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City looks to reboot PaloAltoGreen

Original post made on Feb 20, 2013

In a city abuzz with green-energy programs, PaloAltoGreen stands out as a paragon of success, having received a raft of awards and drawn the highest participation rate in the nation. But as Palo Alto pursues broader renewable-energy programs, city officials are wondering whether it's time to revamp or pull the plug on the popular program.

Read the full story here Web Link posted Wednesday, February 20, 2013, 7:26 AM

Comments (20)

Posted by Anonymous, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Feb 20, 2013 at 7:29 am

How about offering net metering for electricity so solar pays off sooner?

It seems as if all these Palo Alto Green proposals end up being ways in which customers can pay Palo Alto Utilities MORE so it can be greener instead of ways for the customers to be greener and pay less.


Posted by PAG customer, a resident of Ventura
on Feb 20, 2013 at 8:06 am

@Anonymous:
Palo Alto does offer net metering for solar PV systems (per state law).

PaloAltoGreen is a voluntary program so only those who choose to participate pay the additional cost for the renewable credits.


Posted by Renewable Gas, a resident of Charleston Meadows
on Feb 20, 2013 at 9:38 am

You know, we don't even need to go very far for a good source of natural gas -- right now, there's a big gas flare located in the now-closed city dump: Web Link

I'd love to burn that in my heater instead of seeing it wasted.


Posted by Wondering?, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Feb 20, 2013 at 10:46 am

> On the other, the city doesn't want to simply flip off
> the switch on one of its most successful programs.


In what way is this program "successful"? The fact that 30% of the ratepayers have been conned into paying more for electricity hardly constitutes "success".

We are routinely fed numbers about how this program has reduced the supposed green-house gas generation .. but to what end has this savings actually produced anything on a global level that is actually saving the planet?

If the increased cost is revenue neutral (meaning that the Utility is not actually making money on this program) then it seems to be just another activity of the Utility that is self-serving, rather than actually doing anything that is really effective.

If the whole portfolio might one day be carbon neutral (another environmentalist fantasy), what's the point of continuing this program?


Posted by Jo Ann, a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Feb 20, 2013 at 11:00 am

How about joining PGE and the rest of California utilities in the $1 Billion Enron suit that's going to finally return to CA consumers billions of dollars plus interest that Enron and other companies stole from us???

I STILL remember those bills.

HOW ABOUT DOING SOMETHING FOR US FOR A CHANZGE????


Posted by common sense, a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Feb 20, 2013 at 2:09 pm

Kudos for the success of the program. Why not have these funds be used to give Palo Alto it's own municipal solar power source that would replace duplication of solar sites at each home, school, etc.. Let's build a solar farm!


Posted by Anonymous, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Feb 20, 2013 at 4:24 pm

@PAG Customer,

CPAU pays a flat rate of 5.841 cent/kwh for excess solar power without any time of day rate differentials.


Posted by Bob Wenzlau, a resident of Crescent Park
on Feb 20, 2013 at 5:29 pm

Bob Wenzlau is a registered user.

Perhaps Palo Alto Green could use the proceeds to support conservation as a companion to new green sources. The current "rebates" that support insulating homes, or offer support on retrofits to update lighting seem to be an under developed resource. The Utilities Department claims that they cannot offer the rebate structure that PG&E does, and as such our rebate structure that supports conservation lags most communities. We learned in recycling that the "reduce" ethic is the most powerful - and it appears that the effort now perhaps contemplates further green energy development when it might consider augmenting efforts in reducing energy use by investing in our town. Palo Alto has an older housing stock, so many homes are afflicted by poor insulation or antiquated lighting systems. I hope as the City reflect on choices, they also consider avenues to invest in conservation.


Posted by Silly, a resident of Adobe-Meadows
on Feb 20, 2013 at 7:22 pm

I reject ALL claims that PA is green until they fix the traffic lights that cause us to go miles out of our way to avoid exhaust-spewing back-ups.

I reject ALL claims that PA is green until they support conservation measures.

I reject all claims that PA is green until they stop requiring US to do the job of garbagemen, sorting everything and then lugging it to curb WHILE paying ever-higher rates.


Posted by Wondering?, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Feb 20, 2013 at 7:49 pm

> Perhaps Palo Alto Green could use the proceeds to support conservation

What proceeds? If the Green program just buys somewhat more electricity at a higher price to meet the "demand" of those willing to pay for it, then there aren't any "proceeds" that are to be attributed to this program.

> The Utilities Department claims that they cannot offer
> the rebate structure that PG&E does

It's a shame that the Council has so little power over the Utility. If it did, then it would demand that the Utility provide worksheets to back up claims like this.

But pushing the point a bit—why should the utility provider be expected to subsidize a homeowner's maintenance costs? It's the homeowner's responsibility to manage his/her property. Looking to the government to pay your bills is why the US is effectively bankrupt, and getting poorer, year-by-year


Posted by Gus L., a resident of Barron Park
on Feb 20, 2013 at 8:46 pm

The City can start by stop sending me Junk Mail, Sometimes several each month.
Wasting paper and Tax dollars on telling me what my neighbors utility bill was compared to mine.
Green, Yeah ..Right.. The color of Palo Alto...LOL


Posted by Bob Wenzlau, a resident of Crescent Park
on Feb 20, 2013 at 10:26 pm

Bob Wenzlau is a registered user.

Energy conservation is not home maintenance - it is an investment that off-sets new energy needs for the city. Having a home built in the 1930s, it is not trivial to accomplish floor, wall and or ceiling insulation that could off-site natural gas load that is not a green energy source. Why not invest in conservation if it returns energy the same way new sources would?

