Climate One: Competition for Power


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Photo: Ed Ritgear / www.climateone.org

Photo: Ed Ritgear / www.climateone.org


President, Board of Supervisors, San Francisco

Staff Attorney, The Utility Reform Network

Assistant General Manager, San Francisco Public Utility Commission’s Power Enterprise

Business Representative, Brotherhood of Electrical Workers

CEO, Sonoma Clean Power

California State Assemblymember (D-19)

CEO, Marin Clean Energy


A growing number of Californians are opting for clean electricity to run their TVs and toasters.  But how much do we know about where our power really comes from?  Two California counties are leading the way in offering consumers a choice of the various shades of green power available from wind, solar and other renewable resources.

Marin Clean Energy, which launched in 2010, has a growing portfolio of power options, contracted from several dozen suppliers.  “We’ve been able to reduce greenhouse gas emissions dramatically,” reports CEO Dawn Weisz.  In their most recent year of counting, “our greenhouse gas emissions are 17% lower than the incumbent utility, and it’s having a very big impact.  It’s also resulting in a lot of new renewables being built around the state of California.”

Sonoma Clean Power soon followed in Marin’s footsteps. “It’s a whole lot easier” to be second, says CEO Geof Syphers.

“But it’s really not how much renewables we add; it’s how much fossil we turn off. That’s the goal,” Cyphers continues. “So when we realized that, it broadened how we were thinking about things a lot.  And so we have a default service that’s 36% renewable but it’s 80% carbon free.”

PG&E, the major power supplier throughout the area, declined an invitation to join the panel at The Commonwealth Club.

Matthew Freedman, an attorney with the consumer advocacy group The Utility Reform Network, is pleased that consumers have the choice to switch off their dependence on fossil-burning power companies.  But in addition to a possible savings on their bills, “I think what customers really want to know is, does their choice end up being meaningful.  Are there actually less carbon emissions…because you made this choice?”

Freedman says it’s possible the claims made by the community choice aggregators are inflated. “Does the grid look different because they’re there or is this just an exercise in folks taking credit for stuff that’s already happening?” he asks. “That’s the open question.”

Nevertheless, both Weisz and Syphers stand by their statistics.

Freedman calls SB-350, signed into law by Governor Brown on October 7th, “the most aggressive renewable energy requirement in the country,” requiring all state utilities and sellers of electricity to get to 50% renewable energy by 2030. “It’s a huge win for climate, it’s a huge win for clean energy,” he enthuses. “And it provides a massive new set of market opportunities for new technologies, new solar, wind, geothermal biomass technologies.  It will promote innovation and it will keep prices reasonable over the long run for customers; it’s huge.”

The second half of the program addressed freedom of choice for the Bay Area.  London Breed, president of the Board of Supervisors, says clean power choice for San Francisco has been a long time coming. “It’s definitely been an uphill battle,” she admits.  “We started the fight in San Francisco, but Marin and Sonoma have already beat us to the punch….we are determined to make sure that Clean Power SF is implemented early next year in San Francisco.”

Barbara Hale of the Public Utility Commission is just as optimistic. “We’ll be able to bring renewable power to San Francisco, real renewable power to San Francisco, at a price that meets or beats PG&E,” she vows. Not only that – she believes that San Francisco will be able to beat the target for renewables set by SB-350.  “Given the bids that we recently received, we’re confident we’ll be able to provide a 100% renewable option for San Franciscans,” she predicts.  “And what are we going to do with the proceeds of the sales of electricity?  We’re going to reinvest it in our community.”

Although the program is not officially up and running, Breed and Hale urge consumers to go to the Clean Power SFwebsite and sign up early.

Currently there are two, seemingly competing, measures on November’s ballot, which has led to some voter confusion.  Proposition G, introduced by the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers (which contracts with PG&E) would potentially have limited the city’s Clean Power program, according to Breed.  She introduced an alternative, Proposition H, which has subsequently been embraced by the IBEW as well.

“We realized that we want to work together,” says Breed about this rare example of political agreement. “We want clean power, we want local jobs.  This is really about the environment…ultimately we came to a consensus.”

