Using urban forestry to fight for environmental justice

March 30, 2021 by  
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Using urban forestry to fight for environmental justice Breanna Draxler Tue, 03/30/2021 – 00:05 The term “urban forest” may sound like an oxymoron. When most of us think about forests, we may picture vast expanses of tall trunks and dappled sunlight filtering through the leaves, far from the busyness of the city. But the trees that line city streets and surround apartment complexes across the U.S. hold great value, in part because of their proximity to people. “Per tree, you’re getting way more value for an urban tree than a tree out in the wild,” said Mark McPherson, founder and director of a Seattle nonprofit called City Forest Credits. In an increasingly urbanizing world, cities are, after all, “right where people live and breathe and recreate.” Trees — and urban trees in particular — provide enormous benefits. For starters, they’re responsible for producing oxygen and removing CO2 and other pollutants from the air. Urban forests in the U.S. remove an estimated 75,000 tons of air pollution per year . They reduce the impact of falling rain and encourage that water to soak into the ground, reducing flooding and erosion as well as preventing pollution from entering waterways . And the shade they provide isn’t just good for picnics; trees absorb heat and release water vapor that cools the surrounding air. The U.S. Forest Service estimates that trees reduce the energy consumption needed to cool homes in the U.S. by more than 7 percent. To find out just how much one tree can do, you can even estimate the value of the benefits of a specific tree near you using a calculator developed by a collaboration of tree experts and nonprofits. The trouble is that these benefits are not equitably distributed. “Nationally, there’s a trend for trees to follow wealth,” said Leslie Berckes, director of programs for Trees Forever, a nonprofit environmental group that works with communities across Iowa and Illinois to plant and care for trees. She said wealthier communities tend to have more trees for a variety of reasons, including racist housing practices. “Redlining left a lot of scars on communities, one of those being less green space, less tree cover,” Berckes said. And the results are life-threatening. In the absence of trees, these urban areas tend to be concrete — either buildings or sidewalks or streets. These impervious surfaces absorb heat during the day and then release it at night, preventing the relief of cooling temperatures and creating urban heat islands . “People are getting sick or dying from heat,” Berckes said, “and their utility bills are going up. … Heat is the biggest killer from [a] natural disaster perspective.” Building community by planting trees To better support the health of these communities, Berckes’ organization employs local teenagers to plant and care for trees. Trees Forever pays a starting rate of $10 an hour — higher than the state’s minimum wage of $7.25 — and then bumps it up to $15 an hour for crew leaders. In addition, Trees Forever provides teens with professional development resources such as resume-building, mock interviews, financial literacy courses, stress management tools and shadowing professionals in green jobs. Although COVID-19 has paused some of these activities, the organization sees this multifaceted support as an investment in a local workforce that will then have the knowledge and skills to continue the important work of tree-planting for building healthier communities. Dawud Benedict, 18, has been planting trees with Trees Forever since the fall. He applied after hearing about a friend’s positive experience working with the organization. “It just sounded nice to do something more for Des Moines area,” he said. The work has taught him to appreciate trees and their benefits to the community and the world, he says, as well as to work together as a group. He enjoys being able to drive past work sites and point out trees that he helped plant in his community. “I feel like I’m making a bigger impact,” he said. In recent years, Trees Forever has endeavored to put equity at the center of their work through training and education, although Berckes admits that a lot more work must be done. “Our own staff is all white,” she said. “Iowa is a predominantly white state. When we go to work with some of these small towns, I bet the percentage of white people is 80 to 90-or-more percent.” Much of the group’s outreach historically has focused on door-knocking and connecting with groups such as neighborhood associations, churches and local businesses. But Trees Forever’s traditional methods weren’t reaching Hispanic residents who moved to these communities to work in the meatpacking industry. So to make access to the benefits of urban trees more equitable, the organization is working to overcome language barriers and meet these community members where they are. West Des Moines is home to three Microsoft data centers and two more are slated for construction starting in 2021. In the corporation’s efforts to invest in communities that house its data centers, it funded Trees Forever’s work in 2019. And in 2020, the collaborative piloted a project that promises to put equity first. The project, the Impact Scorecard, is being rolled out in West Des Moines as well as Phoenix. The creator of the scorecard, Mark McPherson, said Microsoft was looking for high-impact projects and his organization, City Forest Credits, developed a way to measure the impacts of trees on equity, human health and the environment. Nationally, there’s a trend for trees to follow wealth. Redlining left a lot of scars on communities, one of those being less green space. “As a society, we have not found a way to put natural capital on the balance sheet as an asset,” he said. “There’s no asset value to the trees; only an expense item.” As such, trees necessarily fall to the bottom of many city’s budgets, or off of them altogether. “Urban trees don’t just store carbon, they reduce stormwater, they improve air, they provide energy savings in terms of heating and cooling. They can, if done right, tremendously advance environmental justice — they provide human health benefits, biodiversity, bird and pollinator habitat, slope stability and the list goes on. They are like utilities,” McPherson said. “They provide incredible services.” Those services are immensely valuable to cities. They reduce the costs of doing all kinds of other work, including stormwater management, air purification and water retention. Sure, some carbon markets put a dollar value on capturing CO2. But the problem, McPherson found, was that carbon markets couldn’t capture any values of urban forests specifically. Carbon credits typically are sold by the ton for huge acreages of forest. In the city, an individual tree won’t store enough carbon to make a blip on these particular charts, but it has incredible value for countless lives. So he teamed up with his older brother, Greg McPherson, a scientist emeritus with the U.S. Forest Service who founded the Center for Urban Forest Research. In the ’90s, he moved to Chicago to figure out how to quantify the value of the services that trees provide to the city and he continues to refine benefit-cost analyses for trees. The Impact Scorecard is the latest outcome of this work. It aims to get corporations and other private funders to underwrite the costs of doing important community-led work through the planting of urban forests. “That’s a critical part of environmental justice,” explains Mark McPherson, who, as a white man, said he works hard to avoid the tropes of white saviorism. “Not just, you beam in from your NGO office and plant trees,” but rather “to actually have these projects led by the local community.” Letting communities lead That’s what drives the work of Lydia Scott, director of the Chicago Region Trees Initiative. This partnership brings together 14 organizations — from the Morton Arboretum to the U.S. Forest Service, the Chicago Parks Department to the Chicago Department of Public Health — to leverage resources and expertise in support of the urban forest in and around Chicago. She said trees can help reduce crime, improve property values and reduce temperatures. To let communities lead, though, members of the initiative had to be willing to listen. Some neighborhoods, for example, didn’t want trees or actively removed them to prevent obstructing street lights because of safety concerns. Police departments, too, sometimes cite a need for open lines of sight on sidewalks and in parks. “This was an eye-opener for us,” Scott said. It all comes down to having the right tree in the right place. That’s why her organization works within communities to show the value of trees and evidence of the ways trees can support a different dynamic. But unlike a forest on public lands or a reservation, urban forests can’t be managed as a whole. Urban areas are a mix of public and private lands, so to plant trees requires the buy-in of a greater number of stakeholders. “We know trees have a dramatic impact on quality of life,” Scott said. They are critical infrastructure in communities and should be protected and budgeted as such, she said, but they are rarely recognized for the value and services they provide. All too often she hears that “trees are a luxury we handle after everything else.” With COVID-19, being outside is more important than ever and people are seeing and appreciating trees in a whole new way. But in some ways the work is made harder, Scott said. City budgets are tight and meeting basic needs such as housing and safety is necessarily taking priority. Measuring impact Here’s where the scorecard comes in. It matches communities who want to invest in their tree cover with private funders, such as corporations who want to make investments that have a measurable impact. That impact is broken down into three categories that emphasize the value of urban trees specifically: equity; human health; and environmental benefits. McPherson said that urban forests are unique because they connect global atmospheric benefits with ecosystem benefits and resilience and mitigation benefits. “Very seldom do you get a climate action that fits all of those,” he said. To look at the benefits of trees at scale, the Chicago Region Trees Initiative developed a map that breaks it down by neighborhood , indicating the percentage of land covered by impervious surfaces, the percentage of tree cover and the financial benefit those trees provide the community. It also includes location-specific information on air quality, heat, flooding and vulnerable populations. Screenshot from the Chicago Region Trees  interactive map page . Take, for example, the La Grange Park area of south Chicago. It has 47 percent tree cover and 30 percent impervious surfaces. The calculator estimates the community gains more than $750,000 a year from these trees. In contrast, Bedford Park, just to the south, has only 7 percent tree cover and 59 percent impervious surfaces. Their benefit from these trees is $300,000. But the calculator also estimates that the community could reasonably boost that tree canopy to as much as 65 percent of the neighborhood’s land area — a ninefold increase — which would also up their benefits. Scott said the priority communities don’t always track exactly on racial or socioeconomic lines. In fact, the two neighborhoods with the fewest trees, according to their assessment, were actually quite well-off financially, so the initiative decided to focus its efforts elsewhere. These communities have the resources available to make change but choose not to. Instead, the initiative is prioritizing projects that put health and equity at the center. An assessment of educational facilities, for example, identified a list of 24 schools and 24 day cares in Chicago within 500 feet of an expressway. The initiative is doing air-quality testing and planting vegetative buffers as a means of improving air quality at each facility. (A 2013 study found that adding a row of trees between a roadway and nearby houses reduced pollution levels in the houses by 50 percent.) By using the Impact Scorecard, funders have third party verification of the health, equity and environmental benefits of the project. “The trees in our neighborhoods tell a story about our society — one of equity,” McPherson said. The story we’re trying to craft, he said, is one in which living in a city is healthy, equitable and connected with nature. Pull Quote Nationally, there’s a trend for trees to follow wealth. Redlining left a lot of scars on communities, one of those being less green space. Topics Social Justice Environmental Justice Tree Planting Yes! Magazine Featured in featured block (1 article with image touted on the front page or elsewhere) Off Duration 0 Sponsored Article Off Urban forests can be an indicator of equality in cities.  Getty Images Jose Luis Pelaez Close Authorship

