the best use of my ten weeks (from now until the first week in August) and your ideas are greatly appreciated. I can be reached at marla@ocrenewables.org. The more information I have, the better I can help OCR serve you!


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A fresh perspective on why PV efficiency matters

Last week I was able to attend the 10th International Conference on Concentrator Photovoltaic Systems (CPV-10) to hear an update on the area of PV where I spend most of my daylight hours.  While progress in CPV is encouraging, with 2014 on track to be the largest install year for CPV technology, one of the most interesting talks was give by Senior IBM researcher Dr. Bruno Michel titled "Ecological and Economical Advantages of Efficient Solar Systems".  Sounds amazing, right?  Lets take a minute to explain the message of this talk in simple English.

While today there are many reasons for "going solar", the business really got moving when solar was seen as a way to fight against traditional fossil fuels which release carbon into the atmosphere which increases the amount of solar energy held under the atmosphere as heat which accelerates erosion of nature's natural dampening features (such as polar ice) which therefore further accelerates warming and climate change.  The idea is simple, if we generate all of our electricity from renewables, including photovoltaics, then carbon stays in the ground and the world is a big happy place.

Well, Dr. Michel's talk takes this idea and simply says, "not so fast."  In his work, he looks at how sunlight should be treated given the goal of reducing global warming and not just production of electricity from sunlight.  This new approach revolves around the idea of what happens to sunlight once it enters our atmosphere and the phenomenon known as albedo.  Shown below, albedo is the measure of percentage of sunlight that is reflected back into space by a given surface.  The lower a surface's albedo, the higher percentage of sunlight that is absorbed by the surface and converted, generally, into heat.  The higher the albedo, the higher percentage of sunlight that is reflected back into space before it contributes to heating of the planet.

This draws us to a simple conclusion: if you want to cool the planet, then the sunlight getting through our atmosphere has to be converted into something other than heat or thrown back to space. This begs us to then look at the performance of solar panels today with albedo in mind, which is shown below.  Taking a look, the albedo of all solar technologies is pretty low, at around 5%, meaning only about 5% of the sunlight incident on today's solar panels is sent back into space.  But, what is more shocking is the portion of sunlight which turns directly into heat.  c-Si is 81%, m-Si is 82%, and thin film is 87%!  This begs Dr. Michel to ask the question, if you are really interested in doing your part to prevent climate change, should you (a) put solar panels on your roof and stop your usage of fossil fuel or (b) paint your roof white and forget the solar.

The answer should surprise you, because if your using today's most popular solar panels (c-Si, thin film) its (b).  As someone working towards wide use of solar for generation of our energy needs, this was surprising to me, but it makes total sense and is explained well in Dr. Michel's presentation, which is linked here.

 But alas dear solar brethren, not all hope is lost!  The real point of Dr. Michel's presentation is simply that efficiency matters.  As seen above, if you can use technologies which capture the maximum sunlight to electricity conversion, then the amount of sunlight driven to heat is reduced.  If you combine the high electrical efficiency of a CPV system with thermal capture, i.e. hot water generation, then you really have a high efficiency system, driving only 18% of incident sunlight into heating, while extracting nearly 80% useful energy, as seen below.

To me, this simply is a reinforcement of a couple key things.  First:  know thy enemy.  If your personal goal is combat climate change, then do your research and act accordingly.  However, if you goal is to force your utility out of business, the get all the solar you want, of any kind.  If your goal is to do both... then get efficient solar, such as CPV!  Second, efficiency matters.  While it doesn't always seem like it, efficiency is very important.  We live in a world with finite resources, and efficiency simply means doing more with less.  My personal feeling is there will always be a place for efficiency in any industry, and I don't think renewable energy is any different.  The presentation from Dr. Michel simply reinforces this notion with a new perspective, science... and numbers... and ... stuff.

Links to consider:

Audio of Dr. Michel giving his talk at CPV-10
PDF of the presentation (same links as above)
Other reading on the subject
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Renewables in Ohio too successful, so GOP wants to freeze progress

Liberace used to say, "Too much of a good thing is wonderful!"  Well, apparently not in Ohio.  State House and Senate Republicans are moving to "freeze" renewable energy mandates passed nearly unanimously in 2008 in a story first reported by The Columbus Dispatch.

The article states, "This is the latest attempt by House and Senate Republicans to respond to the concerns of utilities and business groups that say parts of a 2008 energy law have unreasonably high costs."  In a stroke of complete non sequitur, Senate President Keith Faber, R-Celina even references Solyndra (can you believe it!) in trying to make a case for freezing progress on renewable energy goals.  Solyndra was a case of direct investment by the Federal Government into a start up company.  The mandate in Ohio is a requirement for utilities to adopt renewable energy IF it meets certain goals in cost and performance, SO THAT THE CONSUMER IS PROTECTED.  Contact info for Keith Faber is at this link here if you care to call him, write him or visit him and let him know your thoughts on the subject.

While you can read through this article and try to make sense of the "reasons" for freezing progress in adoption of renewable energy, the truth is there is little sense and this is very clearly a protectionist move by incumbent utilities whose business plans and grid profitability are under direct threat of the rapidly increasing adoption of renewables.  The industry term for this event is the utility death spiral, and as sure as the day is long, it is coming.  While some utilities / IPPs are innovating their way towards success in the age of renewables (case in point is AES who is pioneering the way on grid storage), others choose to funnel would-be R&D dollars to lobbyists to try and preserve their archaic business plans with politicians.

While I urge those passionate about the issue to contact their friends and family in Ohio to speak up on the issues, truth is there is little that can be done to stop wide progress to the way our society consumes and generates electricity, even if politics (temporarily) suspend progress.  The reality is that very motivated and smart people are working very hard to completely renovate the way energy moves through our homes and businesses, and the changes are going to come sooner than everyone realizes.  If you live in the sunbelt, then it wont be long before solar panels on the roof coupled with storage in your home, as planned by little known companies such as Tesla and Solar City, means you simply will not need a grid connection.  Couple this with passive solar design and efficiency electrical appliances and you won't need any energy connection.  On that day I guess I'll put my old electric bills in the garage with my Kodak film camera and hamburger land line phone.

Links to consider:

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Register for the BDR Fun Run 2014 on April 27!

As we climb out of the winter slumber here in Orange County, April also represents the time to reconnect around the annual Brian D. Robertson Memorial Fun Run, happening this year on April 27 at Bolsa Chica State Beach.  This is the 3rd year OCR has supported this event and worked to preserve the memory and legacy of solar power pioneer, husband and father Brian Robertson.

We certainly hope you can join all the OCR and BDR faithful for a fun run 5k or kid friendly 1 mile on Sunday, April, 27.  Click on this link here or the link below to be taken directly to the registration page at Active.com.  The day schedule is posted below:

Event schedule and times:
10:00am - Bib Pick-Up & Late Registration
11:00am - Kids 1Mile Fun Run/Walk Start
11:30am - 5K Run/Walk Start
12:30pm Awards Celebration & Official Race End
1:00pm Earth Day Park / Race Clean-Up

Please email us if you have any questions or visit the race website at www.bdrfunrun.com for more information.  For any Eastcoasters who read our blog, there is PA based BDR Fun Run as well in Washington Crossing, PA on April 6th also.  See you there!

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