The Community Innovation Grant is East Bay Community Energy’s first grant program funding projects that benefit local, Alameda County communities while inspiring innovation and collaboration
Oakland, CA (July 19, 2019) – East Bay Community Energy (EBCE) is Alameda County’s local community choice energy program and currently provides electricity services to 1.5 million customers across the county. EBCE launched a new grant initiative this year and invited community-based non-profit organizations to apply for its Community Innovation Grant. The grant program is one of the early action items in EBCE’s Local Development Business Plan, which is a comprehensive framework to deliver benefits within Alameda County.
Six organizations were awarded grants of $40,000 each for projects that will invest in Alameda County’s communities, especially to those disproportionately impacted by climate change. Projects were chosen based on the following criteria: creating local clean energy projects, increasing community health benefits, scaling throughout Alameda County’s communities, and/or increasing energy literacy. Congratulations to our six community-based organizations.
Community Impact LAB, Community Energy Conservation Initiative (CECI) – The 10-month initiative will empower and educate Alameda County families and businesses to tackle climate change through energy conservation and literacy such as an online educational campaign.
Ecology Action, Innovation in Electric Vehicle Charging for Affordable, Disadvantaged Communities, and Market Rate Multi-Unit Dwellings – Ecology Action will design a scalable multi-unit dwelling (MUD) EV charging program delivery model for low- and moderate-income residents within EBCE.
People Power Solar Cooperative, Second Community-Owned Solar Project – People Power Solar Cooperative will organize its second community-owned solar project to provide a critical model for community investment and ownership of renewable energy in California and other states.
RE-volv, Empowering East Bay Communities through Solar – Through their unique community-empowerment model, RE-volv seeks to bring solar installations to at least four East Bay non-profits that serve underserved communities over the next 12 months.
Rising Sun Center for Opportunity, Climate Careers: Launching Green Jobs and Delivering Community Energy Savings – Climate Careers employs and trains youth as Energy Specialists to conduct Green House Calls in hard-to-reach households, helping residents save energy and money.
West Oakland Environmental Indicators Project, West Oakland Renewable Power -WORP is a community-owned, industrial scale, solar PV generation facility, generating profits from energy sales to support various energy resilience programs for income-qualified residents.
EBCE is the local electricity provider created as a Joint Powers Authority by the 11 participating City Councils and the County of Alameda Board of Supervisors to provide low cost, cleaner power to our community. Launching to residential customers in November 2018, EBCE joined 19 other Community Choice Energy programs operating across California.
For more information about East Bay Community Energy, please visit ebce.org.
A network of residential energy systems will help Oakland, California wean itself off fossil-fueled peakers.
East Bay Community Energy, which buys power for Alameda County in Northern California, approved a contract Wednesday night to pay Sunrun for 500 kilowatts of capacity from residential solar-plus-storage.
The 10-year contract, which goes into effect in 2022, marks a second contracted win for Sunrun’s theory of using aggregated residential energy assets for grid services. The company won its first virtual power plant contract in February to supply ISO New England with 20 megawatts by 2022.
San Francisco-based Sunrun is the leading installer of U.S. residential solar systems.
“This kind of deal is a critical catalyst for this transition to customers as the prosumer, investing in energy to serve their own needs and also to serve the grid,” said EBCE CEO Nick Chaset.
As a community-choice aggregator (CCA), EBCE buys power for county residents with a mission to make the fuel mix cleaner while maintaining affordable prices.
The organization has to meet state obligations for resource adequacy on behalf of its customers, and that’s where the clean energy goal gets tricky: The market’s answer for capacity tends to be gas-burning peaker plants. If EBCE wants to ensure grid reliability and commit to high levels of carbon-free power, it needs to bring something new to the table.
It did just that with the Oakland Clean Energy Initiative, a collaborative effort to replace a jet-fuel-burning peaker in Oakland’s Jack London Square. The group contracted with Vistra last month for a 20-megawatt battery, the largest standalone battery to be built for a CCA.
Whereas the 20-megawatt battery will literally replace the peaker turbines, the Sunrun deal will provide 2 megawatt-hours of energy storage (500 kilowatts with 4-hour duration) scattered throughout the service territory, but with an emphasis on West Oakland.
“The project is not as closely linked to this specific peaker; it’s more broadly adding it to our portfolio of resources that are going to help us avoid general peakers,” Chaset said. “We’re paying you to perform and that performance will help relieve us of the obligation to buy peaker plants.”
As a general rule, residential batteries cost more than utility-scale batteries due to economies of scale. In this case, however, EBCE is not buying any equipment outright; it is contracting for capacity with developers that draw other revenue streams from the assets.
Chaset declined to disclose the price of the decentralized contract, but said “there was no major premium” compared to the larger batteries.
“This was very competitive on a price perspective with the bigger front-of-the-meter batteries that we’re procuring,” Chaset said.
The contract stipulates that Sunrun will pay prevailing wages to install the equipment on low-income single-family and multifamily homes within Alameda County.
Audrey Lee, Sunrun’s vice president for energy services, noted that the community-oriented nature of CCAs makes a natural fit with Sunrun’s “people-powered” grid philosophy. Instead of filling the capacity need entirely with utility assets hooked up to the grid, EBCE elected to meet some of its obligation in a way that gives community members access to more clean power and resilience.
“We hope it’s something we can replicate across California,” Lee said. “The growth of the CCAs in California has been enormous.”
Across the state, 19 CCAs now buy power for more than 4 million customers, according to industry group CalCCA. The traditional investor-owned utilities maintain the poles and wires that deliver that power.
Now that the model contract has been figured out, Chaset said he could see behind-the-meter capacity scaling to multimegawatt levels, and that multiple CCAs could join forces for regional distributed energy programs.
