Wednesday, July 27, 2022

Neighborhood Defenders Wrong Again

Neighborhood Defenders bring up aesthetics, the environment and property values as reasons to oppose things.  There are quite a few in my city (and likely yours, too). Sometimes, it seems like nothing must ever change or else we will incur their wrath.  I've been begging for bike lanes for 25 years, to no avail. Bike lanes must never take away on-street parking (mostly FREE PARKING) so they don't get built. Instead, we'll just keep making blood sacrifices of our children on the streets

Anyway, I digress. This is a blog post about electricity and pollution. But I have to digress a little bit longer first. 

Since 2019, I have been a director on the boards of both League of Women Voters of the Beach Cities and of Los Angeles County. Due to my science background, I was assigned the Natural Resources Portfolio.

I've been passionate about water and the environment since I took Field Biology in high school. So I also joined the LWVC Water Committee. I was a little bit too outspoken at the Water Committee meetings because I ended up being assigned to write nearly half the Overview of California Water articles, including the one on the Water-Energy Nexus.

This led the LWVC chair of Natural Resources to ask me to serve as her deputy in the area of Energy/Electricity.  Thus, I found myself the Energy Subcommittee team leader. I promptly ordered and read a bunch of books about energy and clean energy in particular. It's a fascinating topic. I never imagined that I would know the names and boundaries of the regional balancing authorities of The Grid, or that I would have opinions on their governance.  But, I do now.  ;-)

Back to electricity. 

There's been a spate of articles lately about the fate of a handful of power plants along the California coast that use ocean water for cooling. OTC (Once Through Cooling) plants have to suck in large volumes of ocean or river water, which can suck in small sea/aquatic life. That is totally no bueno.

At one time, we had quite a few of them. They sit on prime ocean-front land so their real value is often more due to real estate than power production. OTOH, they also have infrastructure, such as existing transmission lines, that would be difficult to assemble today. 

How a beachfront gas plant explains California’s energy problems lays out some of the issues. 

So I started researching the fate of the OTC plants that are no longer using ocean water for cooling. It turns out that I didn't have to look far. In 2013-2014, a similar power plant just a few miles to the north, the El Segundo Energy Center, was repowered* from Boiler-type OTC to a dry-cooled Combined Cycle Gas Turbines (CCGT). 

* Repowering means updating an older power plant with newer equipment that is more efficient and pollutes less. Switching from a gas boiler system to CCGT yields 50-70% more energy per amount of gas burned or per molecule of CO2 produced. They can be powered up in 20-30 minutes compared to many hours for older boiler plants.  

Newer Reciprocating Internal Combustion Engines (RICE) can be powered up in 2 minutes, meaning they can react quickly to things like the marine layer moving in and decreasing local roof-top solar power output. RICE are air-cooled, yielding substantial water savings of millions of gallons per day. 

You know how much I love data. I discovered the EPA Clean Air Markets Program Data Portal (aka Cap and Trade). I looked up the characteristics and 2021 data for five area power plants, including the repowered one in El Segundo and AES Redondo Beach. 

The comparison is stark! On every pollution metric, AES RB is much, much worse than ESEC--about 2-3.5x as much pollution per unit of power, over the course of a year, and it operates 4x as many hours.

I summed up the data from Jan 1, 2021 to Dec 31, 2021 to get an idea of how much power and pollution each plant puts out in a year.  

Each Facility/Power Plant has more than one generator. They turn on the amount they need to meet the anticipated electricity demand/load. No one wants to burn more fuel than they need to because that's just burning money.  

El Segundo has 2 generators, Redondo Beach has 3. Operating time is summed up over generators. If all 3 are running for one hour, that's 3 hours of operating time. 

Gross load is how much power they are making. 

Despite providing comparable amounts of power over the course of a year, the older AES RB plant puts out 2x the SO2 and CO2 and 3.5x the NOx than the AES plant. It also operates over more hours. (Click on the table to enlarge it.)


I made histograms for hours of the day that each plant ran.  Redondo Beach, which has the older boilers, has to run pretty much continuously to keep warm so that they can deliver electricity during the peak demand hours on hot summer evenings. Incredibly wasteful and polluting. 

El Segundo EC can ramp up and ramp down each day that it runs. Notice the vertical axes on AES RB are 2x higher. ESEC has 2 generators, running an average of 50 days a year, mainly during the late afternoon and evening hours. It shuts down at other hours because it can.  Saves money, saves CO2/SO2/NOx. It's just better all around. 

I made a scatterplot of power output by each hour of operation. Redondo Beach operates a lot of hours with low power output. (This is summed up over all generators. Sometimes, 2-3 generators are working at the same time.)


El Segundo rarely operates both generators at the same time. It also runs some warm up hours with little power output, but uses a lot less gas to do it at those times (if you look at the full data). 


Nameplate capacity is how much power a plant can generate, if it ran at full tilt. ESEC has a nameplate capacity of 560 MW with both generators operating. They ran one for part of 538 hours and the other for 626 hours.  There are 8760 hours/year. If it ran at full capacity the entire year, it would generate 4,905,600 MWh of energy. It generated 227,487 MWh in 2021, so it ran at .046 capacity factor in 2021. ESEC is an example of a "peaker" plant, that runs only when the grid demand is high.

AES RB is another peaker plant. Nameplate capacity is 496 MW so annual capacity is 4,344,960 MWh. It generated 251,192 MWh for .058 capacity factor. 

There are activists who want to block all fossil fuel investments. That's seductive because why would people spend money on something that they are going to idle most of the time? If we have it, we will use it. Right?

Induced demand has been shown to apply to car traffic. When you add a lane (like we did to the 405 freeway), then more people drive until the congestion is just as bad or even worse than before. If there is parking at a destination, people tend to drive. If there isn't, they tend to find another way to get there (e.g. transit for DTLA or bikes for the beach).

The converse is also true. When you make driving a hassle, people do it less. If people don't have cars, they make fewer trips. If they are thinking of driving somewhere, and that place doesn't have parking, they may forgo the trip rather than deal with the hassle. 

So, if you have a car, how often do you use it? The answer is ~5% of the time, about the same percentage of time as a peaker power plant!

Does induced demand work for natural gas power plants? Do operators have the self control to build new, highly efficient and clean ones, and then let them sit idle most of the time? ESEC spent $ rebuilding the power plant, but they run it profitably by only running it during the hours when power buyers are paying the highest prices. They also installed advanced emissions controls. Under cap and trade rules, they can sell emissions credits to other operators. 

AES Alamitos and Huntington Beach are much bigger plants and serve "baseload" instead of running only at peak demand times. AES proposed another peaker plant in Redondo Beach. The question becomes, do you think that AES will adhere to the plan they submitted? 

