climate change

The Climate Action Fellow Program Model

California local governments will play an important role in the implementation of California’s Global Warming Solutions Act (AB32). The initial scoping plan of AB32 called for local governments to set municipal and communitywide greenhouse gas (GHG) reduction targets of 15 percent below current levels by 2020. To plan and implement these savings, local governments have developed local Climate Action Plans. These plans are comprehensive roadmaps that outline specific activities a local government will undertake to reduce GHG emissions.

Having a plan is a great first step. However, implementing the plan can be a challenge for many local governments. Smaller to medium-sized municipalities generally suffer from limited staff and capacity to implement stated goals or address new mandates. To overcome this barrier, the California Sustainability Alliance has developed a utility-funded program model to assist local governments: The Climate Action Fellows Program Model.

The objective of the program model is to provide a blueprint to use local university students (as Climate Action Fellows) to add capacity to local governments to address climate protection mandates, voluntary goals and commitments. Employing university students to serve as dedicated climate protection professionals provides these youth with unparalleled experience and place-based application of classroom theory, while providing the local municipality with cost conscious staffing to meet the goals set out in their Climate Action Plans. The model could be funded and implemented regionally by energy utilities. The model outlines the key steps to implementing the program including engaging and selecting partner local governments, recruiting and training fellows, supporting the fellows during implementation, and concluding fellow’s work by transitioning work back to local government staff.

The Alliance developed the Climate Action Fellows Model and pilot tested the approach with the City of Covina throughout the second half of 2014. Two fellows supported the City to address the most challenging aspect of its Energy Action Plan: reducing commercial sector energy consumption. The long-term objective of the City was to create a Green Business Certification program. The fellows supported the first steps of this process by outlining a business energy efficiency pilot program and recruiting pilot participants.

The Covina pilot culminated in a presentation by the fellows to the Covina City Council outlining the pilot program, the deliverables compiled by the fellows, and the status of Covina’s Green Business Pilot. The fellows’ support made inroads to addressing the City’s commercial sector climate and energy goals; city staff now are able to carry commercial sector efforts forward in 2015.

Read the full report outlining the program model and detailing the work done for the City of Covina. Expanding this program across California could provide much needed support to Local Governments and advance progress towards meeting the state’s aggressive climate goals.

New Concept for Local Governments to Partner with Utilities and Participate in the Cap-and-Trade Market

The Cap-and-Trade market has added a new dynamic to California’s greenhouse gas regulations. Utilities are faced with finding cost-effective ways to comply with their emissions reductions requirements. Energy efficiency at the local government level presents a large opportunity for saving energy that is currently not incentivized by the Cap-and-Trade system.

The coalescence of these three related factors presents an interesting nexus for solutions. The emissions reductions resulting from saved energy can be valued against the cost of compliance to utilities, which is projected to increase over time.

In response to this nexus of opportunity, the Alliance has released Exploring Utility and Local Government Partnerships to Fund Energy Efficiency Projects for Compliance with AB 32, a whitepaper that outlines a new concept that would enable local governments to participate in the Cap-and-Trade market. Under the presented framework, local governments could partner with their load-serving utilities to move cost-effective energy efficiency projects forward. The concept presented follows this basic framework:

  • Local governments receive upfront capital from their load-serving utility.
  • These local governments undertake projects with measureable energy savings.
  • These energy savings result in reduced greenhouse gas emissions for the utility, helping them meet their compliance obligation under AB 32.

This possible fit between the utilities’ needs for compliance and local government opportunities for energy efficiency needs to be explored for cost-effectiveness. Local governments require additional funding mechanisms for expansive energy efficiency projects. Utilities are some of the largest entities covered under Cap-and-Trade regulations, leading to large compliance obligations. Energy efficiency is also known to be the most cost-effective way to balance supply and demand for electricity. The key to this new concept is that the funding comes from the utility’s compliance budget. Therefore, it is in addition to existing energy efficiency incentive programming. There are challenges to the framework. Thus, the Alliance addresses each of them individually in the whitepaper. The paper also includes recommendations for implementing this new framework for harnessing potential greenhouse gas emissions reductions.

Key study conclusions include:

  • There is an anticipated shortfall of compliance instruments (allowances and offset credits) occurring as early as 2016.
  • Alternate cost-effective means of compliance will be needed, and this mechanism could greatly benefit both utilities and local governments.
  • Working locally to permanently reduce emissions is a win-win opportunity for local governments and utilities.
  • There is widespread support among key stakeholders and industry subject matter experts to test this concept.

