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Palo Alto considers suspending PaloAltoGreen

Original post made on Aug 1, 2013

Palo Alto is eyeing scaling back or suspending one of its most popular and successful renewable-energy programs, PaloAltoGreen, while it finds a way to make the decade-old program relevant again as the city moves into the era of carbon neutrality.

Read the full story here Web Link posted Thursday, August 1, 2013, 5:16 PM

Comments (19)

 +   Like this comment
Posted by chris
a resident of University South
on Aug 1, 2013 at 5:23 pm

This program always seemed completely backwards to me -- charging more to use clean energy.

It"s seems these people should get a discount.


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Posted by William
a resident of East Palo Alto
on Aug 1, 2013 at 6:34 pm

You have to charge more because clean energy is more expensive. What's backward about that?


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Posted by musical
a resident of Palo Verde
on Aug 1, 2013 at 7:00 pm

That's not much incentive. The general solution is to tax clean energy less.


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Posted by Resident
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Aug 1, 2013 at 7:21 pm

People paying extra for Palo Alto Green Energy are getting exactly the same energy as everyone else. They have no special utility lines taking any other energy than their neighbors. They just pay more for it and have a fancy sign to stick in their lawn.

Make no mistake, the energy is no different.


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Posted by Craig Laughton
a resident of College Terrace
on Aug 1, 2013 at 9:05 pm

>Money from the program is, according to commissioner John Melton, "greening up" non-renewable energy, such as hydroelectric, which makes up half of Palo Alto's portfolio. Currently, 21 percent of the city's power is supplied from renewable energy. By 2017 Palo AltoMoney from the program is, according to commissioner John Melton, "greening up" non-renewable energy, such as hydroelectric, which makes up half of Palo Alto's portfolio. Currently, 21 percent of the city's power is supplied from renewable energy. By 2017 Palo Alto plans to have half of its energy supplied from renewable sources.

Does this mean that PA will get off the hydroelectric (non renewable) dependence? Or does it portend that anaerobic digestion will be shoved at us? In essence, what does "greening up" mean?


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Posted by Anonymous
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Aug 2, 2013 at 10:35 am

The "greenest" action a power consumer can take is to consume less power, no matter what its source. So conservation and solar photovoltaic panels are much greener than this subsidy.

It's still surprises me that with all the PAUSD construction, not one of the buildings has solar PV. And, of course, PAUSD won't release information on their power usage per campus.


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Posted by Steve
a resident of Adobe-Meadows
on Aug 2, 2013 at 12:40 pm

I found the article very confusing and not very enlightening.

1) Hydroelectric power is very renewable. Every winter the snow falls, every spring it melts and fills the dams and the water turns the turbines. This will go on "forever" and hence it is renewable.
Aside from construction and maintenance there is no pollution. However, there are environmental costs in the form of destruction of beautiful valleys e.g. Hetch Hetchy and/or wild rivers.

2) It would be very useful to know the costs of "Renewable Energy Certificates" (REC). They seem to be the means of claiming that the energy consumed is related to renewable generation. I found it difficult to find the cost of REC. The best I could do is at Web Link where a plot goes to only to May 2012 and shows that western wind "voluntary" (perhaps what we get in California?) costs about $1.5/ MW-h which is about 0.15 cents/kW-h.
On the other hand, another plot shows the "Compliance" REC price for many states (but not CA) which vary by state from $60/MW-h to perhaps $1/MW-h (scale too coarse to tell).

Would someone enlighten me as to what Palo Alto pays.

3) I thought when I signed up for Palo Alto Green that the 1.5 cent surcharge was to cover the difference in cost between the price of fossil fuel generated electricity and wind generation. I do not want to pay this extra charge so some else can put solar panels on their roof (unfortunately still very expensive, and so very heavily subsidized).

4) I tried many times to find out what these costs actually were, and PA Utilities never gave a satisfactory answer.


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Posted by just thinkin'
a resident of Midtown
on Aug 2, 2013 at 2:54 pm

How clean is the process of making a wind generator with the plastic parts and huge copper coils?

(BTW - Petroleum is natural and organic, however the renewable aspect in lengthy.)


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Posted by PaloAltan
a resident of Community Center
on Aug 2, 2013 at 3:56 pm

This program has been cleaning out our pockets with less services..


