News

Palo Alto looks to 'fuel switch' away from natural gas

City Council asks staff to explore new initiatives aimed to drive residents toward clean electricity

When Palo Alto cut carbon out of its electricity supply last year, City Council members and environmentalists lauded the move as a rare and proud achievement in city's battle against global warming.

Now, they are viewing the clean electric portfolio not as an end but as a stepping stone for other green accomplishments, most notably in the fields of transportation and natural-gas consumption. The new efforts include getting more drivers to switch to electric vehicles and weaning people off natural gas and toward clean electricity.

The initiatives targeting natural gas and transportation are expected to play a central role in the city's Sustainability and Climate Action Plan, a comprehensive update to the 2007 plan that the city adopted in 2007.

The new plan, which the City Council discussed on Dec. 8, will include information about the roughly 154 green initiatives that the city currently has in the works, set new goals for reducing emissions and explore the overarching question, "How far should the city go?"

Though the plan is still far from complete, a new report from Chief Sustainability Officer Gil Friend makes clear that transportation and natural gas will be at the forefront of future sustainability efforts. While the former accounts for an estimated 60 percent of the city's carbon emissions, the latter makes up about 30 percent.

"Emissions from transportation and from natural gas use (for commercial and residential space heating, water heating and cooking) represent more than 90 percent of our remaining emissions inventory," Friend's report states. "In order to achieve any significant level of further (greenhouse gas) reductions, it will be necessary to transform transportation, and to eliminate the use, or the impact of natural gas."

The report calls the challenge of taking carbon out of transportation "daunting," noting that it would require not only systems and technologies but also "deeply embedded behaviors." Palo Alto is already pursuing some steps in this arena, including simplifying the permitting process for electric-vehicle charging equipment, bike projects and new transportation-demand projects.

On natural gas, however, the report is more optimistic. It lists four possible ways to reduce natural-gas consumption: buying offsets for the greenhouse gas emissions relating to gas use; greater efficiency in technology and buildings; use of biogas instead of natural gas; and "fuel switching" from natural gas to carbon-neutral electricity. The report notes that fuel switching would "involve substantial migration from the City's embedded natural gas infrastructure."

No one expects the switch away from natural gas to be cheap or easy but on Dec. 16, the City Council emphatically endorsed exploring the proposal further. By a unanimous vote, the council supported a plan laid out in a memo by Councilmen Pat Burt, Marc Berman and Larry Klein. The memo directs staff to come back in February with a report that lays out a time frame for researching and developing a full report on the fuel-switching initiative.

In introducing the memo, Burt pointed to the city's carbon-neutral electrical portfolio and called it a "fantastic foundation" on which to build.

"It's a fantastic achievement and a great foundation to be able to over time have an energy form we can move toward that will have the rest of our carbon emissions be gradually reduced and eventually eliminated," Burt said.

He predicted that evaluating and pursuing the fuel-switching proposal will make Palo Alto officials "trendsetters, not outliers" and noted that many other communities are also tackling these issues. He acknowledged that the city's effort to wean itself off natural gas will have complications, but said it's important to start exploring this shift.

"It's an ambitious goal," Burt said. "It's not yet an ambitious set of actions because we are not yet taking actions other than to begin the evaluation."

His co-signatories both agreed, with Klein calling the fuel-switching proposal "an important first step in a very difficult area" and Berman calling it "an amazing opportunity."

"Our 100 percent carbon-neutral electricity portfolio provides an amazing opportunity to take advantage of this -- to be the leader, the guinea pig, call it what you will, in trying to implement this," Berman said. "It's an exciting opportunity for us. It's also an obligation we have to other communities to lead here."

The memo directs staff to work on a report that would outline "prospective programs and incentives that would result in the use of electrical devices to replace those using natural gas" and consider "possible building code changes to require, where feasible, the use of electrical appliances rather than natural gas appliances in the construction and renovation of residential and commercial buildings."

Staff will also consider utility-rate structures that would "not penalize" fuel switching; and consider "additional strategies to support electric vehicles."

Though it's still very early in the game, the proposal has already generated some excitement in the environmental community. Before the council voted to adopt the memo, it heard from three prominent environmentalists, all of whom praised the memo and urged the city to move forward with its recommendations.

Bruce Hodge, founder of the group Carbon Free Palo Alto, said "This colleagues memo combined with the work on Sustainability and Climate Action Plan is kick-starting a crucial next step in the decarbonization of our energy use in Palo Alto. If not Palo Alto, then who? Let's get going."

Environmentalist Walt Hays praised the city's vision for reducing carbon, but emphasized that "a vision without action is meaningless." Though the fuel switching could have ramifications for utility rates in the future, the cost of the increase "will be very small, will be minuscule, in relation to the cost of adapting to climate change," Hays said.

Craig Lewis, founder of the local nonprofit Clean Coalition, said converting buildings from natural gas to electricity is a tough challenge and one that he had to wrestle with as part of his group's effort to create 100 "net-zero" houses in downtown Palo Alto. Fuel switching, he said, is a component of this push. But because natural gas makes up 30 percent of emissions, the city should look for ways to address this source.