CAISO (California Independent System Operator) runs the CA Grid and has the authority to tell power plants when to operate, when to curtail/go offline. Do you think that CAISO, the Coastal Commission and the CPUC (CA Public Utilities Commission) would allow AES RB to deviate from their plan/permits? Would they all be in on the same conspiracy? I trust not, but I know that many of the voices that carried the day did not feel the same.

Here's something in a report from San Diego Gas & Electric. See how the generation capacity of gas power plants remains high, but the amount of electricity produced from them ramps down over time? That's due to California's Renewable Energy Portfolio Standards (RE PS). Power producers are required to serve more Renewable Energy over time. Even if they are tempted to run their gas plants more to recoup their investment, they really can't. 


In the future, with high integration of renewable energy sources, all gas plants will operate as peaker plants. If they can't be nimble enough, they will be retired. It's the most rational and economic choice. It's also the only way they will meet California's RE PS which is the law of the land. 

However, if they don't make the investment in modern facilities that can ramp up and down in minutes, the old technology requires them to run many more hours than needed, burning more gas and generating more pollution along the way. 

These old plants are so, so bad. They aren't responsive enough to serve the needs of today's grid with high renewables content. They are wasteful of money and fuels.  They generate high amounts of pollution per unit of energy. They require water in a water-scarce region. The OTC plants are even worse because of their ocean water intakes. 

So why wasn't AES Redondo Beach repowered? AES tried. But there was so much opposition from Redondo Beach leaders, they gave up. RB Patch covered it pretty thoroughly and doesn't have a paywall. 
AES officials say the new plant will run more efficiently, have a smaller footprint and provide flexibility for the grid when energy from renewable resources isn't available. 
Opponents, on the other hand, argue that the plant will continue to decrease property values and blight the waterfront, despite a $300 million revitalization effort. Additionally, they point to AES' application and say a new plant will run more often than the current one, and thus produce five to 15 times more particulate pollution.
Anyway, for almost a decade, Redondans have suffered 2-3.5x more pollution than we would have if AES RB had been repowered to the same scale and technology as ESEC. We lived with more noise as the proposed upgrade would have been enclosed to contain sound and ran much fewer hours/days. We also  continued sucking marine life into the water intakes. 

All for what? To say we won? To say that we stopped AES? To cost AES money? 

It certainly didn't help the marine life or reduce CO2/SO2/NOx emissions. 

It didn't have to be this way. 

(I'll write about Grayson another day as it's past my bedtime.)

Monday, July 18, 2022

So your city has declared a climate emergency

 We are experiencing record heat in both North America and Europe, during a La Nina year (when the planet surface tends to be cooler than average).  The only way to stop this long-term runaway heating is to quit emitting so much CO2 and other planet-warming gases. Yet, our elected leaders, even in deep blue states, are not doing the necessary work.

I am so tired of fighting for substantive changes that I wrote about in Data Driven Climate Action. We know that 44% of LA County's GHG emissions comes from the transportation sector. If you add fossil fuel refining, it's over 50%. Over 2/3 of transportation emissions comes from private light-duty vehicles (cars, trucks, SUVs, minivans).  Much of those miles are "junk miles" in the sense that they are short trips that could be done without a car if the built environment were not so auto-centric. 

I have been a bicycling advocate since graduate school in the 1990s, when I was studying gas-phase chemical physics. We knew it was cars back then, and it's still true today. 

Global Atmospheric CO2 was 360 ppm (parts per million) when I volunteered for my first Boulder BikeWeek. 

CO2 was 367 ppm when I volunteered for my first El Segundo Bike to Work Day Challenge in 1998. 

CO2 was 369 ppm when I went to my first Beach Cities Bicycle Network Community Outreach meeting in 1999.  Community outreach took forever. My 21 year old daughter wasn't even conceived yet, which was why I had time to attend the meeting. 

CO2 was 392 ppm in 2011 when the South Bay Bicycle Master Plan was adopted. Cities pledged that they would add the bike lanes when they repaved or did work on any of the streets in the network. Over time, the network would be completed. A few cities did the bare minimum, striping in door zone bike lanes or stenciling sharrows when they repaved streets. Others, just ignored the plan. 


CO2 is 428 ppm in mid-2022.  Here are the existing bike lanes in the Beach Cities. Transportation planners are still expecting people to drive to the beach and ride along the Strand as recreation, not as every day transportation.


Here's the innovation in 2022. Those promised bike lanes will become a Local Travel Network, LTN, suitable for use by all sorts of low-carbon vehicles such as electric golf carts, eBikes, eScooters, motorized wheelchairs, skateboards, etc. They plan to start delivering this network in 2024. Notice how much less ambitious it is than the 2011 plan. It will not include anything other than sharrows and a few beg buttons at existing traffic signals. Unlike the 2011 plan, there will be no new traffic signals to allow cyclists to cross busy arterial streets. 

These purple lines are streets/roads where speed limits are 35 mph or less and are not truck routes. But notice how few of them cross the 405 Freeway or any of the high-traffic arterial roads/state highways. 

Not only are the legal crossings few and far between, necessitating long detours, but some of those purple streets are one-way. Going in the reverse direction will require an even longer detour. I can't make anything this ludicrous up. 

Consider the case of a student in North Redondo Beach who attends Mira Costa High School on an inter-district transfer. (The bus from North RB to RUHS in South RB is jammed and leaves kids stranded at the bus stop. To avoid this, some families beg for an inter-district transfer to the closer MCHS.)

If they had delivered on a bike lane along Artesia Blvd when they repaved it, students could take a direct route with a maximum grade of 5%. Not super pleasant, but doable if you had a protected bike lane.  Of course there is no bike lane of any kind because that would have removed free on-street parking.  Which is more important than our kids' lives and planetary health. 

Direct route: 1.6587 km, max 5% grade

Instead, students must take a roundabout way to an existing traffic light at Robinson/2nd St. 

Westbound detour: 2.2982 km, killer 15% grade short hill

But Robinson is a 1-way street going westbound, and so is Plant, the only other street connected to the east side of that traffic signal. To get home, our student has to take a different detour that crosses Artesia Blvd (CA 91) twice and Aviation at an angled intersection. 

2.874 km, wheelie territory 15+% grade sustained climb

If they had built the 2011 Bicycle Master Plan, with a new traffic signal at Voorhees, our student would have had a reversible direct route. There's a 13% grade climb for half a block. But it's doable with an eBike or a very low gear or if they dismount and walk that section. 

1.6991 km, max 13% grade

(I used mappedometer.com in metric to make calculating grades easier. )

In what world do we expect people in an automobile to take a detour that adds 75% more length to their trip and steepens climbs from 5% to 15% grade? That's just abusive. 

It's late, so I won't dissect why kids are riding eBikes in all sorts of unsafe ways. Spoiler, it's because the streets are hostile and don't allow them to take more direct and safer routes. 

