Skip to content Skip to navigation

Decarbonizing California’s Energy Diet 

Natasha Mmonatau
Jul 6 2017

California’s ambitious energy goals may lead the state toward an economy far less reliant on carbon-based fuels than ever before. But how quickly?

Light House The natural-gas fired Moss Landing Power Station on Monterey Bay is the state’s largest power plant, producing 2.5 gigawatts of electricity. Hugo Simmelink via Flickr

By Natasha Mmonatau

Prompted by the Arab oil embargo in the early 1970s, California pushed its state’s energy commission to discuss prospective new power sources that could handle a rising annual load.

“In 1973, we were pell-mell into large-scale linear extrapolation of nuclear, coal, and gasoline consumption,” said Hal Harvey, CEO of the policy and technology company Energy Innovation in San Francisco. The embargo prompted renewed interest in alternatives, and in 1978, the Energy Tax Act provided economic incentives for large-scale solar power companies to build new facilities.

Today, renewable energy sources have gained far more traction than anyone imagined possible. California’s ambitious energy goals may lead the state toward an economy far less reliant on carbon-based fuels than ever before, as the state has some of the most progressive regulation nationwide in place to support renewables.

The question is not if California will transition to majority renewable sources of energy, but how, and how fast.

As of summer 2017, Senate Bill 100 – a bill proposing that California transition to 100 percent renewables by 2045 – is making its way to the Assembly, following a successful vote in the state senate in Sacramento. The measure expands the state’s existing commitment to getting 50 percent of its energy from renewables by 2030. 

So the question is not if California will transition to majority renewable sources of energy, but how, and how fast. Experts disagree on the feasibility of these decarbonization targets, because of the tension between achieving renewable energy goals and ensuring a dependable energy supply. And it is hard to know whether technology and infrastructure can develop on this demanding schedule.

To reach these ambitious goals, the state will need to overcome several key hurdles, particularly learning how to: store renewable energy; combine energy markets across state lines; and increase efficiency.

To some extent, this is already happening – California now gets almost a third of its energy from out of state, and it is currently working on plans to create a market that links suppliers across several different states and utilities.  

Purging Carbon is a Regional Task

In 2015, electricity generation produced nearly 20 percent of California’s greenhouse gas emissions. California’s Renewable Portfolio Standard requires a growing share of the state’s electricity to come from renewable and/or low-carbon sources; while carbon emissions due to in-state generated electricity has remained relatively flat, energy imported from out of state has been steadily declining in greenhouse gas intensity.

Source: California Energy Commission   Geoff McGhee
 

The Case for a Unified Interstate Grid

In a recent interview, V. John White expressed concern with existing grid infrastructure. White, who is executive director of the Center for Energy Efficiency and Renewable Technologies (CEERT), an advocacy group in Sacramento, said “We need to not just think about adding more renewables to the grid, but how to use renewables to actually operate the grid.”

CEERT’s “Fix The Grid” program aims to address what it calls “the greatest impediment to decarbonizing the western economy” through a better integrated regional grid. Among other things, an integrated grid would help utilities avoid wasting unused renewable energy when its prime market cannot use it. In an integrated market, energy suppliers could trade excess power across state borders.

But nationally, interest in such integration is low. Hal Harvey explained what he sees as a reluctance among state leaders to open their energy markets to outsiders. “Most energy policy is set state-by-state,” Harvey explained, “but there is the possibility of integrating energy policy across states.”

But, he added, “incumbent energy producers will throw out obstacles.” He added “They’re going to scream bloody murder whenever a new industry comes in.” In 2015, oil companies spent more than $11 million successfully lobbying to block climate change legislation in Sacramento. In the future, fossil-fuel industry lobbyists will continue to play a significant role in determining whether renewables and an integrated grid can achieve widespread acceptance. 

For most state governments, the question of energy-market integration is a fraught one. On a recent visit to Stanford University, New York state energy regulator Diane Burman spoke of the need for open and honest dialogue around energy issues.