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Using urban forestry to fight for environmental justice

An Oregon utility’s unique model for supporting clean energy goals 

March 19, 2021 by  
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An Oregon utility’s unique model for supporting clean energy goals  Sarah Golden Fri, 03/19/2021 – 01:00 Want more great analysis of the clean energy transition? Sign up for Energy Weekly , our free email newsletter. Portland General Electric (PGE) in Oregon manages a two-year-old program it hopes will accelerate the speed of renewable deployment in the state. It also may be a model for how other utilities can help customers choose clean energy.  The Green Future Impact (GFI) program provides an avenue for large companies and cities to choose renewable energy. The deals themselves look familiar to corporate energy buyers: power purchase agreements (PPAs) and load aggregation. The difference is how the utility acts as a partner in the deal, working with regulators to streamline the process for the customers.  “If we’re able to bring the utility together with our customers and bring new clean resources online, we can accelerate the impact and the move to a clean energy future in Oregon,” John McFarland, vice president and chief customer officer of PGE, said in a phone interview.  So far the program, approved by the Oregon Public Utilities Commission in 2019, has inked deals for 300 megawatts (MW) of new capacity, with hopes to expand soon. The program acts as a platform, so far supporting two procurement models: aggregate PPAs and corporate PPAs. The Wy’East Solar Project in Oregon. Credit: Avangrid Renewables The utility as a load aggregator  In May 2019, PGE launched the first GFI offering: access to the energy from a new 162-MW solar facility, to be built in Gilliam County, Oregon. Enrolling committed companies and municipalities to purchase energy from the new facility, allowing companies to get closer to clean energy goals while ensuring additionality.  The program filled up within three minutes of going live, with commitments from Adobe, Comcast, Intel, Daimler Trucks North America, Digital Reality, and 13 municipalities and academic institutions.  “What was really exciting about this was the demand,” McFarland said. “It signaled to us that we are onto something here, that our large business customer and our cities really wanted to partner to bring renewable energy online as quickly as possible.” All of the processes, all of the work with the state and the regulators, we had already done. In essence, PGE leveraged a PPA aggregation model, bundling together energy offtakers’ demand to support a new deployment (in this case, the largest solar farm in the state, according to PGE ). This structure allows companies and cities that may not be able to navigate a complex procurement process to benefit from clean energy.  Aggregation models have been growing in popularity with corporate energy buyers. One of the earliest was in 2018, when Apple helped orchestrate a deal with three smaller buyers: Akamai; Swiss Re; and Etsy. In that deal, Apple acted as the anchor offtaker, shouldering much of the legal and regulatory burden. In January 2019 , five corporations — Bloomberg, Cox, Gap, Salesforce and Workday — spearheaded a similar model in a 100 MW procurement deal, in which the companies jointly took on the project to split the closing cost and project risk.  More recently, this week Enel Green Power announced an aggregation deal for 111 MW, with offtakers MilliporeSigma, Akamai, Synopsys, and Uber.  Through the GFI program, PGE is taking on the regulatory and legal lift related to aggregation deals, meaning companies just need to sign up. The speed at which the program filled up indicates there is pent-up demand for streamlined clean energy options. McFarland said PGE is looking at adding 200 MW of capacity to include new customers.  “Our customers want clean, carbon-free energy, and they want it soon. They want it to be easy,” said McFarland. A utility as a PPA partner  Aside from the aggregation model described above, GFI supports a “customer supply option,” where a customer can identify a new renewable energy project and bring it to the utility for support in executing the PPAs.  Intel used this option to bring a 138-MW solar PPA to PGE, with developer Avangrid Renewables. The deal was inked in February , and the solar project will be built in Wasco County, Oregon.  The deal looks similar to other corporate PPAs: Intel signed a 15-year agreement to procure clean energy from the new resource. However, by using the GFI program, Intel was able to sidestep some regulatory and legal work associated with such an agreement.  “All of the processes, all of the work with the state and the regulators, we had already done,” McFarland said. “It was already worked through, it was already set up. We knew the offerings would be consistent with the requirements we have in Oregon.”  By doing the regulatory legwork, GFI could be a model for how other states could remove obstacles for corporate procurements and open up more options to companies.  Pull Quote All of the processes, all of the work with the state and the regulators, we had already done. Topics Renewable Energy Corporate Procurement Featured Column Power Points Featured in featured block (1 article with image touted on the front page or elsewhere) Off Duration 0 Sponsored Article Off Intel’s Oregon campus. Source: PGE

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Episode 260: Disclosure dialogue, your employees want purpose

March 19, 2021 by  
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Episode 260: Disclosure dialogue, your employees want purpose Heather Clancy Fri, 03/19/2021 – 00:15 Week in Review Stories discussed this week (3:50). The SEC’s change of climate on climate change and ESG Car companies are now battery companies Who wants to be a climate-tech billionaire? Features Whither sustainability reporting standards? (23:45) The International Financial Reporting Standards Foundation is moving forward with a plan to set up a board that would establish international standards for sustainability reporting. Janine Guillot, chief executive of the Sustainability Accounting Standards Board, chats about the implications for corporate disclosures. A test of workforce resilience (34:10) Susan Hunt Stevens, chief executive of WeSpire, discusses findings of the advisory firm’s 10th annual survey on employee engagement. The biggest surprise? Respondents suggest there has been a decrease in access to diversity, equity and inclusion programs over the past year. What gives?  *Music in this episode by Lee Rosevere : “Here’s the Thing,” “I’m Going for a Coffee,” “Curiosity,” “And So Then” and “4th Ave Walkup” Stay connected To make sure you don’t miss the newest episode of GreenBiz 350, subscribe on iTunes or Spotify . Have a question or suggestion for a future segment? E-mail us at 350@greenbiz.com . Topics Podcast Finance & Investing Careers Employee Engagement Collective Insight GreenBiz 350 Podcast Featured in featured block (1 article with image touted on the front page or elsewhere) Off Duration 49:28 Sponsored Article Off GreenBiz Close Authorship

