The Benefits of Community Choice Energy – and How California Utilities Aim to Block Them

Originally Published in the San Diego Free Press on 12/22/2016

by Tyson Siegele

In California, the fight is on between renewable energy advocates and the old guard electric utilities. All across California, cities and counties have been moving to implement Community Choice programs because they provide cheaper, cleaner, locally generated electricity. In fact these programs are so good, the utilities hope you never hear about them.

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Community Choice Energy delivery model. The CCE provides energy, the utility provides transmission, and you receive cleaner, cheaper energy. Source: Peninsula Clean Energy

Before we get to the conflict and intrigue, let’s look at the basics of this new approach to buying electricity. Community Choice Energy, also known as Community Choice Aggregation, is a way for cities, counties or regions in California to look out for their own energy interests, a hybrid between regulated and deregulated electricity supply. The local utility still provides all of the billing services and infrastructure to supply electricity to the point of use, but they are no longer responsible for selecting the electricity supplier. Instead, the community chooses its energy supplier. Possibly the best part of a Community Choice Energy program is that it allows us choice. While CCEs across the state offer electricity with significantly more renewable content—and at lower costs than the utility—customers can still choose to stay with the status quo. No one is required to buy CCE power, anyone can opt-out. By example, let’s look at an actual program. [Read more…]

From Coal to Climate: the Evolution of an Activist

Originally published in the San Diego Free Press, September 22nd, 2016

So, here is a question: what’s about as likely as Rush Limbaugh, Sean Hannity, and Bill O’Reilly jointly admitting that pretty much everything they’ve ever said was wrong?

climate activist

Before I knew what coal looked like. And smelled. And tasted.

Answer: that a guy with my background would end up as an active member of 350.org.

I grew up in Kansas, famous for Dorothy, sunflowers, and voting against your best interest (as in What’s the Matter With…). I remember my father vehemently wishing he could vote against Ted Kennedy. My mother railing against the Equal Rights Amendment, saying she liked having men open doors for her. Umm, I guess that such chivalry was banned in the bill’s text somewhere. Both of them mourning angrily that the country was ruined, now that Carter had been elected.

Not to spare myself, I also remember a Charles Kuralt interview in which he wondered what conservatism ever brought us. I turned to Dad and said—without a trace of irony—the money for everyone else to live on. I was maybe eighteen at the time, swimming with the rest of the fish in the Republican Kansas water. Unnecessary to point out?

An engineering degree landed me a job going around the country starting up coal-fired utility scale power plants. Doing that, I liked to reflect on the fact that I worked with some of the biggest “engines” in the world. I thought seriously about building my own small power plant, natural gas fired, and selling power to the grid. What fun it would be, I thought, but then found that the economics of small scale were a bit less than profitable. Regardless, it seemed to me that those of us in the industry were like priests of old, tending the sacred fires around which their civilizations turned.

[Read more…]

San Diegans in LA Action to Break Free from Fossil Fuels

Originally published in the San Diego Free Press, May 26th 2016

Over a two week period earlier this month, a wave of
Break Free from Fossil Fuels mass mobilizations was held around the globe. The first action saw hundreds of people peacefully shut down the UK’s largest open cast coal mine in Wales. In the Philippines, 10,000 marched demanding the cancellation of a proposed 600-Megawatt coal power plant. In Australia, 2,000 people shut down the world’s largest coal port for a day, with kayakers blocking the harbor entrance while others blocked a critical rail crossing. In Anacortes, Washington, over the course of three days, thousands converged by land and water at the site of two oil refineries. They marched, led by indigenous leaders, and held an overnight sit-in on the train tracks that led to over 50 arrests.  

These were but a few of the many Break Free actions in the campaign which was organized by 350.org with support and participation from a wide range of international, national and local organizations including the Center for Biological Diversity, National Nurses United and the United Church of Christ.

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San Diegans with Bill McKibben – sporting his SD350 tee-shirt – at the end of the march

Closer to home, Los Angeles was the venue for a Break Free from Fossil Fuels action for people from all over California. Los Angeles is the biggest urban center for oil production in the nation and the Porter Ranch neighborhood was recently the site of the largest methane leak in U.S. history from SoCalGas’  Aliso Canyon gas storage facility.

