The Energy Transition Disconnect – California & New York

I must address #2 – PG&E – Pacific Gas & Electric (and in general this inherent hatred of utilities across the board with no distinction afforded to the value our electric networks have delivered to our society over the past century+) in my post on LinkedIn on Friday, 12th of April, seen here.

To do so, we will be taking two deep-dives into the US energy transition space; New York and California.  Where to a large degree – utilities can/could and very much should be enablers of our transition, just as the residents can/could and very much should be enablers of their renewable energy “ambitions” – through a bond that connects and enables us all… our electric networks.

I must be doing everything right (from an energy transition perspective); while doing everything wrong (from a personal, professional & financial perspective).

Over the course of the past 2-3 months, I have been;

1) Defamed publicly (& in print/Internet media) as a PAID SHILL for a wind developer;

2) Questioned publicly about MY TIES (financial interests) to electric utilities; specifically IOUs, and more specifically, PG&E;

3) Repeatedly treated as a SHILL for Oil & Gas due to my informed positions on Upstream [associated] “gas” flaring; promotion of LNG as a route to shuttering coal plants now, not 10 or 20 years from now; and promotion of technology advancement of combine cycle plants.

4) treated as a renewable energy PARIAH for questioning CCAs; Sunrun’s “profits over planet” strategy; questioning unending NEM – Net Electric Metering regulatory policy; questioning real motives behind “democratized energy” advocacy; promoting data transparency & accessibility across our electric sector, from “central gens” to the grid-edge, etc.

5) treated as a renewable energy SHILL while daylighting capture of governments, utilities & markets by coal &/or nuclear interests, plus oil, especially bitumen.

Ah, all in a good day’s work if you ask me…

 

First stop on this journey – “Energy Transition Capital of the East” – New York

 

2 days ago, the 10th of April, was our local wind project supporters’ meeting.

Thinking nothing was out of the ‘ordinary’ – besides the normal “shitshow” the opposition groups and media continualy stir up – it was announced, a community member, let’s name them “Amazing Supporter #1” and important member of our group had been honored the night before by [a local chapter of a national organization].

[Amazing Supporter #1] had been honored for [his/her] efforts speaking ‘truth to power’ throughout New York, in the hopes of bringing actual economic opportunities [through this wind project] to this town and community I had long ago left. What I had left, as I could, and what so many others have done, also, is leave an entire region without economic opportunity, none then, and not ununsurprisingly, even less today.

It was a moment, I and everyone else, felt proud for [him/her] and the recognition justifiably awarded to [him/her].   A moment [he/she] had earned through valuing community and that community’s future over even [his/her] own best interests – as [he/her] owns no land where wind turbines could be sited to receive lease payments – yet I can only imagine the names [he/she] has been called by our local “Same Old Shit” opposition group – Save Ontario Shores.  [I have many articles “featuring” their antics over the years for those interested.]

[Amazing Supporter #1] had much to feel proud and happy about.

 

 

Image of [Amazing Supporter #1] removed at their request.

 

 

 

[Amazing Supporter #1] accepting the [Special Award] from the [a local organization]

But, it was, unbeknownance to all of us at this time, a moment greater than all of us combined…

Our project developer, Apex Clean Energy, had made the business decision to put the project – our project – on hold and not file their application in 2019, or until frankly, NY State & New Yorkers themselves get serious about enabling the changes they say they want.

This was the reason, not openly publicized, for our “Supporters Breakfast“.

This crushing announcement, came after 4 long years of our rag-tag, salt of the earth group battling in the trenches against forces that came from not only outside our region, but also from outside New York, and also from overseas.  This had been my role and offering to our group, bringing awareness to the reality they were not only fighting against their neighbors or out of town “cottage owners” and where I could, bring informed energy intelligence into the trenches, unsupportive local media and elected officials.

And if need be, fighting fire and childish shit slinging, with an entire arsenal of energy knowledge I have assembled from around the world. Ha, even the US Military had my back against the fear mongers and downright nasty people we battled together!

