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This article was first published on San Diego Loves Green by Roy L Hales
Construction on the first 65 miles of California’s high-speed rail project is about to begin. That is despite a new bill from Congress’ transportation committee, which has blocked funding in 2014. The Republican-controlled House was too slow, they already provided $3.5 billion and the money cannot be taken back. Now the California’s High Speed Rail Authority has released a report stating the project will produce zero net greenhouse gas emissions.
“Our commitment is to make positive environmental contributions from day one.” — Authority CEO Jeff Morales
This does not allay concerns about the impact this project would have on 11 endangered species along the route, but does address the problem of air pollution from the diesel machinery that will lay down the tracks.
“High-speed rail will transform the state’s transportation system while reducing greenhouse gas emissions and providing environmental benefits for years to come.” — Jeff Morales
The CO2 produced during construction is to be offset by a tree planting program. Only recycled concrete and steel is to be used and contractors will be required to divert 75 % of their non-hazardous waste from landfills.
“The contractors will also be directed to explore methods to reduce the amount of potable water used onsite. These practical activities, including anti-idling programs, water efficiency, energy efficiency, and the use of fuel-efficient vehicles are among those that have been proven effective for reducing both GHG emissions and costs on many infrastructure projects.” — Jeff Morales.
The system is to run on 100% clean energy
“To estimate GHG emissions associated with the electricity purchased by the Authority for traction power, which is the power needed to propel the train along the rails, and facilities operations, the Authority assumed a mix of 20 percent solar, 30 percent wind, 45 percent geothermal, and 5 percent biogas (methane capture).” — Jeff Morales.
Thus the GHG emission reduction is calculated in terms of the number of passengers that choose to ride the high-speed rail system rather than use a car or airplane.
The Report’s Summary of Findings
“This analysis of greenhouse gas reductions clearly demonstrates that the high-speed rail project is an integral part of California’s overall climate goals,” said California Air Resources Board Chairman Mary Nichols. “This project will serve in the near term as the backbone of a more sustainable growth strategy in the San Joaquin Valley, and over time will provide a climate-friendly transportation option linking southern and northern California.”
“This report details important steps that the High-Speed Rail Authority is taking to curb greenhouse gas emissions in California and embrace renewable energy during operations,” said Brian Kelly, Secretary of the California State Transportation Agency. “High-speed rail is a key part of meeting the state’s mobility, safety and sustainability objectives.”
In Europe, where high-speed rail systems have been is use for decades, they also have a track record of stimulating local economies.
“Lille diversified into knowledge-intensive, service-producing activities once it was connected via high speed rail to London, Paris and Brussels. High-speed rail investment helped the city turnaround from depopulation and declining economic sectors. After being connected to high-speed rail in 1981, Nantes has evolved from an industrial port to a major service sector hub and one of the world’s most livable cities.”
If the high-speed rail system proceeds according to plan, by 2029 it will connect San Francisco to Los Angeles. The cost for this first phase of construction is estimated at $68 billion. Phase two, which will extend the system to cover the 800 miles between Sacramento and San Diego, is to come later.
Yet there may be opposition in the Republican dominated House, which has just axed the funding for a similar project connecting Las Vegas to California.
“At a certain point, they have made it very clear that they are going to need $38 billion in federal funds,” said Jeff Denham, Chairman of the House Railway Committee.“
Graphs and images taken from the California High Speed Rail Authority Report, Contribution of the High-Speed Rail Program to Reducing California’s Greenhouse Gas Emission Levels (June 2013).
- California High-Speed Rail To Have Net Zero Emissions (cleantechnica.com)
- California high-speed rail will benefit the environment, says new report (globalrailnews.com)
- California High Speed Rail: All Aboard! (gas2.org)
- The five best high speed rail networks in the world (thecityfix.com)
by Roy L. Hales
Governor Brown has signed AB 327. Despite the initial solar vs. utilities flare-up, the final version of AB 327 was something that most parties on both sides could agree on.