This LTN will not make any difference when completed. 

2024 will look a lot like 2022. Only CO2 will be higher still.  And we'll have more dead kids*. 

* "the crash may have been a result of misaligned crosswalks due to the single diagonal cut handicap ramp, rather than two separate ramps aligned with the crosswalk." 
I have written before about the danger of single diagonal curb cuts.

Monday, July 04, 2022

Utility Cycling

 I do a lot of utility cycling around my suburban LA area since I bought an eBike. It's so easy to stop and take photos when out on bikes, I document some of the delightful or ridiculous things I see along the way. If you follow me on Twitter, you see the photos. 

There are some bike snobs who insist that riding eBikes is cheating and we are not exercising. So I wrote a Twitter thread about a recent 9.2 mi loop covering 3 errands. 

I found some numbers in a 2013 LA Times Opinion 

Sure enough, bicycling 10 miles in an hour burns 484 calories, according to the chart. Walking three miles in an hour burns 353 calories. And driving 30 miles in an hour burns — wait for it — 170 calories!

That presumes a lighter person on a lighter bike. My 53# eBike, 9# U-lock, 2" wide tires, middle-aged weight, and groceries mean I'm burning over 500 calories/hour if not using e-assist. I turn on e-assist only when going up steep or long hills, to get started at traffic lights/stop signs, to hit green lights (which are timed for car speeds), or to keep up with traffic on fast/busy roads.

I'm also a bit obsessed with data so I bought a Kill-a-Watt device to track how many watts I use recharging my eBike battery. I typically use 9-10 watt-hours (Wh) per mile in utility riding. 

1 food calorie = 1 kilocalorie of energy = 0.0011622 kWh

I used 90 watt-hours = 77.44 kcal/food calories of electricity. 

If I had ridden a non-assist bike at 10 mph, I would have used at least 500 calories. Assuming 77.44 of those calories came from e-assist, the breakdown would be 15% motor, 85% myself. 

I did a little more searching for cycling speeds and calories burned. This website lets you plug in a weight and it calculates calories for a variety of cycling speeds. I put in 175# for myself, my gear, my heavier-than-usual eBike. Stationary cycling doesn't have wind resistance, which is why outdoor riding uses more calories at higher speeds. 


40 minutes of 15 mph riding on an eBike would be about 500 calories, same as the earlier estimate.  This is reassuring confirmation. I'm using my eBike to ride faster and further. Hills will not stop me! Numerous studies show that I am not alone.
The people who bought e-bikes increased their bicycle use from 2.1 kilometers (1.3 miles) to 9.2 kilometers (5.7 miles) on average per day; a 340% increase. The e-bike's share of all their transportation increased dramatically too; from 17% to 49%, where they e-biked instead of walking, taking public transit, and driving.

I take my eBike instead of my car for more of my errands. That's a win for me (exercise in a busy schedule), for my community (no wear tear and parking to provide) and for my region (no air pollution). 

I hope you try an eBike soon. If you have, drop a comment with your experiences. 


Monday, June 20, 2022

Rhetorical Tricks: Water Edition

 Sometimes, I read something that makes me so mad, I dash off a quick email to a friend who gets it. This time, I sent it off to the entire LWVC googlegroup and got some 'attagirl' affirmations back. So, let's share this take down. 

First, read These five people could make or break the Colorado River. Do you see what is wrong with this quote by one of the five people, Imperial Irrigation District (IID) commissioner J. B. Hamby? 

Hamby also pointed to the huge amounts of water that are still wasted, in his view, in cities such as Los Angeles. "It’s very easy to point at the alfalfa field, but what about drying out the lawns and useless grass?"

 The Colorado River (CR) is subject to all sorts of unrealistic math, well-documented elsewhere. We have these benchmark Colorado River allocations based upon 16.5 Million Acre Feet (MAC). Mexico gets 1.5 MAF, and the Upper and Lower Basin states get 7.5 MAF each. 

California gets the lion's share. In the benchmark scenario, farmers, mostly the IID, get 3.85 MAF out of California's 4.4 MAF. The remaining 0.55 MAF goes to the Metropolitan Water District (MWD), who sells it wholesale to 19 Million urban users based on a system of rights allocated decades ago.  It's roughly a 70/30 split between farmers and urban users before water rights transfers. (Cities buy about 0.5 MAF of CR water allocations from farmers.)

In practice, the CR does not have that much water and IID gets around 2.5-2.6 MAF and the cities get about half that, and then purchase more from farmers. 

IID commissioner Hamby pointed to LA lawns in a rhetorical trick called misdirection. It's often employed by magicians so you don't look at what they are really doing. 

Let's do the math! 

If we take him literally, let's run the numbers for the City of Los Angeles' Department of Water and Power, LA DWP. 

IID receives 2.5-2.6 MAF from the CO River. LADWP uses 0.5 MAF/year from all sources and serves 4 M people. An acre-foot serves 8 Angelenos for an entire year. (An acre foot serves 20 apartment dwellers in new, efficient homes!) 

About half is imported river water purchased from Metropolitan. 0.25 MAF The exact mix of SWP and COR water each year varies based on availability, but figure half on avg. 0.125 MAF 

City of LA residents are pretty water thrifty. About 1/3 might be outdoor use (perhaps 1/4). Not all of the outdoor irrigation in LA is lawns. Trees and shrubs are necessary to improve urban livability. 

Even if it were all lawns, we're down to (at maximum) 0.125 MAF/3 or 0.04 MAF compared to 2.5-2.6 MAF for the farmers of the IID. 

Anyway, finger pointing is a standard rhetorical trick to hijack the discussion. As always, verify. Does not pass the sniff test. 

Hamby said some other whoppers, which I won't go into here until I finish some other work with real deadlines. 

Monday, June 13, 2022

Vacancy Truths 2

I got asked this again and decided to publish this as a blog post instead of in an email because this is such a common misconception. 

First, read Vacancy Truths from September 2021 for background. There's a link to Darrell Owens' explanation about why home might be vacant and what we can learn from US Census Data. If a rental changes tenancy every 2 years, and it takes a month to clean/rehabilitate/lease out the rental. Thus, a 1/48 or 2.1% vacancy rate can mean essentially no open homes available. 

As housing stock gets older, it takes longer to rehabilitate the units. Supply chain issues are also increasing the amount of time it takes to build new homes or spruce up old ones.  It's not unusual to spend 2-6 months remodeling. A major SoCal developer announced to investors that home building is taking 6-8 weeks longer due to lack of materials and/or workers, citing kitchen cabinets as a major pain point.

The particular question from yesterday was from new homes in Pasadena, CA. She was sure that the new buildings in Pasadena are vacant and that developers get tax breaks to keep them vacant. 