We, our group, had been effectively abandoned in this local, albeit asymetric battle all along by Downstaters. Yet, we, actually more like, they, as I was in Germany for a year, battled on simply to bring economic opportunity and the hope for a better future to this community as a “trade-off” to some slight inconveniences from wind turbines in our daily lives.

This was normal for us, recipient of a downstate unwanted coal plant almost 40 years ago and the source of much controversy between our small towns over the years. Where one town received all the direct economic benefits through an ungodly tax base (~$20 million per year), while refusing to share it with adjacent communities.  Oh yes, for 30 years anyways, this “coal community” lived high on the coal plant hog.

I even benefited too and came clean about it early on when I first joined the battle.

But this was normal for us “Upstaters“, that “Downstaters” and New York City residents were not going to fight for us either. Over the decades, the have only cared about maintaining ‘pristine’ upstate “bucolic” landscapes for their weekend jaunts. Fighting against a nuclear plant in their “backyard” – Indian Point or new more efficienct combined cycle plants to replaced old “dual fuel” plants downstate – while having no interest where NY continues to import electricity from to satisfy their needs. In my opinion, Downstate New Yorkers are, at best, supporting ethereal renewable energy ‘ambitions’, while vesting no skin of their own in the game.

This fleeting “support” for our energy transition, dominated in all reality by NIMBY towards all energy projects, from Downstaters has resulted in New York – “Energy Transition Capital of the East” – basically throwing a “Hail Mary“, down 8 with 30 seconds in the game, to Offshore Wind. Of course, US Offshore Wind is still a decade out, so NY will again turn up a day late and a dollar short… and we, as in all New Yorkers, are supposed to be leading this entire energy transition!!!

So moments of joy, in celebration of [Amazing Supporter #1]‘s recognition, turned to holding back tears (we’re a stoic bunch up here in Western New York).  I could see [he/she] was struggling with this complete reverse of circumstances, our project developer and its staff were a pillar of strength for us supporters.  Attempting to process this momentus swing, it was clear to me [he/she] wasn’t sure what to do next as this project was the core of any and all potential economic opportunity coming to these 2 towns.

Something [Amazing Supporter #1] had poured [his/her] heart and soul into, finding inner courage and strength, to not only challenge the opposition status quo, but also [his/her] own abilities in life – had now, in the blink of an eye, effectively vanished.

My brain, not prone to empathize with ‘hypsters’ & those bellyaching over ‘1st World Problems’, immediately went into…. what project idea could I devise quickly to substitute for this community focusing project now put on hold, to allow all these people I have met & grown to respect these past 4 years, to carry on positively as they have been all along.

I had jumped outside quickly for my one vice, a smoke, and walked over to the local library/town hall that had recently burned down.

In tragedy, often comes community togetherness, and mending of past greivances.

Unfortunately, immediately afterwards, even that “stronger together” community bond that had momentarily seemed possible, in the outpouring of support from all sides in our local “war on coal” or “against wind turbines”, had too vanished seemingly overnight.

So this charred ruins, in a town I have hated for over 20 years, was giving me some ideas for a potential “community energy” project.  An idea needing a home to take root, something I had been discussing with Bryce Johanneck and Erwin Heuck the night before.

How could I come up with something, that our supporter group could ralley around, quickly?

And I went back inside, to exchange numbers and complete other business that had brought me to this meeting.

But then IT happened.

As the meeting was breaking up, people were talking in smaller groups, I started talking to [Amazing Supporter #1] and [Amazing Supporter #2], and somehow, don’t ask me how exactly, PG&E – Pacific Gas & Electric came up.

Probably, as the horrendous wildfires in California make national news, it becomes relevant around the country. But the discussion quickly turned from how devastating it was to the communities, how people had died, how tragic it all was… to an ugly hatred of PG&E, and utilities in general.

All of a sudden, I was being ‘lectured’ with absolute conviction about all the ills and faults of PG&E… by someone whom, and no disrespect intended, may never have set foot in California, and probably hasn’t traveled that much around the US as well.