"There's no better place in the world than the innovation capital of the world, which is Palo Alto, top start to test solutions for fuel switching," Lewis said.

Comments

7 people like this
Posted by Resident
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Dec 24, 2014 at 9:01 am

This reminds me of the debate a decade or so ago when we were all encouraged in grocery stores to go plastic not paper to save trees. Now plastic is banned and we are charged for paper. Natural gas v electricity has been the green thing to do for decades.

I can't see anyone reading this and deciding to change their kitchen or heating as a result.


11 people like this
Posted by This is Dumb
a resident of Community Center
on Dec 24, 2014 at 10:23 am

Natural Gas is cheapo and plentiful and much cleaner than most forms of energy.

Palo Alto isn't an island.

Most electricity is produced by natural gas fired power plants so where the heck do you think electricity comes from. Regardless of what rhetoric they say Palo Alto doesn't get all it's energy from wind, solar, and hydroelectric so get over it.

Buying offsets, that just sounds like and expensive way to get rid of your guilt.


9 people like this
Posted by 37 year resident
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Dec 24, 2014 at 10:27 am

@This is Dumb said it all. Palo Alto needs to get over itself.


12 people like this
Posted by Got Priorities
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Dec 24, 2014 at 10:50 am

This is absurd. Natural gas is at its lowest price point in a long time.

How about Palo Alto stop preaching to its residents and just do its job which is -- or should be -- delivering cost-effective services. Years ago I reviewed the Utilities Dept. lengthy goals and mission statement presentation and NO WHERE did they ever mention cost-effectiveness.

Why do we need a Chief Sustainability Officer? STOP PREACHING AND JUST DO YOUR JOBS. Stop the costly mailings and contests.

If anything, PA's efforts are making me LESS green in reaction to its zealousness where conservation costs us more, mot less.


8 people like this
Posted by Concerned Retiree
a resident of Midtown
on Dec 24, 2014 at 11:11 am

Please let me keep my natural gas to heat my home and fuel my water heater. Electricity is not nearly as efficient for heating as natural gas. And, who is going to pay for this "benefit" to the homeowner? What are the City Council members thinking???

I am now buying brand new plastic bags -- single use -- to replace the ones used before for shopping to line my garbage bags and pick up dog poop.

Please, think through-- and look at -- the process before leaping.


9 people like this
Posted by CrescentParkAnon.
a resident of Crescent Park
on Dec 24, 2014 at 11:35 am

"Got Priorities" gots a lotta sense ...

Natural gas for right now and the foreseeable future is the cheapest cleanest form of energy. Why on Earth would the City of Palo Alto think ( especially after all their screw ups ) that they have the duty or the right to "wean" anyone about anything.

Do they see some way of gouging us for more money doing this? Is that it?

When it comes to just about anything the City of Palo Alto has been driven by opaque marginal forces and most of its decisions have been bad ones ... so it is time to get real and accept that our City as it is currently government is not a leader, and ought to sit back and wait until it sees a definite clear path of action instead of setting us all up for more disruption and extra costs.

And the idea of these expensive consulting positions being anything other than high-paid marketers of someone else's agenda is an insult to Palo Altans.

Just do your jobs and try to build up a reputation and history of trust ... then, we'll see??


6 people like this
Posted by Craig Laughton
a resident of College Terrace
on Dec 24, 2014 at 11:48 am

This is one of those big issues that affects many/most PA citizens, thus it should be put to a referendum. I suspect it will fail even worse than the Maybell deal, which was also supported by a unanimous council.

This current CC has a political tin ear [portion removed.] I suspect that even they might have some silent doubts, but are too afraid to express them. The least they can do is to arrange to have this put on the next ballot. They could also add in another question: Should Palo Alto eliminate the Sustainability Officer position?


3 people like this
Posted by Green Family
a resident of Midtown
on Dec 24, 2014 at 11:55 am

Natural gas prices may be low now, but the true costs to the environment and our health are not included in that. Methane leaks from NG production are a major problem; and methane is 25% of manmade global warming emissions. Furthermore, in the forseeable future, as the cost of solar panels and other renewable electricity sources continues to decline, gas will not be cheaper. Of course it would cost a lot if everyone were forced to convert their appliances, but no one is suggesting that. Steps like requiring new construction to be all-electric make sense.


7 people like this
Posted by Oldman
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Dec 24, 2014 at 12:13 pm

Folks
City manager hired a "sustainable manager" and now Mr Keene has to justify the salary and benefit associated with that dumb decision. This council debate is nothing else than an other form of "natural gas"! Oh yes he has a lot of GREEN to burn .


8 people like this
Posted by Nat
a resident of Midtown
on Dec 24, 2014 at 12:49 pm

If all our heating and hot water were electric, then when there is an electrical outage, people would be without heat and hot water, as well as lights!! Think about it! And it's probably true that some electricity comes from gas powered plants.
Fuel switching is a dumb idea.