Intuit explains that there is no tax break for loss of income while a rental (or for-sale) home is vacant. A lot of subsidized homes are built with the Low Income Housing Tax Credit (LIHTC). Wait lists for subsidized homes are years (often decades long), so there is no difficulty filling the homes.  If there are people who need subsidized homes, and you keep LIHTC-financed homes empty, you lose your tax credits. No sane builder would do that. I checked the most recent HUD data on LIHTC units (nationwide data) and they had a 3.97% vacancy rate in 2019.

Darrell Owens has helpfully extracted US Census data from 2010 and 2020 for all cities in California and shared it in a Google Sheets

In 2010, Pasadena had 59,551 homes (4,281 vacant) and 137,122 people

In 2020, Pasadena had 61,643 homes (3,659 vacant) and 138,699 people

This means that Pasadena added more homes than people in the last 10 years. This is not a failure in planning. This reflects the general trend of households (HH) trending smaller and older people staying in their homes longer, even if they don't need all that space. Younger people can't afford the single family homes (SFH) or don't have the down payments required to purchase SFHs or condos, so they end up living in the apartments downtown. 

It's possible that some of the new infill homes in central Pasadena are vacant, but they may still be under construction (lack certificate of occupancy), rentals being readied for a new tenant, or be for-sale condos waiting for a buyer. (For-sale homes are vacant longer than for-rent homes.)

Let's look at the data from the SCAG Local Profiles for communities in the 6-county (Ventura, LA, OC, Riverside, San Bernardino, Imperial) SCAG region. I pulled these charts from page 12 of the Pasadena Local Profile, 2018. They are derived from building permit data. Some of them are rebuilds and do not produce net new homes. (Likely source of discrepancy between the SCAG and Census data.)

Pasadena has done a better than average (for the region) job of building new homes in the downtown area. That is also why so many young people live there. New people (young people forming households, newcomers to the area) will flock to where the open homes are.

It may seem like there is a lot of construction, especially downtown, but it's a sampling bias. The City of Pasadena Development Activity Map shows building permits distributed throughout the city, but many of them are remodels or ADUs. The big construction projects are downtown, along major streets and freeways, because that is the only place cities allow them to be built. If we are driving around on the major roads (as most of our driving should be) we'll see more of the major projects. Explore the map; click on the orange dots to view data on each building site.


I checked Apartments.com and there are 164 apartments available for lease in Pasadena with next day occupancy (June 14, 2022). I checked Zillow and it shows 218 homes for sale and 152 for rent. I checked hotpads.com and it shows 279 apartments for immediate lease. Anyway, that's well under 1% of rental homes truly vacant, looking for a renter. Sounds like a very tight housing market. 

Rate.com says that Pasadena has a 1.2% homeowner vacancy rate and a 2.9% rental vacancy rate. I found it informative to compare Pasadena and Redondo Beach. That "little old lady from Pasadena is real; 27% of Pasadena residents are seniors. But 25% are 20-34.


Compare with Redondo Beach, where 33% are seniors and 19% are 20-34. 


Pasadena has 53% working age population (20-64) supporting 47% elderly (65+) or youngsters (0-19) for a dependency ratio of 0.89. Redondo Beach has 44% working age population supporting 56%, for a dependency ratio of 1.27. If you don't provide for young people, then your children will have to move elsewhere, and that can socially isolate the elderly as they age out of driving. My home town of Redondo Beach is facing the Silver Tsunami with no plan.



Thursday, March 31, 2022

Diagonal Single Curb Cuts: I don't care if you live or die

I was walking home from the library and thinking about all the ways that my city doesn't prioritize people trying to make trips without cars.  

Behold, the Single Curb Cut, set at 45 Degrees (on the diagonal) with respect to the crosswalks. It's hard to see underneath the car blocking the crosswalk.


Here's the view after the car made a right turn right in front of me as I approached the crossing. If I were in a wheelchair, or using a walker or shopping (granny) cart to get to the grocery store on the other side of the crosswalk, I would have to step out of the marked crosswalk, make a 45 degree turn to the left, cross in the sidewalk, then pull out into traffic again to go up the other diagonal ramp. 


Notice the dark stain at the foot of the ramp? That's the damp spot left after the recent rain because the Diagonal ramp cut is a gravitational well at the intersection of two crowned roads. People who roll things will always be directed into a puddle with these kinds of curb cuts. 


Imagine yourself in a wheelchair, trying to roll to the grocery store. You have to turn, roll yourself diagonally into the street, slowing yourself down so you don't roll off the sidewalk into speeding traffic.  After you stop yourself, you need to make a sharp turn to get into the crosswalk, then roll outside the crosswalk to approach the diagonal curb cut. 

Turning slows you down, so you could be at a near dead stop. To get back onto the sidewalk, you have to push uphill starting from a dead stop in a low point. Now imagine yourself coming home from the grocery store, laden with food.  Do that in reverse with the extra weight. 

At this intersection, there isn't even a marked crosswalk in the other direction; why direct the ramp towards the middle of the arterial intersection? Omission of a marked crosswalk and a traffic signal across this 35 mph arterial road (40,000 vehicles/day) means you want to suppress people from walking across the arterial at this intersection.  You've already decided to pay for only a single curb cut. So why not align it with the marked crosswalk? 

Wednesday, March 30, 2022

CA Car Rebates and Our Underfunded Active Transportation Program

There's been much hoopla about California's budget surplus and high gasoline prices. So why not use some of that surplus to alleviate pain at the pump? That may be good political messaging when the impetus is the much more mundane Gann Limit on CA public spending. The ghost of Howard Jarvis strikes again. Not content to limit just property taxes, they sponsored and got the electorate to approve caps on overall spending that limit public investment overall.

I don't want to belabor the stupidity of giving people who own cars $400 per car, up to $800 per person, while not similarly rewarding people who are either too poor to own cars and/or care enough about the common good to not own a private car in the first place.

In a world without all the stupid laws that we inherited, we could have fully funded our Active Transportation Program (ATP) to increase the proportion of trips accomplished by biking and walking.  The majority of ATP-funded projects are Safe Routes to Schools--to help children get safely to and from school. Basically, we need to protect kids outside of cars from the cars chauffeuring them around. 

Because of limited funding, ATP grants are extremely competitive

In 2014, cities and counties across the state requested about $1 billion in funding for pedestrian and bicycle safety projects, but there was only $368 million available, meaning about 37 percent of applicants were funded that cycle. Fast forward to Cycle 5 in 2020 when over $2.5 billion in funding requests were submitted for $554 million in available funding, a success rate of about 22 percent. In Los Angeles County, only 14 of 64 applications were awarded even partial funding, or 22 percent total – demoralizing, yet consistent with the statewide average.


The 2023-24 ATP budget is even grimmer. ATP has $147,670,000 to spend that is not already committed to other projects. That means, the 6-county SCAG region of 20 M people (including LA County, has only $31,242,000 or about $1.50/resident. 

