Monthly Archives: August 2012

Quick Link: Hydro Proposal Raises Alarm With Salmon Advocates

The Yuba River, like many rivers in California, has dams, diversion, tunnels and turbines up and down its course, only more-so. The Yuba, in the Sierra foothills northeast of Sacramento, contains the most complex hydropower project in the state (I reported on that project for our Water and Power series). And on top of that project, which is made up of facilities owned by PG&E and the Nevada Irrigation District, there are other dams owned and operated by the Yuba County Water Agency and the Army Corps of Engineers.

The Sacramento Bee is reporting, there’s a proposal for a new hydroelectric facility, which would piggyback on one of the Army Corps of Engineers dams, and it’s drawing fire from salmon advocates and government agencies.


A Canadian company’s surprise proposal to build a hydroelectric generation facility on the Yuba River has raised alarm among government agencies and nonprofits working to restore salmon runs on the river. Archon Energy of Calgary, in a July 18 application to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, proposes to build a 3-megawatt energy generation facility adjacent to Daguerre Point Dam.

Read more at: www.sacbee.com

Renters in California May Gain Access to More Renewable Energy

Proposed legislation would make renewable energy available to millions more Californians

Craig Miller/KQED

Most Californians can't install rooftop solar panels.

California’s big utilities are working toward the goal of generating 33% of their energy from renewable sources by 2020, but some people want more renewable power, sooner. And there’s a solution to that: generate your own. But for most Californians — those who rent, who live in condos, whose property isn’t suitable for solar or wind installations or who just can’t afford it — that solution isn’t really an option.

Senator Lois Wolk, from Davis, has written legislation with a new solution. If Senate Bill 843 passes, customers of one of California’s big three investor-owned utilities, Pacific Gas and Electric, Southern California Edison or San Diego Gas and Electric, would be allowed to purchase renewable energy directly from small, independent producers. Those producers send energy into the grid, then customers get credits on their regular utility bills. Continue reading

Jerry Brown’s Anti-Anti-Climate Science Site

California governor posts a direct rebuttal to climate change contrarians

Governor Brown is pushing back against those who deny the evidence for climate change and this week, used a Lake Tahoe environmental conference to say that he’s taken his campaign online.

Governor's Office of Planning & Research

Jerry Brown's new website is a countermeasure against climate science "deniers."

The Governor has long been a vocal supporter of climate action but his new “Just the Facts” website represents his most definitive reaction against what he calls “the deniers” of widely accepted climate science.

About half the site is devoted to a rehash of the evidence that global warming is real and effects are happening now. The other half is a rebuttal to climate science contrarians, whom the site describes as, “a small-but-vocal group” that “has spread misinformation about the science, aiming to cast doubt on well-established findings and conclusions.” Continue reading

Heat Wave: California Takes its Turn

Forecast for inland temperatures to stay in the triple-digits this week

High temperatures in the Central Valley are expected to last through the end of the week.

America’s heat wave has caught up with California — at least the inland areas.

Sacramento has had six consecutive days above 100 degrees; an excessive heat warning is in effect from Merced to Bakersfield; and on Saturday Modesto tied its record for highest temperature for the date, at 105 degrees.

“In general, we’re about ten-to-fifteen degrees above normal for this time of year,” Holly Osborne, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Sacramento told me. “Today will be our sixth day of 100 or above in Sacramento, and we’re looking at temperatures being 100 or above for the rest of the week.” Osborne expects things to cool off, “moving into the weekend.” Continue reading

Tapping Crowds to Track California’s Weeds

Help map the spread of invasive plants with a smartphone app

Jeremy Miller

Artichoke thistle flower in Wildcat Canyon Regional Park. Citizens with smartphones can help in a statewide weed-mapping initiative.

If you have a sharp eye for invasive plants – and a smartphone – you can help a Bay Area non-profit in its effort to document the distribution and spread of invasive plants across California.

The Berkeley-based California Invasive Plant Council, or Cal-IPC, has found that weeds cost the state at least $82 million annually in terms of increased erosion and flooding, degraded agricultural land and reduced water supplies.

California is hardly alone. A 2005 study by researchers from Cornell University put the nationwide cost of battling invasive weeds at a staggering $120 billion [PDF].

Climate change is making the issue even more complex, says Doug Johnson, Cal-IPC’s executive director, who is trying to better understand how non-native plants may respond and how they may gain advantage over native plants during prolonged bouts of warming or cooling. Continue reading

Nuclear Woes Could Create a Window for Geothermal Energy

Industry looks for inroads in a “stalled” California market

One of California’s two nuclear power plants remains offline amid roiling speculation about its future. At a geothermal energy conference in Sacramento this week, the head of California’s Independent Energy Producers association put the odds of the San Onofre Nuclear Generating Station (SONGS) “ever” coming back online at 50/50.