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Posted by Craig Laughton
a resident of College Terrace
on Aug 2, 2013 at 4:20 pm

>Hydroelectric power is very renewable

The state of California does not agree. Damming wild rivers, and killing off the natural ecology, does not qualify as renewable. Palo Alto gets about 50% of its electric power from large hydro projects. Try to think: How many salmon are killed; how many wild rapids destroyed, how many Hetch Hetchy Valleys flooded per kilowatt-hour. The Yosemite Valley could be dammed, and a large hydro project be built...nice water reservoir... fills up every year...but John Muir would not agree that large hydro is renewable.

Palo Alto cannot seriously claim that it is about renewable energy, as along as it relies on large hydro contracts.

If Palo Alto wants to make claims about wind turbines, then it also needs to accept the rare earth elements that make them happen (e.g. neodymium)...and the toxic pollution that goes with mining them, as well as the geo-strategic challenges (since China controls the market).


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Posted by jan
a resident of Midtown
on Aug 2, 2013 at 11:07 pm

Remember, we are doing it for the environment....better clean air, keep rivers flowing well and healhy etc. So maybe we do need to pay more, but not too much more.


 +   Like this comment
Posted by Steve
a resident of Palo Verde
on Aug 3, 2013 at 5:49 am

Using hydro does not cause new dams to be built. The rapids in Hetch Hetchy were destroyed long ago.


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Posted by Steve
a resident of Adobe-Meadows
on Aug 3, 2013 at 10:17 am

As I mentioned before, Hydroelectric power does have negative environmental consequences. However, so do all other sources of energy.
Wind Farms kill birds are noisy and ugly. Some environmentalists favor wind farms as long as they are not in their neighborhood. As for Solar Power, there are many disputes about land use and the Sierra Club tries to keep them from some locations. Even rooftop solar has an environmental price. I would have to remove trees which shade my house to have enough sunlight for rooftop solar.

Renewable means that the "fuel" is renewed or naturally replenished: The sun continues to shine, driving the wind and evaporating water fill our dams. If the world had enough hydropower, there would be much less of a problem with CO2.

I would certianly like to have a low cost sustainable electricity supply which is produced in a way that does not harm the environment. However this is not possible. We must make compromises.
If you think that CO2 is the major problem facing us, then Hydroelectric power is a very very good source. If you think preserving free flowing rivers and restoring places like Hetch Hetchy are the highest priority and you would like electricity available all the time, then you might choose to substitute Nuclear Power or burning fossil fuels.


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Posted by Debra Katz
a resident of Downtown North
on Aug 5, 2013 at 11:31 am

I apologize in advance for a longer than "normal" comment, but there are some major inaccuracies in the article above and some misleading implications, which are important to address:

#1 UAC VOTE WAS UNANIMOUS--the final recommendation of the Utilities Advisory Commission was supported by all members and not a 4-2 vote as reported. This is not only important to note as a matter of accuracy, but also as a matter of policy-setting. Much thoughtful discussion and debate took place that night and the agreed-upon result represented the consensus that resulted. (Those interested in seeing the full staff report as presented to the UAC can do so here: www.cityofpaloalto.org/civicax/filebank/documents/35249 )

#2 UAC VOTE WAS NOT SIMPLY TO "SUSPEND PA GREEN"---to oversimplify the UAC recommendation gives a false impression as to the nature of this important decision about the next steps for this national-award winning program. Palo Alto Green has been delivering real benefits to specific residents and businesses as well as the community as a whole and it continues to do so as we speak.

#3 The UAC RECOMMENDATION WAS JUST THAT, a recommendation, and no changes are or will be in effect until the proposal is acted upon by the City Council later this Fall.

#2 THE UAC RECOMMENDATION had THREE KEY COMPONENTS:
a. Temporary suspension of the charging of a premium to residential Palo Alto Green customers while a new program structure can be worked out. This is being done so that a program with an equally powerful impact can be designed, since the current PAGreen program has a reduced impact in light of the recent move to a carbon-neutral electric supply. (For more on the Carbon Neutral electric issue, visit www.cityofpaloalto.org/UTLcarbonfree For more on the impact to PA Green customers, visit www.cityofpaloalto.org/pagreen )
b. Continue charging a premium to commercial Palo Alto Green customers but at a substantially-reduced rate of 0.2 cents per kWh (kilowatt hour) rather than the previous rate of 1.5 cents per kWh. This is being done because many business customers depend on their PAGreen participation to allow them to be designated a Green Power Partner by the federal EPA.
c. Direct staff to investigate and propose an alternative PAGreen program for all customers that would "green up" their natural gas supply through the purchase of "carbon offsets." I won't try to get into details on this here, or into a discussion of why this alternative versus others that were discussed. Interested parties might want to refer to the staff report to the UAC referenced above.

