Frack-happy — for now

Clean-energy forum decries old and new ways of producing energy

Members of SanDiego350 marched on Sacramento recently to protest the hydraulic fracturing method of natural-gas production; so far this year, reports CNN, Oklahoma has had more earthquakes than California.
  • Members of SanDiego350 marched on Sacramento recently to protest the hydraulic fracturing method of natural-gas production; so far this year, reports CNN, Oklahoma has had more earthquakes than California.
  • Image by SanDiego350.org

Nearly 200 environmental activists from across the county gathered Saturday morning, January 21, in a Balboa Park auditorium for a forum on ”community choice" energy and implementation of a long-range climate action plan.

As interim mayor a few months ago, councilman Todd Gloria developed the action plan — subsequently back-burnered by now-mayor Kevin Faulconer. On Saturday, Gloria kicked off the forum.

"I think I had the chance to give one of the more critical State of the City addresses you've seen," said Gloria. "Because I had nothing to lose, I could lay out a vision of where the city needed to go and the next guy could carry it out…. We, as a city, have a unique opportunity to be a global leader when it comes to fighting global climate change."

Gloria noted that the city council had, on June 17, passed a resolution in opposition to state Assembly Bill 2145, which activists say would kill the idea of environmentally friendly community-choice energy.

"Community choice aggregation" (CCA) is an energy-supply method that proponents say would compete with San Diego Gas & Electric by attempting to distribute both cheaper and greener power to consumers.

"We can get to 100 percent renewable energy in the city," Gloria concluded. "We just have to demand it."

The forum’s leadership was then taken by SanDiego350’s Masada Disenhouse, who introduced speakers from the office of state senator Marty Block (who won't be present when the vote on AB 2145 takes place, but noted his abstention was equivalent to a favored “no” vote) and others.

Nicole Capretz, associate director at the Environmental Health Coalition, was first to present.

"We're either going to choose a clean, healthy, prosperous future, or we're going to experience a climate catastrophe," Capretz warned. "And the science backs that up."

At present, Capretz said, 40 percent of carbon emissions are the result of electricity generation; 87 percent of global energy is generated from means such as coal, oil, and natural gas, a number that remains unchanged since the late 1990s. She's convinced that alternative energy sources such as solar could easily supplant reliance on fossil fuels.

"Enough raw energy from the sun reaches Earth in one hour to run the entire planet for a full year."

As an example of effective solar implementation, Capretz pointed to large-scale solar projects at UC San Diego, which she called "one of the most innovative, cutting-edge institutions in San Diego" with regard to alternative energy. The campus lives on its own "micro-grid," independent of the existing utility-driven system.

San Diego, she noted, is the second-largest solar-producing city in the U.S.

"This just shows that San Diegans are hungry for change; we're ready to develop energy from alternative sources."

Del Mar city councilman/Scripps Research Institute scientist Don Mosier and Solana Beach councilman Peter Zahn were among the elected officials present.

Mosier was particularly vocal in calling for change, noting that since the advent of hydraulic fracturing as a means for drilling for natural gas (“fracking”), Oklahoma rose to become the state with the highest frequency of earthquakes nationally, a title perennially held by California before the new drilling process was introduced. Water has also been diverted from consumer and crop use in drought-stricken areas in order to create chemical-laden "fracking fluid" that's pumped into wells to break loose rock structures surrounding gas deposits.

"Cheap natural gas is slowing the conversion to carbon-free energy," said Mosier, "but it's going to go away when we start realizing the consequences of using it."

The crowd cheered and applauded Mosier's call for the ouster of California Public Utilities Commission head and former utility-company president Michael Peevey.

Pete Hasapopoulos and Bill Powers of the Sierra Club gave a talk on the current state of energy in the region, decrying the quid pro quo relationships between energy companies such as San Diego Gas & Electric and community groups that rely on sponsorship dollars while propping up the utility's community-friendly bona fides.

"In the world as it is, SDG&E, Southern California Edison, and [Pacific Gas & Electric] cook up a steady diet of legislation that goes after rooftop solar, does harm to conservation efforts, and fights back against any efforts to introduce competition" such as community-choice energy, said Hasapopoulos.

"We're still operating under a utility model that's been around for 100 years," added Powers. "The utility makes money by putting stuff in the ground and then getting a guaranteed profit on that. So, there's a clear motivation to develop energy in a certain way."

Following the presentation were breakout sessions focusing on climate-plan implementation, rooftop solar, and drumming up consumer support for green energy. A later session focused on the story of Marin Clean Energy, a countywide program in Northern California where community-choice energy has successfully been implemented.

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