There was no point to me objecting, offering a different, informed perspective.

I have heard this same sentiment from renewable energy advocates across the country, and for years from people unconnected to the energy space… for reasons I have never understood, other than most likely they at some time in the past lost money they had invested in once safe – utility stocks.

I asserted no position or perspective, and simply just let… this stirred giant, that came out of nowhere, simply fall back asleep.

Allies would have been turned to enemies.  And I had already ruffled enough feathers with some “supporters” over my continual push to seek collaborative opportunities with enabling utilities, particularly NYPA – New York Power Authority, who had closer ties to our sister community project, Heritage Wind & Albion, New York.

And… I was still thinking of some project, any project, that could delivery a needed “win” for our group, to supplement the present loss of a “purpose larger than themselves” for so many in this small, rural American community.

 

Our second stop on this journey – “Energy Transition Capital of the West” – California

A few hours later, I received a notice on my WordPress Reader from a “blog” I follow, of a response to an “online” battle I was having about… utilities, the energy technology disruption and California – our “Energy Transition Capital of the West“.

This fracus has connections to “Co-Energy Transition Capital of the East” – New England also, largely on the grounds of unsufficient wind or solar deployments, NIMBY to transmission, wind, natural gas, imports of low-carbon hyro from Quebec, reforming our electric rate structure to unlock all the other enabling technologies we need to successfully and with purpose, carry our out energy transition and reduce our carbon emission.  Oh yes, everything we need… is everything no one wants, from  the “coal apologists” to the “tree hugging city slickers“.

Long story, shortened quickly. This “battle” was not between me and the Anthony Watts [which actually delivered, unwanted by me, more hits to my latest article, than all the promotion I did on Twitter, when it was linked in the comments section to WattsUpWithThat?! – sigh], Tom Stacys or Isaac Orrs of the world, nothing but coal & Albertan bitumen [tar sands] apologist.

This was against a publisher/editor of renewable energy news, specifically solar – someone who should be an Allie in our shared challenges. And something that’s been brewing for a while, even though I have reached out on multiple occasions offering countless olive branches, inside the scenes energy insights into US utilities, especially those in the Southeast US, and communications with a mutual colleague, who expressed interest in potentially, working collaboratively.

All to no avail and basically no response.

Except for two recent messages/responses I had received.

First response (a day before the announcement about our local wind project) …

While we are at it, how much utility stock do you own, and what other business ties do you have to the utilities that you so faithfully support with your online arguments?

And the response that added fuel to the fire (after our “supporters breakfast“) …

“Your statements about Vote Solar and SEIA suggest that you don’t know these organizations very well. I do, and while Vote Solar and SEIA may work together on issues, they are separate organizations with very different approaches to advocacy. As such your claim that Vote Solar is a mouthpiece for SEIA is patently bogus.

SACE is also a very different organization. Your lack of any real understanding of the world of solar advocates is showing, and as such you should probably avoid painting with a broad brush people you don’t know and situations that you don’t seem to understand.

As for municipalization: no, that’s not what CCAs do. In fact, they’ve openly proposed kicking PG&E out of retail specifically so that it can focus on the lines and wires part of the business, which they don’t seem to object to at all. So totally unclear what tree you are barking up here, except to serve as a faithful pro-utility voice in [removed as it reveals both source & person] comment section.

Clearly these poor utilities are disadvantaged here, with only ratepayer money to spend on PR and legal advocacy to protect their lucrative monopolies – often against these very ratepayers.

 

I really have only one response to the above, and it is the same everytime I think about those who either quickly jump down an electric utility’s throat; claim they [the utility, any utility for that matter] are the devil incarnate himself; act as if they can “just by sprinkling a little utopian fairy dust created in Silicon Valley on the situtation” delivery a better result; act as though “democratized energy” is not driven by big business profit motive either; or … the list goes on.

