Best practices encouraging clean local energy deployment in California

Local governments across California play a vital role in shaping the state’s energy future. Leading municipalities have developed innovative ordinances and programs to drive adoption of energy efficient technologies and renewable energy systems. Earlier this year, clean energy experts and stakeholders involved in the Peninsula Advanced Energy Community (PAEC) initiative researched innovative local government efforts that merit replication.

Based on this research, the Clean Coalition has released a new report to highlight these best practices for encouraging development of a clean energy future across five areas: energy efficiency, renewable energy, zero net energy, energy storage, and electric vehicle (EV) charging infrastructure. The following five ordinances and programs are just a sampling of the dozens highlighted in the PAEC Best Practices Report.

1. Energy efficiency in San Francisco

San Francisco’s Commercial Building Benchmarking Ordinance requires property owners of commercial buildings 10,000 square feet and larger to track their building’s annual energy consumption. In addition to Energy Star benchmarking, these commercial buildings are required to have a qualified energy auditor conduct an audit every five years that yields a list of specific energy saving opportunities, as well as applicable rebates.

Benchmarking data from 2010-2015, publicly available on the City of San Francisco website, catalogues energy utilization index scores for commercial buildings and allows building owners and managers see how their energy use compares to others.

2. Renewable energy in Lancaster

To encourage investment in renewable energy systems, the City of Lancaster adopted a mandatory solar requirement for new homes. As of January 1, 2014, all new residential structures must have a solar photovoltaic (PV) system of at least 0.5-1.5 kilowatts (kW), based on the zoning/lot type. Additionally, the ordinance requires that installed solar PV systems shall produce at least 2 watts per square foot of each home built. For example, a 2,000 square foot home would require a builder to install a 4 kW system.

3. Zero net energy in Watsonville

In 2015, the City of Watsonville adopted the Carbon Fund Program to encourage development projects to incorporate more energy efficiency and onsite renewable energy systems. The goal of the city’s requirement is to reduce Watsonville’s overall greenhouse gas emissions.

Funds for the program are collected through a Carbon Impact Fee, which is levied on all residential and non-residential development projects, as well as major additions and alterations on existing buildings. Developers can be refunded a portion, or all of their Carbon Impact Fee, if they offset their development’s average annual electricity demand through renewable energy and energy efficiency. The program incentivizes developers to create energy efficient zero net energy projects that will save tenants money on their utility bills, as many residents are renters in this economically disadvantaged community.

4. Energy storage in Redwood City

In 2014, Redwood City partnered with Green Charge Networks to install EV charging stations with intelligent energy storage at five locations. EV charging can be an irregular, power-intensive activity that results in peaks of energy use. This EV charging infrastructure, which includes the Redwood Shores Branch Library and the city’s downtown parking garage, provides peak shaving by drawing power from energy storage systems during times of high demand.

An example of peak shaving using battery storage | Source: Cenergy Power

The project was developed at no cost to Redwood City due to the financial agreement and shared savings resulting from the public/private partnership.

5. EV charging infrastructure in Fremont

The City of Fremont recently adopted green building standards that require new construction projects and major additions to include parking spaces that are “EV Ready” —meaning they are equipped with an EV charging unit. This requirement applies to single-family residential, multi-family, and non-residential projects.

Single-family homes must have one EV Ready parking space for each dwelling unit. For multi-family and non-residential developments, EV Ready parking spaces must comprise 10 percent of the total number of new parking spaces.

This EV Ready requirement will speed adoption of EVs in Fremont, a city that already boasts the most EV drivers of any zip code (94539) in California.

A clean energy future

These forward-thinking ordinances and programs in San Francisco, Lancaster, Watsonville, Redwood City, and Fremont are encouraging implementation of clean local energy systems and creating models that other municipalities can easily adopt.[2] At a time when local governments are being asked to do more with less, this PAEC Best Practices Report is designed to make it easier for municipalities to understand strategies to reduce greenhouse gases and reach Climate Action Plan goals.

The Peninsula Advanced Energy Community (PAEC) is a groundbreaking initiative to streamline policies and showcase projects that facilitate local renewables and other advanced energy solutions like energy efficiency, energy storage, and electric vehicle charging infrastructure. The PAEC will create pathways to cost-effective clean local energy and community resilience throughout San Mateo County and the City of Palo Alto; and beyond. The PAEC is a collaboration between the Clean Coalition, the California Energy Commission, Pacific Gas and Electric, and an array of municipalities, emergency response jurisdictions, schools and universities, and corporate entities. For more information, please visit http://www.clean-coalition.org/paec.

