Mostly clear

GULLIXSON: 5 myths about Sonoma Clean Power

Last week, Gov. Jerry Brown encouraged UC Berkeley graduates to go out and confront the greatest threat to their future, a threat bigger, he said, than the home mortgage crisis and student loan debt.

"All of these problems are serious," Brown said. But students face something "even more threatening," he said. That is the buildup of greenhouse gases.

"That's the world you face," said Brown, in noting that politicians have been slow to respond to climate change. "But you have the skills and the knowledge and the sense of the good. You can make change."

In addressing the Santa Rosa City Council on Tuesday, Sonoma County Supervisor Shirlee Zane made a similar appeal. She pointed to a number of "worldwide catastrophic events" including last week's tornado in Oklahoma as an example of why cities should join the Sonoma Clean Power authority, thus giving consumers the option of getting power from a supplier other than PG&E.

<NO1><NO>"All change occurs locally," she said. "Now is the time to exercise leadership. The stakes are too high."

But is Sonoma Clean Power really all about confronting climate change?

That's debatable. One of the biggest misconceptions of Sonoma Clean Power is that "renewable" and "clean" is the same thing as "greenhouse gas-free." It's not. "Renewable" in this arena is a political term, not a scientific one.

For example, there's no arguing that large hydroelectric dams are far superior to coal plants in terms of their impact on the climate. Hydroelectric dams emit virtually no greenhouse gas, whereas coal plants are the worst of the worst. But in terms of California's legal definition of "renewable" there is no distinction. Large hydroelectric plants, even ones that have existed for years, and coal plants are both considered dirty.

(There's also the argument that if California was truly focused on reducing the state's carbon footprint it would count nuclear power — which makes up nearly 24 percent of PG&amp;E's energy supply — as a "renewable" source of power. But that's even less of a political possibility.)

<NO1>Last week, Oregon approved a signature-gathering campaign for ballot initiative that would require all hydroelectric power be counted toward renewable energy requirements. Voters there could be seeing this on the November 2014 ballot. Meanwhile, efforts have been made in the California Legislature to change these definitions as well, but so far none has been successful.

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