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Paving a New Road to Energy Capacity

Santa Barbara County and Its Power Grid Partners Must Commit to the Future

Santa Barbara County residents look to a renewable energy future. The Southern California Edison Request for Proposals (RFP) to create additional energy for the Goleta/Moorpark area is our opportunity to assert our goals of powering our community with as many preferred renewable resources as available and, if possible, avoid a new natural gas plant.

Our community has made a strong commitment to a 100 percent renewable energy future and made addressing climate change a top priority. As Santa Barbara County’s 1st District Supervisor, I am an advocate and voted for the county’s Energy and Climate Action Plan to reduce greenhouse gas emissions in the unincorporated areas of the county 15 percent below 2007 levels by 2020. The Cities of Santa Barbara and Goleta have adopted 100 percent clean energy goals as well.

The combined efforts of the county and cities depict the holistic approach our community wants to take to procure its energy. Our community’s ambitions are in line with the State of California’s — the state has called for swift action to reduce reliance on fossil fuels with a goal of 100 percent clean energy by 2045. Together, local energy and other distributed energy resources, like solar panels, storage, or practices that help energy efficiency, are the key components of a 100 percent clean energy system, and our community seeks to be at the vanguard of these efforts.

As part of our commitment to the generations to come, we reject building or recommissioning a dirty fossil-fuel peaker plant in our region. Last year, the people of Santa Barbara County helped defeat a refurbished natural-gas plant in Ellwood and a new one in Oxnard. Such plants undermine our community values and do not progressively work toward a strategic resilient future for Santa Barbara County. We will continue to pursue projects that provide energy while surrendering as few greenhouse gas emissions as possible. All renewable options must be attempted.

Climate-driven events are becoming more frequent and pose greater threats to public safety. Wildfires threaten the transmission grid, severe weather forces utilities to shut down transmission lines, and gas turbine plants contribute to the upsurge in severe weather events. It is in our best interest to find safer ways to produce and transmit energy.

The California Public Utilities Commission and Southern California Edison are presented with a phenomenal opportunity to meet Santa Barbara County’s resiliency needs. With locally procured renewables and distributed energy resources, together we can create a sustainable foundation for our future to build upon. I urge state decision makers, the California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC), and Southern California Edison (SCE) to accept and contract all viable projects that would enable us to create energy from cleaner sources to meet our regional capacity needs.

Our region also needs the CPUC and SCE to work smarter toward improving feed-in tariff programs — the programs that pay ordinary power users for the energy they generate, as in home solar panels. These should feature a transparent price, standard form of contract, and a stream-lined interconnection process. That’s a way to develop cost-effective renewable generation, storage, and demand response resources. Local generation of renewables is only one piece of solving our regional energy puzzle; we need not lose sight of working toward feed-in tariffs as policy mechanisms to create the most resiliently minded environment for our local generation possible.

Solar developers in our area have made it clear that the RFP process favored larger developments and did not cater to smaller distribution projects. I urge SCE to accept these smaller projects in our area to create an aggregated resource that can help us meet our capacity demands. Unfortunately, our planning rules in the county and local cities are prohibitive to the kind of utility-scale that could avoid a natural-gas power plant we don’t want being foisted upon us

While we have significant amounts of private rooftop solar, we need utility-scale distributed projects that can provide energy to the entire county. We, as local policy makers, must pave the road to clean energy by fixing procedures that act as de-facto bans for large-capacity solar projects. This is an active goal for the Board of Supervisors — we recently passed an action to allow our County Sustainability Division to create a Clean Energy Roadmap for the purpose of identifying possible sites suitable for large-scale solar.

It is crucial that Edison and the CPUC seize an opportunity to develop a strategic partnership with local communities to achieve our clean-energy goals. They must seriously consider all local renewable opportunities in our area to meet our capacity needs. Coupled with strategic resiliency planning, Santa Barbara County has the potential to be a beacon of clean-energy goals. Our community remains committed to a 100 percent renewable energy future, but we need to move out of our own NIMBY tendencies if we are the preserve clean air and a lower carbon future. We face a global emergency, and it’s time we acted like it.

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