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Guest Editorial: Should environmentalists be hopeful?

Posted: October 20th, 2017 | Calendar, Opinion & News Briefs, Editorial | No Comments

By Colleen Cochran

Can the city of San Diego become the national leader on clean power?

San Diego’s Community Choice Aggregation (CCA) is an important mechanism the city can use to achieve its Climate Action Plan. The overarching goal of this plan is to proactively address environmental concerns so as to ensure a livable and vibrant San Diego for future generations. Through this program, the city will reach for 100 percent renewable energy usage by 2035.

If adopted, the CCA would permit the city of San Diego to take on the energy-purchasing function currently held by San Diego Gas & Electric (SDG&E), while the utility would retain delivery, metering, and billing functions.

The CCA would enable the city to procure higher levels of renewable wind and solar energy. It would also enable San Diego to design programs to further promote local energy generation, which would create local jobs. Under the CCA, in less than a decade, consumer costs for those who participate in the program are projected to become lower than for those who continue with SDG&E, with the CCA-generated revenues slated to be reinvested in the city.

At a time when so many political decisions out of Washington D.C. are designed to undermine environmental protection, San Diego’s Community Choice Aggregation program gives me genuine hope. I am particularly heartened to see this bold clean energy plan is endorsed by our Republican mayor, the City Council, and a myriad of businesses, all of whom recognize that environmental protection is a bipartisan issue.

Dare I feel hopeful? As with all policies, the devil is in the details, and there are important details that we need to work out, specifically, in regard to the definition of renewable energy. It does appear that the clean energy plan will include energy efficiency, solar, wind, tidal, and geothermal energy, but the door is open for our energy mix to include false renewable energy solutions like animal waste from factory farms.

That’s right — the industry is actually claiming that burning waste from factory farms counts as a negative greenhouse gas emission. Thanks to the massive amount of animal feces they generate, factory farms emit huge quantities of methane directly into the atmosphere. Methane is a highly potent greenhouse gas; so it is a fallacy to pretend the result of capturing and burning biogas is reduced greenhouse emissions.

What’s more, these industries ignore the fact that the current technology for biogas electricity generation will result in a net increase in pollutants that can cause serious health problems. These facilities are not viable, even with significant subsidies. As of spring 2016, the EPA indicated that 13 of 26 digesters that had been constructed in California had been shuttered.

It is also important that San Diego’s program invests in real renewable energy, and not just unbundled renewable energy credits (RECs). RECs are tradeable energy certificates that enable a purchaser to claim the benefit of energy produced, but they do relatively little to promote new renewable energy. The city of San Diego’s Sustainable Energy Advisory Board, which developed the CCA guiding principles, recommended a performance target of minimizing RECs through the first 10 years of CCA program operation, and eliminating RECs by 2035. It would be far more beneficial for the city to utilize direct investments in renewable energy sources or purse long-term purchase agreements.

It is no exaggeration to say that San Diego can become a model for the rest of the nation. With its large science community, we can lead the way in research for improvement of green energy technologies. We can become a manufacturing giant that supplies the tools and instruments the rest of the country needs in order to get up to speed environmentally. The time for climate leadership is now, and San Diego is poised to be the climate leader our country needs.

—Colleen Cochran is the local coordinator for Food & Water Watch. Reach her at colleencochran@ymail.com, or visit foodandwaterwatch.org.

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