The head of the Public Service Commission (which regulates New York State’s electric, gas, steam, telecommunications, and water utilities), Burman was asked about her organization’s interest in integrating energy markets across state borders. “That’s a loaded question,” she said, “yes – but at the same time we have to recognize some of the in-state and out-of-state issues.” Her discomfort with the notion of a combined interstate effort to broaden energy economies highlights a common reluctance in many state capitals.

Yet Burman seemed to view regional energy collaboration as an important strategic decision in the long run. “The focus is regional coordination,” she said. “…we don’t want to be the ones sticking out and not integrating.” But in the meantime, she has the same bottom line as energy regulators and managers everywhere: keeping the lights on.

Jeffrey Ball, a writer focused on energy and the environment, and scholar-in-residence at Stanford Law’s Steyer-Taylor Center for Energy Policy and Finance, agreed that market integration would certainly help; “the broader the market is, the more efficient it can be.” But, he added, “Constituencies have an interest in keeping their power.” And in the United States, “energy is regulated on the state, rather than the federal level.”

Government’s Role in Affecting Energy Economics

California has also prodded renewable adoption by regulating fossil-fuel use and providing subsidies. These have helped renewables become economically competitive. As Professor James Sweeney of Stanford’s Precourt Energy Efficiency Center said, “When you aren’t regulating [renewables], and it’s market competition, those producers that put in uneconomical renewables would lose market share.” Regulation has played a pivotal role in California’s adoption of renewable energy.

In 2015, California’s energy mix for electricity shows the following components: about 59 percent of energy came from natural gas, 7.7 percent from solar, 6.2 percent from wind, and 5.9 percent large hydro power.

California's Energy Mix, 1985-2015

Source: California Energy Commission   Geoff McGhee
 

Yet as renewable prices are dropping far more rapidly than anyone predicted, some argue that regulation needs to get smarter. “There’s a public backlash now against subsidies that many people think are inefficient,” Sweeney said. Without tax breaks for investors, said Jeffrey Ball, renewables may not have flourished at all.

As it stands, renewable energy generation is rapidly catching up to natural gas, California’s largest power source as of 2015. Though a very wet winter may have meant extra hydroelectricity, helping renewable generation, California this year has used significantly more renewables than the previous year, and much less natural gas.

Efficiency Is the Special Sauce in the Energy Mix

As grid integration and regulation ease the path for renewables, California’s energy management needs one more thing: continued success in reducing overall energy use. To this end, the clean energy advocate Hal Harvey cites “a remarkable piece of legislation:” Title 24 of the California Building Standards Code, which requires continuous improvement. Its standards must be updated every three years to reflect technological innovation. 

The law continues a trend started in 1975, when the California Energy Commission was created. “What they discovered,” said Harvey, “was that there were spectacular opportunities for energy efficiency.” 

But as much as the state has pushed to reduce energy use through building codes, appliance standards, and utility efficiency programs, technology continues to offer new options.

For example, high-rise building managers in Los Angeles could use increasingly precise weather predictions to prepare for hot days. By pre-cooling skyscrapers between the hours of four and seven o’clock in the morning, they could turn air conditioning off in that particular building during mid-afternoon hours, reducing the load at peak demand times.

This option changes the old energy paradigm. “The grid was built on a predicate of fossil-fueled electricity with a central switch,” said Jeffrey Ball. “So you could predict how much you were going to produce when.” In an indication of how important predictive techniques will be, he added, “You have to get much more elegant about forecasting when the sun’s going to shine.” 

Hal Harvey’s optimism about California’s energy future is rooted in a belief that better management practices, as well as an integrated energy market across the country, will help transform the grid. Harvey is hopeful, saying “The electric grid can be 100 percent renewables by 2050.” 

Power Plants in California

Whatever is true of the country at large, California is likely to be ahead of the pack. “California has a temperate climate, produces essentially no electricity with coal, and has extraordinarily abundant renewable resources,” said Ball. But he knows that not all states are as well equipped for a transition to renewables.

And, he said, “It’s becoming clear that while renewable energy has grown massively, it’s still nowhere near the change that would be required for it to make a meaningful environmental difference.”

Renewables are rapidly catching up to natural gas in their share of power production. For the month of February 2017, California generated roughly 25 percent of its electricity from renewables, and about 39 percent from natural gas. 

