Will business listen to what our children are saying about the climate emergency?

Op-Ed by Efren Carrillo and Ellie Clohen published in North Bay Business Journal

Last month, millions of young people in the North Bay and all over the world participated in events that are part of a massive youth-led grassroots movement calling attention to the urgent need to decarbonize our economies now, not decades from now. The message young people delivered was aimed at climate deniers and governments that put profit over health in their refusal to recognize climate change as an emergency that threatens us all.

Will we as a society heed the clarion call of our young people?

Climate change poses grave and immediate threats, especially to children, the elderly, and people living in low-income communities. In response, the Pope and more than 70 of the nation’s leading health and medical organizations declared a climate crisis. We are running out of time to prevent irreversible consequences. Our only hope for a vibrant, healthy, and equitable future is to enact aggressive policies now.

The actions we must take are clear. As United Nations scientists reported, we must slash greenhouse gas emissions in half by 2030 while making significant progress toward removing upwards of one trillion tons of warming pollutants we have already put in the atmosphere. This will require rapid and far-reaching transformations in nearly every aspect of life: energy, industry, buildings, transport, land use and cities.

California is a leader in addressing climate change. Through landmark legislation in 2018, the state committed to reducing global warming emissions to 40% below 1990 levels by 2030 and achieving 100% zero-carbon electricity by 2045. Local governments throughout the state are enacting policies to support these more aggressive goals.

However, given the science and climate reality, California must, and can, do more. As the world’s fifth largest economy, California should continue to serve as a model for the rest of the country and the world. Working with scores of community and business partners, The Climate Center plans to help our state step up to the challenge.

But how?

California state and local governments must immediately enact a suite of policies that put us solidly on the path to reversing the climate crisis by 2030. That means committing to much more aggressive action and accelerated timelines for achieving net-zero emissions, healthy carbon-sequestering ecosystems, and resilient communities.

These policies are within our reach and include upgrading electricity production and storage to be 100% clean and safe by 2030; decarbonizing transportation by enacting a phaseout of new fossil fuel powered vehicle sales no later than 2025; and, managing rural, agricultural and urban lands to sequester more carbon while also aiding communities in coping with climate extremes, from extreme heat to drought and flooding.

The policies must also incentivize all Californians to make climate-friendly choices. Examples include transitioning to 100% renewable energy and replacing natural gas appliances with electric, leasing or buying electric vehicles, using more mass transit, e-bikes and e-scooters, and eating food produced and distributed with practices that do not contribute to the climate crisis.

Enacting these policies will have a long-term net benefit to our economy but will require major investments akin to the World War II wholesale retooling of the economy. To pay for them, we will we need more dedicated market-based mechanisms for putting a progressive price on carbon. California already has a cap and trade system. We also need to implement tax and dividend, frequent flyer fees, green bonds and other mechanisms.

In addition, we urge Californians to elect policymakers at all levels of government who are committed to aggressive policies that rein in climate change and hold them accountable.

Climate activists are fortunate in California that 80% of residents view climate change as a threat to the state’s future economy and quality of life. Two out of three (65%) support acting independently of the federal government on this issue (PPIC).

With a federal government that is becoming increasing hostile to California’s climate policies, we must work even more diligently to deliver climate solutions at the speed and scale that the science requires. To achieve this ambitious and necessary agenda, business will be an essential partner. Throughout the history of our nation, business has driven innovation. Here in the North Bay, many businesses are leading the way to building a vibrant and sustainable economy, from installing solar on rooftops to purchasing electric fleet vehicles to building microgrids that enable businesses to disconnect from the wide area grid and run autonomously.

Will California invest in making the youth-led climate strikes a turning point in the climate emergency? We can’t afford not to.

By Efren Carillo and Ellie Cohen

Efren Carrillo is Board President and Ellie Cohen is CEO of The Climate Center, a California-based nonprofit working to enact the bold policies required by the science and climate reality to reverse the climate crisis. The Climate Center played a pivotal role in growing community choice energy (CCA), which now supplies more than 10 million Californians, one-quarter of the state, with 88% clean energy.

Microgrids could prevent need for planned power outages

Our aging and unstable electrical system must be replaced now, not decades from now

Mercury News Op-Ed

Ellie Cohen is CEO of The Climate Center, a California-based nonprofit working to enact the bold policies required by the science and climate reality to reverse the climate crisis.

The dramatic increase in the size and severity of California’s wildfires in recent years is just one example of the devastating effects of climate change. PG&E’s power shutdowns this month due to high-fire-risk wind conditions is a stark reminder that our aging and unstable electrical system must be replaced now, not decades from now.

In response to power shutoffs, homeowners, businesses and managers of critical facilities, such as city halls, fire stations, hospitals and schools, currently buy fossil fuel-powered back-up generators. But dirty diesel generators are not the solution. They are heavy polluters, noisy, expensive to operate and are themselves a fire risk. Further, replenishing the supply of diesel fuel is not always possible during an emergency.

There is a better way. California needs a new decentralized power system with clean, resilient energy sources. A more resilient system would reduce the number of outages both planned and unplanned. A decentralized system would enable utilities to better target specific outages and operationally isolate local electricity generation from the larger grid. This would ensure that essential governmental, health and other services would remain powered in communities during outages.

To get started building a decentralized system from the bottom up, every community should identify its critical facilities—water supply, wastewater treatment, first responders and community care centers—and decide where to install new local renewables and storage to create community microgrids. Building microgrids at the community level to generate and store electricity makes more sense than leaving it to random business and residential deployments with everyone prioritizing their own facilities and needs.

To accelerate building community microgrids, The Climate Center started the Advanced Community Energy (ACE) initiative. ACE works to provide funding, technical expertise and local capacity for cities and counties to plan and implement local clean energy and battery storage systems to keep the lights on when grid power goes off. ACE planning involves collaboration between local governments and stakeholders, from residents including those in disadvantaged neighborhoods to electric distribution utilities, clean energy developers and technology companies.

Some California local governments have already started developing community microgrids, such as in OaklandEureka and Santa Barbara. These efforts need to expand to other communities soon. A statewide program to ensure that all cities and counties have the funding and technical support to conduct collaborative, participatory planning processes is essential.

To fully implement community microgrids statewide, we must transform our regulatory policies and institutions by revising market rules so that thousands of small-scale-distributed energy resources can be compensated for providing local energy services. We need to direct the California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) to develop regulatory rules for the big electric utilities to collaborate in good faith with the cities, counties and other stakeholders in their service areas.

We also need market signals to enable this transformation, starting with increased state funding to support critical facility microgrid projects. The first state supported community microgrids should be established in high fire risk areas in disadvantaged communities, and eventually should cover all of California.

Community microgrids are the logical next step in California’s remarkable history of energy policy innovation. The Advanced Community Energy initiative offers a blueprint for engaging local governments and the communities they serve in creating a clean, resilient, more affordable and equitable electricity system.