The new capacity revenue will allow Sunrun to add batteries alongside solar, giving the residential buildings access to backup power for critical circuits.
The contract also raises the possibility that Sunrun could enlist some of its thousands of existing solar and storage customers in a similar crowdsourced capacity program. That would be technically possible, Lee said.
“Our BrightBox systems today in California are programmed to do time-of-use load-shifting as well as backup power,” she said. “If they were enrolled with a capacity contract, those batteries can be easily reprogrammed to discharge to provide that capacity.”
The new arrangement builds on Sunrun’s commitment to supply 100 megawatts of solar power to low-income housing, said Lee. In moving toward that goal, announced last fall, Sunrun draws on funds from California’s Solar on Multifamily Affordable Housing program and works with building owners to deliver solar at no cost to tenants.
TULARE COUNTY – More renewable power will be flowing to community-based power providers across the state from new solar and wind farms heading to construction in the San Joaquin Valley. These are typically new customers for Valley solar and wind developers who in the past had to depend on power purchases from reluctant utility companies.
Just announced- the East Bay Community Energy (EBCE) board of directors has approved two power purchase agreements for a combined 157.5 megawatts from new wind and solar facilities, along with 30 megawatts of battery energy storage.
EBCE, a Community Choice energy Aggregation program serving most of Alameda County, approved the following contracts: a 20-year agreement to purchase 57.5 megawatts of wind from the Altamont Winds project in Alameda County and a 20-year agreement to purchase 100 megawatts of solar and 30 megawatts of energy storage from the Sonrisa Solar Park in Fresno County. In addition they have announced a preliminary deal to buy 56MW of solar energy from a proposed project in Tulare County called Luciana Solar.
Proposed new Central Valley utility-sale solar projects are more frequently selling their power to nearby Community Choice energy aggregators versus power sales to traditional utilities like SCE or PG&E. There are now 19 not-for-profit Community Choice Aggregation (CCA) programs operating in California and the market is growing as more communities are deciding to adopt this form of electricity distribution. Hanford for example, is considering becoming a CCA.
In this case, Alameda-based EBCE is a not-for-profit public agency that operates a Community Choice Energy program for Alameda County and eleven incorporated cities, serving more than 550,000 residential and commercial customers throughout the county.
Another example of the trend, just last year Japanese-owned Solar Frontier Americas was the winning bidder in two processes acquiring a not-yet-built 56 megawatt project in Tulare County called Luciana and the proposed 210 MW Mustang Two solar project in Kings County from Canadian Solar’s development business Recurrent Energy. The deal was announced in December.
Located on 1,400 acres in Kings County, California, the Mustang Two project is expected to be operational in 2020. The project will then be operated by Solar Frontier Americas’ growing independent power producer business. Once this project is operational, the energy generated by the solar power facility will be split between two long-term power purchase agreements: Peninsula Clean Energy (the community choice energy agency which serves San Mateo County) is contracted to receive 100 MWac, and the Modesto Irrigation District will acquire 50 MWac. The combined energy generation will power 37,500 homes with clean electricity.
These CCAs, and other non-profit community-based energy providers including the East Bay group EBCE are eager for renewable energy their customers want as California moves to 100% renewables by 2045.
Wind farm to replace 569 older turbines
The Alameda group also looks to phase out fossil fuel power plants and older renewable technology. The Summit Wind Project located in Altamont Pass near Livermore is located within EBCE’s territory and reflects the community choice provider’s commitment to invest in local, clean energy resources and deliver local benefits they say. The project will entail repowering (replacing) a former Altamont Pass wind farm which consisted of older less efficient wind turbines with ones that are state-of-the-art. San Diego-based Salk LLC will build the new wind farm and sell the energy to the East Bay customers. The 55-MW wind farm is just 35 miles outside Oakland.
Completion and operation of the Summit Wind Project is planned for late 2020. The repowering project will replace 569 one-hundred-kilowatt turbines with 23 modern turbines. Once completed, the repowered wind farm will generate more than 60 percent of its power for Alameda County during peak hours, including the afternoon and high-demand summer months, producing enough clean energy on average to power about 30,000 homes per year.
“More and more, communities want to aggressively address climate change and reducing the use of fossil fuels in our power mix is a big part of that. EBCE is adding new renewable energy generation capacity to the grid that will, in time, serve to phase out our reliance on fossil fuel while also stabilizing our energy costs,” said County Supervisor and EBCE Board Chair, Scott Haggerty.
Renewable energy will also replace fossil fuel now in the heart of Oakland. On June 5, the EBC board approved a contract with Vistra Energy to receive resource adequacy capacity from a 20 MW battery energy storage project that is currently planned to be built as a partial replacement for an aging, fossil fuel-fired power plant located in the heart of Oakland.
A boom in Valley-based projects
Spokesperson for the Alameda group Annie Henderson says demand for renewable power “is just exploding much faster than state mandates” require because of the proliferation of community-based power providers from LA to the Bay Area “It is happening much faster than before” she says, noting her Alameda group will be announcing more power purchases from other new San Joaquin Valley solar projects in July.
The Alameda board also gave a green light to a 56MW solar PPA with Solar Frontier Americas for Luciana Solar to be located in Tulare County. The project will be built in southern Tulare County located near Richgrove along Highway 65 says county planner Mike Washam, new to an already operational 20MW solar farm.
Next door in Fresno County the Sonrisa Solar Park project will produce 100MW of solar energy and 30MW of energy storage for a partnership of Spanish and Portuguese-based utilities who are busy doing renewables in the U.S.
The Sonrisa Solar Park project now owned by EDPR will be located near Tranquility in Fresno County. Construction on the Sonrisa Project will begin in December 2021 and be operational in 2022. It will be EDPR’s first large scale renewable project with storage.