One of the passages that many found offensive – authorization for the CPUC to approve a flat rate of up to $10 on all residential customers of California’s biggest utilities, regardless of whether they draw that much power from the grid – remains.
The CPUC now has to determine a compensation structure for people whose solar feeds the grid and there are many who argue that the terms of their investments should not be changed mid-stream.
According to Arturo Carmona, Executive Director of the Latino group Presente.org, “The debate now shifts to the Public Utilities Commission where implementation of key portions of the bill, including the fees will be decided on. It will be important that the public does not lose sight of the big utility lobby’s true motivations. These charges have always been more about putting billions of dollars into the pockets of the big utility companies rather than anything else. The new charges stand to affect low-income communities who are already struggling to pay their bills and those that are already doing their part to conserve energy. California’s solar jobs, energy savings, and the state’s entire clean energy economy are all at stake.”
Yet, as a spokesperson for The Alliance for Solar Choice (TASC) told San Diego Loves Green, “The landmark bill that will provide much-needed stability for California’s rooftop solar industry.”
AB 327 achieves the following:
Removes the suspension on net metering that would have gone into effect at the end of year.
Eliminates uncertainly over how the current net metering cap is calculated.
Provides a framework for removing the net metering cap altogether.
Removes the 33% ceiling on the state’s Renewable Portfolio Standard.”
Before Governor Brown signed this legislation, he wrote a letter to the Members of the California State Assembly stating;
“I am signing Assembly Bill 327.
“This comprehensive rate reform legislation provides the California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) with the necessary Authority to address current electricity rate inequities, protect low-income energy users and maintain robust incentives for renewable energy investments.
“Specifically, the bill gives the CPUC the authority to craft a new electricity rate structure while increasing statutory discounts for qualified low-income customers. It also requires the electric utilities to develop distribution infrastructure plans to ensure that ratepayer dollars are being utilized in the most efficient way possible. Finally the bill makes it clear that California’s 33% Renewable Portfolio Standard is a floor, not a ceiling.
“As the CPUC considers rules regarding grandfathering of net meter customers, I expect the Commission to ensure that customers who took service under net metering prior to reaching the statutory net metering cap on or before July 1, 2017, are protected under those rules for the expected life of their systems.”
There still appears to be some concern about the impact of AB 327 and it will undoubtedly not be too long before the utility companies impose the $10 a month flat rate this legislation allows, but the solar industries comments about this legislation now sound favourable:
SEIA President and CEO Rhone Resch applauded, “SEIA applauds Gov. Brown for his unwavering commitment to clean energy. His efforts to reduce carbon emissions across California will have a positive and profound impact on the state’s future. This law provides a clear pathway for the continued growth of solar generation in California, which ranks #1 in the nation in total installed solar capacity with 3,761 megawatts (MW) – three times more than any other state. What’s more, solar now provides nearly 44,000 good-paying jobs across the state, while saving money for hundreds of thousands of Californians on their utility bills. Gov. Brown should be congratulated for recognizing the importance of clean solar energy to both California’s economy and its environment.”
“What AB 327 does is removes the net metering cap that would have inhibited many Californians from realizing the inherent economic benefits of harnessing power from the sun as a means to improve properties, slash energy costs and create a hedge against inevitable utility bill increases.
This is an important day for the solar industry, and for the home and business owners we serve.” — Dave Steele of PURE Solar Power.
“From a business perspective, this allows the state’s solar contractors to be confident with long-range planning for their businesses. Now we know the incentives surrounding solar energy won’t be denied to property owners. This gives solar companies like mine more confidence in the long-range planning for our business, i.e. forecasting employee hires and growth opportunities, which in turn contributes to the health and sustainability of the industry,” said Pekka Laine, President of Photon Solar Power, Inc..
But the best explanation of AB 327 came from Terri Steele of Figtree PACE, who emailed me, ”Can you feel that breeze, Roy? It’s the entire solar industry in California breathing a sigh of RELIEF!!”