#4 PALO ALTO GREEN participants are currently paying a premium to support a DIFFERNT ELECTRIC SUPPLY MIX (100% California solar energy)than the mix for other customers (!00% carbon neutral, but with some renewables and some market-purchased power that is "offset" by purchases of . This difference will continue at least through the time of the City Council final decision, which may or may not be the same as the UAC recommendation. This is an important point, especially for people on the PAGreen program, who rightfully may be wondering if they are now paying a premium for something tangibly different than what other customers are getting---and the answer is absolutely YES!

City staff welcomes public input and discussion. We are incredibly proud to be serving a City that has supported a progressive, enlightened sustainability-focused program like PaloAltoGreen and we greatly respect the views of the community that has provided that support.

Debra Katz
Utilities Communications Manager
City of Palo Alto
debra.katz@cityofpaloalto.org


 +   Like this comment
Posted by Debra Katz
a resident of Downtown North
on Aug 5, 2013 at 11:35 am

In deference to my father who was a high school math teacher for 30 years, I am compelled to note and apologize for the incorrect numbering of the points in my comments above (-;


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Posted by Debra Katz
a resident of Downtown North
on Aug 5, 2013 at 12:58 pm

In my haste to post, I notice I also left a dangling sentence in my comment..here is the paragraph with the missing words added:

#4 PALO ALTO GREEN participants are currently paying a premium to support a DIFFERNT ELECTRIC SUPPLY MIX (100% California solar energy)than the mix for other customers (!00% carbon neutral, but with some renewables and some market-purchased power that is "offset" by purchases of Renewable Energy Certificates (RECs).


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Posted by Craig Laughton
a resident of College Terrace
on Aug 5, 2013 at 1:21 pm

Debra,

Can you please explain what "greening up" means, especially regarding large hydro, since large hydro is not a renewable. Are you suggesting that Palo Alto close their large hydro contracts and switch over to 100% solar? Or are you in favor of alternatives like nuclear?

Thanks.

Craig


 +   Like this comment
Posted by Debra Katz
a resident of Downtown North
on Aug 5, 2013 at 2:12 pm

I'm delighted to see the record corrected in the article.

And to respond to Craig, above, "greening up" is a term of art in the industry that refers to using positive environmental attributes of one resource to compensate for negative environmental attributes of another. The details vary based on what resource is being "greened up" to begin with and exactly how it is being offset.

I do not believe anyone is proposing the PAGreen program is needed to "green up" the City's large hydroelectric power resources in particular. The City has many electric resources, of which hydroelectric is just one. What the PAGreen program currently does do is allow a participant to support 100% solar power, which is an eligible renewable (see next paragraph).

On the subject of large hydro and eligible renewables...I think it would be agreed that the electricity coming from large hydroelectric power plants is absolutely a renewable resource. However, the power from large hydro is not classified by the State as an "eligible renewable resource" (eligible meaning it can be counted towards a utility's required percent renewables in its portfolio). The reason for large hydro not being "eligible" is a policy decision that the other environmental impacts of large hydro, such as damming rivers, are sufficient that the State does not want it to "push" for it as a resource to be used. I emphasize that this is a policy decision because reasonable minds debate the cost/benefits of ALL power resources and come to different conclusions. It's less a matter of "facts" than of political judgement.

My time constraints prevent me from constantly monitoring and replying to comments here, so if anyone needs an answer they don't get here, feel free to email me directly.

Debra
debra.katz@cityofpaloalto.org


 +   Like this comment
Posted by Craig Laughton
a resident of College Terrace
on Aug 5, 2013 at 3:54 pm

>The reason for large hydro not being "eligible" is a policy decision that the other environmental impacts of large hydro, such as damming rivers, are sufficient that the State does not want it to "push" for it as a resource to be used. I emphasize that this is a policy decision because reasonable minds debate the cost/benefits of ALL power resources and come to different conclusions. It's less a matter of "facts" than of political judgement.

Debra, If the state of California decided to dam Yosemite Valley, would you think that it would qualify as an "eligible" large hydro renewable? If a huge earthquake took place in California, and destroyed most of the large hydro projects, should they be replaced with large hydro, or with CO2-free small nuclear batteries? Or with 100% solar which don't produce most of the time?

Since you put yourself out here, Debra, it is not a time for you to take a dive ("time constraints"). It is time for you to stay connected and explain your positions, with serious facts and opinions.


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