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Episode 260: Disclosure dialogue, your employees want purpose

The secret to moving past electric vehicle pilots

February 10, 2021 by  
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The secret to moving past electric vehicle pilots Katie Fehrenbacher Wed, 02/10/2021 – 01:30 The U.S. federal fleet — with its 645,000 vehicles — is going all-electric. At least, that’s the plan from a Biden administration executive order issued last month. The goal highlights how 2021 is the year that companies and government organizations will try to transition from piloting a couple of electric vehicles in their fleets to building much more comprehensive, scaled-up and potentially 100 percent electric vehicle strategies. But as fleet electrification moves past the early pilot phase, major challenges remain. What hurdles should companies and organizations be on the lookout for? RMI analyst Chris Nelder and his team just released a comprehensive (and free) report on fleet electrification and its challenges. Here are five of the biggest red flags you should watch out for: 1. The utility and fleet gap: Utility grid planning tends be a long process. The RMI report found it could take 18 to 24 months for a utility to review and approve an organization’s EV resource grid plan. If the utility is required to provide megawatts of new grid capacity for an organization’s EV plan, then discussions should start three years in advance, says RMI. This long lead time is particularly frustrating for the largest and most aggressive fleets who want to move quickly and electrify large portions of their fleets. At VERGE 20 , fleet managers from Amazon and FedEx Express confirmed that the utility lag time is one of their biggest bottlenecks for fleet electrification.  So what’s the solution? Companies should engage utilities as soon as possible in the planning process. The most progressive utilities also have started to develop fleet outreach strategies to make sure utilities are involved with the earliest stages of EV fleet planning. It’s essential to begin implementing processes for appropriate cost allocation and capital planning on an organization-wide basis immediately. Southern California Edison’s Jill Anderson, senior vice president of customer service, says that SCE “encourages customers to come talk to us when they’re thinking about fleet electrification.”  For example, SCE has been working closely with the city of Porterville, California, to help with a project to electrify 60 buses, both transit and school buses. We’re “working together to figure out the best locations [for charging] and do it in the most cost-effective and fastest way.” 2. New business and budgeting processes: The way fleet managers fund, procure and operate electric fleets and the accompanying charging infrastructure can be very different from how organizations historically have been buying and fueling diesel-powered vehicles. For many organizations, funding for the vehicles and the chargers come out of two budgets, and many organizations never have had a line item for chargers before. RMI says: “It’s essential to begin implementing processes for appropriate cost allocation and capital planning on an organization-wide basis immediately. A cross-functional team of staff from fleets, operations, facilities, finance and purchasing departments with executive leadership support should collaborate to understand the [total cost of ownership] TCO of fleet electrification accurately.” 3. Moving beyond Level 2 charging: The most confusing aspect of fleet electrification is deploying charging infrastructure. Many fleets that have a couple of EVs are using inexpensive Level 2 chargers or even shared public charging stations.  But as more organizations transition larger portions of their fleets to EVs, they’ll likely need some type of fast chargers, depending on the use case of the vehicles and the number of vehicles that need charging. Fast chargers are more expensive than Level 2 chargers but can add significant charging in just 20 to 30 minutes, compared to the eight-plus hours it can take to fully charge an EV with a Level 2 charger. A small number of fast chargers for a fleet also can act as a way to help fleets have more confidence in an EV transition.  4. Lack of data: Many fleets are finding they can’t fully determine the full TCO for their EVs in comparison to their diesel-powered fleets because of a lack of data around charging and EV maintenance costs. Fleets need to deploy telematics and charging software systems early in the process to make sure they’re making decisions that make economic sense. 5. Incremental vs. planned charging deployments: RMI noted that in early pilot phases of electric fleets, it’s common for an organization to buy a couple of EVs and the accompanying Level 2 chargers. However, as fleets move beyond the pilot phase, organizations need to comprehensively plan out large EV charger procurement and deployments. Why can’t fleets opt for piecemeal buying and deploying? Because it ends up being much more expensive. If a fleet manager ends up opting for 100 percent EVs but deploys them in an ad-hoc way, they can end up spending hundreds of thousands of dollars more in both upfront costs and costs over the life of the systems. The RMI report is a good read. I encourage anyone interested to download and read the entire 69-page piece.  Pull Quote It’s essential to begin implementing processes for appropriate cost allocation and capital planning on an organization-wide basis immediately. Topics Transportation & Mobility Clean Fleets Electric Vehicles EV Charging Featured Column Driving Change Featured in featured block (1 article with image touted on the front page or elsewhere) Off Duration 0 Sponsored Article Off

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How Utah cities are pursuing 100% renewable energy

