February 23rd, 2020 by Steve Hanley, Clean Technica
Takoma Park, Maryland is a city of 17,000 just outside Washington, DC. Known for its liberal politics, it is sometimes referred to as the “Berkeley of the East.” Like many US cities, it is concerned the federal government is not doing enough to address the challenge of an overheating planet and so, all politics being local, it is taking matters into its own hand.
Climate scientists agree that to prevent average global temperatures increasing by 3º Celsius or more, humans need to stop burning fossil fuels — not in a 100 years, not by 2050, but now, today, right this very minute. And so the city council is preparing a non-binding Emergency Response Act that will serve as a road map for the future of the community. It calls for the city to be net zero on carbon emissions by 2035. It is probably no coincidence that the first gas station in American to rip out all its gas pumps and replace them with EV chargers is located in Takoma Park. A sign of things to come in the city, for sure.
According to The Washington Post, the first part of the plan is a ban on all gas appliances, the closure of any fossil fuel pipelines in the community, and moving all gas stations outside city limits by 2045. According to city officials, implementing those items could cost the average Takoma Park homeowner up to $25,000. The ban on gas appliances is intended to stop the sale of new gas-fired stoves, water heaters, and dryers immediately. By 2030, residents would be required to replace all such appliances with electric versions.
Other provisions include energy saving upgrades to existing buildings with the the city as well as a transition to all LED lighting and a total fossil fuel ban that would include lawn mowers and leaf blowers. The plan has received strong support from the resident-led Committee on the Environment and other advocacy groups, including the Sunrise Movement. But not everyone is pleased.
“The number of times the word ‘require’ is used in this is stunning,” city resident Maxine Hillary at told a public hearing recently. She criticized the fossil fuel ban as “insensitive and draconian” and denounced the proposal for mandatory composting, stating: “Don’t tell me what to do with my table scraps.”
John Ackerly, co-chair of the environmental committee, says he has been “shocked” that so many of his friends and neighbors are pushing back against the proposals. Many have made rude comments about “LED police.” In general, people don’t like being dictated to, and so the mandatory nature of many provisions in the plan have raised some concerns.
“Yes, there are ways that we could soften [these policies] and make them more palatable. . . . But we know that voluntary programs are not going to get us to net zero,” says Takoma Park sustainability manager Gina Mathias. The city is keenly aware that some of the provisions in its sustainability plan might impose a burden on low income residents and so it is creating a “sustainability assistance fund” to help residents and businesses transition from fossil fuels.
The debate has led to the city removing 2045 as the year when a ban on fossil fuels — something that no other city has proposed — would go into effect. But others argue the operative date should be added back in and moved up. “If you believe the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, fossil-fuel free has to become a reality in the next one or two decades — and not just in Takoma,” says Bruce Nilles, managing director of the Rocky Mountain Institute. “We don’t really have a choice.” And that’s the point.
A new climate resolution, would ban all gas appliances, close fossil fuel pipelines, and move gas stations outside city limits by 2045. While not binding, the 2020 Climate Emergency Response Act will set the agenda for Takoma Park’s policymaking in coming years. It has sparked robust discussion, drawing lines of residents to council meetings and prompting long back-and-forths on neighborhood listservs.
Cities elsewhere are also paying close attention, said Bruce Nilles, managing director of the Rocky Mountain Institute, a national group headquartered in Colorado. Like Berkeley, Calif., or Portland, Ore., Takoma Park is seen as a testing ground for the next wave of climate policies — last year, a gas station in the city became the first in the country to completely convert to electric charging.
Some residents think an outright ban on all fossil fuels, which has never been done in the United States, could be too difficult to implement — or too costly. But others say bold measures are needed to reach the city’s goal of net-zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2035.
Given advancements in technology, environmental advocates say, the change could also bring cost savings and might not be as dramatic as some anticipate.
The city’s sustainability office recently revised the resolution to soften language on the proposed ban, disappointing some activists. But Takoma Park Mayor Kate Stewart said the goal of “moving off of fossil fuels” remains. The possibility of a ban, she added, will be discussed in coming months.
Natural gas has been heralded for years as a cost-effective, cleaner alternative to coal. But as the coal industry declines, policymakers are turning their attention to underground gas lines that, according to experts, contribute a sizable percentage of carbon emissions.
In 2019, Berkeley became the first city in the United States to ban the installation of natural gas lines for new buildings. More than two dozen cities and counties have followed suit. In Takoma Park, some officials want to take this ban further, in part because there is relatively little new construction in the city.
The idea, as laid out in the first draft of the city’s climate resolution, is to take advantage of the natural life cycle of gas appliances. Starting from 2030, all water heaters, space heaters and stoves that rely on gas would have to be replaced with alternatives.