Hunter Stern of the IBEW concurs. “We took the best pieces of both G and H and we got a much better measure,” he says. “And we’re supporting H.”

State Assemblyman Phil Ting (D-19) says these and other clean power efforts are part of a larger, statewide push towards the goal of “100% renewable energy… built in California, managed in California.  We think it’s the best way to create jobs long term.  We think it’s the best way to help our environment.  We think it’s the best way to reduce greenhouse gases.”

The fruits of all of these labors may be many years off. But that’s not the point, says Breed. She likens the clean power movement to the aftermath of the 1906 earthquake. Then, San Franciscans rallied to build the O’Shaunessy Dam and the Hetch Hetchy reservoir, now a source of water for the city.

“People who made the decision to do this…knew that they wouldn’t be around in order to enjoy it,” she reminded the audience. “And so I think of clean energy and protecting the environment and the kinds of things that we need to think about doing long term, the same way.

“Because this is what’s going to happen when we put together the right plan to do the right thing in order to protect the environment.  We may not be here to experience the results of that, but there’ll be a lot of other people happy that we made the right decision to do this for the city.”



Marin Clean Energy

Sonoma Clean Power

The Utility Reform Network

Clean Power SF

Ballotpedia: Proposition G

Ballotpedia: Proposition H

SFGate: California wants 100% renewable energy by 2030

Climate One: Arctic Melting and Rising

Photo: http://climateone.org

Photo: http://climateone.org

Click here for link to the podcast.



Director, Climate and Ecosystem Science Division, Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory

Executive Director, Pacific Environment


Consul General of the Russian Federation in San Francisco


Consul General for Norway in San Francisco




Most Americans will never travel to the Arctic and few give much thought to the land of Santa and polar bears. But the Arctic matters much more to American life and economy than people realize. Arctic sea ice influences the jet stream which drives much of our weather. If you like skiing or whitewater rafting, the faraway Arctic impacts your fun. Disappearing sea ice is spurring a rush to tap oil and natural gas deposits in the Arctic. Will the rush for resources bring international conflict or cooperation to the new north?

Join a conversation about politics and economics at the top of our hot and crowded world.

Climate One: EPA Chief, Gina McCarthy

This program is from May 13, 2015.


20150513 Gina McCarthy

When U.S. Environmental Protection Agency administrator Gina McCarthy sat down with Greg Dalton at The Commonwealth Club, the first point she wanted to stress is that the challenge of climate change presents an enormous economic opportunity.

“We have solutions today that are being invested in today that really will lead to a low carbon future and make the planet a much more stable place, and give us a nice future to hand to our kids,” she began. “Every time we have moved ahead and reduced pollution, the result has been better health, a really healthier environment and economic growth. We have never had to choose between the two.”

The EPA’s job, she contends, is to get people moving into the new clean economy, and to signal to investors where the opportunities are. “We know that we can make leaps and bounds by the technology innovations that we’ve already been able to put on the table and to make money on. There is absolutely no reason why we shouldn’t take action now to take advantage of that and fully expect that the U.S. will do everything the U.S. always does, which is we innovate, we grow new companies, we find the new solution.”

And that American ingenuity, she believes, will pave the way for climate solutions around the world. One simple tool – a particulate meter installed on the U.S. Embassy in Beijing – was surprisingly effective in illustrating to the Chinese just how bad their air had become.

“All of a sudden, that data became available to the entire city,” she remembers. “And people started getting very anxious about the fact that we were showing levels of PM [particulate matter], and they were markedly different than the monitors that the Chinese government was reporting on.

That information being made public to China’s citizenry was instrumental in kickstarting a conversation with its leaders on air pollution. McCarthy is hopeful that the EPA’s guidance, in tandem with a joint U.S.-China overall carbon strategy, will lead to cleaner skies for that nation.

“We spent a long time talking to them about, ‘You now know you have an air pollution problem, you’ve got to fix it. Would you mind thinking about that in concert with a carbon strategy?’ Because they go hand-in-hand.”

