Friday, May 25 , 2018, 9:20 pm | Fair 60º


Robert Perry: A Call to Arms for Local Renewable Energy

California now faces a critical juncture in energy policy: The state’s energy infrastructure is well beyond its projected useful life, and many older plants are scheduled to be shuttered in the near future. The resulting energy vacuum presents an incredible opportunity to transition our infrastructure to a distributed system where renewable energy is generated, stored and distributed within community microgrids that are no longer reliant on an antiquated and vulnerable network of long-distance transmission lines.

This vulnerability is especially true for South Santa Barbara County, which receives most of its energy via a single transmission line.

State regulators are acutely aware of the coming power vacuum, and a wide slate of policy hearings are under way to not only overhaul the state’s energy infrastructure, but do so in a manner that will enable the state to reach its accelerating greenhouse gas (GHG) reduction targets. Regrettably, a disconnect exists between policy and development that threatens to adversely impact how energy will be developed in the Santa Barbara area.

While policy hearings aggressively push to develop more renewable energy, current plans by utilities are almost exclusively limited to building natural gas turbines. Unfortunately, in a world where the threats from climate change expand exponentially, we do not have the luxury to engage in timid incrementalism and must push the industry to act boldly.

In researching the transition to a 100 percent renewable energy economy, it is apparent that the problem must be addressed from a variety of perspectives. First, various technologies must be implemented that enable the collection, storage, and distribution of renewable energy. Second, financing resources must be secured to manufacture and install the needed infrastructure. Third, political leaders must be willing to place a high value and priority on developing distributed renewable energy. And finally, an active majority of citizens must demand that government and business leaders act quickly to replace fossil fuel energy with renewable sources.

It’s no coincidence that social activism falls last on the list as it is the least developed variable in the equation. Technologies exist to create a renewable energy infrastructure, as well as numerous methods to finance energy development, and political leadership throughout California has placed a high priority on reducing greenhouse gas emissions. The supreme irony is that social will is the most powerful and transformative agent, and can vastly accelerate the overall pace of transition. THAT is where we ALL come into the picture.

California energy policy is generally formed in secluded hearing rooms, where the process occurs largely “out of sight, out of mind” to the general public. Such is the case in the current proceeding before the Public Utilities Commission to approve energy development for south Santa Barbara and Ventura counties, where the World Business Academy is participating as an intervening party and is advocating for local renewable energy development.

However, as part of this proceeding, a Public Participation Hearing has been scheduled for 6 p.m. July 15 at the Oxnard Performing Arts Center. 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. To encourage attendance, the World Business Academy is chartering buses to transport concerned citizens to this hearing. Those interested in attending can reserve a seat online by clicking here or by calling 805.892.4600.

The perception of public sentiment by state regulators will largely be shaped by what transpires at this public hearing. If a large, passionate and coordinated block of opposition is present at the hearing, the adverse consequences from disregarding public sentiment will be recognized and be carefully considered when a proposed decision is issued to the commission.

Right now, committing to ride to Oxnard for this July 15 hearing is the single greatest act to support local development of renewable energy. As in 1969, when Santa Barbara’s passionate response to the oil spill ignited the environmental movement, we face an historic opportunity to tip the scales toward a renewable energy revolution. The only question is whether on July 16, enough concerned citizens can honestly say they helped transform an opportunity into reality.

— Robert Perry is the project manager and director of energy research at the nonprofit World Business Academy in Santa Barbara.

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