EDPR is already one of the world’s largest wind energy producers and also wants to develop wind energy off the California coast. The company’s footprint in the state includes three phases of the Rising Tree Wind Farm in Kern County as well as two phases of the Lone Valley Solar Park in San Bernardino County. These projects produce enough clean electricity to annually power more than 101,000 average California homes.
The combination of solar with energy storage system was designed to increase efficiency and provide greater balance in energy supply, says the company.
– John Lindt is the publisher of Sierra2theSea.net, an online newspaper covering California’s Central Valley and Central Coast.
California’s Senate Bill (SB) 100 initiated a new phase in the state’s nation-leading climate fight, with new goals for 60% renewables by 2030 in the power sector and zero-emissions economy-wide by 2045.
San Diego Gas and Electric (SDG&E), Southern California Edison (SCE) and Pacific Gas and Electric (PG&E) were previously the primary renewables-procuring LSEs, Large-scale Solar Association (LSA) Executive Director Shannon Eddy told Utility Dive. But the investor-owned utilities (IOUs) will not lead this new phase.
“San Diego does not want to own generation and their load is disappearing. With PG&E’s bankruptcy, it is not in a position to procure, and Edison wants to procure, but doesn’t need new power,” Eddy said. “That leaves the CCAs. They will procure because they need about four GWs of long-term renewable contracts by the end of 2023 to meet their RPS obligations.”
But CCAs face unique challenges. Their lack of established credit may prevent new procurement, some power sector stakeholders told Utility Dive. CCAs responded that they will use resource diversity, distributed energy resources (DER), and load management to lead California beyond its 2030 renewables goals to a new power sector paradigm.
Load will grow
Renewables growth faces more difficulties than during California’s phase one, but load will grow and the new RPS will require renewables to meet it, according to January 2019 California Energy Commission (CEC) data. New renewables have been “mainly solar” and “over 75% of currently permitted projects are solar,” CEC spokesperson Edward Ortiz emailed Utility Dive.
But new long-term (over ten-year) renewables contracts fell from 2,231 MW in 2015 to 999 MW in 2016 and to only 546 MW in 2017, according to the CPUC’s November 2018 RPS report. And the IOUs did not solicit new long-term contracts in 2018, the CPUC reported.
The many potential portfolio mixes still to be considered make estimates of the state’s need for new renewables by 2030 highly varied. CPUC modeling shows the state will need at least 9 GW to 12 GW of new utility-scale renewables, LSA’s Eddy said. SCE found the need would be between 15 GW and 20 GW, along with 10 GW of storage, SCE VP for Power Supply Colin Cushnie told Utility Dive.
Regarding non-IOU procurers of renewables, California’s large publicly-owned utilities, including Sacramento Municipal Utility District (SMUD) and Los Angeles Department of Water and Power (LADWP), are expected to continue as significant renewables procurers. SMUD’s draft 2019 IRP calls for 1,000 MW of solar by 2040 and LADWP is formulating a zero-emissions by 2045 plan.
“The working goal is 1,000 MW of solar in the next 20 years,” SMUD Manager of Project Development and Renewable Generation Buck Cutting told Utility Dive. “If there is available affordable land with transmission access, we can add that much solar.”
But CCAs are also coming to the fore.
Fourteen of today’s 19 CCAs launched in 2017 and 2018, an October 2018 white paper from trade association CalCCA reported. Significant CCA procurement only began in 2017, and average RPS compliance was only at 49% for the year, the CPUC reported. But shortfalls are expected to decrease by 2021, when all CCAs are statutorily required to meet 65% of their obligations with long term contracts.
There were signs CCAs moved forward in 2018. In the CPUC’s Integrated Resource Plan (IRP) process, CCAs proposed “over 10,000 MW of new renewable and energy storage projects by 2030,” a CalCCA Q1 2019 update reported. These were not all long-term contracts for new renewables. But “developers view CCAs as reliable counterparties” and are “working with them,” CalCCA said.
Finally, forecasts are more difficult for the electricity service providers (ESPs) empowered by a 2018 law to serve up to 15% of the state’s commercial-industrial load. Much of their RPS procurement “is done with short-term contracts,” the CPUC reported. But many are subsidiaries of energy sector leaders like Calpine, Shell and EDF, and likely to obtain financing, a developer who has contracted with ESPs told Utility Dive.
New LSEs will buy
“I don’t see how we stop buying,” East Bay Community Energy (EBCE) Senior Director of Public Policy and Deputy General Counsel Melissa Brandt told Utility Dive. “IRP data shows 60% to 70% of new renewables is likely to be solar and CCAs will be the main buyers. If anything, we will over-procure solar for reliability and curtail.”
By 2020, the three IOUs could serve “less than half the retail load in California and potentially a much smaller share,” SCE’s Cushnie agreed.
To meet the 2030 renewable energy goals, California will need to essentially double its generation capacity, “which would be a Herculean task if it was being done in a systematic way,” Cushnie said. “It’s compounded by the confusion over who’s responsible for what.”
Some new LSEs “are being deliberate with solicitations and contracts, but there is serious concern that – collectively – they are not positioned to meet their obligations,” Cushnie said. “They lack credit ratings and other indicators of financial stability that could cause investors to look for opportunities in other Western states with high renewables mandates, less confusion and more market certainty.”
The IRP found “the super majority of new California renewables will be procured by CCAs,” Chief Operating Officer Matthew Langer of the Los Angeles region CCA Clean Power Alliance told Utility Dive.
SDG&E sees no other option. With 80% or more of its load forecast to move to new LSEs “in just a few years,” SDG&E intends to “exit procurement” and recommends that “emerging players lead the way,” utility spokesperson Helen Gao emailed Utility Dive.
CCAs “are working diligently toward meeting their obligations or going beyond them and we are eager to see them succeed,” LSA’s Eddy said. “That is uncertain as this new phase of solar growth begins, but there was uncertainty at the beginning of the first phase of growth.”
