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Solar panels to help power Santa Rosa micogrid

Kevin McCallum, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

When California’s energy grid gets stressed out during heat waves, energy managers send out so-called flex alerts asking people to conserve energy.

An innovative energy project underway in Santa Rosa aims to take that flexibility to new levels by helping a huge energy user — the city’s water treatment plant — quickly reduce its energy usage while still performing its core mission of cleaning water.

A 125-kilowatt solar array popping up above the parking lot of the Laguna Subregional Water Reclamation plant on Llano Road is the first visible sign of a yearslong effort to turn the plant into a microgrid capable of reducing its use of electricity from the grid.

“Increasing our flexibility to produce energy on-site allows us to adjust our demand on the macro grid, and doing that is worth money,” said Mike Prinz, deputy director of Santa Rosa Water.

Microgrids, as the name implies, are small electric networks that can operate, to varying degrees, independently of the larger electrical grid managed locally by Pacific Gas & Electric Co.

The solar panels are not the core of the new system, but will help recharge the batteries that are being installed later this year as part of the project.

Read more at http://www.pressdemocrat.com/news/8305925-181/solar-panels-to-help-power

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California moves to require solar panels on all new homes

Kathleen Ronayne, ASSOCIATED PRESS

Jumping out ahead of the rest of the country, California on Wednesday moved to require solar panels on all new homes and low-rise apartment buildings starting in 2020.

The new building standard — unanimously approved by the five-member California Energy Commission — would be the first such statewide mandate in the nation. It represents the state’s latest step to curb greenhouse gas emissions.

Robert Raymer, technical director for the California Building Industry Association, called it a “quantum leap.”

“You can bet every other of the 49 states will be watching closely to see what happens,” he said.

The commission endorsed the requirement after representatives of builders, utilities and solar manufacturers voiced support. It needs final approval from California’s Building Standards Commission, which typically adopts the energy panel’s recommendations when updating the state’s building codes.

The requirement would apply only to newly constructed homes, although many homeowners are choosing to install rooftop solar panels with the help of rebate programs.

Read more at https://apnews.com/afa0978eff8443af9e5d7c77a3c285bf

Posted on Categories Agriculture/Food System, Climate Change & Energy, Land UseTags , , , ,

The amazing ability of pasture grass to sequester carbon

Jean Yamamura, THE SANTA BARBARA INDEPENDENT

A buzz has been generating in California agriculture circles over the possibilities of carbon ranching. It’s not about producing carbon, as it might sound, but about putting more carbon back into the ground, naturally, through grasses. The theory goes like this: Native grasses send roots as deep as six feet underground, breathing in carbon dioxide as they breathe out oxygen. At a number of test acres across California, including at the Ted Chamberlin Ranch near Los Olivos, adding a thin layer of compost has created more topsoil, which feeds the microbes below ground, which enrich the grasses, which draw more carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere and hold it in their roots deep in the soil. Add cattle to the mix, and voilà! Carbon ranching.

What really got people excited about this simple layer of compost is that it sequesters carbon now. “We don’t have to wait for Elon Musk to geo-engineer something from space,” laughed Sigrid Wright, who heads Santa Barbara’s Community Environmental Council (CEC). Wright and an alphabet soup of agencies have been working together with the Chamberlin Ranch on a 60-acre demonstration project through California’s Healthy Soils Initiative.

Read more at https://www.independent.com/news/2018/apr/19/amazing-ability-pasture-grass-sequester-carbon/

Posted on Categories Agriculture/Food System, Climate Change & Energy, Land UseTags , , , , , ,

Can dirt save the Earth?

Moises Velazquez-Manoff, THE NEW YORK TIMES MAGAZINE

The soil-improving practices that Wick, Silver and Creque stumbled into have much in common with another movement known as regenerative agriculture. Its guiding principle is not just to farm sustainably — that implies mere maintenance of what might, after all, be a degraded status quo — but to farm in such a way as to improve the land. The movement emphasizes soil health and, specifically, the buildup of soil carbon.

When John Wick and his wife, Peggy Rathmann, bought their ranch in Marin County, Calif., in 1998, it was mostly because they needed more space. Rathmann is an acclaimed children’s book author — “Officer Buckle and Gloria” won a Caldecott Medal in 1996 — and their apartment in San Francisco had become cluttered with her illustrations. They picked out the 540-acre ranch in Nicasio mostly for its large barn, which they planned to remake into a spacious studio. Wick, a former construction foreman — they met when he oversaw a renovation of her bathroom — was eager to tackle the project. He knew the area well, having grown up one town away, in Woodacre, where he had what he describes as a “free-range” childhood: little supervision and lots of biking, rope-swinging and playing in the area’s fields and glens.

