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&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.
<NO>This is all relevant because the chief sales pitch that's being made about Sonoma Clean Power is that it would provide at least 33 percent "renewable" energy whereas PG&E now provides less than 20 percent. That's true under the current narrow definitions. But if you went by a definition of "low-carbon" or "greenhouse-gas-free," PG&E's current supply would be roughly 62 percent.
What would Sonoma Clean Power's be? We don't know as yet because the public hasn't been told where those companies seeking to operate the local system plan to get their renewable energy and what would make up the county's portfolio. Some of this still needs to be negotiated with the county.
But what's anticipated is that a good portion of the renewable power, at least from the outset, would come from renewable energy credits. These essentially are pieces of paper that certify that someone, somewhere created a certain amount of electricity from accepted renewable sources — i.e. solar, wind, small hydroelectric, etc. <NO1><NO>