“By 2030, for electricity generation, we’ll be beyond half renewables” in California, Stanford’s James Sweeney said. A key driver of the future, he added, would be federal action. “We create a serious carbon tax, we keep the fuel efficiency standards up, we put money into research and development, creating incentives that move the technology forward.” 

A national carbon tax could turbo-charge California’s journey to the land of completely renewable energy. That journey, difficult as it is, is intertwined with a far more challenging national journey. To have a significant impact on how energy shifts across the U.S., the state must look for collaborations across state lines that could provide incentives for everyone.

Moving beyond a dependence on natural gas to guarantee reliability will take a concerted effort by energy regulators and consumers. As Ball said, “It’s important to remember that this is a messy transition we’re in.”    

 

Read Next in ...& the West

Lower Basin States Work to Keep Lake Mead Afloat

Lake Mead on the Colorado River has become an hourglass of shrinking water supplies. Can lower-basin states turn back the clock?

 

 

 

 

Submit a Comment

We'd like to know what you think. We will not share your email address or add you to any lists. If you'd like to be notified about new blog posts and news from the Center, you can join our mailing list.

You will receive emails no more than once a week. We will not share your information.

 

...& the Best

Western Articles and Media Elsewhere
Compiled by Felicity Barringer, Benek Robertson, Maya Burke, Kate Selig, Francisco L. Nodarse, Devon Burger, and Madison Pobis

Articles Worth Reading: March 15, 2021

California Tribes Fight A Gold Mining Project Near Death Valley which would build an open pit mine on BLM land. K2 Gold Corp., of Vancouver, Canada, hopes to capitalize on rising gold prices using a new cyanide leaching technique to increase yields. The Lone Pine Paiute Shoshone Tribe and local environmentalists oppose the project citing its impact to natural and cultural resources Los Angeles Times

Energy Companies Have Stuck Colorado With Clean-Up Costs of Billions of Dollars for old oil and gas wells. If left unplugged, wells can leak toxins into groundwater and emit methane and other greenhouse gases. Companies are legally required to pay for cleanup, but the funds they provided to the state would only cover two percent of the wells. High Country News

Butterflies Are Vanishing Out West. Scientists Say Climate Change is to Blame. As the region has become hotter and drier, butterfly numbers have declined steadily, according to a study published in the journal Science. Washington Post

Biden Shows Support for Controversial Road in Alaska Refuge. The development project in Izembek National Wildlife Refuge -- first advanced by the Trump Administration -- has been the contested in federal courts by environmental groups. Seattle Times

Oregon Has a New Carbon Cap Program. After Republican legislators walked out on the latest climate bill, Governor Kate Brown issued an executive order for state agencies to draft carbon-reduction rules that would meet the same targets. They hope to have the program running by 2022. Oregonian

Most Colorado River Basin States Plan to Negotiate About Cutting Use. Not Utah. During negotiations over water usage from the Colorado River, Utah is organizing to push for an increased share. Drought conditions have led other states in the region to seek decreases in water usage. “The goal of renegotiating is figuring out how to use less,” said John Fleck, a water scholar. It’s not “staking out political turf to try to figure out how to use more.” Associated Press

A Texas Bill Seeks to Punish Companies That Divest From Fossil Fuels by cutting them off from state investment funds. Republican lawmakers are championing the bill, even as many Wall Street firms shift their portfolios to better reflect climate change. If passed, it would direct the state’s massive investment funds to divest from companies that boycott oil, gas, and other fossil fuels. Texas Tribune

Articles Worth Reading: March 1, 2021

Biden Administration Reviews Proposal to Export Five Million Tons of Natural Gas to Mexico, setting up an early test for its fossil fuel policies. The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission has recently approved export terminals, despite opposition from tribes and environmental groups. Sempra Energy is behind the proposal: the company owns two major utility companies in Southern California. Los Angeles Times

Tribes Flex Political Muscle in Quest to Co-Manage Parks. The National Congress of American Indians is asking President Biden to "finalize a true co-management agreement” with tribes within his first 100 days in office. Deb Haaland's nomination as the first Native American Secretary of the Interior has instilled hope in tribes seeking greater cooperative management agreements and other collaborative partnerships with the federal government. E&E News