The couple quickly settled into their bucolic new surroundings. Wick began fixing leaks in the barn. Rathmann loved watching the many animals, including ravens, deer and the occasional gopher, from the large porch. She even trained the resident towhees, small brown birds, to eat seed from her hand. So smitten were they with the wildlife, in fact, that they decided to return their ranch to a wilder state. For nearly a century, this had been dairy country, and the rounded, coastal hills were terraced from decades of grazing. Wick and Rathmann would often come home and find, to their annoyance, cows standing on their porch. The first step they took toward what they imagined would be a more pristine state was to revoke the access enjoyed by the rancher whose cows wandered their property.

Within months of the herd’s departure, the landscape began to change. Brush encroached on meadow. Dried-out, uneaten grass hindered new growth. A mysterious disease struck their oak trees. The land seemed to be losing its vitality. “Our vision of wilderness was failing,” Wick told me recently. “Our naïve idea was not working out so well.”

Read more at https://www.nytimes.com/2018/04/18/magazine/dirt-save-earth-carbon-farming-climate-change.html

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Sonoma County solar power plant on wastewater ponds canceled

Guy Kovner, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

A combination of factors, including President Donald Trump’s tariff on imported solar panels, have prompted cancellation of a major solar power project on six wastewater holding ponds in Sonoma County.

Sonoma Clean Power, the county’s public power supplier, also cited requirements by PG&E and the state Division of Safety of Dams as reasons for terminating a contract approved in 2015 for development of a 12.5-megawatt solar power system on the holding ponds owned by the Sonoma County Water Agency.

The developer, San Francisco-based Pristine Sun, missed its latest deadline to complete the project March 31, prompting Sonoma Clean Power to cancel the deal five days later, said Deb Emerson, the electricity provider’s director of power services.

Read more at http://www.pressdemocrat.com/news/8253476-181/sonoma-county-solar-power-plant

Posted on Categories Climate Change & Energy, Sustainable Living, Water, WildlifeTags , ,

Urgency in Earth Day call to action

Mary Callahan, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

It’s been almost a half-century since newly minted leaders of the U.S. environmental movement called on Americans to rise and be counted as defenders of the planet and its increasingly imperiled ecosystems.

For the first Earth Day — April 22, 1970 — organizers wanted to take mainstream what had been an emerging awareness of the planet’s fragility, a call to action launched in the decade that had just ended.

The risks were abundant: pesticides, air pollution, oil spills, toxic dumps, overpopulation and depletion of land and water resources.

Pioneering images from the U.S. space program at that time revealed Earth as the finite world it remains to this day — small and glowing in a vast universe. Early Earth Day sponsors saw “a grave crisis” on the horizon, one that demanded urgency, commitment and action by all inhabitants.

“Are we able to meet the challenge? Yes. We have the technology and the resources,” Earth Day founder Gaylord Nelson, a senator from Wisconsin, declared on that first day of mass reflection. “Are we willing? That is the unanswered question.”

His query still hangs in the air. Sustained campaigns to clean up our air and waters have seen success in the U.S., along with efforts to protect some endangered species and special places. Innovation, behavioral changes and a shared recognition of the risks to the planet all have helped.

But threats to the environment are more global than ever: Climate change and sea-level rise, mass extinctions, acidification and pollution of our oceans, disappearing bees. It’s enough to bring despair to the sunniest among us.

So The Press Democrat sought inspiration and encouragement from a few of the expert resources Sonoma County has in abundance.

Our planet, they say, can never return to what it was before the onset of the industrial era and the change it unleashed worldwide. But there is reason to hold onto hope and take heart as we confront the challenges ahead — reshaping our perspectives, banding together in collective action that conserves resources and restores the environment, and making individual choices that lesson our impact and uphold our responsibility for its health.

“If we think somehow this is going to happen without sacrifice, that’s not accurate,” said Tessa Hill, professor of earth and planetary sciences at the UC Davis Bodega Marine Laboratory. “There are fundamental things about the way we live today that are not sustainable.”

Read more at http://www.pressdemocrat.com/news/8230333-181/earth-day-inspiration-from-sonoma?ref=TSM

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Global greenhouse gas emissions rise for the first time in 3 years

Emily Holbrook, ENERGY MANAGER TODAY

The International Energy Agency (IEA) announced today that greenhouse gas emissions rose 1.4% in 2017, marking the first rise in three years.

As the IEA points out, emissions have reached a historic high of 32.5 gigatonnes (Gt), a resumption of growth after three years of global emissions remaining flat. The increase in CO2emissions, however, was not universal. While most major economies saw a rise, some others experienced declines, including the United States, United Kingdom, Mexico and Japan. The biggest decline came from the United States, mainly because of higher deployment of renewables.

The report states, improvements in global energy efficiency slowed down in 2017. The rate of decline in global energy intensity, defined as the energy consumed per unit of economic output, slowed to only 1.6% in 2017, much lower than the 2.0% improvement seen in 2016.

The growth in global energy demand was concentrated in Asia, with China and India together representing more than 40% of the increase. Energy demand in all advanced economies contributed more than 20% of global energy demand growth, although their share in total energy use continued to fall. Notable growth was also registered in Southeast Asia (which accounted for 8% of global energy demand growth) and Africa (6%), although per capita energy use in these regions still remains well below the global average.