The study also summarizes key stakeholder feedback gathered as a part of concept exploration. Download the full report for more details.

New Retrocommissioning Program Toolkit for Local Governments

As part of its efforts to help local governments comply with federal and state retrocommissioning codes and policies, the California Sustainability Alliance (Alliance) has developed a Retrocommissioning Program Toolkit specifically for municipal facility use.

Retrocommissioning (RCx) is a method of systematically examining the operation and maintenance of an existing building’s systems in order to identify ways to improve overall building performance. It offers a relatively quick and low-cost way to help building owners ensure that energy efficiency features and equipment specified in the building design are installed and operating as intended - and as required to meet occupants’ needs. 

The Alliance created its RCx Program Toolkit to help local government staff develop and implement a municipal facility retrocommissioning program.  The RCx Toolkit complements existing portfolio management tools and utility management systems, helping the user take the “next step” once a decision has been made to incorporate retrocommissioning into municipal facility standard operating procedures.  Although focused on the performance testing and documentation components, the Toolkit also provides resources, such as model commissioning specifications, to facilitate the entire commissioning process.

In addition to a detailed step-by-step description of the RCx program development processes of planning and preparation, creating data infrastructure, and collecting baseline data, the Toolkit includes necessary tools and resources to implement the program such as:

  • Sample RCx Action Plan;
  • References to common RCx resources and procedures;
  • Model Request for Proposals (RFP) language;
  • The RCx Dashboard, a spreadsheet tool that allows the user to enter basic building information to identify potential RCx candidates and track RCx program accomplishments.

The RCx Toolkit is designed to be flexible enough to be a complementary resource for an energy manager in a large local government or to be the sole RCx Program management tool for facility and public works staff in smaller jurisdictions.  It may be used to facilitate RCx for an entire portfolio of buildings, or for a defined sub-group, such as all fire stations or libraries.  Alternatively, a subset of the Toolkit’s procedures can serve to guide local government staff through retrocommissioning those measures for which that team is responsible, or to provide to its maintenance contractor. 

Depending on a government’s specific situation, the RCx Dashboard can aid in prioritizing buildings and identifying RCx candidates.  Data or analyses from other tools such as the EPA’s Portfolio Manager or a utility management system also function to prioritize the buildings, in which case, the Toolkit can work as a complementary resource library and tracking tool.  For example, for planning a heating, ventilation, and air conditioning (HVAC) system replacement, the Toolkit includes sample retrocommissioning RFP language to ensure the HVAC contractor performs functional tests and provides the required documentation to the project team.  For projects completed by internal staff, such as lighting replacements, the Toolkit’s RCx functional tests can be used to document proper installation and operation of the newly installed lighting system. 

Best Practices: The Solarize Portland Community Initiative

Community action on resource efficiency is an essential element of achieving a low-carbon, sustainable human relationship with the planet. This November, I had the pleasure of attending and presenting on behalf of the California Sustainability Alliance at the Behavior, Energy & Climate Change (BECC) conference convened by Stanford University, the California Institute for Energy and Environment, and the American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy, where I received first-hand accounts of a wide range of exciting ideas and programs being implemented in communities across the United States.

One of these presentations was given by Sue Jamison, Residential Marketing Manager at Energy Trust of Oregon, a non-profit organization funded by Oregon energy consumers to advance energy efficiency and renewable energy across the state. Jamison’s presentation was on Solarize Portland, an innovative, community-driven program launched in 2009 to increase residential solar adoption in Southeast Portland.

Despite Portland’s deserved reputation as an environmentally-minded city, in 2008 the city was lagging in residential PV installations—just 38 were installed that year compared with 168 in San Francisco. In fact, Energy Trust had observed through its own programs that the perceived interest in residential solar did not match up with installations. Through non-profit marketing agency SmartPower, which conducted a study on market barriers in Oregon, Energy Trust found that the main issues for residential customers were upfront costs, the wide range of price quotes from contractors, and the buyer fatigue associated with a complicated, and often protracted, process of picking equipment and getting it installed.