In contrast, Governor Newsom's proposed 5-year infrastructure plan will devote $10 B to electric cars and $20 B for roads, roughly $5 B/year (pages 7-8).  This isn't even counting the $ spent on CHP and traffic enforcement. Due to the Gann limit, every $ spent in one place is a $ we can't spend somewhere else. This is extremely discouraging. 

In the mean time, we depend on volunteers and advocates such as Safe Routes Partnership to help communities hone their proposals to improve their odds of winning an ATP grant. "In ATP Cycle 5, four out of the five communities we worked with scored an 86/100 or above." In other words, communities can compete to get technical help to further compete to get funds to improve street safety for school children. 

My community finally won an ATP grant, but the funds allotted are well short of what we really need to remodel our streets.  We're likely to end up with some paint and street signs. Sigh. 

We have so much work to do. Spend some time exploring the California ATP Transportation Injury Mapping System.  (You need to register to create a free account, but it's worth it. UC Berkeley researchers built the system and don't do anything nefarious with your search terms.)

Here's a heat map of the 2017-2021 carnage. 


People who live in the neighborhoods with the larges blotches of red are least likely to own a car but most likely to be killed or maimed by one.  In Los Angeles County, over 5 years, 173 cyclists dead, 1323 pedestrians dead, thousands more injured and maimed. Their lives will forever be marked by pain and disability. (I'm not even counting the effect of air pollution in their neighborhoods.)


The Gann Limit requires CA to give out rebates. I wish that the rebates be used for restorative justice instead of rewarding people for owning cars. Who's with me?





Tuesday, March 29, 2022

Article 34, AFFH, Land Use and Climate Change

 Following up on How Mixed Income Cross Subsidies Work  

In 1950, California voters passed Proposition 10 that became Article 34 of our state constitution which bans construction of publicly-financed low-income housing unless a majority of voters approve.

Guess how many were approved in higher income, whiter areas? 

You don't have to guess, because California has created the Affirmatively Furthering Fair Housing Map, so you can see exactly where they are.  Not surprisingly, Public Housing (the publicly-owned ones targeted by Article 34) are rarely in the wealthy suburban areas of Los Angeles County, where the excellent schools and abundant jobs are. 

Notice how many of them are clustered around Freeways. Funny how areas with poor people attract freeways and how the only places that don't encounter NIMBY opposition to low-income housing is next to freeways. 

But, didn't I write in the last post that there were subsidized homes in Redondo Beach?  Yes, but there are different types of subsidized homes. The ones I showed last time are part of a mixed-income community, cross-subsidized by other residents of that complex--not the government. They don't even show up on this map because they don't use public funds (except some minor administration).

If we visualize government-Subsidized Housing, funded by HUD and LIHTC, you can see that they are more broadly dispersed, but still concentrated in certain areas. 

HUD (yellow) = Housing and Urban Development, funding directly from the Federal Department of Housing 

LIHTC (red) = Low Income Housing Tax Credit, a Reagan-era program created in 1986 that substitutes direct federal dollars with tax credits for private developers. It's very complex, but it's the biggest program in use today. 

Click on each red or yellow dot to learn more about each development.

My mother lived in a LIHTC home for a few years after maintaining her old house was too much for her and before she needed assisted living. We submitted paperwork each year to requalify her for below-market-rate (BMR) rent.  (In Silicon Valley, paying $2200+/mo for a 1 modern bedroom apartment is considered a great deal and worth giving her landlord an $800/mo tax subsidy over full market-rate rent.)

To create any kind of subsidized affordable units, you have to build in the first place. If you block all new housing, you can block subsidized housing without explicitly saying that is your intent. 

That gets us to the last line of affordability, Federal Housing Choice Vouchers aka Section 8. Once you secure one (and you can spend decades waiting for your area's waiting list to open and then decades waiting to move up the waiting list to get a voucher), then you have to find a home whose rent is low enough to qualify for the program

The map below shows the percentage of rentals in each census tract that are rented using Section 8 vouchers. Click on each Census Tract to get details of how many units that represents. If you have only one rental 4-plex building in a census tract, but it is all Section 8, then that shows up as 100% and dark brown. If you have 3000 rentals in another census tract, and 400 of them are Section 8, then it shows up in a lighter color. But the second tract is providing more affordable homes. 


People can't use Section 8 vouchers in your neighborhood if you block apartments from being built in your neighborhood. 

If there are apartments, landlords used to be able to discriminate and refuse to take Section 8 voucher holders. But, laws have changed. 

That brings us to the biggest impediment in my area, the lack of units whose rents are low enough to qualify for the program. After all, the government should subsidize basic, not luxury homes, right? 

The HUD Fair Market Rent is set on a regional level, so it's supposed to be an average of Los Angeles, Long Beach and Santa Ana. But, that regional average rent doesn't stretch to the rents in most high opportunity areas. Try finding a 2 bedroom apartment in southwest Los Angeles County for $1330-1708/mo in 2021. This is another reason there are no or very few Section 8 beneficiaries in many census tracts. 

If you have more time to kill, explore the AFFH map further. Click on the squares at the upper left to expose menus of datasets you can layer. For instance, select Jobs Proximity Index. The blue areas have the best access to high numbers of good-paying jobs. The red areas have the least access (by both car and transit). Notice how comparatively few subsidized homes are in the blue areas? 


If we are going to reduce Greenhouse Gas (GHG) emissions and air pollution, we need to move people closer to their jobs. No, that does not mean shipping jobs to the desert. It means that we densify the already developed areas. Unfortunately, this is considered intensification of land use and is very hard to do under existing law. 

Do we change the human laws or do we ignore the physical laws that govern climate change?


Friday, March 25, 2022

How Mixed Income Cross Subsidies Work

There seems to be a lot of confusion about low-income and affordable housing in California and beyond. I was similarly confused, but learned a few things when I signed up to be a League of Women Voters volunteer and attended housing meetings at the regional and local level. 

I keep saying that I am not an expert, but people I consider to be true experts say I know more than 99% of CA voters. So I'll blog about a few things I learned, in no particular order except that it was at the top of my mind for some reason (usually answering a recent question). 

In 1950, California voters passed Proposition 10 that became Article 34 of our state constitution which bans construction of publicly-financed low-income housing unless a majority of voters approve. This helped fuel a rush of incorporation amongst small and midsize cities so that locals won't be overwhelmed by voters of a larger city. Why it’s been so hard to kill Article 34, California’s ‘racist’ barrier to affordable housing (LA Times link) does a good job of explaining the situation.