For all those who lecture me with equal conviction, I always find myself asking myself…

What direct experience do they have with PG&E [or an electric utility]?

Have they once stepped into the hallowed halls of 2225 Folsom (PG&E’s San Francisco headquarters) and feel they know everything about the utility’s challenges in its service territory?

I never have, but I’ve left a boot print in every corner of California’s distribution & transmission system, from the most dangerous neighborhoods waiting for a sleeping dog to wake & chew my face off; to distant remote canyons an hour’s walk in, without cell service in remote San Diego County, where a pack of wild dogs did almost chew my face off.

Almost shot by a customer? Been there… many times.

The one I remember the most, as he told me after I made it to his door, had he seen me coming, he would have shot me, and ended up getting himself shot in the back by his wife a few years later.  Not exactly Dockers and Teslas throughout most of PG&E’s service territory.

Sought agreements to ‘kill’ thousands of trees to save millions of others? Been there, done that, thousands of times with thousands of customers.

Keep Tahoe Green” was a play on a community awareness slogan – “Keep Tahoe Blue“, I used in that corner of California years ago finding commonality and compromises between ratepayers/customers and utilities.  It, killing some to save the many, was also part of keeping homes, communities & people – safe & alive.  And it, was then and is more so today in climate change stricken California, a much better policy and risk mitigation technique, driven by science and data, then most “renewable energy advocates” in their uppity homes on either “Coast“, will allow… less we destroy the nature. [sigh…]

Worked across agencies throughout the state with similar needs & goals? Yep, done that too.

See “Tahoe Green” above, US BLM – Burea of Land Management, US Bureau of Reclamation, US Army Corps of Engineers, countless communities throughout California, etc.

Resolved conflicts with irrational & conspiracy prone customers to address hazardous situations that others before me shirked. Too many to count, see man shot by his own wife as a starter.

Walked more line miles than are in most of these CCAs – Community Choice Aggregations being set up? Yep.

Assessed more dynamic ‘nodes’ in a day, than DERs – Distributed Energy Resources, have been added in a decade to equal lengths of high voltage feeder lines? That’s something I can’t stop doing to this day, almost 20 years later, no matter where I am.

And one thing that’s clear about that… no matter where I have gone in the world, the real world conditions along the grid-edge with the dynamic environmental risks faced in California’s WUI – Wildland-Urban Interface are … unmatched in this world In My Humble & Informed Opinon.

And this is without California legal interpretation of Inverse Condemnation, holding primarily IOUs – Investor Owned Utilities, financially responsible for fires with or without negligence proven by investigation.

So when someone or something comes in and says, we can do it better, safer, more efficiently, etc., I have to ask, “What skin do you actually have in the game?

With effectively an exemption, or several degrees of separation from distribution system O&M – Operations & Maintanence, without risk of Inverse Condemnation, I can say with absolute certainty, you [as in CCAs or Virtual Power Plants and/or “democratized energy” giant, SunRun, selling into the wholesale elelctric markets as was recently approved by FERC] have no skin in the game whatsoever.

Then there’s this, stacking the decks with regulatory enablers, that may or may not result in the best climate, carbon or economic outcomes, but they do help inflate stock prices and balance sheets of “the right or approved companies” and more likely than not, better the pocket books of wealthier ratepayers who can more than afford higher priced distributed energy products.

California’s Community Choice Aggregators currently are claiming they have 4 million customers by taking up the “responsibility” of PG&E, whom if one listens to any of these arguments has shirked it all along, and are going to do “a better job” with customer engagement.

Sounds pretty amazing!

Until one realizes, the California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) codified ‘opt out’ for all customers within a newly established CCA.

This, in my knowledge, is a first in California, if not the US or the world for that matter.  If I am in error, it is only because “opt out” is such a rarity in rate redesign cases, that it is big news, but also it has been long needed throughout the US as we transition from NEM – Net Electric Metering with Retail Rates, to realtime dynamic rates, to … enable our energy transition.