Maritime Shippers Send Empty Containers to China, Refusing to Load Agricultural Exports. Carriers rejected hundreds of thousands of crop containers in recent months, favoring empty containers that would allow for fast turnaround times. This practice has caused particular hardships for American growers such as California’s almond farmers. Farm Progress

XCEL, a Colorado Energy Company Plans to Double its Renewable Energy generation by 2030, closing coal plants and rolling out large wind and solar projects. Consumers will shoulder the $8 billion required to get 80 percent of the company’s Colorado energy portfolio powered by renewables. Colorado Sun

A Clam Crisis Is Developing in California as fishermen’s new interest in the clam industry and their widespread use of hydraulic pumps has forced State Fish and Wildlife personnel to enact emergency restrictions. Harvest limits have been flouted, and new pumps allow for increased ease of clam harvest. Regulators suspect that illegally harvested clams are filling the vacuum left by black-market abalone – abalone poaching has declined since the fishery’s closure in 2018. Seattle Times

The Interior Department Rescinds Grazing Rights for Controversial Oregon Ranchers. The decision comes days before cattle were scheduled to roam 26,000 acres of public lands neighboring the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge, site of a fatal standoff with those defying public-lands controls. Hammond Ranches Inc. had its grazing allotments revoked, after the Interior secretary’s office found that the Trump administration hadn’t allowed for sufficient public challenges. Washington Post

Articles Worth Reading: Feb 16, 2021

The Continuing Drop in Sierra Snowpack Has Led to an End to Free Water Deliveries the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power had made to ranchers annually. This has left local officials and environmentalists concerned that dewatered pastures will increase the risk of wildfire and reduce sage grouse habitat. Los Angeles Times

To Save Snake River Salmon, A Republican Congressman Wants to Breach Four Dams. Rep. Mike Simpson of Eastern Idaho has proposed a massive, federally-funded dam removal effort beginning in 2030. Many stakeholders are uncertain about the future of the $33 billion proposal, which would replace the hydroelectricity from the dams and provide alternatives to barging crops downriver. Simpson hopes this will preserve endangered salmon and support local economies. Idaho Statesman

Coachella Mandates Hazard Pay for Farmworkers under its jurisdiction in southeastern California. About 8,000 farmworkers live in Coachella Valley, with 30 percent of these in the city itself. Farms have been a common site of Covid-19 outbreaks. Workers often struggle to find protective gear and many occupy shared housing. As of mid-February, at least 12,787 farm workers have tested positive for Covid-19, and 43 have died, according to the Food & Environment Reporting Network’s outbreak tracker. The Counter

To Win State Control of Federal Lands in Utah, Suits Claimed Thousands of Wilderness “Roads” Existed. Their existence has been in dispute since suits were first filed in 2012, and a recent judicial ruling, saying wilderness advocates were improperly cut out of the certification process, may mean years more litigation. Some in state government are asking if the effort is worth it. Salt Lake Tribune

Environmentalists Fighting Tejon Valley Ranch Development Invoke Native Claims that the California condor qualifies as a cultural resource. In an appeal of a federal court ruling that allowed nearly 9,000 acres to be developed with homes and a golf course, the Center for Biological Diversity and local tribes argue the development in condor habitat would harm the bird. A dozen years ago, a landmark agreement between the ranch and major environmental organizations protected 240,000 acres of the ranch’s land and allowed development on the remaining 30,000 acres, including the land now in dispute. The Center was not a party to the agreement. Mynewsla High Country News

Montana’s National Bison Range Now Under Native Control. After 25 years of and on-again, off-again federal effort to transfer management of the range located on the Flathead Indian Reservation from the Interior Department to the Confederated Salish-Kootenai tribe, the final legal agreement was reached in December and earlier this year the transfer took place. Charkoosta

California Legislators Consider Vast Expansion of Offshore Wind. A new bill would require California to set a target of constructing 3,000 megawatts of offshore wind by 2030. Fishermen and environmentalists are still somewhat wary of offshore wind, but the bill has attracted support from labor leaders across the state. San Jose Mercury-News

