Thursday, December 08, 2022

Your child's low income teacher

I hear so much vitriol spewed against building low income housing, predicting all sorts of negative outcomes. Crime! Blight! Traffic! Ghettoization! Gentrification! 

Your children's teachers are listening. I've been advised to use color pictures to spice up the tables of data. So I pulled this photo off the website of Washington Elementary School, the ES with the highest concentration of Title I students in RBUSD. 


UCLA Professor John Rogers told the League of Women Voters of Los Angeles County at one of our meetings that the 10th percentile (in earnings) public school teacher in California needs to pay an astronomical portion of their income in rent if they wanted to live in a 1 bedroom apartment in the county where they teach. 

Insert horror face emoji. 

I looked up some statistics for Los Angeles and Redondo Beach and he is horrifyingly correct. 

My school district's budget page contains the most recent budget for 2022-2023

Here's their list of certificated teachers (doesn't include non-certified teachers' aides). There are 463.8 Full-time Equivalent certificated teachers. Some work part-time schedules. 


Here's the salary schedule for each classification and step (years of experience). The 10th percentile teacher is an early career elementary school teacher, earning in the low $60,000s, possibly still paying off student loans for a bachelors plus 1 year of grad school. 

That sounds like a pretty good salary, right? Consider the 2022 HUD Income Limits for California. Scroll down to Los Angeles County. Each column represents limits for # of people in the household. So a single teacher would be in column 1, and fit in the low income category (below $66,750).

That young, energetic teacher that your child loves so much? They are the very people you are excluding when you block low income housing. 

Qualifying for low income housing is much easier than securing it. 

Consider that Redondo Beach's Section 8 program has 4,260 people on the wait list as of September 2022. It was last opened to the public (briefly) in 2015. (7 years ago!)

  • 441 households enrolled in the city’s Section 8 program
  • 117 families
  • 324 seniors/disabled

In the quarterly briefing

  • 6 people got new contracts for housing+vouchers
  • 4 people were permanently off the program (died, moved away, earned too much)
  • 119 households signed new contracts

Demand for housing assistance is so high, RB's Section 8 program is limited to only Very Low Incomes (below $41,700); Low Income households like teachers do not qualify. 

Some private landlords of new properties have to set aside a certain number of homes at Below Market Rate (BMR) in a negotiation with cities referred to as Mixed-Income Cross Subsidies (typically 10-20% set aside as BMR). They typically also prioritize public sector employees working in the city. That's helpful for attracting and retaining teachers who have a choice of school districts to work in. 

You have to build homes in order to have BMR units. Because Redondo Beach builds so few homes, and approves almost exclusively townhomes (no apartment buildings), they have produced a total of 2 subsidized units in the last decade according to one study I read. 

That leaves Redondo Beach school teachers--and most workers--out in the open market. 

Someone earning $60,000/yr can afford 30% for rent, about $1,500/month. 

Rentcafe.com says that there are no apartments for rent in RB below $1,501/mo. Only 5% of them are below $2,000/mo. The average apartment is $825 sq ft and rents for $2,939. 

HUD publishes Small Area Fair Market Rents by zip code for Los Angeles County. They are set to approximate a 40th percentile rent in a zip code--typically older, no-frills housing. The High School is in 90277, but inland 90278 is slightly cheaper.  The columns are for studios, 1, 2, 3 & 4 bedroom homes. 


If our benchmark young elementary school teacher rented a studio, they would pay 39% of their gross $5,000/mo salary to rent a shabby studio for $1,940/mo--if they could find one. They would then join the 80% of Los Angeles County renters that are rent-burdened, spending more than 30% of their income on rent. 

If they didn't want to be rent-burdened, say if they also need to eat after paying off student loans, they could get a studio apartment in Inglewood, or a 1 bedroom apartment in Lennox. But, then, they would need to get a car and factor in car payments, gas, insurance and maintenance. Those costs could easily run $500-$750/month, so teachers might be better off with a more expensive apartment near work that they can bike to. 