Fossil-fuel-based leaf blowers would be phased out with incentive programs and eventually outlawed, while gas stations would be asked to convert to electric charging or relocate. The proposal promotes electric vehicle use but does not include a ban on vehicles that run on fossil fuels.
In the shorter term, the city would mandate that all buildings, including single-family homes, meet specific energy requirements by 2029 and upgrade all lighting to LED by 2022.
These ideas have received strong support from Takoma Park’s resident-led Committee on the Environment and other advocacy groups, including the youth-led Sunrise Movement. But even in left-leaning Takoma Park, the resolution has detractors.
In Bellingham, Wash., where officials are debating a ban on all fossil-fuel-based residential heating, natural gas companies have launched a $1 million campaign to promote their product. In Berkeley, a restaurant trade group is suing the city over its ban on new gas pipelines, which went into effect Jan. 1.
“Yes, there are ways that we could soften [these policies] and make them more palatable. . . . But we know that voluntary programs are not going to get us to net zero,” said Takoma Park sustainability manager Gina Mathias.
Officials are looking carefully at the impact of climate requirements on low-income households, Stewart said, and the city is creating a “sustainability assistance fund” to help residents and businesses transition from fossil fuels.
A revised copy of the resolution, released earlier this week, took out the 2045 deadline for elimination of fossil fuels. But it still commits the city to establishing energy-efficiency requirements for every building, banning natural gas in new construction, and “dramatically” reducing the use of fossil-fuel-powered appliances.
Discussions are ongoing. At a city council meeting Wednesday night, slightly more than a dozen residents came to show support for the resolution, urging officials not to make further compromises. Mike Tidwell, a Takoma Park resident who is founder of the Chesapeake Climate Action Network, said he wants to see the 2045 deadline put back into the resolution. Drew Kodjak, an environmental attorney who also lives in the city, said he thinks 2045 is too long to wait.
“If you believe the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, fossil-fuel free has to become a reality in the next one or two decades — and not just in Takoma,” said Nilles of the Rocky Mountain Institute. “We don’t really have a choice.”
US state regulators hear notes of caution on municipal gas ban movement
Washington — State regulators were served a strong dose of skepticism Sunday about municipal bans on natural gas hookups in new buildings from parties concerned about the consumer costs and the wisdom of setting key energy policies outside the state utility regulation construct.
The wave of bans, as well as other incentives for building electrification, could have broad implications for the residential fuel mix and the future of gas distribution infrastructure and demand.
“My experience has been that the city councils aren’t necessarily the source of balanced information, just and reasonable cost estimates, all the things that are part of the utility regulatory framework that makes determinations on the capital infrastructure investments,” said Timothy Simon, a former California Public Utility Commission member. Simon, who currently represents several local distribution companies, urged caution about the bans during a staff gas subcommittee meeting at the National Association of Regulatory Utility Commissioners winter policy summit.
While residential energy use makes up only 7% of California’s carbon dioxide emissions, “it’s gaining the ire and the attack of city councils across my great state,” he said. The “real culprit” in his view is transportation, which makes up 41% of CO2 emissions and is concentrated around big rig diesel trucks. Those trucks “generally don’t run through Bel Air and Beverly Hills, he said. “They generally are running by black and brown communities that are in industrial sections near ports of entry and other areas.”
Beginning with a ban in Berkeley, California, municipal gas bans have spread through California and appeared in the Boston area and Washington state.
Bill Malcolm, senior legislative representative from AARP, said that while his group does not favor one type of fuel over another, it has raised questions in several states about rate impacts for low and moderate income residents. “I just checked the numbers and natural gas is now at $1.85/MMBtu, and just to put that in perspective, in 2012 it was actually $12/MMBtu,” he said. (Look at that fluctuation/variability we wouldn’t have on renewables!) “So where is the new power for the new load going to come from?” he said.
In Connecticut, for instance, AARP filed comments questioning whether incentives to install electric heat pumps over gas furnaces would benefit ratepayers and whether it would drive up peak power demand, he noted.
What role state regulators will play in the debate is “the multi-billion question that will most likely be settled by the courts,” said Andreas Thanos, a Massachusetts regulator who chairs the NARUC gas staff subcommittee, when reached by email. While PUCs grant the franchise allowing an LDC to go into a town or city, municipalities are using their bylaws to implement the bans. “So the PUCs will most likely not weigh in on the issue until the courts decide,” he said.
Dianne Solomon, a New Jersey Board of Public Utilities commissioner, said she also sees a movement by states to empower their departments of environmental protection to “get into this space, take it out of the hands of the utility regulators and suggest that all projects going forward would have to have some environmental impact.”