Articles Worth Reading: Feb 2, 2021

On U.S. Public Lands, Can Biden Undo What Trump Has Wrought? President Biden’s ambitious agenda for public lands includes bans on oil and gas drilling and restored protections for key areas. Reversing the Trump administration’s policies, however, may be made difficult by conservative courts and rules changes. Yale Environment 360

Why Utah’s Wild Mink COVID-19 Cases Matter: In Utah, which faces similar problems to those encountered by the Netherlands last year, thousands of farmed minks have died of Covid-19. The affected sites have been forced into quarantine, and a wild mink tested positive for coronavirus last month -- the first wild animal to have naturally been infected with the virus. High Country News spoke with Dr. Anna Fagre, a virologist and veterinarian at Colorado State University, to help put the recent COVID-19 outbreak among wild minks in context. High Country News

Timber Tax Cuts Cost Oregon Towns Billions. Then Polluted Water Drove Up the Price. In rural Oregon, logging-related water contamination has threatened their access to clean, safe drinking water, forcing small towns to spend millions on new water infrastructure. The future of logging regulations remains murky for the nation’s top lumber producer. For decades, Oregon has allowed logging companies to leave fewer trees behind than in other states. Propublica/Oregonian

The Interior Department Effort to Relocate Jobs to Colorado Prompted a Mass Exodus; some 41 of 328 employes slated to move to Grand Junction, Colorado actually made the move; the rest left the agency. The Bureau of Land Management’s loss of so many longtime career employes – only 60 jobs were left in place in the Washington office -- is an example of the Trump Administration’s success the federal government. Washington Post

An Exploration of the Reasons to Cherish Microbiotic Soils. Fungi, lichen, cyanobacteria, algae, and other tiny organisms live in just the top few millimeters of soil; these crusts are critical to the health of the desert, and can be damaged repeated trampling by people, cattle, or off-road vehicles. Sierra Club

Some Ecological Damage from Trump’s Rushed Border Wall Could Be Repaired; conservationists are urging the Biden administration to remove sections of the barrier that cut across critical habitats, block migration corridors, and damage watersheds. The coalition opposing the wall has identified specific problematic sections to be potentially removed. Scientific American

Tens of Millions of Birds Pass Through Two Corridors in the West: California’s Central Valley and the Colorado River Delta. New research finds that more than 82 million birds pass through these regions during spring migration, with tree swallows concentrating in the Colorado delta and Anna’s hummingbirds in the Central Valley. This data helps define critical habitats for western birds, with up to 80 percent of some species’ populations passing through the two areas. Yale Environment 360

The Navajo Generating Station, a Major Employer and a Major Polluter on Navajo Land, has Been Demolished after Navajo and Hopi community members fought for years to close the facility. Now, Navajo and Hopi community members are outlining steps for community restoration, such as securing electricity and clean water access for residents, as well as job training. Center For Health, Environment And Justice

Articles Worth Reading: January 19, 2020

A Forever Drought Takes Hold in the West. The U.S. Drought Monitor — the nation’s official tally — shows Utah, Arizona, Colorado and New Mexico mired in “exceptional drought.” This type of drought is only supposed to happen every 50 years, but it’s now a regular occurrence. Even if rain and snow arrive in the coming months, parched soil will slurp it up, leaving less for riverbeds. Axios

“We’re Bound by That River,” one water expert said of the Colorado River, which supplies water to 40 million people. “All of us, regardless of our legal rights, regardless of what’s on paper, we need to consider how we can use less water. And we need to take action immediately.” The Colorado Basin and its water managers must juggle the laws that are decades old, new agreements and persistent aridity. The huge reservoirs of Lake Powell and Lake Mead have shrunk dramatically. Some observers say the rules governing distribution of the Colorado’s waters need to be fundamentally reimagined. Arizona Republic

Unlikely Coalitions Form to Block New Port Facilities to export fossil fuels. Teaming with Native Americans, ranchers and sportsmen, environmentalists have worked to block nearly every effort to export coal, oil and liquified natural gas from the West Coast. They just claimed another major victory this month – the latest of more than two dozen -- when a proposed coal-export terminal in Washington state was called off. Associated Press