November 20, 2020 by  
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How Utah cities are pursuing 100% renewable energy Emily Elizabet… Fri, 11/20/2020 – 01:00 In the absence of federal action on climate change in the United States, local communities have taken on the responsibility of reducing their greenhouse emissions. To date, more than 150 cities, counties and states across America have passed resolutions to commit to 100 percent net-renewable electricity in the coming years, defined as meeting the city’s total electricity demand with the gross amount of electricity generated and purchased from renewable sources, such as solar, wind and geothermal as well as energy efficiency, demand management and energy storage. Six cities already have achieved this goal: Kodiak Island, Alaska; Aspen, Colorado; Georgetown, Texas; Greensburg, Kansas; Rock Port, Missouri; and Burlington, Vermont. In Utah, 23 cities and counties have resolved to adopt 100 percent net-renewable electricity by 2030, representing about 37 percent of Utah’s electricity load. How did a politically conservative, coal-dependent state such as Utah achieve such a commitment? We recently published a study in the journal Sustainability (access is free) exploring how it began with Salt Lake City, Park City and Moab, the first Utah cities to enact 100 percent net-renewable electricity resolutions in 2016 and 2017. Through interviews with the key players involved and secondary sources, our research uncovered the initial key obstacles facing the cities’ renewable electricity goals and the strategies they have initiated to resolve them. How did a politically conservative, coal-dependent state such as Utah achieve a 100% renewable energy commitment? The biggest hurdle was convincing Rocky Mountain Power, their existing fossil-fuel-dependent utility monopoly, to develop and provide the communities with sufficient clean, renewable electricity resources — not renewable energy credits or supplies from existing sources — and to retire fossil-fuel assets. The other significant challenge was securing buy-in from all city residents and businesses to accept 100 percent net-renewable energy, especially given that the costs for the transition were unknown. Would citizens voluntarily adopt renewable electricity under these circumstances, or would the cities have to mandate participation? Engaging the utility We found that the cities collaborated with each other (along with Summit County, which eventually passed its own resolution), each playing different roles to bring Rocky Mountain Power to the table. Salt Lake City Mayor Jackie Biskupski initiated talks with the utility, and with the help of State Representative Stephen Handy, negotiations resulted in landmark legislation, the Community Renewable Energy Act (CREA) of 2019, which authorized the utility to procure renewable electricity resources and create a renewable electricity bulk-purchase program for participating cities. The Community Renewable Energy Act of 2019 Rocky Mountain Power required that the additional costs associated with procuring the renewable electricity would not increase rates for customers outside the program. Consequently, CREA stipulated that any new costs and benefits associated with renewable electricity procurement would be designated only to the cities receiving it. CREA also set a deadline for other Utah cities to join the bulk purchase program, and this resulted in 23 Utah cities and counties in total coming forward to take the renewable electricity pledge. These additional cities and counties included some of Utah’s most populated, including Salt Lake County, West Valley City, West Jordan, Orem and Ogden, totaling about 37 percent of the state’s electricity load. Finally, CREA specified that all participating cities’ residents and businesses would receive renewable electricity by default, with a provision for customers to have the opportunity to opt out if they so desired. Park City had found that automatic enrollment in its own WaterSmart conservation program resulted in very high participation rates among its citizens with few choosing to opt out. Thus, the automatic enrollment provision was a critical component of CREA. Academic research suggests that people typically accept defaults as a social norm, so the expectation is that few Utahns may opt out of the renewable electricity program. We argue that CREA may be a model for other cities and communities across the nation implementing 100 percent net-renewable electricity resolutions. Nevertheless, the next major challenge will be holding together Utah’s coalition of cities and counties in the coming years as the costs of the bulk renewable electricity program and its benefits to ratepayers become better understood and accepted. Preventing the coalition from unraveling In 2017, Salt Lake City-based Energy Strategies was commissioned by Park City, Salt Lake City and Summit County to evaluate various cost impacts for each community to achieve 100 percent net-renewable electricity. The studies concluded that electricity rates could be 9 percent to 14 percent higher (?$15 to $17 increase in a typical resident’s monthly electricity bill) over the standard rate should the cities transition to 100 percent net-renewable electricity by 2032. This amounted to about $200 more per year. In our study, officials of the small town of Moab in southern Utah expressed concerns about how these added costs could affect its town budget and residents of modest means. More recently, the city of Ogden announced that it is reconsidering its participation in CREA over fears of potential high costs and rate impacts on the city’s most vulnerable residents. Many cities in the coalition seek ways to offset implementation costs through third-party funding and grants as costs become better understood to minimize their impact on lower-income customers. Rocky Mountain Power seeks renewable electricity sources to fulfill the needs of the bulk purchase program and is developing its own cost estimates that must be approved by the state’s Public Service Commission. While it is a fact that the final costs of CREA by 2030 remain unknown, it is also true that the cost of Rocky Mountain Power’s standard fossil-fuel rate in 10 years is also unknown. Consequently, cities participating in CREA are grappling with these risks. Since the initial 2017 Energy Strategies’ cost studies, wind and solar prices have continued to fall, becoming increasingly cost-competitive with and in many circumstances, less expensive than traditional fossil-fuel electricity sources. Indeed, a key economic benefit of renewable electricity is its price stability because the “fuel” for wind and solar is free and not susceptible to the price volatility of the boom and bust cycles associated with fossil fuels. By 2030, renewable electricity may be the most fiscally responsible, price stable and least risky electricity choice. By contrast, fossil-fuel power plants face strong headwinds in the form of reduced subsidies and the prospect of carbon taxes. While the U.S. does not have a national carbon tax, 13 states do and several more are considering one. The forthcoming Biden administration already has signaled that it plans to cut federal subsidies for fossil fuels and will re-engage the U.S. in global efforts to protect the climate. In a world that is increasingly facing up to carbon emissions, fossil fuels are a risky and expensive bet. In short, by 2030, renewable electricity may be the most fiscally responsible, price stable and least risky electricity choice. Recent polling shows that Utahns want a stronger transition to cleaner energy and air. To date, CREA and its coalition of 23 Utah cities and counties representing 37 percent of the state’s electricity load is the state’s best opportunity to reduce the state’s greenhouse gas emissions substantially, given that the state of Utah does not have a mandated renewable energy portfolio standard (it does have a voluntary standard of 25 percent by 2025). The challenge is keeping that impressive coalition of Utah cities and counties from unraveling before CREA’s costs and benefits are clearly understood vis-à-vis the future costs and expected emissions inherent with fossil fuel-generated electricity. The Utah experiences profiled in our research provide insights about the hurdles facing the implementation of 100 percent net-renewable electricity and the strategies cities are using to engage them that may help other communities chart their own paths toward a cleaner future. Pull Quote How did a politically conservative, coal-dependent state such as Utah achieve a 100% renewable energy commitment? By 2030, renewable electricity may be the most fiscally responsible, price stable and least risky electricity choice. Contributors EdwinRStafford Roslynn Brain McCann Topics Renewable Energy Community Resilience Partnerships Featured in featured block (1 article with image touted on the front page or elsewhere) Off Duration 0 Sponsored Article Off Shutterstock

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So far, this year is a microgrid letdown. Here is what’s next

August 14, 2020 by  
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So far, this year is a microgrid letdown. Here is what’s next Sarah Golden Fri, 08/14/2020 – 00:45 I had high hopes for microgrids this year. The cost has fallen, out-of-the-box solutions are more common and businesses and homes understand the expense of losing power. All signs pointed to this being the year of the microgrid.  Yet here we are, at the start of the new fire season, and we’re just launching programs and soliciting proposals designed to add more resilience. What happened? For one thing, regulation moves slowly. The California Public Utilities Commission fast-tracked a rule-making process in September to help accelerate the deployment of microgrids. With that process still underway, the regulator issued a short-term action to deploy microgrids in mid-June . You know, just a few weeks before the start of this fire season.  It’s also tough for major utilities to gear up new technologies — and they’re juggling a lot: clean energy targets; COVID-19 complications; and in some cases, bankruptcy. Pacific Gas and Electric, California’s largest utility and the originator of 2018’s deadly Camp Fire, is simply not on track to ensure clean energy reliability. Instead, the utility is planning to deploy mobile diesel generators . This stop-gap measure is low-tech and dirty — but it should keep sections of communities online in a way that deployments of customer-sited energy assets wouldn’t. To make matters worse, the coronavirus is slowing the deployment of microgrids. Shelter-in-place orders have delayed permitting, construction and interconnection of new projects. The first half of the year was the slowest period for microgrid deployments in four years, according to an analysis by Wood Mackenzie .  Speeding up microgrid deployments  Although 2020 has hit some hiccups (to put it mildly), California is well-positioned to see more microgrids soon.  Utilities are mandated to increase energy reliability while meeting clean energy requirements, and service providers are motivated to secure major utility contracts . The state is also working to address key barriers to accelerate deployment for customer-sited energy projects, according to Wood Mackenzie microgrid analyst Isaac Maze-Rothstein.  Because modular microgrid components are all built primarily in factory, the construction timelines — and total system costs — can be significantly decreased.   Programs such as the California Public Utilities’ Self-Generation Incentive Program encourage more customers to install energy storage at home, and California’s SB 1339 aims to streamline interconnections, which will help bring more microgrids online and keep costs low. Additionally, more out-of-the-box microgrid solutions are coming, simplifying the whole process.  “We are seeing the emergence of modular microgrids over the last year,” Maze-Rothstein said in an email. “Because the components are all built primarily in factory, the construction timelines — and total system costs — can be significantly decreased.” Examples include Scale Microgrid Solutions , Gridscape Solutions , Instant On and BlockEnergy . The value of resilience  A growing body of research is working to quantify the cost of inaction.  We know outages — from extreme weather, natural disasters, physical attacks and cyber attacks — are becoming more frequent. And they’re expensive. Weather-related outages alone cost Americans $18 billion to $33 billion each year between 2003 and 2012, according to the Department of Energy . One of last year’s planned outages in California cost the local economy an estimated $1.8 billion . At the same time, the technologies that would keep the lights on are maturing — and providing a potential new source of revenue. As energy assets become more interconnected and grid operators look for added flexibility, energy asset deployments look increasingly economically attractive. Analysis from Rocky Mountain Institute modeled the economics of solar-plus-storage systems for the approximately 1 million customers affected by last year’s planned power shutoffs in California. It found that those customers would have enjoyed a combined net benefit of $1.4 billion, a calculation that takes into account the value of the energy assets’ contribution to the grid.  In a separate report, RMI showed the falling cost of batteries coupled with better energy management technologies often make the payback period of solar-plus-storage shorter than solar alone.  The calculations show the investments pay back faster for commercial customers, as the economic impacts of shuttering businesses are easier to quantify. This article is adapted from GreenBiz’s newsletter Energy Weekly, running Thursdays. Subscribe here . Pull Quote Because modular microgrid components are all built primarily in factory, the construction timelines — and total system costs — can be significantly decreased. Topics Energy & Climate Renewable Energy Microgrids Featured Column Power Points Featured in featured block (1 article with image touted on the front page or elsewhere) Off Duration 0 Sponsored Article Off Equipment from Gridscape, one of several companies developing modular microgrids. Courtesy of Gridscape Close Authorship