Several state regulators suggested green groups have had the more effective messaging thus far.
“I have heard a lot from the environmental advocates, Sierra Club and what have you, saying why we should have the natural gas bans,” said Greer Gillis, a member of the Public Service Commission of the District of Columbia, adding it was important to get the views aired in the room out into the mainstream.
Judith Schwartz, a former utility commissioner from Palo Alto, where a municipal “reach code” encouraging all electric construction was adopted, contended “while the intentions are good, the reality of what [gas bans] are doing is minimal.” During the winter “you have natural gas and imports making up the shortfall of every single hour of the day,” she said.
Still, speaking from the audience, David Kolata with the Citizens Utility Board of Illinois, said he believed the issue was more complicated than the dialogue Sunday suggested.
“It’s pretty clear that in every blue state, we’re going to need to deliver a plan” that keeps the increase in temperatures due to climate change under 2 degrees Celsius, he said, with the modeling showing the need to decarbonize electricity, heating and transportation.
“Given that, how do we think about this from a consumer advocate point of view, where money spent on natural gas right now and natural gas infrastructure could very well be stranded?” he said.
Below Originally posted on Luckybeanz.
By Mark Harpur
Imagine a world where transport is free, air is clean, and streets are quiet. Imagine a world where education is attainable, power available, and healthcare accessible to all. Imagine a world where the cost of living goes down instead of up. Now stop imagining and watch this talk by Tony Seba:
At the end of 2019 I was feeling rather somber about the state of the world. The year seemed to have been dominated by talks of climate catastrophe, grossly increasing global inequality, and governments failing a growing number of people. Then in early 2020 I came across the talk above. It excited me and I was buoyed with hope for the future. The reason being is that this talk was given in 2018. You see, while most people reading this blog [Luckybeanz] probably think that I have just been a travelling surf bum for the last few years, the truth is that I have spent an increasing amount of time following the rEVolution. What is that, you ask? Well, it is the shift from fossil fuels to clean energy and the electrification/automation of many day-to-day tasks, especially transport. At some point I became invested in this concept, which is why I have spent so much time following and studying it. Listening to the talk with the knowledge I have gained as a reference, I realized that the reason 2019 seemed so tough was that we were pushing through a barrier and the result was crossing a tipping point. A tipping point for those who don’t know is the point at which a change or an effect cannot be stopped. For those wanting to understand more about tipping points, I highly recommend Malcolm Gladwell’s book on the topic.
So, what has caused this tipping point? Technology. To be exact, renewable energy. In particular, solar and lithium battery technology have passed key thresholds where they are now more economically viable than the comparable fossil fuel technologies. And here is the punch — it has happened sooner than anyone expected! What this means is that regardless of the attempts of the fossil fuel industry to delay the transition, regardless of the indifference of governments, the shift towards renewable energy is happening and will now accelerate even faster than anticipated. Let’s dive into these points.
At 28 minutes into the video, there is a graph showing the projected cost per kilowatt-hour of batteries. It is widely accepted that once batteries reach $100/kWh, electric vehicles (EVs) will be price comparable with internal combustion engine vehicles (ICEV). In the graph, this was projected to happen in 2023. In Tesla’s 2018 shareholder meeting, it was stated that the company should reach $100/kWh by the end of the year. In 2019 VW claimed that it was buying batteries at under $100/kWh. I’ve also been researching batteries for an electric boat conversion and have been able to find them available for $100/kWh. This is 4 to 3 years ahead of the projections in the video, which as Tony pointed out were seen as aggressive by many.
Keeping with batteries at the 30 minute mark, he talks about the massive battery that was installed in South Australia, pointing out that with only 2% of the capacity of the plants it is competing with, it managed to wipe out 90% of the revenues of the system. The takeaway from this is that disruptive technology only needs a small percent of the existing market to bankrupt the incumbents in the industry. So, let’s take that idea and use the 2% figure from the battery example and look at the electric vehicle market in 2019.
Depending on whose numbers you use, in many markets EVs have already passed 2% market share. In Norway they are upwards of 50%. With each EV sale, more people will realise that EVs are the future and buying an ICEV is just a waste of money. It stands to reason that many people who would have bought an ICEV in the next few years may now delay the purchase to wait for the appropriate EV. Considering EVs are becoming cheaper and ICEV sales are decreasing, we can expect the market share of EVs to increase significantly over the next couple of years. The question is at what percentage do they cause ICE company bankruptcy?
What also needs to be taken into account is that with each EV sale, there is a reduced need for the ancillary products around ICE vehicles such as lubrication oils, transmission fluids, etc. I believe that 2019 was the year that that bankruptcy happened. Though you don’t have to listen to my analysis, below is a video Tony put out while I was compiling this post. While much of the content is the same as the previous video, this one has two additional years of data to talk to… Oh, and another piece of information that surfaced whilst composting this was Tesla’s Q4 earnings call.