“Fossil” Groundwater Is Being Depleted in California, and its users can’t rely on it being replenished any century soon, according to new study. If the water tucked underground for 100 centuries is used for the crops and pools of the 21st century, the fossil water stores will disappear for good. “It’s just like taking gold out of the ground, out of a mountain,” said Menso de Jong, the study’s lead author. “The gold is not going to grow back.” San Jose Mercury News

Apaches Sue to Stop First Step in Approval of Copper Mine Near Sacred Site. If an environmental study’s publication is blocked, the process of approving the mine planned by Resolution Copper might be derailed. A podcast interview with the reporter covering the controversy, Debra Utacia Krol of The Arizona Republic. KSUT

To Help Rural Economies, One-Third of Spotted Owl Habitat in Oregon Was Excluded from Protection. The size of the protected acreage has yo-yoed from one administration to the next, but this cut in protected areas is one of the biggest on record. The amount of habitat protected in the Obama administration was more than 9 million acres; the Trump administration in its final days cut that by more than 3 million acres. E&E News

Rural Coloradans Seek to Contain Light Pollution. NASA photos of Colorado from space show a widening urban white-out reaching into rural areas. The dark-sky zones that southwestern Colorado leaders are proposing in areas like the San Luis Valley would, all combined, cover more than 3,800 square miles — the largest official area protected from artificial light on the planet. Denver Post

Wildlife Take Stock of Photographers Taking Stock of Wildlife. “Animals interrupting wildlife photographers,” a thread by the Catalan journalist Joaquim Campa. Twitter

Articles Worth Reading: December 7, 2020

New Data Shows Lethal Damage to Coho Salmon Is From Tire Residue, as researchers double-down on the findings about tires’ environmental damage. One chemical, 6PPD-quinone, interacts with ozone and becomes highly toxic to Puget Sound salmon, taking out 40 to 80 percent of returning salmon before the spawn. The problem extends from Washington state, where scientists have been studying the issue, to California; tires are the largest source of microplastics in San Francisco Bay. The Seattle Times Los Angeles Times

With Legal Barriers Gone, More Westerners Are Harvesting Rain to supplement the disappearing water in the Colorado River and the Ogallala Aquifer. Rainwater harvesting—a cheap, low-barrier, low-energy method—may provide one piece of the long-term solution to water shortages in a region where climate change is intensifying droughts. Today, rainwater capture is legal in every state, though many have restrictions. A few, like Colorado, didn’t legalize it until 2016 and still restrict the total amount harvested. The Counter

A Navajo-Majority County Commission in Utah Calls for Restoring the Bears’ Ears Monument to its original size. The Trump Administration dramatically reduced the monument from 1.35 million acres to two separate areas totaling 200,000 acres. The San Juan County Commission voted 2-to-1 to make the request, with its two Navajo members in the majority. Associated Press

In the Wake of Fierce Fires, A Sudden Burst of Logging in Colorado. State foresters are overseeing wholesale mechanized tree-cutting, as tractors dig holes up to 140 acres in size are appearing among the lodgepole pines. A hot national wood-products market snaps up the lumber created in Colorado, which has never traditionally been a logging state. Across western Colorado, insect attacks on old and drought-enfeebled trees over the past decade have left 5 million acres of skeletal trees in a region climate change has made susceptible to wildfire. This year, 700,000 acres burned. Denver Post

As Insurers Blanch at Newly Calculated Wildfire Losses — $24 Billion in the U.S. in 2018, they continue to flee fire prone areas. In California alone in 20219, insurers pulled coverage from more than 230,000 homes — about 31 percent more than the year before. California regulators want to keep private insurers from fleeing the state, but know that climate change is changing everyone’s risk calculation. Bloomberg

Articles Worth Reading: November 30, 2020

Permit for Alaska’s Pebble Mine Permit Denied, Again. After flirting with the notion of approving a project that both state and federal agencies warned would cause permanent harm the Koktuli River watershed, the Trump administration backed off. It denied a key permit for a massive gold and copper mine. Mine developers plan an appeal, but their project faces opposition from the incoming administration. Donald Trump Jr., Fox News’s Tucker Carlson, and prominent Republicans joined conservationists, commercial fishermen and Alaska Natives in the effort to block the mine. Washington Post Anchorage Daily News