3 people like this
Posted by Jerry99
a resident of Barron Park
on Dec 24, 2014 at 1:26 pm

Another way to waste money funding a bunch of dead end ideas and technologies, meanwhile the residents of Palo Alto will be paying much more for electricity generated from Solar panels and wind farms that shred migrating birds. [Portion removed.]
If the natural gas does not go to my furnace how will it produce heat? Electical heating is at least twice as expensive as gas heat. Plus most of us have bought and installed $1,500 dollar gas furnaces in the last 10 years.


4 people like this
Posted by Jerry99
a resident of Barron Park
on Dec 24, 2014 at 1:31 pm

This is crazy. As it is the city is taxing me and my neighbors that live in a townhouse community more than 5$/month for street sweeping that does not happen since our streets are private.
The city is always thinking of new ways to steal money from residents for crazy ideas. This green energy is the newest fad and is not the City Council's responsibility.
Do your job- genrate more parking spaces downtown, make downtown safer to walk at night and do something about the explosion of burglaries, break ins, and car vandalism, not this nonsense.


7 people like this
Posted by Steve
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Dec 24, 2014 at 1:36 pm

Many of the negative comments here have assumed that the city will take an ignorant and insensitive approach to the issue of eliminating natural gas from its fuel portfolio. This could not be further from the truth. The Council members are well aware that many people use natural gas for space heating, cooking, and hot water, as I do. I recently invested in a 95% efficient natural gas furnace and would not be willing to toss it out without a financial incentive. Such an incentive would undoubtedly be part of a fuel switching plan. Obviously, fuel switching could be more easily implemented in new construction, particularly by mandating the use of heat pumps for space heating and cooling and solar hot water heating. Eliminating the use of fossil fuels in less than two decades is necessary if we are to avoid climate catastrophe. Solar PV and wind generated electricity are already competitive with coal. All we need to eliminate our dependence on fossil fuels are reliable means of grid scale electricity storage. Let us Palo Altans take up our moral obligation to lead the way on fighting climate disruption by supporting the Council's posiion.


1 person likes this
Posted by musical
a resident of Palo Verde
on Dec 24, 2014 at 1:43 pm

For residential heating, coal is looking attractive at $50 per ton.


3 people like this
Posted by Craig Laughton
a resident of College Terrace
on Dec 24, 2014 at 2:19 pm

> Eliminating the use of fossil fuels in less than two decades is necessary if we are to avoid climate catastrophe.

More alarmism and scare tactics, Steve. In two decades, when there is no catastrophe, the alarmists will still be saying, "We only have decades left to save the planet!". [Portion removed.]
Incentives mean money, one way or the other. This means that we taxpayers will get hit with this tax.


6 people like this
Posted by PAmoderate
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Dec 24, 2014 at 2:39 pm

PAmoderate is a registered user.

How about the 155th green initiative? Get rid of the wasteful paper in our utility bills and fire all the people responsible for the generating the junk in our mail.


2 people like this
Posted by maguro_01
a resident of Mountain View
on Dec 24, 2014 at 3:44 pm

@nat - Gas appliances, furnaces, etc, for years will not operate without mains electric power. Of course the power for the electronic controls could come from battery backup or a solar/battery system. There are also fuel cells that will operate on natural gas and efficiently provide both heat and electricity. It would have to be determined if building codes around here allow for them and also if they are reliable.

A city government taking on "deeply embedded behaviors" is an interesting idea. I guess they might if we are talking about, say, slavery, sacrificing live oxen in religious ceremonies, marrying off girls by arrangement at age 10, keeping more than one buffalo in a condo or more than two in a backyard, and other everyday problems in municipal governance.

Arguably reducing carbon emissions is more important, of course.


3 people like this
Posted by Paul
a resident of Barron Park
on Dec 24, 2014 at 3:59 pm

Using electricity for heat is not "green". Fossil fueled electric plants are at best 30 - 40% efficient. Thus 60 - 70% of the fuel is wasted as heat. Much greener to use the fuel directly for heating without the inefficient conversion to electricity.

In 2013 about 44% of California electricity was from natural gas:
Web Link


6 people like this
Posted by Steve
a resident of Evergreen Park
on Dec 24, 2014 at 4:35 pm

Electricity generated from renewables is greener (lower carbon footprint) than natural gas, and coal. The city has already close to 100% renewables for electricity. The current "low" costs of fossil fuels is temporary. The cost of carbon is not priced in into the cost of fossil fuels in any case. Remember when gas was $0.29/gallon. My grandparents would be freaking out at $2.80/gallon. Wait a few years, NG will go back up (after we've fracked everything) and gasoline will go past $5.00 again.

In our mild climate, a well-insulated, tight house should require almost no heat. Body heat and a couple of space-heaters (for the coldest nights) should suffice. Add an ultra-efficient heat pump water heater (about 2.5x more efficient than your typical gas water heater) and there would be no more need for natural gas at all.

I applaud the city for going in this direction.


6 people like this
Posted by Beyond Dumb
a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Dec 24, 2014 at 4:35 pm

This is not just silly, it is moronic. The council members and the utility department need to think five times before they speak once. these are also the people who denied that this would be an El Niño year.