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So far, this year is a microgrid letdown. Here is what’s next

This carbon challenge is bigger than cars, aviation and shipping combined

August 13, 2020 by  
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This carbon challenge is bigger than cars, aviation and shipping combined Adam Aston Thu, 08/13/2020 – 02:15 You may not know it, but you rely on industrial heat every day. It helped make the bricks that hold up your home; the cement underfoot. It forged the steel and glass in your car, and it also cooked the aluminum, plastic and silicon in the very screen on which you may be reading these words.  Industrial heat is essential but largely invisible. To transform basic inputs into stuff we need, manufacturers constantly heat (and cool) minerals, ores and other raw materials to extreme temperatures. And for all the magic of this everyday alchemy, industrial heat poses a growing threat to the climate. The world’s kilns, reactors, chillers and furnaces are powered mostly by fossil fuels.  High-temperature industrial heat, over 932 degrees F, poses a particular challenge because that’s the point at which fuels beyond electricity become the mainstay. Overall, industrial thermal energy accounts for about a tenth of global emissions, according to a December study by Innovation for Cool Earth Forum (ICEF, a Japan-backed multinational expert group). At 10 percent, industrial heat ranks on par with the combined emissions of cars (about 6 percent), planes (about 2 percent) and ships (about 2 percent).  Yet while those transport sectors are advancing towards low-carbon solutions — with promising technologies cultivated by multilateral accords — industrial heat lacks any consensus plan and has a long to-do list to develop low-carbon alternatives.  The options include biodiesel, renewable electricity, renewable natural gas, solar thermal, geothermal, thermal storage and hydrogen. Yet as a best guess, if these were market-ready today, renewable thermal solutions would cost from two times to over 10 times more than fossil fuels, according to an October report from the Center for Global Energy Policy (CGEP) at Columbia University.  Making natural gas renewable  In time, decarbonizing industrial heat is likely to require an all-of-the above mix of solutions. But for now, renewable natural gas (RNG) may offer a fix soonest. Chemically similar to the fossil gas piped to our kitchens, RNG is instead generated from the breakdown of organic matter at landfills (the biggest current source), municipal sewage treatment plants, farm waste and similar sites. RNG also can be blended into regular natural gas pipelines with minimal modification, much the way that input from windmills can flow onto the same grid as power generated by a coal plant.  In time, decarbonizing industrial heat is likely to require an all-of-the above mix of solutions. But for now, renewable natural gas (RNG) may offer a fix soonest. In fact, the wind example can help illustrate how early efforts to decarbonize industrial thermal energy are shaping up. In the 2000s, when wind and solar weren’t yet cost-competitive, market players pioneered ways to sell renewable energy indirectly. The solution was a set of standards and trading rules known as renewable energy credits, or RECs. The credits let a business in, say, Pittsburgh buy wind power generated in California, even before renewables were yet available on Pennsylvania’s grid.  What’s more, RECs allow a wind farm to sell both the power it generated and the renewable attributes of that power. As consumer and corporate demand for renewables grew, the value of the RECs rose, thereby incenting new wind and solar projects. Over time, RECs let companies source the renewable energy they needed, even when it wasn’t available locally, which made it easier for companies and states to slowly boost their targets for renewables.  Certifying renewable thermal solutions  Fast forward to 2020, and a team of collaborators is hoping to adapt learnings pioneered with RECs to nurture a nascent market for zero-carbon fuels, such as RNG, that buyers including L’Oréal USA and the University of California System are already using to generate renewable thermal energy. Today, RNG is held back in part by a Catch-22 financial trap. Costs add up quickly: equipment to collect biogas (the unprocessed methane-rich vapor given off by waste); upgrade the gas to pipeline quality; and connect to existing gas pipelines.  Capital needs for smaller landfill projects run from $5 million to $25 million. Larger projects — such as agriculture and wastewater plants — can hit $100 million, according to Jade Patterson, BloombergNEF’s analyst covering RNG. On average, each RNG project requires $17 million of capital investment, based on data from the RNG Coalition. A cement factory blast furnace in Maddaloni, Italy. At that price, most farms or town dumps can’t afford to develop biogas collection on their own. “An effective certification program could give lenders the confidence to fund new installations,” Patterson said. And if farms see reliable demand for their RNG, more are likely to make the investment: supply grows; prices fall; and the Catch-22 can be broken. “Companies are trying to decarbonize the heat piece of their Scope 1 carbon footprint,” explained Blaine Collison, an Environmental Protection Agency veteran and senior vice president at David Gardiner and Associates, a co-convener – along with the World Wildlife Fund and the Center for Climate and Energy Solutions – of the Washington, D.C.-based Renewable Thermal Collaborative. “Creating renewable thermal attributes and trading instruments is critical to enable companies to act, to show the actions they’re taking and to demonstrate the reductions they’re achieving.”  The effort to extend a REC model to renewable thermal energy is being co-led by the Center for Resource Solutions (CRS), a San Francisco based non-governmental organization that’s been advancing sustainable energy via policy and market-based innovations since 1997. The first step? CRS is building a set of rules that meet the highest environmental standards and ensure that when customers buy green fuel, such as RNG, they can verify its zero-carbon merits, said Rachael Terada , CRS’ director of technical projects, in a recent webinar .  Now in its first draft, CRS’ Green-e certified fuel certificate standard is focusing initially on RNG, already being produced and sold on a small scale across North America. The standard can be extended to other renewable fuels in time. (Watch out for more news in this space at CRS’ Renewable Energy Markets 2020 , convening online for free Sept. 21-24.) Covering the U.S. and Canada, the CRS Green-e certificate program will establish protocols to create a registry such that each dekatherm (equal to 1 million British thermal units) is unique and cannot be double-counted, Terada said.  An effective certification program could give lenders the confidence to fund new installations. There’s already demand from industry to buy more RNG, said Benjamin Gerber, chief executive of Minneapolis-based M-RETS (formerly Midwest Renewable Energy Tracking System), one of CRS’s partners in creating this trading platform.  “Having clear standards for renewable thermal products along with robust trading platforms will help drive greenhouse gas reductions,” Collison said. “We know that there’s a growing corporate need for these solutions.”  Thermal energy, in the long run CRS’ Green-e initiative has the potential to accelerate investment in renewable fuels, and thereby open up ways to decarbonize industrial energy markets.  Before then, companies can take some basic first steps, such as auditing their thermal energy use. “A lot of organizations simply haven’t done the work to understand how they’re heating and cooling their operations,” said Meredith Annex, who heads BloombergNEF’s heating decarbonization research team. The urgency is growing. As industrialization accelerates in China, India and other emerging markets, global demand for industrial heat has grown by 50 percent since 2000, estimates BloombergNEF , and without lower carbon options, will continue to rise.  Without a fix, global climate goals may not be achievable. “Decarbonizing industrial heat production will be essential to meeting the Paris Agreement goals,” notes David Sandalow, a former Obama administration official and lead author of ICEP’s roadmap to decarbonize industrial heat .  Pull Quote In time, decarbonizing industrial heat is likely to require an all-of-the above mix of solutions. But for now, renewable natural gas (RNG) may offer a fix soonest. An effective certification program could give lenders the confidence to fund new installations. Topics Energy & Climate Renewable Energy Manufacturing Featured in featured block (1 article with image touted on the front page or elsewhere) Off Duration 0 Sponsored Article Off

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This carbon challenge is bigger than cars, aviation and shipping combined