It’s Not Just Car Tailpipes, It’s Car Tires that pollute the waters of San Francisco Bay. The San Francisco Estuary Institute has measured runoff after cars gather for big events, particularly events held during rainstorms. It estimates half of some 7.2 trillion synthetic particles washing into the bay each year come from tires – which now consist of both rubber and plastic polymers. The institute’s work broadens the focus of environmental damage from cars. Hakai

Federal Plans to Raise Shasta Dam were unveiled by the Bureau of Reclamation. Supporters, particularly those in the agricultural industry centered in California’s Central Valley, strongly support increasing the dam’s storage capacity by 200 billion gallons, or 634,000 acre-feet. The latest press release from the Bureau of Reclamation discusses the findings of its most recent environmental impact statement. Agnet West California Aggie

Colorado’s Air Quality Control Commission Speeding Closures of Coal-Fired Power Plants to meet the state goal of slashing emissions in half by 2030. According to the U.S. Energy Information Administration, from 2011 to the middle of this year, some 95 gigawatts of coal capacity was taken offline another 25 GW is slated to shut down by 2025. Utility Dive

How Much Lithium Under the Salton Sea Can Be Retrieved? The huge lake in the southeastern California desert may sit atop a rich deposit of minerals just waiting to be developed. The hot water trapped beneath the basin's floor contains one of the world’s biggest deposits of lithium. This mineral, which now comes mostly from China, Australia and South America, has growing importance as automakers shift to electric cars powered by lithium-ion batteries. Bloomberg H2O Radio

To Fight Against Climate Change, the Swinomish Use Traditional Knowledge to recover the salmon central to the Indigenous group’s diet and traditions. In recent years, though, the tribe’s harvest, diminished by vanishing habitat and warming waters fueled by climate change, hasn’t been sufficient to feed the hundreds of people who come to pay homage to their ancestors and the fish that sustained them. Their ambitious climate strategy involves not only rebuilding oyster reefs, but, for salmon, restoring tidelands and ancient channels, planting trees along streambeds to cool warming waters and working with farmers to push back setbacks from streams. Some 50 other Native tribes are following the Swinomish lead. Washington Post

In a Tribute to Ansel Adams, a magazine produces a photo essay following in his path. Maptia

Articles Worth Reading: November 24, 2020

Breakthrough Deal Revives Plan for Largest U.S. Dam Demolition along the Oregon-California border. An agreement between the governors of Oregon and California paves the way for the demolition of four hydroelectric dams on the Klamath River, creating the foundation for salmon restoration that would aid tribes in the area. The deal must now be approved by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, with California officials optimistic that dam removal could start by 2023.

Associated Press San Francisco Chronicle

Federal Subsidies Accelerate the Draining of the Ogallala Aquifer. For decades, farmers have overdrawn the groundwater from the nation’s largest aquifer, which covers parts of eight states. New research shows that state and federal policies encourage the depletion, which now threatens drinking water supplies. Federal subsidies increased 65% in 2020, partly in payments to cover the pain of losses from trade wars. The subsidies put farmers on a treadmill, creating a vicious cycle of overproduction that requires intensive use of water. The Counter

New Mexico Ranchers Face Historic Drought, forcing some ranchers to sell their animals as there will not be enough grass to support the animals through the winter. The state is facing patches of extreme and exceptional drought, compounded by several summers of record heat and little rainfall. The pandemic is exacerbating the impact of the drought by hurting meat-packing plants and closing restaurants. Albuquerque Journal

Researchers Still Don’t Know Why So Many Birds Died This Fall. Thousands of bird deaths have been recorded across the western U.S. and Mexico. Researchers say the mass die-offs are unusual, finding piles of dead birds in one spot. It is unclear whether these incidents across the country are related or not, and scientists have posited causes ranging from extreme weather events and wildfire smoke to drought. Sierra Club Salt Lake Tribune

Placer County, Calif. Is America’s Riskiest Place for Wildfires. Computer modeling conducted by analytics firm Climate Check shows 17 counties, mostly clustered in the West, face the country’s greatest wildfire risk. Experts say development and population growth in remote areas and on the edge of cities, creating increased growth in the wildland urban interface, is responsible for much of the increased risk. E&E News