Teachers are very smart. They are listening. They are trained to process, analyze, and interpret information. What take-away message do you want them to hear? 

Do you want to be like Daly City, which built an apartment complex that can house 25% of their school district's staff

Or do you want to be like San Francisco, who started planning at the same time, and is still debating equity while Daly City teachers have already moved into new homes?

Urban trees and the zombie carbon sequestration myth

Last summer, my city passed a tree protection ordinance that fines people for removing trees--even those on private property in side or back yards (where they don't shade public sidewalks or road asphalt). It was sent for legal review and will come back on December 20, 2022 for final passage. 

I'm not a lawyer, but I will say as a scientist that it is claptrap. 

So much nonsense was spewed that would fly under the radar of people not in the trenches of housing policy. I suspect that using the need for street trees to push through a more expansive policy is designed to make infill housing (eg ADUs*enabled by SB 9) harder or more prohibitively expensive to build. 

But, I want to push back on the pernicious myth that carbon sequestration through urban trees is better than building infill housing. 

Let's do the math!

A mature urban tree can absorb about 20 kg of CO2 per year. MIT Climate Issues rounded that to about 50 pounds. (Click through to read how they debunk some of the 'nature-based solutions' talking points.)

The EPA, US Environmental Protection Agency, reports that the Greenhouse Gas Emissions from a Typical Passenger Vehicle is 8,887 grams CO2/gallon or 404 grams CO2/mile using the US passenger car fleet average. 

The largest employers in my city are Northrop Grumman (next to a light rail station) and our local school district (disbursed around the city, not served well by transit).  Since school teachers cannot afford the median house price of $1,587,500 

or even the median condo price of $1,007,000

teachers drive in from elsewhere. The only places in LA County actively building new apartments and condos in substantial numbers is Downtown LA (DTLA) or Old Town Pasadena. 

If they want to buy an older single family home, like this one that sold yesterday in Whittier for $630,000, they also face a long commute. 

The Whittier house is 27-29 miles to Redondo Union High School depending on the route. Old Town Pasadena is 30 miles each way. 

A round-trip commute for just one of the hundreds of teachers in our city that cannot afford to live here is about 60 miles/school day. 

60 mi/day * 404 g/mi = 24,240 g/day = 24.24 kg/day

It would take a mature tree more than a year to sequester the carbon emissions of just one day's commute for a teacher commuting in from where they can find housing that they can afford.  

I looked up more data. 

California requires 180 school days/year. There are a few additional teacher prep and in-service education days, but let's use the lower 180 number. 

I looked up the RBUSD budget and see that there are 463.80 Full-Time Equivalent (FTE) teachers in the district. 

24.24 kg/day * 180 days * 463.8 teachers = 2,023,652 kg/year 

That would require 100,000 trees just for in-bound commuting teachers

That's just a few hundred of the 25,000+ jobs in Redondo Beach according to the research arm of Southern California Association of Governments (our regional housing and transportation governing body). 


I can't ensure that all infill homes will go to teachers in the community. 

I do know that teachers have to live somewhere, so they need homes. It would be great if they could live close enough to participate outside of school in the communities where they teach, and if they didn't need to drive a car to work.

The benefits of workforce housing:

  • Planet (fewer climate-wrecking CO2 emission)
  • Community (the teacher can be more present)
  • Public health (fewer car miles = less air/water pollution)
  • Teacher health (long driving commutes have well-documented detrimental health impacts)

Now substitute teacher for any other job in our city. This includes store clerks and caregivers to the elderly or young children that make just above minimum wage. They take care of us. We need to take care of them. We won't be able to build enough ADUs to fill the need. But, we can build enough apartments and condos, in a thoughtful way, to reduce the need for climate-destroying and space-gobbling automobiles. 

Asides: 

ADU = Accessory Dwelling Units or Granny Flats or In-Laws' units. ADUs generate a little extra density in single-family neighborhoods, create homes without generating much external impact. In fact, when used to house caregivers or those needing care, or local essential workers, they reduce car traffic or Vehicle Miles Traveled (VMT) overall.