The LA event started with a rally at City Hall which included high-profile speakers Bill McKibben (co-founder of 350.org) and businessman, philanthropist and environmentalist Tom Steyer, plus speakers from many local groups, including Save Porter Ranch and STAND LA – a group dedicated to ending neighborhood oil drilling in LA. McKibben reminded us of our “brothers and sisters around the world who right now are standing with you.”  He talked about the worsening climate crisis – recent loss of coral reefs in the Pacific and the heatwave in Southeast Asia. He said it’s important we turn up the heat and demand real leadership from Mayor Garcetti and Governor Brown, saying we don’t need them to do a “pretty good job”, we “need them really out in front treating it [climate change] like the crisis that it is.” [Read more…]

San Diegans joining L.A. Break Free from Fossils Fuel rally – their stories

By Norma-Jeanne Hennis

Originally published in East County Magazine, May 9th 2016

On Saturday, May 14th, many San Diegans will head to Los Angeles Break Free from Fossil Fuels logoalong with thousands of other Californians to participate in a mass rally in downtown L.A. to Break Free from Fossil Fuels.

It will be one of several mass mobilizations around the globe this month calling for an end to fossil fuel extraction. These rallies will be advocating to keep coal, oil and gas in the ground, an end to environmental racism, and transitioning to 100% renewable energy. The wave of global Break Free mass mobilizations kicked off last week when hundreds shut down the UK’s largest open cast coal mine and 10,000 marched in the Philippines for a rapid transition to renewable energy.

In Los Angeles, rally participants will be calling for keeping California oil in the ground. CA is currently the 3rd largest oil producing state in the nation! Participants will demand an end to drilling next door to homes, schools, and businesses in Los Angeles and the Central Valley, and investigations to prevent fossil fuel disasters like the massive gas leak at Aliso Canyon. Speakers at the rally will include 350.org founder Bill McKibben and philanthropist Tom Steyer.

I asked some of the people going to the rally with local grassroots climate action group SanDiego350, to tell us why they chose to participate and also for their thoughts on the climate crisis and how they address it in their lives.

Christy Bulskov, mother of two, environmental activist and avid conservationist from Encinitas [Read more…]

Lessons from Porter Ranch

Originally published in the San Diego Free Press on January 28th, 2016

The massive leak at the Southern California Gas Company (SoCalGas) Aliso Canyon natural gas storage facility is a stark example of why natural gas is a significant health and safety risk and not a bridge fuel to our clean energy future. The facility, the second largest in the U.S., stores vast amounts of natural gas at high pressure in underground wells once used for oil extraction more than fifty years ago.

On or about October 23rd a rupture in a 60-year old injection well pipe a thousand feet underground initiated the leak. At its peak the leak had an estimated rate of one-hundred twenty-five thousand pounds of methane per hour. To date, the cumulative emissions from this single source is equivalent to 25% of the state’s annual methane emissions from major sources like agriculture and landfills, equivalent to the annual climate pollution of almost half a million cars. [Read more…]

SDG&E: Solar’s Fake Friend

By Hutton Marshall
Originally published in the
San Diego Free Press on December 10th 2015.

San Diego Gas & Electric, our friendly neighborhood energy provider whether we like it or not, continues to prove that their claims to support clean energy are merely superficial. Especially in regards to solar energy, the most efficient, environmentally friendly energy source available to homes and businesses, SDG&E continues to favor policies that diminish the critical financial incentives that allow San Diegans to generate their own clean energy.

Why would SDG&E want to oppose something that benefits its customers?

Why would SDG&E want to oppose something that benefits its customers and the environment?

Multiple actions this year alone exemplify SDG&E’s anti-solar mindset. The first came earlier this year, when the California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) ruled to change the way California public utilities like SDG&E charge residents and businesses for electricity.

The most significant change to these rules concerned the tiered rate structure that determines the electricity rate many Californians pay. Before the CPUC ruling, there were four different tiers SDG&E customers fell into, depending on how much electricity they used. Customers falling into the lowest tier paid the lowest rate. Others that [Read more…]

Geothermal Energy Visuals

Here in San Diego, we have not only a lot of sunshine for solar energy, but also an exceptional potential for geothermal energy based on the heat that flows up from deep inside the earth.

Last spring, SD350’s Peg Mitchell was given a tour of the John Featherstone Facility, a geothermal energy plant located within the Salton Sea Known Geothermal Resource Area in the Imperial Valley. Peg has written about what she learned for SD350’s October column in the San Diego Free Press.

In case you’d like to learn a little more, we’ve shown below a few presentation slides provided by a company developing this renewable energy resource in our region.

You can link here to Peg’s report in SD350’s monthly article in the environment section of San Diego Free Press. [Read more…]