The credit rating question may be an obstacle, but “the job of developers is to contract and build,” Eddy added. “If they can finance contracts with off-takers, they will. Other Western states are making big strides in solar, but California is planning to bring on a lot of GW of utility-scale solar by 2030. This is the market.”
Off-takers and developers have solutions
“There is no problem on long-term contracts with” publicly-owned utilities, EDF Renewable Energy VP of Regulatory and Legislative Affairs Virinder Singh told Utility Dive. “And many ESPs have brand names and known corporate stability that are a basis for negotiating long-term contracts.”
For CCAs without credit ratings, “we’re learning as we go,” he said. EDF renewables contracts with CCAs in 2011, 2016 and 2018, totaling over 160 MW of solar capacity, show it is possible, “but investors’ appetites may be limited.”
Most major California renewables developers are likely “actively marketing to CCAs,” Singh said. “We are thinking about deal designs that will work for the CCA and for the developer, including ways to provide the right products and address the credit issue.”
“The credit issue will not be a problem long,” Recurrent Director of Development Mike Toomey told Utility Dive. “And our completed contracts show even now it’s more of a speed bump to development than a roadblock.”
In working with an off-taker without a credit rating, the contractual process begins with educating investors, Toomey said. If there is higher perceived risk, it can often be offset with collateral or a higher interest rate until the CCA counterparty is a known entity.
New and more complicated developer-off-taker contracts will be customized, solar-plus agreements that include storage or demand response, SEPA reported. “They will assign value for output at specific times and locations and for other services,” Jen Szaro, SEPA’s VP of Research and Education, told Utility Dive.
California’s “lofty targets are going to require a lot of development, attract a lot of investors, and create new liquid markets,” Toomey agreed. “There are lots of opportunities in a liquid market to find creative ways to serve customers, but it might get more complicated.”
Nothing is the same
The first phase of California’s renewables expansion “was about getting renewables into the system,” EDF’s Singh said. “The new paradigm requires organizing the resource mix around renewables and including energy storage, distributed solutions and EV charging.”
In this new paradigm, CCAs will incorporate distributed energy resources (DER) to create a more flexible load, EBCE’s Brandt said. Given enough latitude, CCAs can work through the IRP process and take advantage of new technologies and new contracts to manage reliability “in a very different way than it’s been managed in the past.”
For now, “adding low-cost solar megawatts to meet RPS requirements will work, but in the long term we have to think about the system,” Clean Power Alliance’s Langer added. “If all the LSEs just buy solar and consumers keep building rooftop solar, the system operator could be forced to use natural gas generation to protect grid reliability and that will prevent the decarbonization we all want.”
The first cycle of the CPUC IRP process “was rushed and incomplete,” he said. “Iterating around it will be important. Recognizing the value of a wider range of resources is a priority.”
Brandt agreed, and suggested the next IRP should bring local governments into the state planning process and link local DER with utility-scale renewables.
The state is paused before “its next challenges” and “its next leap forward,” LSA’s Eddy said. “Economic curtailment, credit worthiness of off-takers, available land and transmission and electrification of transportation and buildings are more complicated than the challenges we have had.”
Developers and off-takers are already collaborating on solutions to the credit-worthiness issues and the the LSEs have begun to collaborate in state planning processes, Eddy said. The new supply produced by those cooperative efforts will allow meeting greater electrification needs. And siting challenges can be addressed if stakeholders at the local, regional and state levels work together.
“The one thing that binds us all together is the climate crisis and the imperative to get as much renewable energy online as quickly as we can,” she said. “How we can keep working together to do that is what keeps me up at night.”
Correction: A previous version of this article misidentified CCAs. They are Community Choice Aggregators. In addition, a previous version of this article had an incorrect title for Jen Szaro. She is SEPA’s VP of Research and Education.
It’s pretty clear that renewable energy is more than price competitive with traditional energy sources such as coal, gas, and nuclear. Want proof? Look at the under 2 cents per kWh 25 year PPA the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power signed recently.
But we all know that the sun doesn’t always shine and the wind doesn’t always blow. To make matters worse, sometimes there is more renewable energy available than there is demand for electricity. To solve both issues, utilities and renewable energy providers are depending more and more on batteries that store excess electricity for later use.
Such time shifting strategies make renewable energy more dispatchable, meaning it is available when demand requires, regardless of whether the sun is out or a breeze is stirring, but they have their limits. Typical battery storage installations today can provide electricity for 2 to 4 hours at most. After that, it’s lights out, quite literally. So where do we go from here?
Community Choice Aggregation
Nick Chaset is the CEO of East Bay Community Energy, a community choice aggregate formed in 2018. Its mission is to buy cleaner power than utility PG&E can supply while keeping prices affordable and promoting well-paying jobs. According to Green Tech Media, CCAs have taken millions of customer accounts from California’s larger investor owned utilities.
Last week, Chaset signed an agreement with the city of Oakland to replace a jet fuel powered peaker plant near San Francisco Bay with a 20 megawatt, 80 megawatt-hour lithium-ion battery system. The question is, what happens in Oakland after the new battery is drained of power at the end of four hours?
Chaset has some thoughts on that question and shared them with Green Tech Media. “Right now, there’s still tremendous opportunity for the 4-hour [-duration] investments, which we’re going to continue to make,” at the contract signing in Oakland. “What you’ll see is, through 2030 probably, it’s storage, 4- and 6-hour batteries, [that] gets you where you need [to be].”
A Wood Mackenzie study of four existing natural gas-powered peaker plants found that a 6-hour battery could have handled 74% of the actual peak operations in 2017. The remaining events lasted too long for batteries to handle.