Keeping low-density existing homes is NOT better than replacing them with higher density housing, even accounting for embodied carbon. But, I'll cover that myth in another post. 

I hear lots of chatter about preserving or increasing urban tree canopy in order to combat the urban heat island effect. That's a good idea. I'm all for trees. In fact, we bid aggressively on both our home purchases because they had more trees compared to other homes in our budget/area. More on that later. 

Redondo Beach has no native trees. It was a coastal prairie according to UCLA's Urban Wildlands Group (Dept of Geography). I'm stuck wondering what proponents are calling "Heritage Trees". 


Sunday, September 18, 2022

Engineering Disinvestment

You can engineer disinvestment in communities with weaponized zoning. Let me show you how it was done in my community. 

Behold, the Redondo Beach Zoning Map


Let me zoom in on two sections, South Pacific Coast Highway 1, and Artesia Boulevard. According to the City's own Traffic Volumes Study, they get roughly the same traffic volumes, 29,000-39,000 vehicles/day (dark green). I verified it on the Caltrans Traffic Census Program website. PCH at Palos Verdes Blvd gets 30,000-33,000 vehicles/day while PCH/Torrance Blvd gets ~40,000 vehicles/day (blue). 


Artesia Blvd used to be CA 91 but the cities assumed control, so their traffic volumes are no longer measured and reported by Caltrans. I looked up a bunch of traffic studies on the Torrance, Lawndale and Redondo Beach websites and it looks like the RB section of Artesia gets about 35,000-40,000 vehicles/day. 

Let's take a closer look at the zoning map in these two areas. 

South PCH has large areas of Single Family Home R-1 zoning. It's low density by design. Yet, the commercial and mixed use areas along PCH from Avenue A to Prospect are all C-2-PD, C-4A, MU-3A. PD stands for Pedestrian-Oriented. 


Along the Artesia Corridor, the residential zoning is R3 or R2, 2-3x as dense as along PCH. Yet, the commercial and mixed use areas along Artesia Blvd are zoned mainly for lower-intensity MU-1 and C-2, with 3 blocks zoned at C-2-PD. 


Redondo Beach Ordinance 10-2.1706: Commercial, industrial, and other nonresidential parking standards.


This zoning has a major impact on how the land is developed and how much the land is worth. Take a look at the parking minimums. A restaurant in C-2 needs one parking stall per 50 sf of dining space, including aisles or one space per 4 seats. A restaurant in C-2-PD only needs 20% as much parking, or one space per 250 sf of dining space. 

This guarantees vast moats of parking lots, and no new sit-down restaurants can be permitted. Look at the west end of the RB Artesia Corridor. The only restaurants are take-out or drive-through (blue boxes). Even the coffee shops, Starbucks and Coffee Bean & Tea Leaf must be drive-through. 

Needless to say, walking through this area is dreary and hot, with all that asphalt. There is one sit-down restaurant, Las Brisas, that predates the parking ordinance and is allowed to operate. However, should they want to sell the place, and the new owner wants to remodel, they will be subject to the current rules. 

According to the city's own 2019 study (Appendix A), existing uses along Artesia only have half as much off-street parking as is currently required. Yet, only 0-95% of that is used at peak times (except at 2 small parcels, where people park on the street or in adjacent lots). Here's the parking census at peak times. See all that green? That's 0-40% utilizations at peak. The rest of that time, the asphalt is mostly empty. 

Donald Shoup explained in The High Price of Free Parking that 85% parking utilization is optimal for attracting customers in cars. Above that, people don't bother to drive there. Below that, they can confidently go with the expectation that they will find parking nearby. 

It gets worse. A 2009 South Bay Sustainability Report showed that Artesia gets 67.4% of their visitors from within half a mile (walking distance) of the corridor while Riviera Village (South PCH area) gets only 31.7%. Artesia gets another 6.5% between 0.5 and 2.0 miles (bicycling distance) while South PCH gets none, 0%. 

Here's a map of the 1/4 and 1/2 mile study area. 