4 people like this
Posted by 37 year resident
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Dec 24, 2014 at 5:53 pm

Steve...please...Palo Alto has NO moral obligation to lead the way on ANYTHING, let alone this ridiculous fuel switch idea. You make a good point about insulation and heat pumps but there is NO need to do anything else. Let Berkeley lead the way.


6 people like this
Posted by Terry
a resident of Midtown
on Dec 24, 2014 at 6:20 pm

Sadly, I am frequently amazed by the rank stupidity embodied in this town's initiatives.


6 people like this
Posted by Mark Roest
a resident of another community
on Dec 24, 2014 at 8:21 pm

It sounds like there are a lot of climate deniers and late adopters (of new ideas) here.

A. Climate disruption is real (just look at maps of the change in ice coverage in the arctic over the last 20 years); it works like 97% of the scientists say it does; and it is unacceptable to hang onto the status quo and condemn future generations of humans and animals just because it leaves more money in our pockets (and I'm on Social Security).

B. About 10% of gas wells leak methane in the first six months, and over half within 20 years. The total effect is as bad as coal. Old gas lines leak too, and there is no guarantee that the gas lines that bring gas to Palo Alto have been maintained (remember San Bruno). Most of the California fracked wells are likely to run down within 5 years. We are still trillions of gallons short, or 37 or 137 million acre-feet short, of water for the duration of the drought so far, so we cannot risk getting fracking chemicals into what's left, as the citizens of San Benito County understood, despite millions of dollars of industry spending against Proposition J, which passed handily. The easy-to-get gas is gone, so it only gets worse from here.

C. Plus, the GOP took Congress, and is trying to support industry in exporting the natural gas to Europe and Asia, so the artificially low prices (compared to global prices) are going to be gone as soon as they have their way. You are going to pay at least twice what you do now, once that happens.

D. As others mentioned, the cost of renewable energy will continue to drop, and what you never consider is that the electricity from it will be almost free, once the loans are paid off, in a few years, with 15 or more years of working life left -- maybe much more. Are you so addicted to what you are used to and comfortable with, that you don't want your energy rates to DROP after we get rid of fossil fuel?

E. Batteries for electricity storage are also falling rapidly in price, and the amortized cost of running electricity through them is going to reach two cents per kWh within 2 to 5 years. That will mean that it is economically feasible to have enough batteries to smooth out even very large amounts of solar and wind energy resources.

F. We live in a capitalist society, with some social institutions still functioning, like the city government. The capitalist part will be happy to fund the rapid replacement of the fossil fuel industry, and of internal combustion engines and the big steam turbines in power plants, as soon as they like the interest or equity they can get in the projects and companies that will do the job (that will be very soon). They already have most of the wealth of this nation, so they can definitely afford it, and afterward, our economy and the world economy will blossom.


1 person likes this
Posted by John Galt
a resident of Fairmeadow
on Dec 24, 2014 at 8:40 pm

[Post removed.]


Like this comment
Posted by Angie
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Dec 24, 2014 at 8:59 pm

I'm wondering where Palo Alto's carbon-neutral electricity comes from. Does anyone here know?


6 people like this
Posted by Green Family
a resident of Midtown
on Dec 24, 2014 at 9:07 pm

We are saddened by the negative comments on this topic, the inherent distrust of government working for a better shared future, the politicization of the climate crisis, and the willful ignorance of its reality. It is unfortunately comfortable to cling to the status quo, and that comfort is enhanced by oil company-funded media commentaries. Taking in the real news will enlighten you to the millions around the world impacted already by unprecedented extreme weather that do not share your comfort. Let there be peace on earth this season, and justice too.


2 people like this
Posted by @Green Family
a resident of another community
on Dec 24, 2014 at 9:21 pm

Amen!


8 people like this
Posted by Radical
a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Dec 24, 2014 at 10:01 pm

If the city wants to put forth "statement initiatives," how about they do something like oppose Citizens United?

We really don't have to pioneer every "green" initiative that comes down the pike. Who's going to give each household tens of thousands of dollars to change their appliances, furnace, etc. etc. for their latest craze?

Remember that "green PA" cost more because we conserved too much and didn't use enough energy so we had to pay even more so many people got disgusted with the whole farce.

How about just providing cost-effective services? That seems to be a very radical idea here in PA.


1 person likes this
Posted by Mr.Recycle
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Dec 24, 2014 at 10:06 pm

@Green Family - The whole global warming industrial complex is predicated on appeal to the status quo. You are trying to stop temperature change, right? Even though the planet has been significantly warmer, and significantly cooler in the past. If you let go of the temperature status quo, and embraced change, then you wouldn't stress about the weather.


3 people like this
Posted by Kate
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Dec 25, 2014 at 10:42 am

[Post removed.]


2 people like this
Posted by ChrisC
a resident of College Terrace
on Dec 26, 2014 at 1:59 am

ChrisC is a registered user.

Yet clothes lines are too unsightly for Palo alto.


3 people like this
Posted by Crescent Park Dad
a resident of Crescent Park
on Dec 26, 2014 at 9:30 am

"the inherent distrust of government "

Clearly you have not been keeping track of the Palo Alto City Council, ARB, Traffic and Planning, city staff, etc.