Along with the health benefits, McCarthy believes China will see economic growth from revising its policies. “And I think they’re realizing that the way in which the U.S. has been able to grow our economy as strong as it is, and have a healthy environment at the same time, is the only stability that they really can rely on. “

China’s movement puts the spurs to other countries, such as India, to do the same. McCarthy says her dance card has been filled with international suitors who want help in crafting a Clean Energy Policy for their countries. And that bodes well for the upcoming international climate summit in Paris, she predicts.

“The U.S. wants to go into Paris having already worked with other countries to try to get them on board and get really strong commitments, so we finally have an international solution to what we know is a planetary problem.”

The fact that Pope Francis has recently taken a public stance on this issue can’t hurt. The pontiff is set to release his first major encyclical this summer, which will address climate change, and is scheduled to speak before Congress in September. McCarthy, who is Catholic, visited the Vatican and met with officials there.  “They were very clear that it is a very strongly held belief that he has, that this is the absolute right thing to do and that this is a moral issue. It is about poverty. It is about taking care of the least of these.”

McCarthy believes the Pope’s worldwide influence cannot be underestimated – and not just among Catholics. “There are many people that see this as being an essential moral issue that the faith community needs to engage in… and I think that that gives us new voices at the table to talk to people who maybe have not understood or embraced the issue of climate change, from leaders that they will listen to.

“It’s enormously important that this be a very multifaceted discussion among all cultural sectors, all religions.”

Back on the domestic front, the topics of discussion ranged from fisheries to food safety, from Boston snowfall to California drought, from ocean acidity to the drinking water in Toledo. All roads lead back to global warming, says McCarthy, and the EPA has a role to play at nearly every turn.

There were a number of students in attendance, a fact that McCarthy found encouraging. Her visits to the Facebook and Google campuses, as well as to schools in Taiwan, have her putting her faith in the 21st century brain trust.

“I can’t tell you the number of schools I’ve gone where kids know a whole lot more than most of the people that I talk to in – I shouldn’t say in Washington – anywhere!,” she marvels. “They’re incredibly active, they’re bright, they’re willing to face challenges…They really are the future. If we set a course that is right for them, then they will run.”

To that end, she is proud of the EPA’s emphasis on “citizen science,” partnering with tools such as the Google Earth Engine. “We’re developing technologies that are allowing people to understand what their local stream quality is, what their local air quality is and getting it out. Because when people have information, it is power.” The catch phrase is as true now as it was in the ‘60s, she adds.

One sixteen-year old audience member asked the EPA chief what single, short message should be sent out about the California drought. McCarthy’s answer could apply to any number of environmental challenges:

“The single message is that it is directly related to a changing climate, and that everybody needs to be part of the solution,” she replied.


Related Links:

EPA Adminstrator Gina McCarthy Announces Clean Power Plan Proposal

The Clean Power Plan: A Climate Game Changer

NYTimes: Pope Francis Steps Up Campaign on Climate Change

EPA: The Clean Air Act

Google Earth Engine

Cilmate One: Dealing with China with Hank Paulson

This program is from April 28, 2015.


Hank Paulson, Former United States Secretary of the Treasury

Hank Paulson, Former United States Secretary of the Treasury

Hank Paulson believes that climate change is the biggest risk we face, and not just because of the environment.  “It’s the biggest economic risk we face,” says the former treasury secretary and co-chair of the Risky Business Project.

But unlike the financial crisis of 2008, he warns, the government won’t be able to bail us out of global warming at the last minute.  “We tend to deal with issues nationally when there’s an immediate crisis, rather than a longer-term issue,” Paulson points out. “And the terrible thing about climate change risk is that carbon emissions, essentially for all practical purposes stay up there forever, so it’s accumulative. The longer you wait here, the more costly and the more difficult it’s going to be to avoid the worst outcomes.”

Read the rest of this entry »

Climate One: Preparing for Weather Whiplash

This program is dated March 3, 2015.


If anybody has seen the big picture when it comes to climate, it’s Kathryn Sullivan.  As a former NASA astronaut and the first woman to walk in space, she’s gotten more than a bird’s eye view.

“When you get even a couple hundred miles away and look back the planet you get a really different sense of proportion,” she marvels. The atmosphere we depend to survive on looks “like the fuzz on the tennis ball. It’s remarkably thin…a little fluid membrane that envelops this ball of dirt and makes it habitable.  It’s very elegantly and finely structured.”