The upshot is that currently available battery technology can plausibly take over much of the peaker role, GTM says, but not the bulk power function served by larger combined-cycle gas plants. At some point, clean resources will need to supply larger amounts of power on demand for an extended period of time, especially in the evenings as solar generation tapers off.
“It’s the 2030 to 2040 time frame where it’s a little bit more challenging and we don’t necessarily have the right solution identified just yet,” Chaset says. “Some would say maybe it’s pumped hydro. Those are huge investments. Yes, there’s technological innovation happening, but that’s mostly concrete and steel.”
Alternatives To Batteries
Are there options for energy storage other than lithium-ion batteries? Yes, several in fact. The Holy Grail of energy storage is not batteries that can store electricity for a few hours, days, even weeks. It is long-term storage solutions that can capture and hold electrical energy for months at a time.
It’s more than time-shifting, it’s season-shifting, so electricity from hydroelectric generators made in the spring when rivers and lakes are full or solar power generated in the bright days of summer can be used in the winter.
Vanadium flow batteries are a possibility. Concentrated solar is another. Compressed air is another area being tried, most recently at part of an energy storage facility in Utah. Then there are the gravity storage ideas — use excess electricity to lift heavy weights high in the air, then use them to power generators as they return to Earth later. Better batteriesare something that teams of researchers are working on in laboratories around the world.
Don’t Make Perfect The Enemy Of Good
Nick Chaset recognizes the changes any of these alternative strategies could bring to energy markets but feels the focus should remain on what is possible today. “My view is, let’s not make that investment yet if we don’t have to,” Chaset said. “Let’s make the investments that we know we need right now — that’s really solar plus energy storage — and let the technological ecosystem evolve a bit more to see what the winners and losers are.”
“Frankly, it’s about making lots of small bets instead of one big bet, because that one big bet — yes, it could work for you, but oftentimes it might not, given the pace of technological change. Whereas [with] lots of smaller bets over time, you’re sort of riding the wave of technological improvement,” he adds.
His approach embraces uncertainty and it’s really the process that has gotten humanity this far. Establish a goal. Make a plan to achieve the goal, Work the plan and notice if it is effective. Modify the plan based on experience. Work the new plan. Modify it accordingly. Lather, rinse, repeat ad infinitum.
“We’re demonstrating that we CCAs are a significant part of that solution, at scale,” Chaset says. Little more than a year after the launch of East Bay Community Energy, it is on pace to exceed its state energy storage procurement mandate by a factor of four. That’s impressive. It is popular to bash California but look around to see if your state supports community choice aggregation. If not, perhaps it is appropriate to ask your local officials why not?
We are in a race to perfect renewable energy before the Earth turns into a cinder. We need credible, realistic solutions, not hare brained schemes like geoengineering the upper atmosphere to blot out the sun. One solution is to electrify everything — transportation, heating and cooling, agriculture — and use renewable energy to power it all. That will require effective long term energy storage systems.
Lithium-ion batteries may not be the perfect solution but they are the best option available at the moment. They are allowing utility companies to consider shutting thermal generating stations and not build new ones. That’s an epic win for the world and buying us time to get to what’s next.
As the United States has begun transitioning away from the use of coal and petroleum as a source of electricity and fuel, natural gas has been viewed as a relatively benign fossil fuel. After all, natural gas produces less carbon dioxide when burned than those other fossil fuels. It remains the energy source in about half of California’s buildings.
But scientists have increasingly warned that methane, the main component of natural gas, is itself a key heat-trapping gas — 84 times more potent than carbon dioxide in the first twenty years after release, according to the Environmental Defense Fund. In addition to the carbon dioxide created by its burning, the inevitable leaks as natural gas is extracted and shipped, make gas a serious climate threat in its own right.
State policy calls for the electrification of buildings — the source of about 10 percent of California’s greenhouse gas emissions, mostly from natural gas. Several state agencies and many cities and counties are working on a variety of programs to promote electrification. But none have gone as far as the ordinance scheduled to come before the Berkeley City Council on July 9.
Once again, the City of Berkeley is considering a groundbreaking environmental policy: This time it’s a ban on natural gas hookups in all new buildings, starting January 1, 2020.
Berkeley is about to see a “wave of new multistory construction,” with at least 3,100 residential units currently planned, said Councilmember Kate Harrison, who introduced the measure. “These buildings will be in place for 100 years,” she said. “Emergency action is needed to prevent locking in the greenhouse gas and safety impacts” of natural gas.
In addition to the fuel’s impact on climate change, Harrison also noted that using natural gas means “pumping a toxic, flammable liquid over fault lines into our homes.” Cooking with gas is linked to asthma attacks and hospitalizations, hitting hardest in children and communities of color. A 2013 Lawrence Berkeley Lab study found that in 60 percent of the homes with gas stoves, the air pollution level violates federal standards for outdoor air. “Your Gas Stove is Bad for You and the Planet,” a recent guest editorial in The New York Times, reported that “a growing body of scientific evidence has shown that gas stoves throw off pollutants like nitrogen dioxide and carbon monoxide.” Natural gas also is a fire hazard. A 2017 study by the US Geological Services identified broken gas lines as a key risk factor during an earthquake. Much of the damage and loss of life after an earthquake is caused by fires from broken gas lines.
So far, no opposition to the proposed gas ban has emerged. But pushback is expected, since many builders and residents are unfamiliar with the relatively new technologies for electric heating, cooling, and cooking. The city council committee working on the bill held two hearings for developers, but none showed up. “The next step is outreach to builders and the business community,” Harrison said.
A report from the California Building Industry Association says that building a single-family home with electric heat and hot water costs $200-500 more than one using gas. Yet the report predicts that by 2030 it will be cheaper, since large-scale production will bring down the price of several relatively new technologies. And several builders who attended a hearing on the proposed ordinance said they had found that all-electric construction was already “cost-competitive” for multifamily residential buildings.