Like this comment
Posted by Craig Laughton
a resident of College Terrace
on Dec 26, 2014 at 1:42 pm

As usual, the alarmists cling onto their latest and greatest talking points. Al Gore, purveyor of inconvenient falsehoods, predicted that the arctic ice cap would be ice free by now. The inconvenient truth (for the alarmists)is as follows:

"Crucially, the ice is also thicker, and therefore more resilient to future melting. Professor Andrew Shepherd, of Leeds University and University Coillege, London, an expert in climate satellite monitoring, said yesterday: ‘It is clear from the measurements we have collected that the Arctic sea ice has experienced a significant recovery in thickness over the past year.

‘It seems that an unusually cool summer in 2013 allowed more ice to survive through to last winter. This means that the Arctic sea ice pack is thicker and stronger than usual, and this should be taken into account when making predictions of its future extent.’

The polar bears are still alive, and doing quite well, too.

Let's not forget that Antarctic ice extent is above normal levels, in fact it is at record levels.

Despite climbing OO2 levels in the atmosphere, the earth has not warmed in more that 18 years. Do the alarmists ever consider that earth warming, at such modest extent that is has warmed, is not due to CO2? Nope...that would destroy their main argument. Let's not forget those 97% of 'scientists' who get paid to maintain that argument.

We should be celebrating fracking. It is at the center of lower oil prices. Saudi Arabia is determined to put it out of business by continuing to pump oil out of its pool. Lower oil prices are forcing the hand of the dictators of Cuba, Russia and Venezuela. The alarmists are doing whatever they can to ban fracking. Go figure....



Like this comment
Posted by carbon calculator
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Dec 26, 2014 at 2:40 pm

ChrisC.

Clothes lines are out, folding drying racks are in. Have been fro decades in our home. You can find nice ones at Crate and Barrel.

I missed the neat little table that shows exactly what we are talking about - what exactly are the comparisons in gross numbers for Palo Alto?


2 people like this
Posted by Jim Athlete
a resident of Crescent Park
on Dec 26, 2014 at 2:48 pm

While the CC dithers over a 'clean electric' City and throws natural gas usage under the bus, well beyond the city boundaries, technology, yes, efficient drilling is cratering the price of natural gas and the supplies only continue to increase, giving reasonable assurance the price of natural gas will continue to be stable or even decline for the foreseeable future. Rather than contrive artificial ways to make natural gas less attractive, just accept this gift of advancing technology and pass the savings to the residents.

Reading the whole thread above, the breadth of sentiment by the voting residents is clearly - the City is on the wrong track and desperately needs to get a broader perspective from the residents. I side with the comments that wants this subject on a referendum, a vote by the residents, the tax payers, to see if a an expensive (compared to natural gas) 'clean electric' City is favored by the majority. If not, save additional money by eliminating the job of 'Sustainability Officer'.


2 people like this
Posted by David Alan McBay
a resident of Midtown
on Dec 26, 2014 at 3:44 pm

Do the research people before you post a statement. The new research shows that with emissions of methene and Co2 released during the drilling process,including when they frack and other places where dangerous greenhouse gases are emmitted in the system natural gas is as bad or worse then utilising coal. This does not even take into acount that even in a best case situation natural gas is only forty pecent lower in the emmissions of greenhouse gases then all of the hydrocarbons traditionally used for our energy needs. Our only hope of turning around the run away global warming that the planet faces in the near future(look at methane hydrate release from the siberian ocean in 2010) is to embrace zero greenhouse emmission energy technology systems and negative greenhouse emmission energy technologies before it is to late, thats assuming that it is not already to late which is a big assumtion in the situation that we now face. I other words people wake up before there is no chance to turn it around. david.


1 person likes this
Posted by Craig Laughton
a resident of College Terrace
on Dec 26, 2014 at 8:19 pm

>Our only hope of turning around the run away global warming that the planet faces in the near future...

More alarmist myths. There is no runaway global warming. It is amazing how intelligent people, like those who live in Palo Alto, can be duped so badly. Many of them even lined up to watch the Al Gore movie. Some shipping companies even made plans to take the northern route in the coming ice-free sea lanes between the Atlantic and Pacific oceans. Larry Klein, one of our councilmen and an intelligent fellow, has really swallowed the alarmist koolaid ...he thinks the most important thing our CC can do is to throw itself (and our tax monies) at the problem. I am curious as to how and where Larry came to his histrionic opinions on this issue.

And now we are facing this ridiculous notion of abandoning natural gas. Beam me up, Scotty!


2 people like this
Posted by CrescentParkAnon.
a resident of Crescent Park
on Dec 27, 2014 at 2:00 am

I don't know what it takes to penetrate the closed minds of some on global warming. Coral reefs are dying all over the world. Crops are dying or trying to move, but nature is sliced and diced to the point that it is almost impossible for many species to move. It seems to me that these global warming deniers are like people stuck in a mine wishfully thinking and speaking out with false confidence that the death of the canary in the coal mine doesn't mean anything.