The final PAEC Best Practices Report will be linked from here once it is approved by the California Energy Commission and published on the Clean Coalition website.

Palo Alto brings its first Feed-In Tariff solar project online

This week, the City of Palo Alto will begin producing clean local energy on one of its municipal parking garages.

The new 240 kilowatt (kW) solar canopy installation, located at the Bryant Street garage in downtown Palo Alto, is owned and operated by Komuna Energy, and all the electricity produced will be sold to the City of Palo Alto Utilities through Palo Alto CLEAN, a Feed-In Tariff the Clean Coalition helped establish in 2013. In addition to the solar canopy, Komuna Energy also installed a number of Level-2 electric vehicle (EV) chargers — with more to come.

The solar canopy at the Bryant Street garage is the first of four solar canopies to be installed on municipal parking garages in Palo Alto, which will bring a total of 1.3 megawatts online. Palo Alto already has a carbon neutral electricity supply and is actively pursuing the electrification of transportation to reduce its carbon footprint.

The Clean Coalition was engaged to design the Request For Proposal that ultimately selected Komuna Energy and created the lease agreement that administers their relationship with the City of Palo Alto. Under this agreement, Palo Alto’s EV ambitions will be significantly advanced, as it includes staging for nearly 100 Level-2 charging ports. The Bryant Street garage will contain six ports that are fully installed, with electrical upgrades and wiring already in place for an additional 18.

Komuna Energy’s next project will be a 419 kW PV system on Webster Street and it is scheduled to come online in late July. More updates will follow in the coming months.

Alternative to costly investments in natural gas power plants

The Clean Coalition is leading on the technical efforts to incorporate new energy technologies in preventing California regulators from tying the state to unnecessary fossil fuel power plant investments. Today, a wave of power plant retirements provides a critical opportunity to modernize our energy system and not commit to outdated facilities that will use natural gas as a “bridge fuel” for the next four decades. Santa Barbara and the surrounding areas are at the forefront in deciding whether to advance clean renewable power or rely on traditional natural gas plants to replace aging facilities.

Regulators in California are currently considering two proposals for significant new investment in natural gas plants to replace retiring plants in both Goleta and Oxnard. These proposed facilities would be “peaker plants,” which would only run when demand for electricity is at its peak, like during summer months when many homes run their air conditioners. These unwise and unnecessary investments would burden vulnerable communities with pollution, harming human and environmental health in the process. The Clean Coalition is working to prevent approval of these natural gas peaker plants by demonstrating the technical and economic feasibility of clean, local alternatives to meet energy demand in the Santa Barbara region.

Southern California Edison and NRG Energy proposed these two new gas peaker plants in response to the retirement of older fossil fuel and nuclear plants. The first plant, known as the Puente Power Project, is a 262 megawatt (MW) natural gas facility in Oxnard. Although the Santa Barbara area is home to a number of affluent communities, the sited location in Oxnard is an economically disadvantaged and a state-identified environmentally disadvantaged community. The Puente Power Project has been approved by the California Public Utilities Commission and is currently undergoing environmental review at the California Energy Commission. The Clean Coalition has joined with a number of environmental and community groups, including the California Environmental Justice Alliance, the Sierra Club, the World Business Academy, and the Center for Biological Diversity, to offer strong, organized opposition to the project.

The second proposal is to refurbish a smaller 54 MW natural gas plant in the community of Ellwood, in Goleta, which is located in a residential area and only 1,000 feet from the Ellwood Elementary School. If approved, the refurbished Ellwood Plant would be allowed to run through 2048. This plant is exceptionally expensive because it is intended to run only a few hours a year at peak demand. Also, it operates under tight time limits of no more than approximately 16 days a year due to cumulative air pollution impacts on neighboring residents, so it would not be a reliable source of backup power during outages.

Instead of investments in unreliable, polluting, and antiquated technologies, the Clean Coalition is developing proposals to meet the needs for power and a resilient energy grid by building Community Microgrids that utilize powerful combinations of local solar power, energy storage, and demand response, and can provide the Santa Barbara region with cleaner, more affordable, and more resilient power. Community Microgrids provide far more benefits than just peak power: they deliver a trifecta of economic, environmental, and resilience benefits all year long.