Oh right… that’s another thing, on-the-surface-only “renewable energy advocates” in New York fight against too.  And in New England, and in California and in… pretty much every state in the US trying to be a leader in Our Energy Transition.

And hence, almost every disruptive technology enabling rate redesign issued in the US by state PUC/PSC to date has been ‘opt in’ – basically, you – the generally underinformed, don’t care consumer – has to choice to join X, Y or Z program. And a lot of research has been done in this dynamic, and “opt in” policies are poorly participated in and deliver lack luster outcomes.  Even CPUC’s TOU – Time of Use mandate, continually delayed in its implimentation date, was ‘opt in’, where the alternative [of doing nothing] was grandfathered outdated NEM – distributed solar’s favorite, energy transition and climate needs be damned.

Uggg… I have to end this discussion. The continual mandating of ‘stacked decks’ and allowance of effective ‘card reading’ at the ‘grid-edge’ favoriting select, preferred technologies at the expense of all other technologies at our disposal today, just drives me crazy.  As does the droning on about how horrible all utilities are, without the slightest idea of the challenges required to operate them.

As always, much thanks and appreciation to all of my supporters. 🙂

 

 

[Author’s Disclaimer: I own no property, with or without potential for renewable energy projects.  I have not advocated for rooftop solar on my mom’s home in NY, “just to save” against the utility – NYSEG charges. My father’s business, also in NY, has a conflict of interest with the town board I was fighting – a yearly services contract (one of the only on their books I have read as these town supervisors plunged the town and taxpayers into over $500,000 in debt over frivolous attorneys fees fighting the wind project).  My father’s business, also dumped $75,000 in to a ground mount 25kW solar system, from an investment buyout he turned 10x returns on that I suggested he invest in almost 15 years ago in my college friends’ tech startup.  He doesn’t care about the evironmental benefits, absolutely unfavorable to NY’s “ruling elite” Democrats, did it ONLY for the tax benefits, and tells me often… the system is barely producing – welcome to NY).  And now they are building a house in Tennessee, TVA captured EMCs, where new distribution subs are being build, while the HOA outright bans solar rooftops, and immediately adjacent the Crab Orchard Wind proposal was stopped by effectively a US Senator’s push to ban wind in Tennessee.  I do own 1 stock in Sunrun, 1 stock in Viviant, and I did own (what are now worthless) stocks in SunEdison – all of which was a “Let’s play with $3000 in the stock market for some entertainment” decision during the 2014/15 energy markets meltdown… never did short-sell or “invest” in Tesla – and lost $2000 in “play money” just for fun across all energy sectors. As to utility, energy company ties – nothing financial, in … forever, but I consider myself fortunate to having stepped foot inside the fences of Mid & Large-Cap IOU/IOC actual facilities around the world,, onshore and offshore. See who and where here.  I have worked for holistic, solutions “renewable energy companies” as well, you can read about that here.  And lastly, I have invested more resources over the past 5 years, than most would invest in their lifetimes in a subject they are passionate about, across 3 continents, received no financial compensation for it, yet I am still confident in my investment in an idea greater than myself, regardless the personal sacrifices made.]

 

Interestingly, stumbled upon this from 4 years ago while I was in Europe – Belgrade, Serbia to be precise, and the “mission” is still the same for me today.

Hey! It is not about what you would like to see happen, it is about what IS happening. How do you want to alter the course of The Titanic, knowing full well its course is already set regardless your actions?

I think everyone knows the ending to this story already, but I see it playing out over and over again within the energy sectors as though a different ending will be written.

One side refuses to acknowledge the iceberg is there… and has decided to profit as much as they can in the interim.

The other side accepts the iceberg exists and the ship will ultimately go down. But all their efforts, from my perspective, are going towards smoothing the waters leading up to that fateful collision.

I don’t want to do either. I want to launch the rocket carrying the satellite, either of gravitational mass or cosmic sail design, that joins with the asteroid 15 years before it strikes the earth. Thus, altering its course into a pathway that avoids the Earth’s position in 15 years, altogether.

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