The wording of the Proposition binds our hands:

No low rent housing project shall hereafter be developed, constructed, or acquired in any manner by any state public body until, a majority of the qualified electors of the city, town or county, as the case may be, in which it is proposed to develop, construct, or acquire the same, voting upon such issue, approve such project by voting in favor thereof at an election to be held for that purpose, or at any general or special election. 
For the purposes of this Article the term “low rent housing project” shall mean any development composed of urban or rural dwellings, apartments or other living accommodations for persons of low income, financed in whole or in part by the Federal Government or a state public body or to which the Federal Government or a state public body extends assistance by supplying all or part of the labor, by guaranteeing the payment of liens, or otherwise. 
For the purposes of this Article only there shall be excluded from the term “low rent housing project” any such project where there shall be in existence on the effective date hereof, a contract for financial assistance between any state public body and the Federal Government in respect to such project. 
For the purposes of this Article only “persons of low income” shall mean persons or families who lack the amount of income which is necessary (as determined by the state public body developing, constructing, or acquiring the housing project) to enable them, without financial assistance, to live in decent, safe and sanitary dwellings, without overcrowding. 
For the purposes of this Article the term “state public body” shall mean this State, or any city, city and county, county, district, authority, agency, or any other subdivision or public body of this State. 
For the purposes of this Article the term “Federal Government” shall mean the United States of America, or any agency or instrumentality, corporate or otherwise, of the United States of America.
This guarantees that no new subsidized rentals can be built in wealthier, higher opportunity areas. It also explains why public housing in CA is so old. We have to hang on to old, decrepit and dangerous subsidized rental housing because we can't offer modern replacements. 

HUD used to help fund modest market-rate apartments (until about 1970) that have become "naturally affordable" as they rotted and became less desirable. That downward "filtering" of homes to lower income households no longer works with our severe housing crunch. Even older apartments can command high rents. This is why you now see families headed by two working PhD rocket scientists squeezing into 2 bedroom apartments built in 1969. My area has slowly become whiter and more affluent. (Anyway, this is getting off-topic and I'll save it for a separate blog post.) 

Today, low and moderate income housing is likely to be built without public subsidy by non-profits or by for-profit developers who are willing to build a few below market rate units in order to be allowed to build more units overall.  This is called a cross-subsidy. 

In the words of the Family Housing Fund
In strong housing markets, nonprofit or mission-driven for-profit developers who build affordable homes can use profits from the sale or rental of market-rate homes to subsidize the costs of affordable homes. For example, some developers have used the profits from market-rate condominium units to subsidize affordable condominium or rental units for working families within the same development.
Here's an example in North Redondo Beach, along a loud and polluted truck route called Artesia Boulevard. I'm using the satellite view option of a California Property Tax Map, which shows you how much taxes are assessed in a bunch of California urban counties, including Los Angeles County. Click the link to see this area.

Each balloon represents a parcel. A range means that there are multiple properties on the parcel (condos, townhomes). Yellow or black means they pay near average taxes. Red means they pay higher than average. Green means they pay lower than average. Proposition 13 allows people to pay much lower than average taxes, as exemplified by the single family home at the top center paying around $1,346/year while adjacent townhomes pay $4,490-$10,525 each (3-5 homes on the same size lot).

On the commercial side of the block, several lots were combined for a mixed-use project of commercial on the street level with 3 stories of housing above. There is a 2-level parking garage below and behind the commercial offices. 


Click the bubble with a range on that building and a spiral with all the assessments becomes visible. Note the 9 green bubbles among the 39 black ones? When the developer built this complex, they offered to sell 8 units below market rate and the buyers of those 8 units promised to sell only to income-qualified buyers at below market rate prices. 

It looks like one of the original 40 market rate homes is now paying lower taxes, perhaps an older person who sold another home and used Proposition 13 portability of lower taxes. That unit does not have any limitation on who they can sell to and at which prices. (I'll explain that later because that is another mind-bogglingly inefficient and stupid system we use because we can't built low-rent rentals.)


From the National Housing Conference's Policy Guide:
Under strong housing market conditions, the market-rate share of a mixed-income development can generate more income than is necessary to cover costs for developing these units. These profits can fill the gap between income and expenses for the portion of units that are rented or sold at affordable (below-market) rates. This “pure” cross-subsidy model is likely to be viable only in strong markets, where rents and/or home prices are high enough to generate profits to cross-subsidize the affordable units. 
As the federal funding available for affordable housing has declined in recent years, communities and developers have sought more cost-effective and market-based strategies for increasing the supply of affordable homes. The inclusion of market-rate units within a mixed-income development or community can make the development more financially feasible and less reliant on public subsidy through cross subsidization.
Anyway, the 30-second elevator pitches is that developers can sell a few homes as loss-leaders if they can command high-enough prices for the other homes to "pencil out".  How many homes is determined by their costs and the prices they can command for the other units.  The higher the prices in that local market, the more loss-leaders they can create.  

These mixed-income cross-subsidized developments require no public money, which is why they can be built under the conditions of Article 34. But they do mean that new residents who share the building will have to pay higher prices than they normally would have (or the developer takes a lower profit). Usually, it's a bit of both. 

But, local governments can raise their costs by throwing impediments at developers until they can't afford to do so. This is why streamlining the development process is so important. If something can be built "by-right" without any additional permitting processes other than normal health and safety ones that apply to everyone, then CEQA challenges aren't possible. 

Tuesday, March 22, 2022

World Water Day 2022: Groundwater

We've circled the sun one more time to another World Water Day. This year, the theme is Groundwater. 

I co-organize a monthly (Zoom) series for the League of Women Voters of Los Angeles County that grew out of a one-time water walking tour I led in the Beach Cities. We record and post all the Water and Infrastructure Group (WIG) lectures along with the slides. Occasionally, I add articles about what we learned or add further information on each month's subject. 


   


Mr. Matthew Hacker is a registered geologist in California and is currently a Senior Resource Specialist at the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California. He has more than 27 years of experience in water resources planning and local resource development in the areas of groundwater, stormwater, and water recycling. Currently, he is striving to create a more resilient water future for Southern California through innovative new projects such as Metropolitan’s groundbreaking Regional Recycled Water Program. 
His prepared talk is under an hour, half the video is Q and A. 

One fascinating thing I learned is that Metropolitan stores imported river water in the vast LA coastal aquifer. That water we pump out, treat, and deliver to our homes, may have originated in Northern California or Colorado. 

You can learn more about that by watching the Who Fills Your Taps? Video or reading the Who Fills Your Taps? Slide Deck. This is a marathon one that is better ingested in two bites. WIG co-organizer, Kathy Kunysz, is a scientist & planner who has had a long & varied career in water. She knows so much, it's an honor and an education to co-host this series with her. 

Tuesday, January 04, 2022

New Construction Subsidizes Old

I was reading city council minutes and my head was going to explode with all the coded things that some council members were saying. In one discussion, Council Member NN wanted to impose Quimby Fees on the theory that newcomers have not been paying taxes into the community and should have to buy their way into the parks and other amenities of this city. That is, they didn't pay for the park purchases so they shouldn't get enjoyment until they pay their debt to existing homeowners. 