Additionally, the Clean Coalition is proposing to deploy substantial battery storage with advanced inverters. Unlike natural gas plants, which can take as long as 12 minutes to start up, battery storage can deliver power instantly and respond to emergency outages more effectively. Such rapid response power can also better address power quality issues that are critical for electrical equipment and grid reliability with fast electrical frequency and voltage management. Deployment of a network of advanced inverters and storage can help maintain the safety of the grid during emergencies more effectively and more cheaply than a gas plant of questionable reliability.

The Clean Coalition is building on its work developing microgrid systems in San Francisco and its solar resource work in Orange County to develop a full assessment of Community Microgrid strategies for Goleta and Oxnard. The pairing of solar, storage, and advanced inverters has also been proven to be cost effective on Kaua’i, where solar+storage is set to provide a quarter of the island’s power, and in Arizona, where similar projects have proven cheaper than natural gas backup power. Taken together, emerging distributed energy technologies have the full capacity to meet all identified needs for the Ellwood and Puente Plants, but regulators must be openminded to their advancement.

Currently, the California Independent System Operator is assessing clean energy alternatives. The Clean Coalition will continue fighting for renewables-based power systems, as any misaligned energy investments made today will have decades-long impacts.

ReMAT, California’s only wholesale distributed generation renewables program, is under attack

In 2009, the California State Legislature passed Senate Bill 32 (SB 32), declaring that the state should encourage the siting of clean energy generation close to where power is consumed, and that small projects of less than 3 megawatts (MW) that are otherwise eligible renewable energy resources may face difficulties in participating in programs developed to meet state carbon reduction goals. The bill required utilities to make a standard tariff available for the purchase of renewable energy from facilities up to 3 MW in size until each one met its proportionate share of the 750 MW statewide cap.

Soon after, the California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) implemented the Renewable Market Adjusting Tariff (ReMAT) for investor owned utilities (IOUs). Now, eight years after SB 32 was passed, and despite bringing cost-effective clean local energy online, the IOUs have active contracts for only half of their required fair share of new capacity, and the program is at risk of being discontinued. This failure undermines California’s aggressive goals for clean energy, emissions reduction, and the development of the grossly underutilized wholesale distributed generation (wholesale DG) market segment, which refers to distributed generation systems that connect to the distribution grid and sell the electricity they produce to the local utility to serve local energy demand. The Clean Coalition is aggressively pursuing to save the ReMAT and protect the remaining capacity of available renewable energy.

The ReMAT program requires the three major IOUs in California to procure a total allotment of 494 MW of distributed energy as part the state cap, while the remaining megawatts would be fulfilled by publicly owned utilities. ReMAT was essentially implemented to help the IOUs reach their assigned capacity requirements from small distributed energy projects.

Unfortunately, a CPUC decision in May 2013, which eventually implemented ReMAT, contained a late addition that allows a utility to shut down its ReMAT program before satisfying its full allotment of capacity. The ReMAT program’s capacity target is divided between three product categories, but an IOU is permitted to shut down its entire ReMAT program 24 months after all of the capacity has been initially contracted for any single product category, regardless of whether those initial contracts were canceled, or whether the program was functioning for the other product categories. The full planned procurement advised under ReMAT is already accounted for in IOU Renewable Portfolio Standard procurement plans and is the foundation for maintaining a healthy market for small-scale renewable energy projects.

ReMAT is the only remaining active state-level program for the general procurement of wholesale DG resources by the IOUs, which include Pacific Gas & Electric, San Diego Gas & Electric, and Southern California Edison. Unfortunately, the program’s risk of extinction comes with over 200 MW of initial capacity left unfulfilled, despite the program’s clear potential for contributing to California’s established ratepayer, energy, and environmental goals.

The Clean Coalition, along with numerous organizations such as the Solar Energy Industries Association, the Coalition for the Efficient Use of Transmission Infrastructure, the California Wind Energy Association, and other stakeholders have filed or supported Petitions for Modification, some of which request changes that can be implemented with low effort and immediate effects. We have recently held ex parte meetings with CPUC Commissioners, urging them to address the shortcomings in the design and implementation of the ReMAT program.

The Clean Coalition has long advocated for the advancement of local renewable energy projects in order to help California meet its energy and climate goals, including sub-3 MW projects eligible for the ReMAT program. Without programs like ReMAT, it will be increasingly difficult for the state and communities to realize the benefits of more clean local energy projects. Additional updates will be provided as things unfold at the CPUC.