Congress Seeks Answers on Alaskan Mine Project. Democrats in the House of Representatives have launched an investigation into the Pebble Mine project, seeking to determine whether the developers misrepresented its plans to Alaskan Natives and the government. House leaders raised concerns that the developers privately planned a much larger and longer project while downplaying the mine to the public. If completed, Pebble Mine would be one of the largest open-pit mines in the world. The New York Times

Articles Worth Reading: November 17, 2020

Hoping to Lock In Drilling Rights on Alaska’s Pristine Coastal Plain, the outgoing Trump administration is asking oil and gas firms to select the places they hope to drill in Alaska’s Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. The idea is to ensure a lease sale in the wilderness area of nearly 1.6 million acres can occur before the inauguration of a longtime opponent, President-Elect Joe Biden. Washington Post

Federal Judge Says Interior Department Ignored Climate Concerns in granting new Wyoming oil and gas leases. The judge blocked the move and called on federal regulators to comply with the National Environmental Policy Act and conduct its environmental analysis and consider possible negative effects on the climate, before drilling on 282 lease parcels on 300,000 acres of federal land could be occur. Casper Star-Tribune

Canadian Environmental Groups Working With Shell Canada and Others to create a national carbon-offset system. The program is something that the government announced last year but has no built-in deadlines to follow. Shell is one of several oil companies pushing the federal government to create a national greenhouse gas offset program. Carbon offsets allow companies and individuals to invest in environmental projects in order to balance out their own greenhouse gas emissions. CBC

The Lights of Growing Communities Attract Deer. Deer Attract Cougars. Research shows that as light pollution grows, it mimics deer’s preferred dusk and dawn grazing times. But there are still enough dark spots for predators to hide and hunt, according to both satellite data and GPS data from 117 cougars and 486 mule deer in the southwest. Salt Lake Tribune

The Head of California’s Clean Air Agency Could Lead EPA under President-Elect Joe Biden. Mary Nichols has kept California focused on efforts to control greenhouse gases. But at the Air Resources Board, disquieting news surfaced about allegations of persistent slighting of Black employee in the agency, which is opening a discussion of the charges with all employees. Bloomberg News Sacramento Bee

Black Cowboys Reclaim Their History in the West Though historians estimate that as many as one-fourth of the cowboys in the late 1800s were Black, many of them have been erased from the history of the “Wild West.” But this history is remembered by men who gather at a ranch in South Phoenix owned by a retired Black trucker from Indiana. High Country News

Graphics & the West

Where California Grows Its Food

See the most detailed survey ever done of crops and land use in California. It covers nine million acres of land devoted to grapes, alfalfa, cotton, plums, you name it – food for people and animals all over the world. View map »

California's Changing Energy Mix

A look at the energy sources California utilities have used gives us insights into the state’s progress in decarbonizing its electricity supply. In 2015, 35% of total electricity generation (in-state generation plus imported electricity) came from zero-greenhouse-gas sources, which include solar, wind, hydropower, and nuclear. View Graphic »

U.S. Conservation Easements

Conservation easements of various kinds cover more than 22 million acres of land in the United States, according to the National Conservation Easement Database, a public-private partnership. Take a look at our interactive map of nearly every conservation easement, with details on over 130,000 sites. View map »

 

Recent Center News

Apr 15 2021 | Center News, Happenings, Research Notes
After partnering to conduct research on policing alternatives last summer, the Lane Center and neighboring cities will conduct follow-up meetings on April 30 to discuss progress, challenges and new research.
Apr 12 2021 | ... & the West Blog, ... & the Best | Stories Recommended by the ‘... & the West’ Blog
Deb Haaland visits Bears Ears; scientists study what makes wildfire smoke toxic; the fight to save old-growth forests in British Columbia; the first urban wildlife refuge in the Southwest; grasshoppers and an opera in Glacier National Park; and other recent news from the West.
Apr 8 2021 | Center News, Happenings, Research Notes
2019 data on public sector debt for pension liabilities, with a focus on California, now available with 'Pension Tracker'