Read more at https://www.energymanagertoday.com/greenhouse-gas-emissions-rise-for-the-first-time-in-3-years-0175767/

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Tell it to the judge, Big Oil

Jason Mark, THE NATION

Polluters admit climate-change basics in an unprecedented court hearing but still duck responsibility.

n Wednesday morning, Jim Hyden woke up well before dawn, braved a spitting rain, and skipped a day at work so he could arrive at the Federal District Courthouse in San Francisco at 6 am sharp to have “a chance to see some history.”

“I’m very interested in hearing the oil companies talk in court…about what they knew and when they it about climate change,” Hyden said as he waited in line with dozens of attorneys, reporters, and concerned citizens for an unprecedented court-ordered “climate-change tutorial” to begin. “And [to hear] what they did after they learned about it.”

It will be up to historians to decide whether the five-hour-long climate-science seminar that took place yesterday in federal court made history. During the weeks leading up to the hearing, boosters had promised “the Scopes Monkey Trial for climate change,” a unique chance to litigate the science of human-driven global warming in a court of law. In the end, there were no Clarence Darrow-like rhetorical fireworks; just scientists and attorneys dispassionately reviewing the evidence about how human activities are transforming Earth’s atmosphere.

This article is co-published by The Nation and Sierra.

Yet the hearing still marked an important milestone: For the first time, some of the world’s biggest carbon polluters were forced to explain to a US court whether they accept basic climate change science. Billions of dollars are at stake. The proceedings in San Francisco, according to legal experts, could shape the legal terrain for the lawsuits New York City and other plaintiffs are bringing against ExxonMobil and other fossil-fuel giants for the damage climate-fueled storms, sea-level rise, and other impacts have caused and will continue to cause in years to come.

“You can’t get away with sitting there in silence,” Judge William Alsup pointedly said to attorneys from ExxonMobil, ConocoPhillips, BP, and other fossil-fuel corporations at the close of the day. “If you disagree [about the information the court had just heard], you need to let me know. Otherwise, I will deem that you agree.”

Read more at https://www.thenation.com/article/tell-it-to-the-judge-big-oil/

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Dr. Lisa Micheli of Pepperwood Preserve earns Bay Nature Environmental Hero of the Year

Nate Seltenrich, SONOMA COUNTY GAZETTE

Perched on a ridgeline in the Mayacamas Mountains northeast of Santa Rosa, Pepperwood Preserve spans 3,200 acres, protecting the headwaters of three watersheds that feed the Russian River and offering refuge to more than 900 species of native plants and animals. President and CEO Lisa Micheli, who took the helm at Pepperwood in 2009, has led the private preserve’s transformation into “a field station of global significance” recognized by the National Science Foundation. More than a dozen research projects—studying anything from climate change and hydrology to grasslands and phenology—are underway at Pepperwood at any given time, while the preserve and its 9,400-square-foot Dwight Center for Conservation Science also serves as a lab and nature-education center for students and citizen scientists of all ages.

Research, teaching, and outreach have come together at the preserve under Micheli, who holds a civil engineering master’s in Environmental Water Resources and a Ph.D. in Energy and Resources, both from UC Berkeley. In recognition of Pepperwood’s commitment to world-class science, environmental education, and community involvement, Micheli has been named Bay Nature’s 2018 Local Hero for Environmental Education.

Read the interview with Dr. Micheli at https://www.sonomacountygazette.com/sonoma-county-news/dr-lisa-micheli-of-pepperwood-preserve-earns-bay-nature-environmental-hero-of-the-year

Posted on Categories Climate Change & Energy, Land Use, Sustainable Living, TransportationTags , , , ,

A bold, divisive plan to wean Californians from cars

Conor Dougherty and Brad Plumer, THE NEW YORK TIMES

It’s an audacious proposal to get Californians out of their cars: a bill in the State Legislature that would allow eight-story buildings near major transit stops, even if local communities object.

The idea is to foster taller, more compact residential neighborhoods that wean people from long, gas-guzzling commutes, reducing greenhouse-gas emissions.

So it was surprising to see the Sierra Club among the bill’s opponents, since its policy proposals call for communities to be “revitalized or retrofitted” to achieve precisely those environmental goals. The California chapter described the bill as “heavy-handed,” saying it could cause a backlash against public transit and lead to the displacement of low-income residents from existing housing.

State Senator Scott Wiener, the bill’s sponsor, responded by accusing the group of “advocating for low-density sprawl.”

In a state where debates often involve shades of blue, it’s not uncommon for the like-minded to find themselves at odds. But the tensions over Mr. Wiener’s proposal point to a wider divide in the fight against climate change, specifically how far the law should go to reshape urban lifestyles.

Although many cities and states are embracing cleaner sources of electricity and encouraging people to buy electric vehicles, they are having a harder time getting Americans to drive less, something that may be just as important.

Read more at https://www.nytimes.com/2018/03/16/business/energy-environment/climate-density.html