Expanding electric vehicle charging infrastructure in Palo Alto

Over the past decade, the United States has experienced consistent growth in electric vehicle (EV) sales and deployment of EV charging stations. This growth has been particularly notable in California. For example, 15% of new cars purchased in Palo Alto in 2015 were electric. By 2020, the City of Palo Alto expects upwards of 10,000 electric vehicles to be on the road — a sizeable number in a city with only 67,000 residents. While the electrification of transportation can drive significant reductions in greenhouse gas emissions, it is no simple task. Managing the efficient integration of EVs and necessary charging infrastructure requires thoughtful planning and execution.

Palo Alto already has more EV charging stations than most comparably sized cities; however, the anticipated growth of EVs means many more will be required in the near future. Currently, the city owns and operates 40 charging ports and plans to double that number over the next year. A majority of these charging stations are Level 2 (240 volt) chargers, which charge at a rate of 20-25 miles per hour depending on the EV model.

EV charging stations in Palo Alto, California | Source: City of Palo Alto

To encourage the rapid expansion of EV infrastructure, the City of Palo Alto Utilities offers generous rebates to nonprofits, schools, and multi-family complexes to install charging stations. Funding for these EV charger rebates comes from the sale of Low Carbon Fuel Standard (LCFS) credits at the state level. Administered by the California Air Resources Board, LCFS funds are generated by fees levied on high-carbon fuel producers, such as oil refineries. Funds are then given to low-carbon fuel generators such as the City of Palo Alto Utilities, and a portion is distributed as rebates for EV charging stations.

The goal of the LCFS credit program is to lower the carbon content of fuels in California. This program is similar to the California Air Resources Board’s Cap-and-Trade Program, a market-based approach to controlling greenhouse gas emissions by providing economic incentives for achieving reductions. Both programs seek to drive down greenhouse gas emissions in the state, and switching from fossil fuels to renewable-based electricity in the transportation sector is a key method for reducing emissions.

As the number of EVs in Palo Alto grows, the City of Palo Alto Utilities is managing their integration onto the grid in two ways. First, the utility’s rebate program incentivizes installation of EV charging stations. Second, the utility is piloting a program to offer EV owners lower rates on their bill depending on what time they charge their vehicles. For instance, to charge during off-peak hours is much more economical for customers as opposed to charging when electricity demand is high.

Palo Alto has also made great strides in moving to a carbon neutral electric portfolio. The next step in reducing the city’s carbon footprint is to transform its transportation sector. As shown in the chart below, two-thirds of Palo Alto’s carbon emissions come from automobiles.

Palo Alto greenhouse gas emissions are down 37% since 1990 | Source: City of Palo Alto

For Palo Alto to achieve its ambitious goal of reducing greenhouse gas emissions 80% below 1990 levels by 2030, widespread deployment of EVs is essential. Every fossil fuel vehicle that is traded in for an EV is estimated to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by approximately 3.5 tons/year. Assuming Palo Alto will have between 3,000 and 10,000 EVs by 2020, emissions related to automobile use could be reduced by 9%, and the city’s overall emissions could be reduced 6%. The electrification of transportation, in conjunction with other transportation mode shift strategies, can significantly drive down Palo Alto’s greenhouse gas emissions.

The City of Palo Alto is taking an effective approach to increasing use of EVs. By focusing on expanding the charging infrastructure through rebates for charging stations, Palo Alto is going above and beyond by providing an EV charger rebate on top of the California state rebate and federal tax credit for purchased EVs. With this strategy, the city is accelerating the fuel-switch in the transportation sector and clearing the way to a clean energy future.

The City of Palo Alto is a city in the Peninsula Advanced Energy Community (PAEC) region. The PAEC is a groundbreaking initiative to streamline policies and showcase projects that facilitate local renewables and other advanced energy solutions like energy efficiency, energy storage, and electric vehicle charging infrastructure. The PAEC will create pathways to cost-effective clean local energy and community resilience throughout San Mateo County and the City of Palo Alto; and beyond. The PAEC is a collaboration between the Clean Coalition, the California Energy Commission, Pacific Gas and Electric, and an array of municipalities, emergency response jurisdictions, schools and universities, and corporate entities. For more information, please visit www.clean-coalition.org/PAEC.