Solarize Portland came into being as a partnership between Southeast Uplift Neighborhood Coalition (SE Uplift) and Energy Trust, with the goal of getting more solar panels on Portland homes by addressing the key barriers identified by SmartPower. So how did this work? Several core elements created a simple, unique, and highly effective program:

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Pacific Institute Develops Water-Energy-Climate Calculator

By Paula Luu, Communications Associate for the Pacific Institute

There are tremendous opportunities to improve efficiency of household water use without affecting the services and benefits that water provides – and to reduce energy use and greenhouse gas emissions at the same time. Researchers at the Pacific Institute have developed WECalc, Your Home Water-Energy-Climate Calculator, a free online tool that empowers users with information on their water and related energy use and identifies strategies to reduce them.

WECalc asks users a series of questions about their personal water use habits and, based on their responses, estimates total water use and provides personalized recommendations for reducing that use. WECalc also helps users have a better understanding of the connections between water and energy by providing them with an estimate of their water-related energy use and associated greenhouse gas emissions.

Numerous studies show that the water conservation potential is substantial and largely untapped. Existing, cost-effective technologies can reduce household water demand by 30% to 40%, and the good news is that these currently available water-efficient technologies can help homes and businesses save water without sacrificing their quality of life. In fact, most homeowners believe that the performance, maintenance, and appearance of the efficient appliances are superior to older appliances.

Water is both heavy and extremely energy intensive to heat. As a result, capturing, treating, moving, and using water requires large amounts of energy. This is particularly true in the West, where water supplies and population centers are often separated by hundreds of miles. In California, for instance, an estimated 19% of electricity use, 32% of all natural gas consumption, and 88 million gallons of diesel fuel consumption are water-related. To put these numbers in perspective, consider that leaving the hot water running for 5 minutes uses as much energy as operating a 60-W light bulb for 14 hours! While California’s water supplies may be more energy-intensive than the national average due to the particularly long distances and elevation changes during water transport, about 80% of California’s water-related energy use is due to customer end-use, for example, the energy required to pressurize or heat water prior to use.  Since end-use energy requirements are similar across the United States, it is likely that water-related energy use is high across the country.

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New SEC guidelines may cause an outbreak of sustainability reporting.

The Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) has for the first time released guidelines for public companies that define the extent of the disclosures they should make relating to the issue of climate change. This is good news for investors, who rely on comprehensive and accurate information to make their investment decisions. Institutional investors, such as pension funds, have been active in lobbying the SEC to tighten the rules about what a company needs to report when it comes to the risks and opportunities relating to climate change. Groups active in the disclosure debate include the Environmental Defense Fund and CERES. In June 2009, the Investor Network on Climate Risk petitioned the SEC to issue guidance outlining climate-related 'material risks' - such as new regulations, physical impacts, new economic and business opportunities and other climate-related trends - that companies should be disclosing to investors. According to the SEC's news release, the interpretative guidance highlights four areas as examples of where climate change may trigger disclosure requirements:

  • Impact of Legislation and Regulation: When assessing potential disclosure obligations, a company should consider whether the impact of certain existing laws and regulations regarding climate change is material. In certain circumstances, a company should also evaluate the potential impact of pending legislation and regulation related to this topic.
  • Impact of International Accords: A company should consider, and disclose when material, the risks or effects on its business of international accords and treaties relating to climate change.
  • Indirect Consequences of Regulation or Business Trends: Legal, technological, political and scientific developments regarding climate change may create new opportunities or risks for companies. For instance, a company may face decreased demand for goods that produce significant greenhouse gas emissions or increased demand for goods that result in lower emissions than competing products. As such, a company should consider, for disclosure purposes, the actual or potential indirect consequences it may face due to climate change related regulatory or business trends.
  • Physical Impacts of Climate Change: Companies should also evaluate for disclosure purposes the actual and potential material impacts of environmental matters on their business.

As the New York Times reports, the new guidelines were welcomed by pension funds and other large institutional money managers:

“We’re glad the S.E.C. is stepping up to the plate to protect investors,” said Anne Stausboll, chief executive of the California Public Employees Retirement System, the nation’s largest public pension fund and one of the parties that petitioned for the guidance. “Ensuring that investors are getting timely, material information on climate-related impacts, including regulatory and physical impacts, is absolutely essential. Investors have a fundamental right to know which companies are well positioned for the future and which are not.”

In the commercial real estate world, the SEC ruling may provide the impetus for public real estate companies to take seriously the measurement and reporting of energy efficiency and other measures of the sustainability of their real estate holdings. Pension funds are likely to lead the way in pushing for such disclosures from real estate companies with which they undertake joint ventures, as well as from the REITs whose shares they own. Is it only a matter of time before the issuance of a “Sustainability Report” is as commonplace for real estate companies as the annual financial report is today?