Geothermal Education Office

A "flash steam" geothermal plant in East Mesa. Geothermal plants tap the heat energy underground to produce steam for electricity.

The odds matter because nuclear plants provide so-called “baseload” power, which is to say that they produce electricity 24/7 — when they’re on. Geothermal power — tapping energy from underground sources of heat — also has the virtue of being baseload. While geothermal plants can lose potency during the hottest part of the day, they don’t stop producing completely. Solar and wind are considered “intermittent” sources as they’re at the mercy of the sun shining and wind blowing.

At this week’s meeting of the Geothermal Energy Association, there was visible consternation over geothermal being the odd man out in California’s race for renewables, even though the Golden State is endowed with the most geothermal capacity in the nation. Continue reading

Quick Link: “Alcatraz Solar Isn’t For The Birds (But They Like It)”

When the National Park Service decided to install solar panels on Alcatraz, there were some issues to consider that most places don’t need to deal with. Where could the panels go, so that they wouldn’t disrupt visitors’ experience of the foggy prison island, for one. That was resolved by putting them on the roof of the cellhouse, out of view.

Another was, how would the solar panels affect the island’s birds? According to this article from Earth Techling, initially there was some concern that the panels would scare the birds, but that hasn’t ended up being the problem.


It was no easy task getting a thousand or so solar panels past preservationists PO’d at the idea of PV on the iconic Alcatraz penitentiary – and now that the modules are up and operating, there’s the challenge of keeping the bird poop off them.

Read more at: www.earthtechling.com

Surge in Battery Research Fuels Hope for Cheaper Electric Cars

Revelations in lithium battery technology could mean cheaper batteries and less sticker shock for electric cars

Matt Beardsley

Stanford scientists Mike Toney and Johanna Nelson inspect a transmission X-ray microscope, a powerful device that takes nano-scale images of chemical reactions in batteries while they are running.

Imagine if Tesla, Nissan and GM could cut the price of their electric cars by 25%. That electric dream may be a wee bit closer than you think, thanks to researchers at Stanford University.

Recently a team from Stanford’s SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory announced a new method to analyze and potentially improve rechargeable battery technology in a radical way. A cheap, reliable rechargeable battery is the holy grail for electric carmakers that rely on costly lithium ion batteries for power. Instead of the usual pairing of a lithium compound with graphite, the study examined lithium-sulfur batteries, which in theory can store five times more energy at a significantly lower cost.

“Sulfur is an earth-abundant element and offers the greatest potential to reduce cost,” said research co-author Michael Toney, head of the Materials Sciences Division at SLAC’s Stanford Synchrotron Radiation Lightsource.

Continue reading

New Tool Maps California’s Biggest Greenhouse Gas Emitters

Interactive map pinpoints the polluters next door

Air Resources Board

In this Google Earth view, the height of the "balloon" location markers indicates the volume of greenhouse gas emissions.

Wondering where all the petroleum refineries are located in California? Curious about which industries in your area emit the most greenhouse gases? Or which counties have the most big industrial polluters, and which don’t have any at all?

A new interactive map from the California Air Resources Board taps the versatility of Google Earth software to transform eye-glazing spreadsheet data into a visual, if wonky, feast.

The map shows the locations and greenhouse gas emissions of about 625 facilities — the largest industrial greenhouse gas emitters in the state. The graphical tool can filter by type of facility (cement plant, refinery, electricity generation), by county or air district. You can use the satellite view to see a facility’s physical footprint, then switch over to Google Earth to see how its carbon footprint stacks up against other emitters. The EPA released a similar map earlier this year, but without all the Google Earth bells and whistles. Continue reading

Study: Fire Will Pose Greater Risk to California Homes in Years Ahead

Forecast: warmer, drier and more of us in harm’s way

California Emergency Management Agency

The towering flames of the Robbers fire, which burned 2,600 acres and destroyed five buildings in Placer County in July. A new UC Merced report says such fires may double in the next 40 years because of urban growth and warming temperatures.

As notices begin to arrive in the mail to nearly 850,000 California residences in fire-prone areas for Cal Fire’s controversial new fire prevention fee, a study out of the University of California Merced offers a powerful rationale for beefing up the state’s wildland firefighting resources.

Warmer average temperatures coupled with urban growth will greatly increase wildfire risk to California homes in the decades to come, according to the new UC study [PDF] prepared for the California Energy Commission.

Lead author and environmental engineering professor Anthony Westerling, says wildfire risk to California homes may double over the next 40 years because of a combination of climate change, land alteration and urban development. Continue reading