By Bruce Naegel, April 2017
President Trump recently signed an order to repeal the CPP (Clean Power Plan) (1). This concerns all those who care about climate change. Can we still reach climate safety? Will California rescue the Clean Power Plan? What part can we as citizens play?
This executive action generated a lot of press coverage. Michael Bloomberg, the billionaire ex-mayor of New York, wrote an op-ed for the New York Times (2). Despite the president’s efforts, Bloomberg believes that renewable energy power generation will move forward.
A Positive Answer from Utility Dive
Utility Dive, a website serving the utility market, provides another positive response. They recently completed an extensive utility industry survey (3). The survey examined if the industry will continue with more renewable energy or go back to fossil fuels. Our president is working to repeal the CPP to enable more coal to generate electricity.
However, utilities are likely to continue to use the renewable energy sources they have and to deploy new ones over time. One reason is the 10- to 20-year utility planning cycle. The cost of stopping a move to renewable energy and then going back is very high. One cannot say what policies the next president supports. So, utilities will likely stay the course with renewable energy.
The cost for electricity from renewable sources (e.g., wind and solar) in many markets is equal to or less than the cost of electricity generated by coal, oil, or nuclear. Hence, more electricity will come from renewable energy as the cost drops. Consumers requesting more renewable power also affect the utilities’ choices.
Drivers for Renewable Power
See the table above with information from the Utility Dive Survey (3).
California’s Role to Rescue the Clean Power Plan
California has stricter regulations than the Clean Power Plan. The Clean Power Plan specifies a 32% reduction of GHGs (greenhouse gases) from 2005 levels by 2030 (4). In contrast, California leads with SB 350 and a 40% GHG reduction from 1990 levels by 2030. Other states like New York, Massachusetts, and Hawaii also provide leadership with strict standards for power generation. Utility Dive predicts that progress moving to renewable energy will continue. However, the pace may slow, since we do not have all states in the plan. It will also take time to dismantle the CPP. There are specific procedures to change the CPP. In addition, we expect lawsuits from high-powered environmental organizations like the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC). Note NRDC has won many times in court (6).
A COP 21 Perspective
The world forged the COP 21 climate agreement in Paris in 2015. The CPP helped put the US into the ballpark of commitments for COP 21. However, the CPP does not get the US all the way to COP 21 goals. California, New York (7), and the other lead states can help, but it will be tougher without the whole US.
The COP 21 Five-Year Review Cycle
A key feature of the COP 21 agreement is the five-year review cycle. Therefore, we can compare performance to goals. Then we can drive needed climate change fixes. (8)
The COP 21 agreement targets a 2-degree Celsius change by 2050. However, science indicates that a 1.5-degree C change is really what is needed for climate safety. In 2015, we did not see a clear pathway to the 1.5-degree C goal. The five-year review cycle gives the opportunity to use the latest technology to address global warming. We can then “ratchet down” the amount of carbon we are emitting.
The U2 MOU – An Agreement of Note
How the US will interact with COP 21 without the CPP remains to be seen. However, there is another agreement of note. In preparation for COP 21, California and the German state of Baden-Württemberg created the Under 2 Memo of Understanding (U2 MOU). The agreement signees pledge to reduce the amount of CO2 per person to two metric tons by 2050. This drives the goal for a temperature rise under 2 degrees C by 2050 (9).
The U2 MOU is not a treaty. However, governments at various levels are driving to make the results happen. A total of 167 jurisdictions representing 33 countries and six continents have signed or endorsed the U2 MOU. Together, they form the Under2 Coalition, which represents more than 1.09 billion people and $25.9 trillion in GDP, equivalent to more than a third of the global economy. California, Connecticut, Massachusetts, Minnesota, New Hampshire, New York, Oregon, Rhode Island, Vermont, and Washington signed the U2 MOU. In the Bay Area, both Oakland and San Francisco signed this document.
What Do Americans Want?
The Utility Dive data shows utilities are responding to requests from their customers to supply more renewable power. Customers show this with the move to CCAs (community choice aggregation). Aaron Johnson, PG&E’s VP for customer energy experience, acknowledged this in an energy conference in 2015. Gallup’s poll (10) in 2016 showed the same thing – see below.
Concerned Citizens Can Actively Address Climate Change
We have a challenge with climate change. However, a growing number of Americans believe global warming/climate change is a serious issue. Therefore, more people can help move climate safety forward.
We need to enlist more residents of California to work on addressing climate change. If you have an interest in helping move climate initiatives forward, you can help. Since California leads in climate action, there are activities occurring at the city, county, and state level.
So How Do We Influence Our Governments?
First, these governments represent you. Elected officials are careful to ensure they respond to their constituents. Hence, contact the elected officials who represent you. Some activities include:
- Research the issues as they come up.
- Governments pass legislation and ordinances. Encourage the legislation that will advance sustainability and indicate your lack of support for actions that are contrary to a more sustainable planet.
- Perceptions change over time. Keep a watch out so you take advantage of the opportunities as they arise.
- Attend meetings that address sustainability issues you are concerned about. Support activist groups that are addressing climate change. SSV, Acterra, Bay Nature, Carbon Free Silicon Valley, the Center for Climate Protection, Grid Alternatives, and the NRDC are a few of the many examples to support.
Individual actions help as well. First, they label you as someone who “walks the talk,” providing you with more credibility. If these individual actions are done in concert with a large part of the population, they will have impact.
Purchase your electricity from a community choice energy (CCE) organization if you can. This is one of the easiest things to do if your area is covered by a CCE. CCE organizations are “opt out” by state law. If you do nothing, you are automatically enrolled. If you’re receiving the standard electricity offering from PG&E, switching to a CCE means that you’ll pay less for energy, and that energy will have been produced with less carbon than PG&E’s standard offering.
If you can, upgrade to a 100% renewable electricity package. It will cost a bit more per kilowatt-hour, but it will help to drive more carbon-free electricity sources. CCEs offer 100% renewable energy packages at a slight premium to the PG&E standard product. For people not currently served by a CCE, PG&E offers a 100% renewable electricity option called Solar Choice.
More Individual Actions
- Educate yourself on the issues. There are many good news sources from the general news media and from industry-specific publications.
- Practice an energy-thrifty lifestyle. Turn off lights when not in use, and replace light bulbs with LED versions. Save money and reduce GHG at the same time.
- Purchase more efficient devices (such as appliances, cars, water heaters, etc.) when upgrading or replacing devices. Look for Energy Star appliances as available.
Replacing water heaters and space heaters takes time. Take a planned approach by looking at the expected life of the appliance and replace it before it fails. That can help minimize the disruption.
California and its citizens represent a powerful force for addressing climate change. There are things we can do at many levels to reduce GHGs. This can be at the individual level, or as part of one of the government jurisdictions. As President Kennedy once said, “We do these things, not because they are easy, but because they are hard,” in relation to going to the moon. It was tough, but we made it to the moon. Onward to climate safety!
By Staplegunther at the English language Wikipedia, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=8010162
MV-Council meeting in Mountain View CA
Picture by the author.
Community Choice Energy Diagram from Silicon Valley Clean Energy.