This is so nonsensical, because, he then talked about using the Quimby Fees to buy new parks or to maintain existing parks. That sure sounds like he wants new construction to subsidize old homes, not the other way around. Hmm. Coincidentally, he wants nearly all the new housing (and Quimby Fee payers) next to the freeway in the extreme NE corner of the city while using their Quimby money to purchase parks in the coastal southern area of the city that he represents. 

BTW, the southern end of our city has been identified as a Racially Concentrated Area of Affluence. In a county that is 26% non-Hispanic white, he represents census tracts that are currently over 80% non-Hispanic white (and formerly whites-only on HOLC "red line" maps.)



Back to this idea that new construction doesn't pay their fair share for infrastructure, let's take a look at this screenshot from the California Property Tax Viewer

Take a look at the mixed use building with 48 homes, 8 affordable (hence, lower green property tax flags). There is also a garage and several businesses, generating more property and sales taxes since 2011.  200' by 120' = 24,000 sf. One condo unit is paying $7,200/yr in property taxes. 

Look at the single family home (SFH) behind it on a 50' by 150' = 7,500 sf lot.  It pays only $1,300 in property taxes each year or about 18% as much as one of the 48 condos. It was built in 1953 so it's been paying property taxes for 67 years.

Let's do a back of the envelope calculation and just use ratios.  One ten year old condo has already paid as much in property taxes as the older house has in 55 years.  Plus, our city charges Quimby Fees of $25,000 per net new home and a bunch of other fees totaling about $29,000.  That adds up to another 22 years of taxes from the old house. 

And that thing about sewer lines?  Complete nonsense.  Our water and sewer mains run down the street and maintenance costs go by the frontage.  That old house sits between a 6-plex on one side and a duplex on the other, each on the same 50' wide lot.  

Our sewers are run by the LA County Department of Sanitation and we're charged per hookup.  The infill townhomes are paying 2-6 times as much to maintain the sewers as the old SFH. The mixed use development has about 50 hookups on 200' so they are paying 12.5x as much for our shared infrastructure.  

The water and infrastructure myth is even more pernicious in light of water conservation (which is a good thing!) Read Adapting to Change: Utility Systems and Declining Flows. As we conserve water, the residence times in the water pipes increase, sometimes too long to be safe.  Infill housing, if it adds more people, can help keep the water residence times safe.  

If you don't add enough infill housing, you end up in San Diego's fix.  In just a few years, the cost of expensive potable water (imported from the Colorado River) they had to flush to keep their domestic water safe has increased from $200,000 to $2,000,000/year. 

Speaking of flushing, water-saving appliances and toilets mean that sewage outflow is lower volume and thicker than in the past.  That requires more energy to pump it back to the sewage treatment plant.  If managed well, infill housing can offset declining flows, save energy and reduce clogging.

Infill housing helps in two ways.  It gives you more customers to share the cost of maintaining infrastructure. And it also offsets declining flows for both inbound potable water and sewage.

That SFH is the deadbeat in the picture.  Long live infill!

Monday, January 03, 2022

Dark Money Greenwash Wokewash

If you consider yourself an environmentalist and live in California, odds are high that your inbox has been bombarded with misinformation from a certain group that purports to speak for small solar rooftop owners combatting climate change. 

They call themselves The Something Rights Alliance.  Notice their rhetoric focuses on Individual Rights vs Collective Responsibilities.  This Libertarian framing is then wokewashed with faux concern for the poor to argue for policies that actively harm the poor. 

This Dark Money group is so effective at Flooding the Zone with Misinformation that I'm not going to name them for fear of their web sniffers and the mobs they unleash. But pay attention to the loaded, emotional language that they use in order to short-circuit critical thinking. 

I've been taking a lot of heat from this group and was going to lie low. But, this morning, I read Skeptics Say, ‘Do Your Own Research.’ It’s Not That Simple. written by Nathan Ballantyne and David Dunning (yes, that Dunning) and decided that I have to speak out against armchair environmentalists and the Dark Money manipulators weaponizing them.

It's bad enough that we are dealing with Covid & Climate Change deniers, but now we have to worry about Regulatory Capture by Big Solar as well? 

Let's start with Dark Money.

“Dark money” refers to spending meant to influence political outcomes where the source of the money is not disclosed. Here’s how dark money makes its way into elections: 
Politically active nonprofits such as 501(c)(4)s are generally under no legal obligation to disclose their donors even if they spend to influence elections. When they choose not to reveal their sources of funding, they are considered dark money groups.

I looked up this group in Charity Navigator to find out more about them. They are unscored because they won't disclose information. Hmmm. Then I looked up their 990s on the IRS website. They reported ZERO income in 2017, the last year 501(c)(4)s were required to disclose their donors in a supplement. New grassroots organizations may start with no money and a bunch of volunteers, then grow slowly (both members and $), but this organization's funds grew overnight and then stayed flat. 
IRS 990 for 2018, showed they went from $0 income to $215,017 income, but did not file a (now purely optional) supplement to show who gave them the money. Meanwhile, the board shuffled a bit, but kept the same executive director. He earns his keep by being very active on the bird app and always in your inbox stoking outrage for Straw Man claims that no one is seriously proposing or considering.
In 2019, they report $215,027 in income and their board changes slightly again with the addition of more minorities to bolster their wokewash credentials.
 

Enough about the Dark Money, let's talk about the lies. I wrote an entire fact sheet debunking the wild things they say in their mass emails. It all sounds so physically plausible, until you pick up a physics textbook and calculator. 

The kerfuffle is over Net Metering, the methodology where we credit rooftop solar owners at retail rates for excess electricity that they export onto the shared grid. It made sense when the goal is to nurture a nascent industry, but it becomes a problem when the industry is mature, per panel costs have come down over 90%, and a lot of homeowners are trying to do the same thing. 

When CA passed the first Net Metering law back in the 1990s, lawmakers were worried about the day when residential rooftop solar would be ubiquitous enough that Net Metering would cause a cost-shift from solar owners to non solar owners.  They wrote in the legislation that they would periodically examine the cost-shift and readjust incentives as necessary. This Dark Money group wants to subvert the law. 

This is further exacerbated by the fact that (with few exceptions) you have to own your home and have enough home equity to swing a loan to install solar panels on the home. Guess who has the money?  It's generally older, wealthier and whiter people than the general population.  Over half of Californians are renters. Add in the people who live in condos/townhomes, whose smaller roof area per resident constrain their ability to generate excess electricity to export. 