Once an all-electric building has been constructed, however, the California Energy Commission says that operating with the efficient new technology is cheaper than using gas. And gas prices are expected to rise as the use of gas declines.
The key is the increased efficiency of new electric technologies: induction stoves for cooking and heat pumps for heating, cooling, and hot water. An induction cookstove — unlike your grandmother’s electric stove and its horrible heating coil — is highly efficient, cooks faster than gas, and allows fine control of cooking temperatures. “Home cooks have been warming to induction because it cooks faster and responds much faster when you dial back the temperature,” an article in Consumer Reports said. A heat pump, meanwhile, works like a refrigerator in reverse, pulling heat from outside air and bringing it inside. “Heat pump technology is central to the concept of electrification to achieve decarbonization,” according to the commission.
While no other cities have gone as far as banning gas hookups, “A lot of cities are looking for ways to ban gas or favor all-electric buildings,” said Rachel Golden of the Sierra Club. “This year you will see things shifting,” especially if Berkeley sets an example. Palo Alto and Marin County have already changed their building codes to favor all-electric buildings by requiring higher levels of energy efficiency for buildings that include gas. The Sacramento Municipal Utility District, Golden said, has “an incredible incentive program” for electrification of new and existing buildings.
Making new buildings all electric is just the first step, said JP Ross, who works on electrification for East Bay Community Energy. The next step is encouraging owners of existing buildings to switch to electric appliances, heat, and hot water when their current systems wear out. A tougher sell will be getting people to replace appliances while they’re still working, but some people will do that because of the downsides of gas.
East Bay Community Energy is already working with cities to help them update building codes and permitting processes to favor all-electric construction. It’s also helping to support training programs to build a workforce familiar with heat-pump installation. And it just adopted a program to provide incentives for building owners to switch to heat pump hot water systems. With grants from the Bay Area Air Quality Management District, six other cities or counties also have programs to promote electric heat and hot water systems.
Still, switching to electric appliances, heat and hot water can be expensive, especially if it means upgrading the wires. Helping building owners do that is “a pressing need,” Ross said. “We’re trying to figure out solutions.”
Meanwhile, said he added, homeowners can spread out payments for electrification (and other energy, water, and seismic improvements) through an extra charge on their property tax bill. This Property Assessed Clean Energy program is another Berkeley first. The state Residential Energy Efficiency Loan Assistance Program also offers easy financing for such improvements.
As a new state law requires California’s electricity to be 100 percent renewable by 2045, the energy commission has called electrification key to meeting greenhouse gas emissions goals. “There is a growing consensus that building electrification is the most viable and predictable path to zero-emission building,” the commission has said. Several state programs are gearing up to support it.
Golden said that until recently, the state building code has been biased in favor of gas. Constructing an all-electric building has required jumping through extra bureaucratic hoops and conducting complex negotiations with the Energy Commission. But now the state is revising these codes to be all-electric-friendly. So far, the code has been updated to remove the obstacles to all-electric construction in low-rise residential buildings — and to require them to include solar panels. Updates for other building types, as well as particular systems like heat pumps, are expected soon — “months, not years,” Harrison said.
Her proposed ordinance will require electrification as soon as the relevant state building code is in place. Meanwhile, she said, the city building code is being revised to “heavily incentivize” getting rid of gas.
Two new state laws also promote electrification. The California Public Utilities Commission will get $50 million a year to provide incentives, product development, and workforce training to support “near-zero emissions” heating and cooling technology. At least 30 percent of the funding is supposed to go to low-income communities, including provisions to make sure the changes don’t increase low-income people’s electricity bills. And the California Energy Commission is charged with making a plan to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from buildings to 40 percent below 1990 levels by 2030.
But gas companies also are fighting back at the state level. At PUC hearings on implementing the new program, SoCalGas has been “trying to steer money toward technologies that use gas,” such as more-efficient gas heating and “renewable natural gas,” said Matt Vespa, a lawyer for the Sierra Club. Renewable gas is methane produced by burning “biomass” like urban or agricultural waste. The California Energy Commission says, “renewable gas is not expected to play a large role in decarbonizing buildings,” partly because the supply is very limited. And, says Golden, it’s still methane, with all its climate, health, and safety problems.
Meanwhile, Vespa said a new entity called Californians for Balanced Energy Solutions, which he said is a front group for SoCalGas, has also been promoting gas technology at the hearings. The organization denies that it is a front group and has been fighting Vespa’s request to bar it from the hearings. According to the Californians for Balanced Energy Solutions website, “we are concerned about a rush to electrify all uses of energy.” They promise to defend Californians’ “right to use natural gas for home heating and cooking.” According to Vespa, half the funding for this organization comes from SoCalGas.
With a few strokes of a pen at a media event, Alameda County Supervisor Scott Haggerty signed four contracts that will bring clean wind power from the Altamont and other carbon-free energy from various state locations to supply East Bay Community Energy (EBCE) customers.
Haggerty serves as president of the EBCE board, a non-profit public agency serving 550,000 customers in Alameda County. It was created by the votes of the Board of Supervisors and 11 City Councils, including Livermore and Dublin. Pleasanton decided to stay out of the agency, preferring to wait a year to see how things go.
Power customers are automatically transferred to EBCE from PG&E, which explains the high number of customers in the county. People can opt to remain with PG&E, if they choose.
The new sources are expected to be online by 2022 or ’23, according to Annie Henderson, Vice President, Marketing and Account Services for EBCE. The projects will need a period of time to go through environmental review at their local sites, she said.
The Altamont’s clean source will be provided by the Summit Wind Project, in a 20-year contract for 57.5 Megawatts from the Altamont Wind LLC. One Megawatt (MW) is equivalent to 1 million watts.