There are so many people and animals raised by people these days that even the minute quantities of things in us and our systems are released into the world and have significant effects on things - like no one ever predicted. It's way past time we continue with the idea that we know everything and start to be a bit wary of what we are doing and why.


Like this comment
Posted by Craig Laughton
a resident of College Terrace
on Dec 28, 2014 at 7:12 pm

> Coral reefs are dying all over the world.

Yes they are. Just not due to climate warming. More likely due to overfishing and/or disease of fish that eat the algae that smothers the coral.

Web Link

Sea levels are not rising at a rate greater than the historical rate, i.e. before the Industrial Revolution.

What's the next scare tactic?

I can envision that the global warming alarmism will be put with Piltdown Man as one of the greatest scientific hoaxes in history.

Epiphenomenon aside, our current CC needs to keep its paws off our natural gas supply!


Like this comment
Posted by common sense
a resident of Midtown
on Dec 28, 2014 at 11:10 pm

Interesting article about electric cars versus gas powered cars - Web Link

Since Palo Alto Green does not ensure that the electricity consumes is the actual electricity being generated from a non-coal fired electrical generator, this change to move from natural gas to electricity could do worst damage to the environment.


2 people like this
Posted by Michael Winkler
a resident of another community
on Dec 29, 2014 at 3:42 pm

I am working (unpaid) closely with Bruce Hodge on the switch from natural gas to electricity for water heating and space heating in Palo Alto. I switched my home from natural gas to electric heat pumps 12 years ago and produce enough electricity from solar to cover our annual electricity use for space and water heating. In the past 4 years I have been the energy analyst for multi-family projects throughout California that used thousands of heat pumps. Throughout California, with with existing mix of electricity generating sources (and even more so as the grid mix becomes lower carbon), using heat pumps produces much less net CO2 than does directly burning natural gas for space heating and water heating. Even the combination of a high-efficiency natural gas power plant as the source of electricity for a heat pump is much lower CO2 than even a 95% efficient natural gas furnace. It is inherently thermodynamically inefficient to use a 1000 degree natural gas flame to keep a house a 70 degrees.


1 person likes this
Posted by Craig Laughton
a resident of College Terrace
on Dec 29, 2014 at 5:55 pm

>Throughout California, with with existing mix of electricity generating sources (and even more so as the grid mix becomes lower carbon), using heat pumps produces much less net CO2 than does directly burning natural gas for space heating and water heating.

I support passive solar design of buildings, in fact, I have one in Palo Alto. Completely carbon free, because no external power source, other than the sun, is required. Most importantly, they work!

Heat pumps can have their place, especially if the environmental conditions are correct. Improved efficiencies are always welcome. However they still require external power, and are often twinned with existing natural gas water heating systems. If one is to rely on external power, and one wants it to be carbon free, then the only baseload available on the grid is nuclear. Do you support nuclear, Michael?


2 people like this
Posted by Michael Winkler
a resident of another community
on Jan 2, 2015 at 2:13 pm

Craig,
Given our current industrial system, no energy source is completely carbon free because of fossil fuel energy used to extract and process fuel (in the case of nuclear) and for extracting materials and for manufacturing and installation of equipment in the case of renewables and nuclear. Some energy sources (renewables and nuclear) are considerably lower net carbon than fossil fuels. I don't support the current generation of nuclear reactors (boiling water and pressurized water) because of their poor fuel utilization, need for active cooling systems, potential for diversion of plutonium to weapons and because such a high percentage of fuel turns into waste. I am keeping an open mind about advanced technology reactors that use passive cooling and that have much higher fuel utilization and much lower waste and plutonium production.

In addition to nuclear, other low carbon baseload electricity sources include geothermal and hydroelectric. Intermittent renewable sources, such as wind when combined with storage (especially end-use thermal storage), site diversity and smart loads could potentially cover much of what is now considered baseload.


2 people like this
Posted by Craig Laughton
a resident of College Terrace
on Jan 3, 2015 at 1:46 pm

Michael,

Thank you for your rational and considered post. I agree with you about nuclear: The new modes (localized, passive cooling and/or passive shutdown when overheating occurs) are promising, and should be promoted, imo. These go by various names: Nuclear battery, backyard nuclear, mode 4, etc.

I have used solar panels for over 30 years (off grid water trickle pump from well). Solar definitely has its place. Nowhere near base load for the grid, though. Same for wind. As you know, storage is the big cahuna, and that is not here, yet. Nor is it assured going forward.

I applaud you on the heat pump implementation. Shifting heat around makes a lot of sense under the right conditions. It should increase overall efficiency.

Large hydro projects have their place, but they are unlikely to be built anymore, due to environmental concerns. Palo Alto should not be crowing about going carbon-free, because much of its electric contract dominate the large hydro market...which is then not available to other cities...in other words, PA bought its way to carbon-free, while denying it to others. Those others are, basically, told to eat coal. Also, solar and wind have their own environmental concerns. There is no energy free lunch.

What is your end goal in Arcata? Do you want a city-owned utility, like PA? If so, best to be aware of the hidden costs (e.g. required retirement benefits), beyond salaries and medical. The economy of scale allows PG&E to do it a lot cheaper, I think...and Arcata would not have the liabilities going into the future.