What switching to satellite offices could mean for sustainability

August 10, 2020 by  
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What switching to satellite offices could mean for sustainability Jesse Klein Mon, 08/10/2020 – 01:45 When the coronavirus pandemic started in March, many of America’s major cities experienced a mass exodus of people in search of places with more living space for home offices and outdoor areas for easier social distancing. And as many tech companies extend their work from home policies indefinitely , such as Google , which recently announced it will allow employees to work from home until July 2021, this migration could become permanent.  “There is this phenomenon that we know is happening around people leaving the major cities and going to smaller places,” said Lindsay Baker , former first chief sustainability officer at WeWork and founder of space use software app company Comfy . “People sometimes don’t choose to live in cities. They live there because they work there.”   And as employees move away, many companies are starting to reevaluate the necessity of maintaining their large corporate offices or complexes in congested, expensive places with prestigious addresses. In June, a San Franciscan tweeted a photo of three moving trucks on the edge of the city’s financial district near Chinatown and commented that he has seen over 30 in the area. At least anecdotally, both people and companies are leaving town. They are moving out of office buildings because they don’t need them.  But even if remote work becomes the long-term norm for every company post-pandemic, humans still like to work together. There’s still a part of us that wants to physically come together to collaborate and connect. So real estate strategies may turn towards smaller neighborhood satellite offices in multiple suburban locations, instead of one massive complex that serves an entire region or, in some cases, an entire state.  These smaller satellite hubs could allow employees to come together a few times a week and supply high-speed internet and better backgrounds than a kitchen table for important meetings, while also being less crowded for social distancing concerns, giving employees shorter commutes and allowing for a quieter, more accessible outdoor environments than a typical bustling financial district location.  But what will this possible transition to smaller hubs mean for the sustainability of office buildings where building designers and office managers have spent the last decade making every last inch of a multistory building as energy- and waste-efficient as possible? Large complexes have sustainabilities of scale When an influential company builds an HQ, it becomes iconic and synonymous with the company’s brand and image. The most well-known ones become part of the pop culture ethos and get nicknames: The Apple Spaceship, The GooglePlex, The Salesforce Tower, The Amazon Biodomes, The Hearst Tower, The Bank of China Tower, Lloyd’s “Inside-Out Building.” That notoriety incentivizes the company to commit to sustainable designs, technologies and programs for the highly scrutinized building. But the tenants couldn’t heavily invest in those projects without the massive number of people each building serves. And the bigger buildings could have sustainability of scale that smaller offices can’t provide. “I think to an extent you could make a claim that a larger campus or a larger building would be more sustainable [than a smaller office] for the simple fact that you can implement different technologies that have a better ROI,” said Kyle Goehring, executive vice president of clean energy solutions at JLL.  Media Authorship Salesforce Close Authorship These technologies can be as mundane as better, more energy-efficient boilers, lights, heaters, filters and air conditioners or as radical as the Salesforce Tower’s in-building blackwater treatment equipment.  “When you’ve got big buildings, you’ve got more complex, robust mechanical systems,” said Sean McCrady, vice president of Healthy Buildings, recently acquired by UL. And larger, more complex buildings are usually staffed with teams of specialists to run them. They notice when something isn’t running efficiently and work to find solutions. Just having people around in charge of sustainability to notice when the lights on the sixth floor keep getting left on is important. There are other sustainabilities of scale that large campus’ offer that smaller ones can’t. The Google Cafeteria, for example, works on a scale that allows for extremely sustainable operations. It uses ugly fruit , has a food waste reduction program and can serve on and wash real plates instead of using disposable ones. “Even if I bought a Tupperware full of whatever food I had to my office, took it home and washed it in my residential dishwasher, it would have been more consumptive than what Google does,” Baker said. “Because it’s at scale.” According to Baker, tech perks aren’t going away. Even in the time of the pandemic, employees still expect some of the same benefits they enjoyed at their large complexes. But instead of a buffet-style with real plates and a full kitchen in the complex, companies will deliver servings in disposable containers to the smaller hub locations. And with the virus still on everyone’s mind, instead of bulk ordering trail mix, nuts and candy for a bin with scope, single-serving chip bags and cookie packages will feel necessary. Sustainable cafeterias might be replaced with high-waste food delivery services.  Another factor that contributes to more sustainability investment on large corporate campuses is that they are either owned by the company or are in long-term lease agreements, sometimes up to 20 years. Both these situations give the company much more control over building decisions.  “Real estate owners will often say that the stability of long term and big leases help them to be able to make some of these sustainability improvements,” Baker said.  Almost every building expert interviewed for this story mentioned that companies and landlords are more willing to make changes if they have a steady partner to help carry the costs. There’s no point making a bunch of sustainable changes if the company plans to abandon that location in two years. Shifting to a smaller corporate office model with many businesses in each building and each company dealing with many landlords could threaten a company’s ability to influence a sustainable agenda. Smaller satellites could shift incentives  If post-pandemic, companies decided that instead of 100,000 to 1 million square feet organized into a complex, they need 10,000 square feet in 10 separate hub locations, there are a lot more decision-makers at the table, and a lot more split incentives.  “In America, buildings are owned by one entity, managed by a different entity and occupied by another entity,” Baker said. “All of these things getting disrupted means that there’s a little bit of mayhem going on for most buildings.” Essentially, there are more renters, more landlords, more operators and less control for any individual party, making getting anything done more difficult.   Each entity has different incentives that affect the feasibility of sustainable improvements. For example, where a tenant might see a huge advantage in installing solar panels to decrease the utility bill, the owner of the building who passes the electricity bill onto the renter doesn’t have any reason to pay for the solar infrastructure.  “Oftentimes, it’s the owner who’s really in a position of power,” Baker said. “When you have more tenants and shorter terms, split incentives become a much bigger problem, and it’s harder to get an owner to spend the money.” Goehring agreed. “A larger site campus may be able to put in more technologies because you have greater control over that property,” he said. “Whereas if you’re in much smaller sites and you have multiple tenants, you may not be able to implement an on-site renewable or energy-efficient solution because you’re sharing the asset with multiple parties. You may not be able to get agreement.” Essentially, there are more renters, more landlords, more operators and less control for any individual party, making getting anything done more difficult. Adobe already has encountered this problem with its satellite offices across the globe.  “If we have a small office somewhere that we rent, we have no local control,” said Vince Digneo, sustainability strategist for Adobe. “We’re working on strategies for being able to work with landlords.” On the other hand, the fact that the satellite offices are not as tightly controlled also could help green initiatives get off the ground. According to Baker, there’s less bureaucracy, and it could be easier to get decisions made. Moreover, in a smaller office, the people in charge might be more willing to take a chance on a change at a smaller scale. Even overhauling something simple could be a massive undertaking at a huge headquarters.  “Sometimes the best sustainability performance actually happens in the satellite offices of these big companies,” Baker said. “They were able to break down more silos faster. That stuff is sort of the bread and butter of sustainability work.” Sustainability could thrive in a market of flexibility, pressure and competition As corporations need less space, they have more potential locations available to hold them. According to the commercial building experts, fewer constraints, along with the pandemic exodus has created a renter’s market, forcing landlords to be more flexible to compete. To attract companies with sustainability commitments, smaller landlords that didn’t have to think about solar or efficient heating before will hopefully start making changes.  “You can influence the people who own the assets to implement solutions because if they don’t, you are going to go lease a different property or you’re going to relocate elsewhere,” Goehring said.  Baker hopes that the changing market will develop a sense of competition between landlords to be the most sustainable and be in line with the sustainable values and goals of larger companies. That means there’s an opportunity for the massive companies that need space in many places to turn up the heat on more buildings, more regulators and more landlords in more places. With satellite offices, companies could influence sustainable policies and access to renewable energy in many areas, instead of just focusing on the one that is home to the large base.  With Adobe’s many satellite locations, it is able to put pressure on regulators in states outside of its headquarters in California. According to Digneo, Adobe was able to work with local utilities such as Portland General Electric to get renewable energy to its sites in Hillsboro, Oregon, and later in Utah.  We are still far from the end of this pandemic, and we don’t know what the long-term ramifications for our office lives will be. But the private sector is usually quick to adapt and take advantage of a changing market, and the hope is those adaptations will include more sustainable offices, whatever the size.  Pull Quote Essentially, there are more renters, more landlords, more operators and less control for any individual party, making getting anything done more difficult. Topics Buildings Built Environment Featured in featured block (1 article with image touted on the front page or elsewhere) On Duration 0 Sponsored Article Off A rendering of Apple’s spaceship-like headquarters in Cupertino.