It’s an elegance that the public first glimpsed in the famous “Earthrise” photos, taken in 1968 by Apollo 8 astronaut William Anders.  This new perspective on our home planet helped shape our understanding of the effects we humans were having on it, and spurred the environmental movement.


Deputy Director, California Governor’s Office of Planning and Research

Director of Strategic Communications, Climate Nexus

Administrator, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration

“We are the first generation of human beings ever in the history of humankind that has the ability to comprehend and measure our planet with satellites and other instrumentation,” says Sullivan, who now heads up the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA).  “We can essentially take a snapshot of global conditions, oceanic conditions, atmospheric conditions.  And this has what’s made it possible for us to have the kind of forecasting we have in weather forecasting and longer range outlooks. “

The outlook for California is sobering, according to Louise Bedsworth of the state’s Office of Planning and Research.  California has seen its share of recent extreme weather events, including the 2013 Rim Fire, which burned over 250,000 acres and impacted tourism and other businesses throughout the region.  And there’s more to come this year as the summer heats up.

“I think probably one of our biggest impacts of concern is going to be the effect on the state’s water supply,” Bedsworth warns.  While the amount of precipitation is hard to predict, “we’ll have more of that precipitation as rain than as snow, so that is going to really impact the state’s water supply.

We also know that we’ll see more extreme events, more large destructive wildfires, severe droughts and heat waves.”

And it’s not just California that’s feeling the heat.  According to NOAA’s latest National Climate Assessment, the frequency of extreme weather events, from hurricanes and floods to wildfires and drought, is on the rise across the country.  We know that climate change is causing this weather whiplash, but how?  Kathryn Sullivan describes it as “kitchen table science.”

“The energy that drives weather in our planet is the heat coming in from the sun, the moisture content of the atmosphere, and obviously the rotation of the earth all of the swirling that that introduces,” she explains.  “So we’re dialing up the extra heat in the atmosphere…when you heat up the water, the relative humidity in a hot atmosphere can be much higher than in the cooler and drier atmosphere.

“It’s really stovetop science working on the planetary scale.”

This global chemistry experiment has given birth to some familiar names in the news:  Superstorm Sandy.  Hurricane Katrina.  Winterstorm Juno.   While the practice of naming our weather has been criticized as media hype, Hunter Cutting of communications firm Climate Nexus says it’s actually helpful to the average viewer. “If you give something a name, it’s a character in the story,” he says.  “Scientists work with numbers and formulas.  Average folks tell stories…then that story can be expanded to talk about what causes storm, what changed the odds of the storm happening. That’s how you can bring climate change into the conversation.”

Human, plant and animal migration is an important, if less dramatic, part of the climate story, adds Kathryn Sullivan.

“Disease patterns are migrating.  The hay fever seasons have already expanded by up to 26 days” throughout North America, she says.  Biologists have observed growing seasons changing all around the globe.  “Human migrations are also being observed, and are very much a concern of national security officials in many, many, many countries.”  Sullivan cited a recent National Academy of Sciences study that draws a link between climate change, drought and the Syrian uprising.

When it comes to escaping disaster, Sullivan emphasizes that it’s not about location – it’s about community.  The word “resilience,” she says, has three strands:  “It’s societal, it’s economic and its ecological resilience.  You’ve got to be looking at all three, you’ve got to be weaving all three, or the notion is meaningless.”

So, “adaption or mitigation?” asked one audience member.  Which strategy will better ensure our survival?  Hunter Cutting believes that with the temperature projected to increase by up to eight degrees, we can – and should – do both.

“It’s a bit of a balancing act, right?” he replied. “Eight degrees may not sound like much.  But that’s about the amount of temperature change that we saw that ended the last Ice Age, and we’d have crocodiles living in the Arctic. So we really don’t want to go there.”   Reducing emissions will help keep that number down, but what’s a manageable number?

“Two degrees…we can adapt to that much,” he concludes.  “So I think we have to do both.  We have to mitigate to avoid the catastrophic, and adapt to what we can’t avoid.”

And change, Cutter points out, is one of the signature characteristics of our species.

“Adaptation is just going to be part of what we do now going forward in the future.”