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Posted by resident 1
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Jan 3, 2015 at 5:03 pm

I do not appreciate people who provide comments and indicate "resident of another community", especially when they are dictating a point of view in which they may be the perpetrator or local sales person for the service being discussed. It would be nice to know if the "other community" is buying into whatever is being sold.

Note to Weekly On-Line - please eliminate that category and add San Jose, Mountain View, Sunnyvale, Atherton, Menlo Park, Stanford. Also people who say "other Palo Alto Community" without identifying their actual location.
If someone from Atherton is dictating to us what we should be thinking then we need to know that. What are the other communities doing on this topic?

Side Note: Lockheed Martin is teamed with Concord Blue Plan to build a new bioenergy facility in Herten, Germany which will provide power to approx. 5,000 homes and businesses. This is using the Concord Blue Reformer technology which converts waste to energy through advanced gasification. This is considered a clean energy project.

Lockheed Martin is also developing other alternate energy sources using ocean wave / temperature power in Hawaii and China.

There are a lot of choices out there which need to accommodate the location and resources available.

It is possible that this topic comes up because of the desire to electrify Caltrain and they are trying to figure out how to finance this effort. Many convoluted strategies concerning the funding for the future HSR.


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Posted by Crescent Park Dad
a resident of Crescent Park
on Jan 3, 2015 at 6:39 pm

@ Craig L:

Take it from someone who is Hapa Hawaiian...it's "Kahuna", not cahuna.


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Posted by Craig Laughton
a resident of College Terrace
on Jan 3, 2015 at 7:07 pm

>Take it from someone who is Hapa Hawaiian...it's "Kahuna", not cahuna.

Thanks for the correction, Dad.


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Posted by Michael Winkler
a resident of another community
on Jan 4, 2015 at 1:43 pm

Craig,
In Arcata, for the past 10 years, I have been working on community control of our local energy supply through Community Choice Aggregation ( much more feasible than establishing a municipal utility). For the past 3 years I have had the unanimous support of the City Council. City staff has been actively working to either have Arcata join Sonoma County's CCA group or, if it looks likely to happen, join a Humboldt County CCA group that may be formed in the next year by our County energy agency (RCEA). My very long-term goal is to make Humboldt a net energy producer (electricity, transportation, heat) based on local renewable energy. Humboldt County already produces 50% of its electricity from biomass. My greatest inspiration is from Professor Henrik Lund and his group at Aalborg University in Denmark who have been working for years to implement 100% renewable energy in Denmark by 2050. Using software developed by Lund I modeled a 100% renewable energy plan for Humboldt County. (Ref: www.energyplan.eu)

As far resident 1's objection to my living outside the area, I lived in Mountain View for 15 years and was actively involved in environmental organizations based in Palo Alto including Earth Day 1990, Bay Area Action, Peninsula Conservation Center and Acterra. I maintained contact with people and stayed interested in what is happening in Palo Alto and Silicon Valley since I moved to Arcata in 1997. The reason I have gotten especially involved lately is because a mutual friend, Suds Jain, put me in contact with Bruce Hodge of Carbon Free Palo Alto in order to to provide technical assistance in their effort to switch heating and transportation in Palo Alto to electricity since my day job is as an analyst on zero net energy multi family projects that use heat pumps. In order to avoid any conflict of interest I am doing the work unpaid.


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Posted by Mark Roest
a resident of another community
on Jan 4, 2015 at 3:48 pm

Regarding the complaint, "I do not appreciate people who provide comments and indicate "resident of another community", especially when they are dictating a point of view in which they may be the perpetrator or local sales person for the service being discussed."
I live in San Mateo now, and if you look, you will see that it is not one of the options in the list. I am in a battery startup as part of the founding team, and do not consider myself a 'perp' since I'm doing something good, not bad. Without saying anything about our product and its prospects, I can say that at least one of our competitors, Tesla with its gigafactory, will be cutting the current cost of batteries by a factor of 2 or 3, and is already teasing 400 mile range on one or more of its all-electric vehicles. It has also designed packaging for its cells as stationary batteries which can be used by utilities, homeowners, commercial businesses, and importantly, eliminating the intermittency of renewable energy sources such as wind and sun, thus releasing their full economic potential. With that said, I of course believe that our product will also be a successful factor in the market for energy.
Getting down to dictating a point of view, perhaps the complainer is doing that, but I'm just sharing what I know, for the other people who have open minds.


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Posted by Craig Laughton
a resident of College Terrace
on Jan 4, 2015 at 4:28 pm

Please note that I do not object, whatsoever, to non-local opinions on major issues...the more good ideas the better, imo.

Michael, how do CCA's handle the costs of distribution? Do they own their own grid? I understand (I think) group buying leverage, but does involve the entire network? Put another way, if PG&E owns the power lines, do you have to build a parallel system? Since PG&E distributes power within a monopoly integrated system, and prices it accordingly, if the CCA is forced to use the PG&E distribution system, won't PG&E need to increase the price to distribute? I must be missing something.

