California faces a critical juncture in energy policy. The state’s energy grid is too old to survive very much longer, and many older plants will be closing. Consequently, an energy vacuum looms, but this presents an incredible opportunity to transition to a better system – one in which renewable energy is generated, stored, and distributed within community microgrids in which we no longer rely on old-tech, antiquated, and vulnerable networks of long-distance transmission lines. South Santa Barbara County is especially vulnerable in this regard since most of its energy arrives via a single transmission line.
A wide slate of state policy hearings are underway to tackle various aspects of overhauling our energy infrastructure and to enable the state to reach its greenhouse gas (GHG) reduction targets. But policy and development are not seeing eye-to-eye in the Santa Barbara area. Policy hearings aggressively push for more renewable energy, but utilities’ energy development plans almost exclusively are limited to natural gas turbines. The threats from climate change do not give us the luxury of timid increments of change; we must push industry to act boldly.
To transition to a 100 percent renewable energy economy, the problem must be addressed from many perspectives. First, the collection, storage, and distribution of renewable energy relies on new technologies. Second, financing is needed to manufacture and install 21st-century infrastructure. Third, political leaders must place a high priority on developing and distributing renewable energy. Finally, active citizens must demand that government and business leaders act quickly to replace fossil fuel energy with renewable sources.
Citizens have an opportunity on July 15 to influence California energy policy that is generally formed in secluded hearing rooms. The Public Utilities Commission will be holding a Public Participation Hearing at 6 p.m. on Wednesday, July 15, at the Oxnard Performing Arts Center, to approve energy development for south Santa Barbara County and Ventura County. The World Business Academy will be there to advocate for local renewable energy development. To encourage attendance, we are chartering buses to this hearing. Those interested in attending can reserve a seat online at www.worldbusiness.org or call (805) 892-4600.
Over 95 percent of the energy development proposed by Southern California Edison is for natural gas “peaker” plants that emit carbon and hazardous fine particulates during “peak” periods of energey demand. This dirty tech is being contemplated instead of advanced, reliable, and environmentally safe renewable technologies.
This event will be the only opportunity for the public to directly voice its opposition to state regulators on a proposed development that will haunt us for decades to come. State regulators won’t know what we think if we don’t show up. They’ll assume the majority of ratepayers are not opposed to the proposed peaker plants unless they hear differently. As in 1969, when Santa Barbara’s passionate response to the oil spill ignited the environmental movement, we face the opportunity to tip the scales for a renewable energy revolution.
Robert Perry is project manager and director of Energy Research for the World Business Academy, a Santa Barbara nonprofit advocating to transition California’s energy infrastructure from a centralized model reliant on large fossil-fuel plants to a distributed system based on renewable energy and advanced storage and distribution technologies.