Palo Alto's apparently offers a relatively smaller "conservation" investment program. PG&E would support from $1000 to $4500 for energy efficiency in a home, while Palo Alto caps out at $400. These rebate programs can be compared at this link:

Web Link

As I pay now into the Green Energy program, I only sought to consider whether such a payment could in fact support or facilitate conservation efforts. This is in line with the roll of an energy utility, so is reasonable to ponder when a program like Green Energy is at a cross roads. It would be reasonable if the City could do more to facilitate home conservation, and I believe an economic argument exists for reducing the energy demand by the city as there would be smaller capital investment to grow the system if in fact conservation is achieved.


Posted by Wondering?, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Feb 20, 2013 at 11:22 pm

> Energy conservation is not home maintenance

Turning down the thermostat to reduce the temperature in one's home is "energy conservation", and does not require any modifications to one's home to achive that end.

But to conserve energy by reducing the loss through the floor, walls, ceilings and windows--which requires replacing the current housing components, or adding to them (such as insulating the walls or roof)--most assuredly is home maintenance (except in some parts of Palo Alto).

> while Palo Alto caps out at $400.

The money for these rebates has to come from somewhere. That somewhere turns out to be, typically, the rates we pay for the electricity and gas we consume. PG&E charges a little more for electricty, and a little less for gas. Given that Palo Alto is a postage-stamp operation, there is only so much money it can see as "profit"--which then is available for rebates.

While there may be some long-time financial benefit that comes from being a PAU customer (if you use a lot of electricity), there are offsetting benefits from being a PG&E customer--when it comes to these subsidy programs.

> As I pay now into the Green Energy program, I only sought
> to consider whether such a payment could in fact support
> or facilitate conservation efforts

That was not the stated purpose for this program. However, if you find that the cost of electricity is higher in this program, maybe you might reduce your electricity use--which would meet a common definition of "conservation". But you could also turn off the electricity in your home, and "live rough"--and conserve even more electricity.

> Why not invest in conservation if it returns energy
> the same way new sources would?

This makes no sense--given the energy budget of the world. (Like Nancy Pelosi's famous claim that "unemployment is one way to grow the middle class" (or words to that effect). However, most "environmentalism" makes no sense--given the reality of life on Earth, either.





Posted by jm, a resident of Evergreen Park
on Feb 21, 2013 at 12:06 am

Jo Ann,

I remember that Palo Alto settled early with Enron, and paid Enron $21 million out of the approx $40 million utility fund. So Palo Alto Utilities can't join in the suit. If anyone remembers or knows different, please let us know.


Posted by Karl W. Braun, a resident of Downtown North
on Feb 21, 2013 at 2:53 am

The "carbon footprint" associated from windbased energy sources might be greater than we think. From what I understand, on account that windpower output can be rather variable, backup natural gas power generators must be kept always on standby mode to supply required baseload needs. These generators continue to burn gas even if their power output is not being used.


Posted by Jim, a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Feb 21, 2013 at 8:45 am

Jim, you may be right. I remember that Palo Alto had to pay Enron something MORE like $30 Million for cancelling their contract while we were being...er, over-charged and they even lost that suit. Whether they ALSO signed away the rights to anything else, who knows. Unfortunately, you're probably right.


Posted by Joe, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Feb 21, 2013 at 8:56 am

> I remember that Palo Alto settled early with Enron, and paid
> Enron $21 million out of the approx $40 million utility fund

That's true. What's also true is that City never fully explained itself to the public, since it claimed that much of its dealings with Enron were covered with non-disclosure agreements (NDAs). Utility Commissioner Dick Rosenbaum complained openly at the time that many of the Utility contracts had become concealed because of NDAs. He opined that it was possible that day of public oversight of the PAU had passed.


Posted by pares, a resident of Fairmeadow
on Feb 21, 2013 at 4:43 pm

I second get rid of PA Utility junk mail update on my usage. Sometimes I get a smiley face -- especially when we've been gone on vacation. Other times, I'm scolded for using more than my neighbors. Well, for one thing, the square footage comparison is inaccurate. So, PA Utility wants me to update my profile. Geez, then what data next? In order to really make a good comparison between neighbors, all sorts of data would be needed: who works at home? who travels frequently? who is sick and needs a warmer house? how many in the house? how many visitors? Those smiley faces may be good for kindergartners but for a utility that is supposed to offer a service and then morphs into a scolding guardian is really too much.

What a waste of money.


Posted by PAG Customer, a resident of Ventura
on Feb 21, 2013 at 7:08 pm

@Anonymous

The 5.841 cents/kWh is NOT the net metering rate. It is the value used to cash out the NET SURPLUS electricity when customers generate more than they consume in a YEAR. Customers can chose not to cash out and carry the net metering credit balance into the next year.

NET METERING refers to the retail rate that is used to value the net electricity delivered to or received from a PV customer each MONTH. For non PaloAltoGreen residential customers, the rates are $0.095-$.174/kWh as shown on E-1: Web Link
PaloAltoGreen customers pay 1.5 cents/kWh more.


Posted by Gary, a resident of Charleston Gardens
on Feb 22, 2013 at 10:39 am

We have subscribed to PA Green for almost as long as the program has been in existance. It doesn't cost that much more (and I think the majority of PA residents could afford it) and is more ecological. I am still as careful about turning out lights, etc. - but we feel like we are doing our small part to help with global warming.

Please keep some sort of program that allows us to opt for cleaner ebergy for our home use.

P.S. We have had hot water solar for over 20 years, and photovoltaic for several. But we still use more energy than they supply.


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