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New local campaigns can bring cheaper and cleaner rooftop solar to communities of color

August 6, 2020 by  
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New local campaigns can bring cheaper and cleaner rooftop solar to communities of color Lacey Shaver Thu, 08/06/2020 – 00:20 There is a new urgency across the United States to address structural and systemic racial inequities in criminal justice , wealth and housing , employment , health care and education . These disparities are also pervasive in energy. One common measure of this is “energy burden,” or the share of take-home income spent on energy bills. Communities of color have been shown to have a 24–27 percent higher energy burden than White Americans when controlling across income levels, and low-income residents experience an energy burden up to three times higher than high-income residents. Rooftop solar has the potential to reduce energy burden in communities of color, but it has not yet lived up to its potential due to systemic barriers: lack of solar education and outreach; financial challenges such as lower income and access to credit; and issues related to home ownership, such as lower ownership rates or roof condition. Rooftop solar has the potential to reduce energy burden in communities of color, but it has not yet lived up to its potential due to systemic barriers. Local governments can play a pivotal role in expanding access to solar for these communities by developing programs that address these systemic barriers and helping to bring the benefits of clean energy to the communities that need them the most. One useful program that local governments can consider is a “Solarize,” or community bulk-purchasing, campaign, which has been shown to reduce solar costs and address marketing and outreach barriers to solar. Cities can take these programs to a new level by partnering with community groups to focus outreach in communities of color and collaborating with financial institutions to develop solutions for low-and moderate-income (LMI) residents. Solar can help relieve energy burden, but has not yet reached communities of color With a simple payback of less than the 25-year life of solar photovoltaics in all 50 states and less than half that time in most states, rooftop solar has reduced energy costs for residents throughout the country. However, these cost savings have mostly benefited White residents. A 2019 report indicated that in census tracks with the same median household income, Black- and Hispanic-majority neighborhoods have 69 percent and 30 percent less rooftop solar installed, respectively, than neighborhoods without a racial majority (versus 21 percent more solar in majority White communities). This is not just because of differences in homeownership. When controlling for ownership, majority Black and Hispanic communities still had 61 percent less and 45 percent less solar installed, respectively, than neighborhoods with no racial majority (versus 37 percent more in majority White neighborhoods). As a result, nearly half of Black majority communities in the United States do not have a single solar system installed. One thing is fairly certain: It is not because communities of color don’t care about reducing their environmental footprint. Recent polls have indicated that Black and Hispanic Americans are more likely, at 57 percent and 69 percent, respectively, to be concerned or alarmed about climate change than White Americans, at 49 percent. This shouldn’t come as a surprise. These frontline communities are disproportionately exposed to higher rates of pollution and climate change impacts from a long history of systemic inequities. Marketing and education through ‘Solarize’ campaigns Solar marketing and education provide essential exposure to the many benefits of solar and are necessary for increased and persistent solar adoption in any community. Unfortunately, this outreach and local solar education have not reached all communities equally. Marketing may not be reaching communities of color as effectively due to the solar industry’s focus on profitable and affluent areas, as well as its lack of diversity at the decision-making level. With nearly 70 percent of small-scale solar concentrated in just five of the most profitable states, most of which offer solar incentives and are highly affluent , large swaths of the country and communities of color have been left out of the solar industry’s marketing. Marketing may not be reaching communities of color as effectively due to the solar industry’s focus on profitable and affluent areas, as well as its lack of diversity at the decision-making level. Furthermore, the lack of persons of color represented in solar companies — almost 90 percent of solar senior executives are White and only 2 percent Black and 6 percent Hispanic —  likely affects which communities are predominantly targeted through marketing campaigns and the effectiveness of those campaigns. The significant lack of solar in communities of color also has resulted in a lack of general knowledge of how to access and benefit from solar. These communities have not fully benefited from the ” solar contagion effect ,” in which residents who see solar being installed in their neighborhood are more likely to install their own solar systems. This is no surprise considering residents are significantly more trusting of their neighbor’s opinions of solar than information communicated by the solar industry. In fact, SolarCity released a report indicating one-third of solar customers were referred by a neighbor and another study suggests that the presence of two to three solar installations in a neighborhood results in one additional installation. Notably, this contagion effect has been shown to be highest in communities of color but has not yet realized its full potential. Community purchasing campaigns can help fill this void if they focus outreach to specific underserved communities. Long the target of scams and predatory lending , communities of color may be more skeptical of solar product offerings that sound too good to be true. Community purchasing campaigns can help fill this void if they focus outreach to specific underserved communities. However, partnering with a trusted local community organization that understands the community dynamics can build trust and enable solar education to come through community leaders, newsletters and events. These sources have shown to be most effective for increasing solar uptake in low-income and communities of color . For communities with minimal solar exposure (again, nearly 50 percent of Black communities have zero solar), these campaigns provide the essential education to drive community-wide solar adoption. Bringing down solar costs and — in some cases — reducing credit barriers The top barrier to installing residential solar is typically financial, regardless of income or race. Solarize campaigns have shown to help lessen these financial barriers by reducing solar costs by about 20 percent . These cost savings result from removing solar company costs for customer marketing and using economies of scale. The cost and time savings with this simplified process can be even more prevalent in jurisdictions that streamline solar permitting given the high volume of installations that come with Solarize campaigns. While this discount has been shown to be a leading factor to participate in Solarize campaigns at every income level, these savings alone do not solve the compounding issues of overall cost and creditworthiness facing communities of color. First, Black and Hispanic families have significantly lower median household incomes, 41 percent and 27 percent lower than White families, and therefore additional incentives beyond Solarize may be necessary to enable participation. Second, they are more likely to have lower credit scores that can result in challenges in obtaining a loan to pay the upfront cost ($16,500 for the typical 5 kW system) or meeting the credit requirements for a solar power purchase agreement or lease . This situation can lead to higher interest rates and make solar less economic or uneconomic for these community members. To make Solarize campaigns work for LMI residents, cities can develop partnerships with local green lending institutions (a Green Bank, community development financial institution or local credit union) to address cost and credit barriers. Connecticut’s version of Solarize, the Solar for All Campaign , offers a great example of using a financial partnership to expand the reach of a typical Solarize campaign to LMI residents. To make Solarize campaigns work for LMI residents, cities can develop partnerships with local green lending institutions to address cost and credit barriers. After realizing that business as usual wasn’t spurring solar uptake in low-income communities, the Connecticut Green Bank created new incentives specifically for LMI residents, paired solar with energy efficiency upgrades, instituted “no money down, no credit required” Solarize offerings and recruited contractors with experience reaching underserved markets. In three years, this multifaceted approach increased solar penetration in Connecticut’s low-income communities by 188 percent, and helped over 900 low-income households go solar. Pairing Solarize with community solar to bring solar to renters Lack of home ownership is a major barrier to solar in communities of color due to a long history of discriminatory housing policies. Black and Hispanic households are less likely to own their homes, at 43 percent and 46 percent, respectively, versus 72 percent of White households . With a higher percentage of renters, it is much more difficult for communities of color to access residential solar due to a split incentive between the landlord, who typically decides whether to pursue capital improvements, and the renter, who pay the utility bills. Further, for people of color that do own their home, many live in older homes that need significant roof or structural repairs to support a solar system. One successful way that cities are expanding solar access to renters is through community solar projects, which enable participants to subscribe to a local clean energy project and receive the associated credits on their electricity bill. Combining marketing and outreach on parallel Solarize campaigns and community solar projects can leverage limited local government resources and more effectively reach both renters and homeowners. This has been an effective strategy for NY-Sun’s community solar Solarize option and Denver’s parallel Solarize and community solar campaigns . Take action today to implement a Solarize campaign The American Cities Climate Challenge Renewables Accelerator , co-led by Rocky Mountain Institute and World Resources Institute, is launching a residential solar cohort this summer to help local governments implement Solarize campaigns and accelerate residential solar adoption in their community, with a particular focus on historically marginalized communities. If your local government is interested in learning how a community purchasing campaign can help expand solar access in your community, please reach out to Ryan Shea at rshea@rmi.org to learn more. Pull Quote Rooftop solar has the potential to reduce energy burden in communities of color, but it has not yet lived up to its potential due to systemic barriers. Marketing may not be reaching communities of color as effectively due to the solar industry’s focus on profitable and affluent areas, as well as its lack of diversity at the decision-making level. Community purchasing campaigns can help fill this void if they focus outreach to specific underserved communities. To make Solarize campaigns work for LMI residents, cities can develop partnerships with local green lending institutions to address cost and credit barriers. Contributors Ryan Shea Topics Energy & Climate Cities Finance & Investing Social Justice Solar Community Energy Equity & Inclusion Collective Insight Rocky Mountain Institute RMI Featured in featured block (1 article with image touted on the front page or elsewhere) Off Duration 0 Sponsored Article Off NREL researchers work on a photovoltaic dual-use research project at the UMass Crop Animal Research and Education Center in South Deerfield, MA. Photo by Science in HD on Unsplash. Close Authorship