If we consider all the above information, it is quite easy to get excited about the future, one in which we are no longer killing ourselves and our planet with noxious gases. Though, this disruption, the one which Tesla has become the poster child for, spans far wider than just energy and transportation.
As Tony points out in his presentation, one has to look at all the industries that are underpinned by energy and transport, which is just about every industry, to fully grasp the implications of this. And this is one of those things that seems to fly over many a bright individual’s head. Once renewables have been installed, the cost of that instillation keeps going down until it reaches zero. There are very little additional inputs and maintenance costs. This is in contrast to our current system, which relies on the continual use and mining of resources. Fuel (energy) is needed to power the machines that mine the fuel, fuel is needed to power the refineries so the new fuel is useful, fuel is needed to power the vehicles that transport the fuel to the places it is needed, and all of this is done using inefficient technology which looses much of the potential energy of the fuel to heat. Put another way, the fossil fuel economy requires energy (whether it be coal, oil, or gas) to be continually pumped into it for it to continue functioning, and to obtain those energy sources, we need to use more energy. While, with renewables, once the energy is put into the mining and production, there is no more or very little [stored] energy needed to maintain the system, it can be produced where it is needed and occurs no or very little transport costs. Thus, it is foreseeable that we reach a stage where we have met all of our energy needs and no longer need to input energy to make energy. If you think this is unlikely, then consider these two points:
1) In 2015 we used 17.2 terawatts of power globally. If we cover an area of the Earth 335 kilometers by 335 kilometers with solar panels, even with moderate efficiencies achievable easily today, it will provide more than 17.4 terawatts of power. Now, consider the number of rooftops and glass buildings we have available to us, or just watch this video on solar technology, to realise that we already have the space without using up any additional land:
2) Electric motors are upwards of 90% efficient in their energy use, the best ICE is somewhere around 40% in ideal conditions and more like the low 30s in day-to-day use. This is to say that, as we electrify our transport and industrial systems, we will use less and less power due to the gain in efficiency.
This brings us to the realization that energy becomes free or nearly free, and so does transport. Once we reduce two of the most significant costs in almost all industries to nearly zero, what will the effect be? The cost of living goes down! I don’t know about you, but I can’t think of another time in history when the cost of living has actually gone down.
This isn’t the future — it is possible today. In 2017 I wrote a post about VanLife Tesla style, in which I put forth the idea of a van powered entirely by solar. Today there is a van driving from Alaska to Argentina powered only by the sun!
This disruption is so much bigger than most realize. It doesn’t stick to an industry. It spans cultures and is truly global. It is inadvertently changing industries by its sheer nature. Just look at the financial industry(ies) from stock trading to financing to insurance. These industries have traditionally been run by a handful of families/companies who hoard most all the wealth they produce. The same can be said for the fossil fuel economy. I believe that what we will see as the disruption takes place is possibly the greatest shift in wealth that we have ever seen.
For instance, in the stock market Tesla has become such a hot topic that there is endless news about it and countless analysts commenting on it. Though, what has become evident is that the traditional analysts and financial institutions do not have a clue when it comes to understanding this disruption, while many retail investors — i.e., you and me — who are sharing their thoughts and ideas on the internet do, and stand to shift a large proportion of wealth from these institutions to individuals, essentially decentralizing the financial markets. Nowhere is this more evident than on the Tesla earnings calls in which they invite questions from retail investors. On the latest call, it was even suggested that they no longer entertain questions from institutions.
While investors move their capital into renewable energy, they are moving it out of fossil fuels, which means that as they become less cost effective, they are also starved of capital, adding to the acceleration away from them and the collapse of the industry around them. Though, don’t take my word for it. Again, while I was writing this post, this idea became part of mainstream media.
Though, this shift in wealth may have us questioning exactly what wealth is. After all, the world’s reserve currency, the US dollar, is underpinned by oil and propped up my a military complex with more bases around the world than there are countries.
To understand this, one needs to dig a bit deeper into the history of the dollar. I cover both of these topics in, “What is really going on?“
Knowing this, one has to question, what happens when the very resource most of the wars in the world today are being fought over loses most of its value? Where will these war machines turn their attention to? What of all those whose job it is to work in the military? What of all the workers in the fossil fuel industry, what will they do? Will things not only get worse as these people lose their reasons for being?
I don’t think so. In the next installment, I’ll lay down my thoughts on why the end of the war on drugs, the psychedelic revolution, and sustainable agriculture give people hope and meaning in a post-fossil, and dare I say, post-capital world!