The Artesia Corridor leads the South Bay in percentage of dollar sales that come from people who live within walking distance, 38.5%. Riviera Village in South RB only gets 13.3%. 


That was 2009. What's changed since then? Well, infill of R1 to R2 or R3 townhomes is nearly complete. The Artesia Corridor residential density is now 17,000 people/square mile, 2-3x denser than the R1 zoned areas of South RB. While SRB has the main library and post office, the smaller NRB branch libraries and post office are highly utilized. So are the grocery stores and pharmacies. In fact the Walk Score of this NRB mixed use development is 86/100, Bike Score 64/100. 


Meanwhile, this "Pedestrian Oriented" stretch of South PCH in SRB has a lower Walk Score of 76/100, Bike Score 49/100. 


Why is the less dense neighborhood with a lower Walk Score zoned for Pedestrian-Oriented use while the denser neighborhood is zoned for parking lots? Why does one neighborhood get sit-down restaurants and the other gets parking lots and drive-through businesses with idling cars? 

It all comes down to who is "deserving" of nice things, like sit-down restaurants; and who deserves to serve as a car sewer for people driving between the freeway and the beach.

The HOLC "Redlining" map provides a clue. The Riviera area gets a Green rating due to Covenants that "Restrict ownership to the Caucasian race in perpetuity. All providers are strictly enforced."

The Artesia Corridor (formerly Redondo Beach Blvd) gets a Low Red rating due to "Mexicans, Japanese & Italians".  

This is ancient history, right? These covenants have not been legally enforceable for 50 years. 

In the 2020 Census, LA County was 26.7% non-Hispanic white/47.9% Hispanic/14.2% Asian/8.3% Black/2.2% Mixed. 

Yet, this SRB census tract is 75.3% white/10.4% Hispanic/9.5% Asian/1.5% Black/3.3% Mixed. It is an outlier many standard deviations away from the mean. 

It didn't happen by accident. 

Zoning has become the proxy for race. "Preserving Neighborhood Character" and Single Family zoning restricts the number of new people who can move in. It also ensures that the new people who move in (if they didn't inherit their home) have to be very high bidders. Because whites have more net worth than any other group, the new people who do manage to buy there are much whiter than the general population. 


In contrast, the census tract containing the 2008 mixed use building on Artesia is 55.9% non-Hispanic white/14.6% Hispanic/16.5% Asian/4.4% Black/8% Mixed. This is more integrated than usual for a coastal Los Angeles County suburb. This census tract started out more diverse. Through infill, it was able to preserve diversity even as it gentrified. 

The ratio between Blacks and Asians reversed in the last 25 years, but nearby Madison Elementary School has both a Title I designation (22% low-income children) and an annual multi-cultural potluck that is lit. The children live in homes where dozens of different languages are spoken. The school population is 34% non-Hispanic white/29% Hispanic/13% Asian/5% Black/15% Mixed. 

[Note: I wrote about this building in New Construction Subsidizes Old; it has been called "a failure" by Mayor Bill Brand, who subsequently (with aid from some council members) downzoned Artesia so that nothing taller the commercial height limit is 1-story now.]

A 20-year old North Redondo Beach Business Association survey showed that the business owners along the one-mile stretch of Artesia, between Inglewood and Aviation, represented 20 different countries with many first-gen immigrants. 

Which brings me back to Engineering Disinvestment. By requiring parking minimums that existing buildings don't meet, and forcing new construction to meet the new impossibly high standards, and then piling on FAR (floor area ratio) and height limits, the city can ensure that nothing "pencils out".  Nothing can be replaced. It will just slowly rot. 

When business owners retire, the lot is their retirement fund. When they try to sell their lot, no one can pay very much. If the new owners modernize it, it would trigger the new zoning and parking rules. This is literally robbing these small business owners of hundreds of thousands of dollars on small lots, perhaps over a million on the larger lots. 