From Toronto to Copenhagen: A Precautionary Tale

Copenhagen, December 13, 2009 - I am writing this early Sunday morning as my flight arches across the North Sea and begins a slow descent over the Danish Archipelago. It is clear day and the sun is catching the graceful rotations of hundreds if not thousands of windmills that dot the Danish countryside. I am headed to Copenhagen to attend the climate meetings there this week, and as the plane begins its final approach I am thinking about how my journey from Toronto to Copenhagen really began over twenty years ago.

Climate change first burst on the international agenda in the sweltering summer of 1988. Throughout the 1980’s there had been a growing sense of concern among climatologists (scientists who study the physical and chemical processes in that thin layer of life-giving gas that surrounds our planet) that human activities were altering the atmosphere in potentially dangerous ways. In June of 1988 Canada hosted the Toronto Conference on the Changing Atmosphere which brought together climate scientists, energy experts, policy makers and others from around the world to address the problem. I had been working on energy and environment issues for over ten years by then, and the Canadian government asked me if I would organize the energy workshop for the Toronto conference.

Already by 1988 the case for human-induced climate change was strong. The greenhouse effect itself had been understood since the 19th century and the concentration of carbon dioxide in the upper atmosphere was clearly on the rise. Carbon dioxide emissions from fossil fuel combustion were double the level that the ecosphere could absorb, and the surplus was accumulating in the atmosphere. This in turn was enhancing the natural greenhouse effect, and the result would be an increase in the average global temperature. The theory was sound and well established, but in 1988 the signal – the actual increase in global average temperature – was difficult to detect amidst the natural temperature variations.

If the consequence of climate disruption were not so serious, a “wait and see” attitude might have been justified in 1988, but therein lies one of the central dilemmas of this issue. Increases in greenhouses gases today continue to affect climate for decades and even centuries into the future. Every day we continue to emit greenhouse gas emissions at current rates or higher, we lock into place the long term consequences of those emissions. And the consequences of upsetting the global climate system go far beyond simple warming. It’s not unlike the fever we get when suffering from the ‘flu; the average global temperature increase is a symptom of deeper problems. By the time the global atmosphere is running a fever of even one or two degrees Celsius, it represents a significant destabilization of the planetary climate system and anything that is connected to it. And everything is connected to it, including us.

This is where the “precautionary principle” comes into the picture.

An Eventful Week for Climate Change in the U.S.

This has been a busy week for climate change activity in the U.S. Here are three stories that struck me as particularly interesting:

Debate Commences on Senate Climate Legislation. The Kerry Boxer bill enters the ring, weighing in at over 800 pages (much of taken from the earlier Waxman Markey bill that passed the House in June), this is the bill that will define America’s response to climate change. Climate policy advocates swarmed the bill as soon as it was released and positions and alliances were already starting to form this week. The emission reduction target has been increased from 17% to 20% below 2005 levels by 2020, the provision for the use of international offsets has been cut back, and a ceiling on carbon price has been proposed. Interestingly, there appears to be relatively strong support in the business community for this bill, but there will be a difficult path to passage. The world community convenes in Copenhagen in December to address the increasingly worrisome warnings that dangerous climate change is closer than had been hoped. Virtually nobody expects the bill to pass before the Copenhagen meeting, but the tenor of the US debate between now and then will go a long way to determining the outcome. Watch for more on this story, much more, in the weeks ahead.

Coming to a Post Office Near You! Perhaps realizing that in the absence of a climate law the administration will have to demonstrate its commitment to greenhouse gas reduction in other ways, President Obama issued an Executive Order this week calling for a 20% reduction in GHG emissions from government operations, and federal agencies have just 90 days to show how they will do it. This is a sleeper. The federal government owns 500,000 buildings and is a significant purchaser of just about everything that uses energy. If the government delivers on these targets it will cause a significant shot in the arm to the US efficiency, renewable energy and recycling industries, and it will have wide ranging repercussions for supply chains everywhere.

PG&E Quits U.S. Chamber of Commerce in protest over its position on climate change. The PG&E blog entry announcing the move, entitled “Irreconcilable Differences”, makes for interesting reading. This is a sign of the times if there ever was one. Those of you who were around in the early days of the climate change policy debate will remember how rare it was to find any business support for action on global warming. That has changed in the last few years as the inevitability of an energy transformation has become apparent, and as astute members of the business community begin to appreciate the upside to climate change policy. American business is waking up to the enormity of the clean energy opportunity, and not a moment too soon.