Why Wildfires Are Burning Bigger and Hotter

A century of fire suppression means there are more trees to burn, and they burn more dramatically

This has been a devastating wildfire season. Nationwide, more acres have burned this summer than at this time in any other year on record. In May and June, New Mexico weathered the largest fire in its history. Hundreds of homes and tens of thousands of acres have burned in Colorado. As the summer wears on, fire season has moved west — as it tends to do – and now the Ponderosa Fire is raging near Redding.

Has it always been like this? A new NPR series by Christopher Joyce explores what a century of fire suppression has meant for forests in the Southwest.


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California Powers Up Plan for Waste-to-Watts

Energy from trash and fewer catastrophic fires? What’s the catch?

California Energy Commission

A wood-burning power plant in Northern California. In 2007, "biomass" energy accounted for roughly 2.1 percent of California energy production. A new state bioenergy plan seeks to substantially increase that percentage.

Wood scraps, animal manure, household garbage and other wastes may soon fuel a sweeping “clean energy” initiative in California, if the collective vision of several state agencies comes to pass.

This week, the state announced its 2012 Bioenergy Action Plan [PDF], which promotes an array of organic materials as a large and untapped fuel source for an energy-hungry state.

“Swift action on bioenergy will create jobs, increase local clean energy supplies, and help businesses grow in California,” said resources agency secretary John Laird in a Department of Natural Resources release. Currently, the bioenergy sector employs roughly 5,000 people and contributes $575 million to the state economy; the agency estimates the new plan could create an additional 4,000 jobs statewide. Continue reading

Quick Link: Romney Rolls Out His Plan for Energy Independence

Plays up North American oil production, plays down everything else

Mitt Romney’s energy plan calls for increasing offshore drilling, letting states oversee energy production–rather than the federal government–and building the Keystone XL pipeline.


Mitt Romney will unveil an energy plan Thursday that he says will allow North America to be energy independent by 2020 and decrease costs to consumers by increasing domestic production. The plan, released to reporters Wednesday, includes approving the Keystone XL pipeline bringing oil from Canada to Texas – President Obama has put off a decision until after the election – and increasing domestic production to spur job growth.

Read more at: www.latimes.com

Study: Urban Water Use Will Outpace Efficiency Gains

But returning to “Hollywood” showers will just make things worse

Craig Miller

Californians may want to rethink the long-established tradition of watering the sidewalk.

You installed a low-flow toilet. You take fast showers. Your yard is water-wise and drought-tolerant. And even if everyone in California were just like you, which they’re not — yet — the state would still see a significant bump in urban water demand by the end of the century. The culprit: warmer temperatures caused by climate change.

An innovative new model developed by researchers at Oakland’s Pacific Institute shows that even if California meets its current goal of reducing per-capita water usage 20 percent by 2020 — and continues to improve water efficiency at a similar rate through the end of the century — still, by 2100 the state’s urban water demand will increase by eight percent, or roughly one million acre-feet (with all other factors held constant). That’s a lot of water: enough to satisfy the current household needs of 6.7 million Californians. Continue reading

Shifting Sands: San Francisco Begins Huge Erosion-Control Project

Ocean Beach has too much sand on one end, too little on the other

Molly Samuel/KQED

Trucks are moving sand from the north end of Ocean Beach to the south end.

Portions of San Francisco’s historic Great Highway are closed for a massive sand-moving project, part of an effort to slow erosion along the stretch of Pacific coastline known as Ocean Beach. By the end of the project, trucks will have moved about 100,000 cubic yards of sand.

“It’s the equivalent of 31 Olympic-sized swimming pools,” said Tyrone Jue, spokesman for the San Francisco Public Utilities Commission. “It’s a lot of sand that we’re having to move in a short period of time and that’s why we’re closing down the lanes of the Great Highway to accommodate the truck traffic.” Continue reading

Fast Lane for California Wind Energy — But for How Long?

Federal incentives can hasten development–or slow it down

By Nate Seltenrich

Craig Miller

Last year brought a fresh breeze for wind energy, and projections indicate that 2012 will be even better. But over the next two years, a variety of forces could conspire to hamper wind energy development across the United States, despite a significant decline in the cost. These are the main findings of a new report by the US Department of Energy and the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory.

It’s that classic good news-bad news scenario: should proponents focus on the fact that in 2011 wind energy became cheaper, more efficient, and more widely distributed than ever? Or should they dwell on the looming challenges, including steep competition from cheap natural gas, inadequate high-voltage transmission in many parts of the country, and the possible expiration of federal incentives at the end of the year? Continue reading

12 Million Californians ‘Highly Vulnerable’ to Climate Change — Now What?

Color-coding climate risks in the Golden State

Tim Walton / Photo One

Wildfires can leave little to salvage for homeowners caught in harm's way.

Climate change will disproportionately affect California’s most disadvantaged and isolated communities, according to a recent report from the Pacific Institute.

By looking at a broad array of factors – from social indicators such as income and birth rates, to environmental ones such as tree cover and impervious surfaces – the Oakland-based think tank has found that 12.4 million Californians live in census tracts with high “social vulnerability” to climate change.

This vulnerability can play out in various ways, says Heather Cooley, co-director of the institute’s water program and a lead author of the report. “In low-income communities, many people may not have insurance,” Cooley told me. “So when a flood or fire hits their homes, they may not be able to rebuild. If they’re suffering from a heat-related illness, they may not be able to seek treatment and their health may deteriorate as a result.” Continue reading

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