Anyway, I may lament the lack of sit-down restaurants in my neighborhood, but at least I enjoy a 15-minute neighborhood where I can visit the library, post office, grocery, pharmacy, UPS/Kinko's, hardware store, and even a sewing machine store that sells high-end Swiss Mettler thread. 

The shop owners that I depend on, though, are being robbed of their life's savings.

In the words of Frank Wilhoit (the composer):

Conservatism consists of exactly one proposition, to wit: There must be in-groups whom the law protects but does not bind, alongside out-groups whom the law binds but does not protect.

Tuesday, August 23, 2022

eBikes vs Direct Air Capture

Following up on my previous post about the relative carbon intensity of eBiking vs driving. and another post about utility cycling around town...

I read that the Denver eBike Voucher program has already put 2,100 eBikes on the streets. I did a little back of the envelope math. 

Suppose each of those bikes replace 3,000 mi/year of automobile travel in gasoline vehicles that get 20 mpg in the city. Then they collectively avoid almost 3 Million kg of CO2/yr or 3,000 mT (metric tons).

3,000 mi/yr * .444 kgCO2/mi * 2,100 eBikes = 2,797,200 kgCO2/year 

Further suppose that the eBike riders are using 10 Wh/mi or .01 kWh/mi (calculation from Utility Cycling). Collectively, they are using 63 MWh/yr.

3,000 mi/yr * .01 kWh/mi * 2,100 eBikes = 63,000 kWh/yr = 63 MWh/yr

The electricity comes from the grid, and Colorado's grid has a CO2 intensity of 537 kgCO2/MWh. We need to subtract that from the CO2 savings. 


537 kgCO2/MWh * 63 MWh/yr = 33,831 kgCO2/yr

Unleashing 2,100 eBikes being ridden instead of cars for ~8 mi/day (short, local trips), makes 2,763.4 mTCO2 disappear every year. 

2,797,200 - 33,831 = 2,763,369 kgCO2/yr = 2,763.4 mTCO2/yr of avoided CO2 emissions per year. 

As the Colorado grid becomes cleaner, the CO2 savings grow.

There are many ways to make CO2 disappear from the atmosphere and they all have issues. People love nature-based solutions, but we're emitting too fast for them to be effective. If it's sequestered in a tree, then a fire can release all the carbon back into the atmosphere. If it's sequestered in soil, and someone comes and plows it up, some of it is released again. Trapping CO2 in the ocean, e.g. with kelp, is very inefficient and will only take a nibble out of current emissions. 

There are a couple of high-tech solutions, Carbon Capture and Sequestration (CCS) and Direct Air Capture (DAC). CCS can only be done at the source, like in the outflow of a power plant. CO2 is concentrated right at the source, but removing it costs 30-40% of the energy you just produced in burning stuff at the power plant. 

But, CCS is viable (as long as you have a place to sequester the CO2 forever), and the people who produce the CO2 pay for removal of the CO2. That makes accounting easier. Those who pollute, pay. 

But all of us are out there, driving cars, flying in airplanes and getting stuff delivered in trucks.  We're not going to carry around a CCS plant in our vehicles.  So we emit CO2 into the atmosphere where it gets well-mixed.  

Remember thermodynamics class in college? The more disordered a system, the more energy it takes to bring order to it?  DAC is enormously expensive and energy-intensive compared to CCS, which is already expensive and energy-intensive. 

No wonder people question whether DAC is a good use of money vs not emitting so much CO2 in the first place. I think those people are right, it's a waste of money. 

However, we've emitted so much CO2, that we painted ourselves into a corner. We don't want to pay for DAC, but we have to do it anyway. Did I mention that it's enormously expensive and only the government has that amount of money to spend? 

DOE announced it will spend $3.5 Billion to build 4 DAC plants. That won't even cover the full cost of building them or include the cost of running them. 

Meanwhile, a single bike lane installed in Thailand in 2015 has removed $1 Billion worth of DAC CO2 removal in avoided vehicle trips. And they use smaller vehicles like motorcycles in Thailand. Click through the read the very detailed journal article! It takes a while to load, but the full article is available for free. 