Mark, I wish you and others in the battery research arena the best. Storage technologies are a big deal.


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Posted by Michael Winkler
a resident of another community
on Jan 5, 2015 at 10:38 am

Craig,
With a CCA, PG&E continues to do billing and transmission and distribution. On a CCA customer's bill there will be separate charges shown for energy (as contracted for or generated by the CCA) and transmission and distribution (as provided by PG&E). PG&E is allowed to make its usual profit on its part of the electric service. There are no duplicate transmission lines. The benefit of the CCA is that representatives of the member governments can decide the criteria for the electricity they acquire (price, higher proportion of local generation, higher percentage of renewable energy, etc.). Marin's CCA has been in operation for about 2 years. Sonoma's is just starting. Any customer who doesn't want to be a customer of the CCA can opt to stay with PG&E. PG&E has mostly been hostile to CCA's and extremely hostile to full municipalization (taking over the whole electric system from PG&E). In 2010 PG&E spent about $50 million on the unsuccessful Prop 16, which would have effectively killed CCA's. In 2014 they supported the unsuccessful AB 2145 which would also have effectively killed CCA's. Since Palo Alto already has a municipal utility this is a battle you don't have to fight.


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Posted by curmudgeon
a resident of Downtown North
on Jan 5, 2015 at 12:14 pm

Hello Michael

You seem quite knowledgeable, so maybe you can answer a question nobody else can. You mention that

"There are no duplicate transmission lines. The benefit of the CCA is that representatives of the member governments can decide the criteria for the electricity they acquire (price, higher proportion of local generation, higher percentage of renewable energy, etc.)."

If electricity is distributed on just one transmission line, how do CCA members make sure they are getting the custom electricity they are paying for, and not some mix adulterated with other, lower-quality, electricity? Is it labeled somehow, or sent on its own channel?




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Posted by Michael Winkler
a resident of another community
on Jan 5, 2015 at 9:37 pm

Dear Curmudgeon,

It takes advanced equipment, but under high powered magnification it is clear that the good electrons are green while the bad electrons are brown or black.

Best regards,

Michael Winkler


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Posted by Craig Laughton
a resident of College Terrace
on Jan 6, 2015 at 12:16 pm

Michael, must be some amazing analytical equipment!

OK, on a more serious note: Won't a CCA need to pay more for transmission and billing, since it is not fully integrated into PG&E? In Palo Alto, where we own our own utility, we buy from outside sources, but maintain our own substation and delivery. We also have many long term liabilities regarding retirement benefits and unfunded obligations. I don't fully understand how a CCA differs, fundamentally, from a city-owned utility...for example, who is paid to administer it?


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Posted by curmudgeon
a resident of Downtown North
on Jan 6, 2015 at 1:42 pm

"under high powered magnification it is clear that the good electrons are green while the bad electrons are brown or black."

Right. Even the Palo Alto city hall understands that much. My question is how do they make sure that only the green electrons get into Palo Alto?

This is a serious matter. Are Palo Alto customers getting what we pay for, or are there hordes of those horrid black electrons gaily traipsing through our light bulbs, computers, and toasters?


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Posted by resident 1
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Jan 6, 2015 at 7:05 pm

I appreciate that many groups are working on solutions to energy production. However, the solutions have to be appropriate for the locations in question.

PA has a utility department with a specific set-up which I have to believe has been fine tuned as much as possible. We are not PG&E, but we benefit from the transmission lines they maintain. We recently have had our streets dug up and new pipes installed. There is a whole network of pipes that are supplying our home water heaters and furnaces.

The politics involved in fighting PG&E - which we don't have to do - as well as installing a city grid to replace the existing city grid is a very costly situation. Does this require digging up the streets again?

I do not see any comments from the PA Utility Department which will have to manage this event.

The question is whether this concept fits the 26 square miles of PA which already has an existing grid and management group to address this topic.
You are suppose to start with the city hall and utility department and get buy-in from them as well as the provision of the financial impact on the city for this effort.

We just went through an exercise where everyone had great ideas of what we are suppose to do - with descriptions of the potential cost and land required in the baylands. We are not lacking for ideas. We are lacking for a proven technology which will fit our specific location and existing grid.


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Posted by resident 1
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Jan 7, 2015 at 9:07 am

Side note - I am currently reading Gray Mountain by John Grisham. This book describes the ruination of land to mine coal - in this case the Appalachia area of the US. There is also coal mining in the upper US mid-section which is being transported by train across America to both the east coast and the Pacific Coast with the plan to ship to China. This effort to bring the coal down the Columbia river by barge has been thwarted.
In this case coal equals electricity.

Batteries to support the Tesla cars and others will not be made in California due to the toxicity of the operation. Cheaper to build in Nevada.

Energy production on a grand scale is being documented and discussed. The concept presented above does not disclose the origin of the batteries and electricity which will drive the CALTRAIN and HSR efforts, as well as the utility grid for PA. All of these efforts need to disclose in detail the whole operation from origin to production and the cost.


Sorry, but further commenting on this topic has been closed.

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