The project is located within the EBCE boundary line, and illustrates what the agency can do to invest its money in the local community. Wind projects need to find buyers for their power. Altamont Wind LCC has done that, thanks to EBCE.
Haggerty told The Independent, “What an exciting day for East Bay Community Energy. Solar and wind energy generated right here in our own backyard will soon be powering Alameda County households and businesses. That’s cheaper, greener, locally sourced energy, with proceeds that are invested right back into the community through energy improvement projects and jobs.”
Altamont Wind LLC is working in partnership with San Diego-based Salka LLC. Salka CEO Jiddu Tapia wrote in an EBCE news release, “With no fuel costs, and low operating expenses, wind power helps to reduce electricity costs, giving consumers a better choice for their energy dollar.”
“Clean energy projects like this create jobs and spur local investment, while providing an affordable, dependable way for EBCE to meet its expanding power needs for years to come,” added Tapia.
Oakland Mayor Libby Schaff, who attended the signing at the ferry landing in Jack London Square on June 24, talked about another of the four contracts, and how EBCE is benefiting the community with its project.
The Oakland Clean Energy Project No. 1 is a 10-year agreement for 20 MW of clean energy storage off the power grid at night, when power is attainable at its lowest cost. The battery storage will displace the current jet engine power producer, sparing the vicinity its fossil fuel pollution. Schaff said that it shows how non-profit EBCE has the community’s best interest at heart.
The other two contracts that Haggerty signed were with the Luciana Project and Sonrisa Solar Park.
The Luciana Project commits to a 15-year contract to buy 56 MW from a project in Tulare County. The Sonrisa Solar Park commits EBCE to buy 100 MW of solar energy and 30 MW of energy storage in Fresno County.
When the Oakland Power Plant fires up, jet fuel exhaust emerges into the urban environment.
OAKLAND, Calif. — Jack London Square reminds a visitor of Oakland’s nautical roots. Seagulls squawk, ships bob in the harbor, commuters rush out of cars or wheel their bikes to the ferry terminal to embark across the San Francisco Bay. Up the wharf, shipping cranes tower over the proposed site of the future Oakland A’s baseball stadium.
In the foreground, a combustion turbine peaker plant sits across the street from the ferry launch, behind an immense ochre-colored vat of the jet fuel that it combusts.
“The plant that’s sitting there has been there for a long time, and it’s been the bane of many West Oakland folks because it is a significant contributor to air pollution here,” said State Senator Nancy Skinner, adding that residents there face higher rates of asthma.
Now the residents who want the plant gone have a new ally: East Bay Community Energy, the locally governed entity that buys power for Alameda County. This community choice aggregator launched in 2018 with a mandate to buy cleaner power than utility PG&E while keeping prices affordable and promoting well-paying jobs.
On Monday morning, EBCE staff arrived at the wharf alongside Skinner, Oakland Mayor Libby Schaaf and other local leaders to sign a set of contracts for clean energy. One of those contracts would rip out the old turbines and replace them with a 20-megawatt, 80-megawatt-hour lithium-ion battery system to meet demand in this pocket of the city without releasing local particulate pollution or greenhouse gases (although it will charge from the grid, resulting in emissions elsewhere).
The project blends several cutting-edge grid trends at once.
It shuts down fossil fuel infrastructure in favor of new cleantech alternatives, serving California’s grid decarbonization law. It also fills a grid reliability need that traditionally would have required more invasive and capital intensive infrastructure, offering yet another example of the non-wires alternative philosophy.
Furthermore, it tests the ability of local organizations to fulfill clean energy pledges for their communities, at a time when CCAs have taken millions of customer accounts from California’s larger investor-owned utilities.
“We’re demonstrating that we CCAs are a significant part of that solution, at scale,” said EBCE CEO Nick Chaset in an interview after the signing.
Within one year of launch, he added, EBCE is on pace to exceed its state energy storage procurement mandate by a factor of four or five.
The round, ochre-colored structure stores jet fuel for combustion inside the power plant, just across the street from the commuter ferry terminal. (All photo credits: Julian Spector)
Community-choice aggregators arrived more recently on the scene. Though the incumbent utilities still operate the wires to deliver power, CCAs have to procure it and ensure there’s enough to keep the lights on in their territories.
“As CCAs are increasingly on the hook for securing their resource adequacy needs, energy storage is emerging as a competitive carbon free option,” said Ravi Manghani, energy storage director at Wood Mackenzie Power & Renewables.
Two Bay Area CCAs, Silicon Valley Clean Energy and Monterey Bay Community Power, signed a joint deal with Recurrent Energy in October for a 150 megawatt solar plant combined with a battery systems rated at 45 megawatts/180 megawatt-hours. Those agencies also signed a deal with EDF Renewables North America for 128 megawatts of solar capacity coupled with a 40-megawatt/160-megawatt-hour battery plant.
Those are significant storage projects relative to the national market — together, they exceed national utility-scale development in all but three quarters to date, according to WoodMac data. That scale is all the more surprising given that the off-takers did not exist a few years ago.
East Bay Community Energy joined the roster of solar-plus-storage customers this summer, contracting with EDP Renewables North America for a 100 megawatt solar plant paired with 30 megawatts/120 megawatt-hours of storage. It also signed power purchase agreements for 57.5 megawatts of wind and 56 megawatts of standalone solar.
But its Oakland Clean Energy Initiative appears to be the largest instance of standalone storage contracted for a CCA. Texas-based independent power producer Vistra Energy will build the 20-megawatt/80megawatt-hour system by Jack London Square for an expected online date of 2022.
Oakland officials, including Skinner (left), Schaaf (second from left) and Chaset (far right), observe the signing of the contract with Vistra.