It sucks that individuals emit CO2, and the richest emit the most, but we don't price carbon so we socialize the cost of building DAC plants to clean up after the rich. Yes, we will all end up paying for Kylie's 2 minute private jet jaunts around Los Angeles. Removing the CO2 she dumped may end up costing the public more than it cost her to take the flight.

The Energy Information Agency (a part of the US Dept of Energy, DOE) estimates that Direct Air Capture (DAC) to pull that much existing CO2 out of the atmosphere costs about $250/mTCO2, not counting the cost of putting it someplace. Let's just use $300/mTCO2 for our calculations*. 

The value of not driving 2,100 vehicles 3,000 mi around the city is worth ~$830,000/yr in DAC CO2 removal.

2,763.4 mTCO2/yr * $300/mTCO2 = $829,011 

Suppose they gave a rebate of $400 for each bike, then Denver spent $840,000 in vouchers. 

But, the vouchers can only be spent in local shops, which generate sales tax. By the time you add that in, the two numbers are roughly equal.  

But the eBikes keep rolling, year after year (my eBike is 5 years old), avoiding CO2 emissions while you have to keep using huge amounts of energy pulling CO2 out of the atmosphere and throwing lots of $ at DAC year after year.   Avoiding CO2 emissions by swapping eBikes for cars looks like a pretty good deal. 

Anyway, Denver gave out vouchers of $400 ($1,200 for low income) and an additional $500 for more expensive cargo bikes capable of carrying passengers or lots of cargo. They also targeted delivery workers, who put in a lot of miles. 

It may take more than a year for the avoided cost of CO2 to pay for the vouchers. But, it has other benefits of reducing traffic congestion, air pollution and improving public health. It's a very cost-effective program and we should scale it up and replicate it. 

Which brings us to the California Air Resources Board (CARB) meeting on Wednesday, August 24, at 3:30 PDT. Click on the link to register for the Zoom meeting.
The California Air Resources Board (CARB or Board) invites you to participate in a work group meeting to discuss the Electric Bicycle Incentives Project. We invite all stakeholders to attend and provide their input and feedback on program design. The meeting agenda and any handouts will be posted to the Low Carbon Transportation Investments and Air Quality Improvement Program website ahead of the meeting.
California set aside $10 Million for eBike rebates/vouchers, but has yet to select a vendor or even an implementation program (despite promising a roll-out in July 1, 2022). So attend the meeting tomorrow and tell them to quit studying equity and just do something. They can refine the system later as they study the outcomes. 

If you want, cite the economic efficiency of avoided CO2 emissions versus future DAC. 

I'll get you started with the math. 




If each bike displaces 3,000 vehicle miles/yr at .444 kg/mi = 1,332 kgCO2/yr. 

But they will use 30 kWh = .03 MWh/yr of electricity

.03 MWh/yr * 225 kgCO2/MWh = 6.75 kgCO2/yr

That's 1,332 kgCO2/yr - 6.75 kgCO2/yr = 1,325.25 kgCO2/yr

A metric ton is 1,000 kg so each eBike results in 1.325 mTCO2/yr in avoided emissions, worth $398/yr.

* Estimates of the cost of DAC are about as real as the Hyperloop because we have so little real data.  The International Energy Agency report on DAC:
There are currently 19 direct air capture (DAC) plants operating worldwide, capturing more than 0.01 Mt CO2/year, and a 1Mt CO2/year capture plant is in advanced development in the United States.
So all the DAC plants currently in existence can pull 0.01 Million metric tons (1,000 kg) CO2 out of the atmosphere. That's 10,000 mT. The modest Denver program avoids almost 3,000 mT/year of emissions. I would say that the Denver eBike subsidy is the most successful existing CO2 removal program in the US. 

No wonder countries around the world are increasing their eBike subsidies. 

Carbon Intensity of eBiking vs Driving

 
Remember when I ran some numbers about my utility cycling around the South Bay (SW region of Los Angeles County)? I use a Kill A Watt meter to plug in my eBike charger so I know how much electricity I use.  I also keep track of my miles so I know that I use 5-10 watt-hours/mile while running errands that I normally would do by car.  