According to the vast majority of energy experts in academia, national labs and industry; that cost-shift is happening, costs CA electricity customers without solar over $3 Billion per year (and rapidly climbing), and is a very inefficient way ($ and materials) to decarbonize California's grid.  I'm not going to belabor the points, it's already covered in my Fact Sheet. The main point is that people who have  larger systems, and fewer residents/users, export the most electricity to the grid and benefit the most under the status quo NEM 2.0. 

This Dark Money organization tried to stop the regulatory reform process by claiming it was rigged.  When that failed, they turned to organizing a mob to lobby Governor Newsom to either veto the proposed decision or to appoint new California Public Utilities Commissioners that are friendlier to them. This might work because the CPUC was led by an environmental justice rock star, Martha Guzman Aceves, who has been tapped by the Biden administration to head up the EPA for Region 9, which includes California. 

There will be two openings on the CPUC, so this is where they might actually succeed. The vote is scheduled for January 27, 2022 and there might be new commissioners, or the vote can take place without two stalwart defenders of poorer Californians. This is why I'm writing about it here. I'm hoping you will learn more, and then help vaccinate the population against the lunacy.  They are going to flood the governor and the CPUC with their talking points. So I want to get mine out as well. 

I want to talk about the Straw Man claims vs the actual California Public Utilities Proposed Decision. The Dark Money group is using wildly inflated numbers for the Grid Participation Charge. The math doesn't even work out right on their claims.  If you don't want to read the 204 pages of the Proposed Decision (PD), then at least read the CPUC NEM Fact Sheet: Modernizing California’s Net Energy Metering Program to Meet Our Clean Energy Goals Proposed Decision for Proceeding R.20-08-020. 

Simply put, the Grid is a support system that binds all of us together.  We depend on our neighbors and they depend on us. That is the rationale for the Grid Participation Charge, GPC. 

The Grid is a complex and expensive system to build and maintain.  It's also extremely creaky, with many system components from the Rural Electrification Act era, over 80 years ago. If we are not going to burn coal or fossil gas, for which we already have plants close to the users, then we need to build out a twenty-first century national grid to move renewable energy around from source regions to use regions. 

Transmission losses are inversely proportional to voltage; high-voltage interstate transmission lines that bring New Mexico evening wind energy to Los Angeles can lose as little electricity to transmission loss as from a neighborhood substation to a home in the suburbs (a few % each).  That's all taken into account in the Avoided Costs Calculator that NEM 3.0 uses. 

People without solar pay for the grid through volumetric rates ($ per kWh) and a very daily fee.  Rooftop owners push/export electricity to the grid during midday and then pull/import from after sunset.  They are heavy users of the grid, but their volumetric bill can be effectively zero. So they are not financially supporting the grid even though they are heavily reliant on the grid.

In order to encourage conservation, we set volumetric rates so that, the more you use, the more you pay.  That makes intuitive sense, as long as everyone is paying into it.  But, suppose all the heavy users, who also happen to be the wealthiest, install privatized systems--rooftop solar. With volumetric rates, they buy a lot less electricity, which means the (~9/10) non solar customers have to pick up the slack to support the grid.  

The fewer people paying for the Grid through volumetric rates, they higher the volumetric rate (cost per kilowatt hour) needs to be to pay for the Grid.  Under the current Net Energy Metering 2.0 program, rooftop solar owners get paid the retail rate for electricity they export, which is about 5 times as much as the avoided cost (generally wholesale cost of utility-scale solar plus transmission & reserve capacity).

This retail rates have to go up to cover this overpayment, which then generates even higher payments to the rooftop solar owners.  This is a positive feedback mechanism, also known as a runaway train.

Net Metering Reform is about countering this runaway train effect. 

It's long, it's complex, the ruling (proposed decision) is 204 pages for a reason. But I want to counter two BIG LIES. 

The first is that the Grid Participation Charge will hurt low-income solar owners (or which there are very few).  Nothing could be further from the truth. 

Remember earlier when I explained that the Grid is a social contract?  Well, we acknowledge some people have more needs and less resources than others.  We subsidize the vulnerable.  Low income and disabled people (their entire households) will be exempt from the GPC.  The GPC will phase in slowly over 5 years, with a Market Transition Credit to soften the landing. Low income households will also get the MTC so they will get a negative GPC. 


In contrast, NEM 2.0 is paying low income homeowners with solar LOWER prices than for much wealthier solar owners.  Why? Because low income people pay 18-35% lower retail electricity rates.  So, the wealthier you are, the more you are earning under NEM 2.0. 

The second lie is that the CPUC is doing the bidding of the utility companies and designing NEM reform to kill their competitor, roof top solar.  Utility companies are regulated monopolies. They can wish for the sky, but the CPUC tells makes the rules. 

The CPUC has an obligation to keep the Grid in good working order (capacity and maintenance); ensure a safe, reliable and affordable electricity supply for all users; decarbonize the Grid in a cost-effective way as fast as possible, using roof top solar as one of their many tools; and to sustainably promote roof top solar.  It's a tough balance, which is why they studied the issue for so long, listened to many arguments, examined a lot of data. 

The CPUC isn't trying to kill off an industry they are tasked to support.  They are just trying to do it within the constraints of the other things they must also ensure--like affordable rates and a robust grid for everyone.

The second lie is related to the resilience argument.  Currently, the CPUC and the public who pays for NEM 2.0 has no say in where new rooftop solar is installed and subsidized.  Adoption is much broader in wealthy communities. That leaves a lot of poor communities vulnerable to rolling blackouts and Public Safety Power Shutoffs.  Rooftop solar + batteries/storage help insulate people from power outages. If your community has a lot of solar power, and it is set up to run in island/micro-grid mode, then you may be able to access some intermittent power off the micro-grid. But it's not reliable.

Under NEM 2.0, the resiliency benefits of rooftop solar accrue to the owners, and a little bit to their neighbors.  If you are so worried about access to reliable electricity for the medically fragile in the era of frequent Public Safety Power Shutoffs, why not just give solar systems with batteries for the disabled?  Or build Community Resilience Centers in poor neighborhoods where people can come for air conditioning, electricity, wi-fi, hot showers, etc?

That's the beauty of proposed NEM 3.0.  It would raise and disburse $150 Million each year to fund solar installations with storage (batteries) for those in highest need.  We would swap a horribly inefficient subsidy system, NEM 2.0, for a new subsidy that identifies those in highest need and directs the largest subsides to help them. Disabled people who are on SSI (and their households), regardless of income, will be exempt from the GPCs. 

It's about efficiency with our dollars. It's about directing help to those in need instead of waiting for trickle-down solar to work. It's about helping renters and multi-family residents instead of single family home owners (who have a larger rooftop/person ratio).

Please, please, please, don't feed the outrage machine.  Read the Proposed Decision yourself (the conclusions of law starts on page 175 and the order starts on page 179), or at least the CPUC NEM Fact Sheet