Related Links:

2014 National Climate Assessment

The Risky Business Report

NY Times: Study Links Syrian Conflict to Drought Made Worse by Climate Change


Climate One: Green Asia

20150716 Greening Asia Welcome Slide





(Transcript also available by clicking LISTEN link.)

This program was posted by ‘Climate One’, July 16, 2015.

Industrialize now, clean up later – that’s long been the philosophy behind Asia’s booming economies. Dirty air, foul water, and hellishly overcrowded cities have threatened to choke the region’s impressive prosperity. But the tide is starting to turn. “The dynamic in China is unbelievable,” says Mark Clifford. “Chinese manufacturers are changing the world in solar, in wind, in electric cars”. Read the rest of this entry »

Climate One: Cli-Fi, 2015

This program was recorded February 11, 2015.


Photo: http://climateone.org

Photo: http://climateone.org

Host: Greg Dalton
Guests: Jason Mark, Editor, Earth Island Journal; Kim Stanley Robinson, Author, 2312 (Thorndike Press, 2015)

Novelists and filmmakers have been mining the rich world of science for generations. Throughout the last century, science fiction has turned to real-world threats, such as nuclear war and plague, for its post-apocalyptic scenarios. More recently, environmental issues have moved to front and center in the narrative, in films such as Interstellar, Snowpiercer and Wall-E and best-sellers from Margaret Atwood, Nathaniel Rich and Jennifer Egan.

H.G. Wells foreshadowed this trend in his 1895 novel The Time Machine. But while the prospect of a devastated earth in a far distant future probably didn’t inspire many Victorians to recycle, today’s readers can clearly visualize a much more immediate threat. Climate change is more than a plot device – the signs are all around us. Can Cli-Fi help rally the troops in our battle to save the planet?

Read the rest of this entry »

Climate One: Climates and Lawns

This program was posted by ‘Climate One’ in June, 2015.


(Transcript also available by clicking LISTEN link.)


Ellen Hanak, Senior Fellow and Center Director, Public Policy Institute of California;
Felicia Marcus, Chair, State Water Resources Control Board;
Paul Wenger, President, California Farm Bureau Federation;
Marguerite Young, Director, Ward 3, East Bay Municipal Utility District Board

“Droughts come and go,” began Greg Dalton at a recent Climate One discussion on California’s water wars. “Is this one different, or do we ride it out and then go on with our lives?”

“This is the biggest wake-up call in modern times,” Felicia Marcus of California State Water Resources Control Board responded.  She went on to list the reasons for the severity: a serious reduction in snowpack, millions more humans turning on the tap, increased agricultural demand and endangered species and habitats are creating what amounts to a real-life, slow-motion disaster movie, “on just about every front you can think of.”

Read the rest of this entry »

Climate One: How We Roll

This program was posted by ‘Climate One’ in June, 2015.


(Transcript also available.)

It might be a stretch to imagine most Americans giving up their beloved Malibus, Mustangs and Broncos. But for those who would just as soon leave the car at home, there are more options than ever. With a growing menu of ala carte wheels to choose from, it’s up to us to decide how we want to roll around our cities. See more.


Related links:


SFMTA: Projects & Planning

SFMTA: Car Sharing Information and Resources

SFGate: Car-Sharing Firms Getting 900 SF Street Parking Spaces

SF Examiner: Report Says SF Taxis Suffering Greatly

The Metropolitan Revolution – Brookings Institution

Study: Fewer young people getting driver’s license

Climate One: William Reilly on the Pope’s Environmental Messege

This program was posted by ‘Climate One’ in June, 2015.


William K. Reilly; Senior Advisor, TPG. Courtesy of http://climateone.org/

William K. Reilly;
Senior Advisor, TPG. Courtesy of http://climateone.org/

Bill Reilly, Senior Advisor at TPG, discusses the Pope’s message in his environmental encyclical. “I think the surprise is that his message is on several planes, it’s on the plane certainly of theology and morality.

It also gets very close to the realm of policy and action. It calls out people who are not accepting climate change and suggest that indifference or excessive belief in the technical solution or just opposition to science is unacceptable on a moral plane,” said Reilly.