Let's use the higher 10 watt-hours/mile number for when I want to get somewhere quickly but don't want to get sweaty. 

My Class 2 eBike tops out at 20 mph, but my area has a lot of stop signs and stop lights. 

My Prius hybrid calculates my trip average speed and I know that I average 16-17 mph on those 3-12 mile round trip errands. 

Basically, I go the same speed by car and eBike. 

This is why people complain about traffic in my area. Driving speeds are slow. Alternatively, we can reframe that to "eBikes will get you there just as fast as driving, while building moderate exercise into your daily routine."

[My census tract has 17,000 people/square mi and the California DMV found that the South Bay has anomalously many cars/registered driver (over 1!). Anyway, we are a car-dependent suburb even though we have the density to support better ways of getting around. People also complain about parking. It's a problem when we own so many cars and we don't put them in our garages because our garages are stuffed with things that are not cars.   Anyway, I digress.]

This post is about the carbon intensity of eBiking vs Driving. 

California passes lots of regulatory laws, including one that requires us to track the carbon intensity of our electricity supply. CAISO is the public agency in charge of operating our electricity grid and they publish data from real-time statistics to year end reports to help us track whether or not we are meeting our myriad goals. 

As the League of Women Voters California Energy Subcommittee team leader, I stalk the CAISO data website a lot more than the average Californian. 

Visit the CAISO Emissions page and see the instantaneous CO2 intensity of the California grid. 


Last Sunday, I hung out the laundry and plugged in my eBike at midday, when the grid CO2 intensity was at it's daily nadir, 0.14 mTCO2/MW. (Midday on weekends, on sunny but not overly hot days, have the lowest CO2 intensity.)


If you missed it in real-time, you can still reconstruct the CO2 intensity by downloading the 5-minute grid CO2 emissions and total system demand data for a given day, and then dividing it for the ratio.  I pulled the data for Sunday, August 21 and put it in Google Sheets. LOL, I really took a screen shot at the absolute minimum for the day. 


A mT or metric ton is 1,000 kg. A MW = megawatt = 1,000 kilowatts. Metric conversions are so easy. 

.14 kg CO2/kWh 

.14 g CO2/Wh 

At 10 Wh/mi, I emitted 1.4 g CO2/mile running my errands last Friday and charging at midday on Sunday. 

The EPA publishes stats on GHG emissions from passenger vehicles assuming 22 mpg. 


I was tweeting from my phone and mis-remembered it as 440 g/mi using 20 mpg. That's only 1% off from the actual 444 g/mi.  Anyway, using the 440 number, I got a cute number of very close to 100*pi 

440/1.4 = 314

Of course, I drive a hybrid and get ~40 mpg so the ratio for me driving vs eBiking is 159. 

I looked at Tesla drivers' forums and it seems they use about 300 Wh/mi or 30x as much electricity as me on my eBike. If they charge only at midday, then they would be emitting 42 g/mi, which is not bad. But, if they are charging in the middle of the night, as utilities encourage them to do, then the CO2 emissions intensity doubles to 84 gCO2/mi. 

Then there's the embodied emissions of producing electric cars. Their batteries are hundreds of times larger than my eBike's and about 10x the size of a plug-in hybrid.

Tesla Y: 75 kWh battery

eBike: 0.5 kWh battery

Prius Prime: 8.8 kWh battery (plug-in hybrid)

There are serious environmental issues with battery production for EVs. We're up against physical limits. We can't produce them fast enough for the fossil-fuel transition unless we drive a lot less than we currently do. 

Anyway, the bottom line is to minimize your car driving, do it in an EV if you have one. Hybrids, particularly plug-in hybrids, are a decent trade-off as long as you don't drive it a lot in gasoline mode.

If you don't have solar panels, charge when your grid is cleanest. (This varies by region.) If you have solar panels, charge when your panels are producing more than the rest of your home needs. 

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.