That dynamic played out in Oakland, too: Vistra subsidiary Dynegy owned the peaker, which came online in 1978, and now Vistra wants to put it to new use.
The battery plant will deliver resource adequacy on behalf of EBCE, ensuring that the load pocket of downtown Oakland has sufficient power during moments of stress for the grid system.
It could also serve a transmission obligation for PG&E, which otherwise may have needed to run an expensive new wire from the Moraga substation across the mountain ridge east of the city. PG&E’s involvement with the project has not been finalized, and the company did not participate in the signing ceremony Monday.
Under-utilized peakers like Dynegy’s have emerged as an early target for energy storage.
Operational data from the Energy Information Administration show that in six months of 2018, the plant produced no power whatsoever. In other months, it fired up to produce negligible generation, like 4 megawatt-hours in December or 13 megawatt-hours in November. During the summer months of June and July, production reached the low thousands of megawatt-hours, equating to roughly seven and 12 hours of run-time at peak capacity for the 165 megawatt plant.
With a battery, Vistra will be able to participate in the wholesale markets on a daily basis, provided it delivers power when called on for its capacity obligation. Such activities present merchant risk, but Vistra boasts an energy trading business that specializes in just that sort of transaction.
In theory, market revenue would allow Vistra to offer more favorable pricing on its resource adequacy contract compared to an asset that did nothing else. EBCE declined to disclose the price of its contract, however, so it is not possible to analyze the economics in detail.
Some regulatory approvals remain before the project can become reality.
The shift from fossil fueled to emissions-free assets tracks well with recent decisions by the state’s grid regulators (See Oxnard, Moss Landing), but this is still new territory. Vistra must obtain permission to shut down a thermal plant that receives “reliability must run” payments to keep the lights on in Oakland, and replace it with a non-thermal plant constrained by a finite energy capacity.
Success is not a given, but it promises a range of stakeholder benefits: cleaner air, more flexible grid infrastructure, and a proof point for the efficacy of localized grid planning.
OAKLAND —East Bay residents will soon have more wind and solar electricity coming out of their sockets and some of it will be stored in a soon-to-be-built battery storage facility in Oakland.
On Monday, East Bay Community Energy, a non-profit electricity supplier, signed four contracts for up to 200 megawatts of renewable electricity. That could be enough power for approximately 70,000 homes.
“I am extremely proud to be signing these agreements,” said Alameda County Supervisor and the non-profit’s chairman Scott Haggerty.
The contracts are for solar power from the Central Valley, wind energy generated by turbines along the Altamont Pass, and a new battery storage facility at Jack London Square, which will replace a 30-year-old jet fuel power plant.
Oakland Mayor Libby Schaaf said it was yet another reason for Alameda County residents to Choose East Bay Community Energy over traditional sources.
“It is cheaper, it is cleaner and it is beholden to the community not to shareholders,” said Schaaf.
The new facility will be packed with rechargeable batteries that Nick Chaset, East Bay Community Energy’s chief executive, said will mostly recharge at night.
“You’re pulling energy from the grid at times of low demand and discharging it onto the grid in times of high demand,” he said.
The battery storage project should come online sometime in the next three years but the solar and wind energy will be available soon for most electricity customers in Alameda County.
An old fossil-fuel burning power plant in Oakland’s Jack London Square area is one step closer to being replaced with cleaner energy sources.
The board of East Bay Community Energy, an Alameda County agency that buys green power for local residents, on Wednesday approved a contract with the plant’s owner for an 80-megawatt-hour battery installation that will pave the way for the closure of the plant, whose equipment is about 40 years old.
While the Martin Luther King Jr. Way plant is used only a few times annually when demand in the area is especially high, local officials have wanted to shut it down for years.
State grid managers last year approved a plan to swap the facility out with cleaner energy, including storage. The East Bay energy agency and Pacific Gas and Electric Co., which still controls the power lines in the area, subsequently sought proposals to wind down the plant.
Once the batteries are operational, they will work by drawing electricity from the grid when demand is low and then discharging it when needed.
Approval of the contract does not alone allow the plant to retire, but it will bring officials “significantly closer” to that goal, said Nick Chaset, chief executive officer of East Bay Community Energy.
With the East Bay agency contract approved, the plant’s owner, Vistra Energy, can get more approvals required to wind down the old facility, Chaset said. For example, the California Independent System Operator still needs to verify that the plant’s capacity is being adequately replaced.
The agency is also eyeing some other smaller projects as part of the broader power plant closure effort, dubbed the Oakland Clean Energy Initiative.
“This is probably the single biggest energy storage piece that needs to be put in place,” Chaset said.
The agency did not specify the cost of its 10-year storage contract with Vistra.
Vistra, based in Texas, acquired the Oakland plant in 2018 as part of its merger with the facility’s prior owner, Dynegy.
Vistra is “proud to have the opportunity to provide Oakland residents with renewable power while supporting the community’s clean energy transition,” CEO Curt Morgan said in a statement.
Oakland City Councilman Dan Kalb, who also serves as vice chair of East Bay Community Energy, said the eventual retirement of the fossil fuel plant will also reap environmental and health benefits for people who live in the area.
“If we can never have to turn that plant on ever again, that’s a lot of emissions that will not be going into the nearby community,” Kalb said. “West Oakland already bears a large part of the brunt in terms of poor air quality in the East Bay.”
“It’s particularly acute in that community because you’re also at the port, so you already have a lot of diesel combustion going on,” he said. “This is sort of a magnifier, especially on really hot summer days. Taking that out will deliver some meaningful local air quality benefits.”
East Bay Community Energy said the battery storage project is expected to start operating commercially in 2022.
PG&E said it has “received multiple, competitive bids” through a request for offers it initiated as part of the Oakland Clean Energy Initiative. The company “hasn’t made any final decisions at this time,” a spokesman said in an email.