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Electric truck fleets will need a lot of power, but utilities aren’t planning for it

August 4, 2020 by  
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Electric truck fleets will need a lot of power, but utilities aren’t planning for it Stephen Nadel Tue, 08/04/2020 – 01:11 As more electric buses and trucks enter the market, future fleets will require a lot of electricity for charging. While some utilities in California and elsewhere are planning for an increase in power demand, many have yet to do so and need to get started. This issue is critical, because freight trucks emit more than one-quarter of all vehicle emissions. Recent product developments offer growing opportunities to electrify trucks and buses and slash their emissions (see our recent white paper ). And just last week, a group of 15 states plus D.C. announced plans to fully electrify truck sales by 2050. Utilities will need to be ready to power electric fleets. Electric truck fleets need substantial power Power for trucks and buses is generally more of an issue than for cars because trucks typically have larger batteries and because trucks and buses are often parts of fleets with many vehicles that charge at the same location. For example, a Tesla Model 3 battery stores 54-75 kWh; a Proterra transit bus battery stores 220-660 kWh. In Amsterdam, a 100-bus transit fleet is powered by a set of slow and fast chargers that together have a peak load of 13 MW (megawatts). This is equivalent to the power used by a typical large factory. And they are thinking of expanding the fleet to 250 buses. California utilities are finding that grid capacity is often adequate in the short term, but that upgrade needs likely will grow in the medium term. Many other fleets also will need a lot of “juice.” For example, a rough estimate of the power needed to serve a fleet of 200 delivery vans at an Amazon fulfillment center is about 4 MW. And for electric 18-wheelers, chargers may need up to 2 MW of power each; a recent proposal calls for charging stations every 100 miles along the U.S. West Coast’s I-5 corridor, each with a peak load of 23.5 MW. Utilities need distribution planning These examples show the need for more power at a given site than most utilities can provide without planning and investment. Meeting these needs often will require changes to primary and secondary power distribution systems (feeders that deliver power to distribution transformers and to end customers) and substation upgrades. For large loads, a new substation may be needed. A paper recently released by the California Electric Transportation Coalition estimates that for loads over 5 MW, distribution system and substation upgrades will be needed most of the time. According to the paper, typical utility costs are $1 million to $9 million for substation upgrades, $150,000 to $6 million for primary distribution upgrades, and $5,000 to $100,000 for secondary distribution upgrades. Similarly, Black and Veatch, in a paper on Electric Fleets, also provides some general guidance, shown in the table below, while recognizing that each site is unique. Now is the time to begin understanding where such upgrades will be needed and start planning for them. California policy pushes utilities toward planning In California, state agencies and a statewide effort called CALSTART have been funding demonstration projects and vehicle and charger purchases for several years. The California Air Resources Board voted in June to phase in zero-emission requirements for truck sales, mandating that, beginning in 2024, manufacturers must increase their zero-emission truck sales to 30-50 percent by 2030 and 40-75 percent by 2035. By 2035, more than 300,000 trucks will be zero-emission vehicles. California utilities operate programs that work with fleet owners to install the necessary infrastructure for electric vehicle fleets. California utilities operate programs that work with fleet owners to install the necessary infrastructure for electric vehicle fleets. For example, Southern California Edison operates the Charge Ready Transport program for medium- and heavy-duty fleets. Normally, when customers request new or upgraded service from the utility, there are fees associated with the new upgrade. With Charge Ready, the utility generally pays these costs, and it will sometimes pay half the cost of chargers; the customer is responsible for the other half and for charger installation costs. Sites with at least two electric vehicles are eligible, but program managers report that at least five vehicles are often needed for the economics to make sense for the utility. One way to do this is to develop and implement a phased plan, with some components sized for future planned growth and other components added as needed. Southern California Edison, for example, has 24 commitments so far, and has a five-year goal of 870 sites, with an average of 10 chargers per site. The utility notes that one charger usually can serve several vehicles and that cycling of charging, some storage, and other load management techniques can reduce capacity needs (a nominal 10 MW load often can be reduced below 5 MW). Through this program, utility representatives are regularly talking with fleet operators, and they can use these discussions to help identify needed upgrades to the utility grid. For example, California transit agencies are doing the planning to meet a California Air Resources Board mandate for 100 percent electric or fuel cell buses by 2040; utilities are talking with the agencies and their consultants as part of this process. California utilities are finding that grid capacity is often adequate in the short term, but that upgrade needs likely will grow in the medium term (seven to 10 years out). They can manage grid needs with good planning (school buses generally can be charged overnight and don’t need fast chargers), load management techniques and some battery storage to address peak needs. Customer conversations drive planning elsewhere We also spoke with a northeastern utility (wishing to be unnamed) that has been talking with customers about many issues, including fleets. It has used these discussions to identify a few areas where grid upgrades might be needed if fleets electrify. It is factoring these findings into a broader grid-planning effort underway that is driven by multiple needs, including fleets. Even within an integrated planning effort, this utility is struggling with the question of when to take action to prepare the electric system for fleet electrification: Should it act on state or federal policy? Should it act when the specific customer request is submitted, or is there something in between? Recognizing that any option has scheduling and cost allocation implications, it notes that there are no easy answers. Many utilities need to start paying attention As part of our research, we also talked with several other utilities and found that they have not yet looked at how fleets might relate to grid planning. However, several of these companies are developing plans to look into these issues in the next year. We also talked with a major truck manufacturer, also wishing to remain unnamed, that views grid limitations as a key obstacle to truck electrification.  Based on these cases, it appears that fleet electrification can have a substantial impact on electric grids and that, while these impacts are small at present, they likely will grow over time. Fleet owners, electric utilities, and utility regulators need to start planning for these impacts now, so that grid improvements can be made steadily as electric fleets grow. Fleet and grid planning should happen in parallel, so that grid upgrades do not happen sooner or later than needed but are in place when needed. These grid impacts can be managed and planned for, but the time to begin this planning is now. Pull Quote California utilities are finding that grid capacity is often adequate in the short term, but that upgrade needs likely will grow in the medium term. California utilities operate programs that work with fleet owners to install the necessary infrastructure for electric vehicle fleets. Topics Transportation & Mobility Clean Energy ACEEE Featured in featured block (1 article with image touted on the front page or elsewhere) Off Duration 0 Sponsored Article Off Concept of a Tesla Semi truck. Shutterstock Mike Mareen Close Authorship

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Electric truck fleets will need a lot of power, but utilities aren’t planning for it

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