Improving Air Quality in North Sacramento and Oak Park
Across the Sacramento region, community leaders and organizations are collaborating to achieve Environmental Justice, defined by local advocates as “the basic right of people to live, work, go to school, play, and pray in a safe, healthy, and clean environment.” Valley Vision is excited to be part of these efforts as we advance a new project to improve air quality in two frontline communities in Sacramento County.
Much of this momentum can be attributed to recent action at the State level. In 2017, Assembly Bill 617 was signed into law, which created the Community Air Protection Program run by the California Air Resources Board (CARB). The Community Air Protection Program empowers California’s most polluted communities to monitor their air quality and guide investments to reduce harmful emissions and improve public health in frontline neighborhoods. Valley Vision has been active in AB 617 advocacy since the legislation was signed by Governor Brown in 2017, including a strong effort in early 2018 to ensure Sacramento’s inclusion in the program, but more recently our work took on a new and critical purpose.
The work is focused on North Sacramento and Oak Park.
Last year, CARB awarded a two-year Community Air Grant to a group of local nonprofit organizations – Valley Vision, WALKSacramento, Breathe CA Sacramento Region, and Green Tech Education – to help the North Sacramento/Norwood and Oak Park neighborhoods monitor their air, understand how air quality impacts health, and develop a plan to reduce exposure to air pollution. Both of these communities are formerly redlined and underinvested air monitoring “deserts” with little available pollution data, and both have been nominated by the Sac Metro Air District for formal consideration by CARB as priority communities for pollution reduction programs.
The purpose of AB 617 is to empower communities to identify their own solutions in achieving better air quality, and our project centers on supplying the tools and resources for residents to do just that. To this end, our work is guided by a Project Advisory Committee (PAC) of 13 community members and technical experts. A majority of PAC members are eligible to be paid for their participation – a best practice for those seeking meaningful community engagement. You can learn more about the PAC on the project web page.
Our next major milestone is placing 20 Clarity Node-S air monitors (10 in each neighborhood) in locations determined by residents, and creating a public data portal where people can access real-time emissions information. Led by WALKSacramento, the team has already hosted four public listening sessions to seek community input, with live translation offered in Spanish, Vietnamese, and Hmong, and put out a multilingual survey to gather information from residents about priority locations for the air monitors to be placed. We are currently working with our PAC to review the dozens of applications that came in from both neighborhoods to determine which residents are eligible and interested in making these important siting decisions. Of course, residents who participate are being offered stipends of $75 per meeting attended.
The work of Sacramento Neighborhoods Activating on Air Quality will last through March 2022, with the following milestones:
As you can see, we’ve got our work cut out for us. Once the two air monitoring networks are deployed in locations determined by residents, we are funded to continue working with community members on an educational curriculum to ensure shared understanding of air quality and its effects on public health, further community workshops and planning efforts to identify community-led solutions, a Hackathon to begin to develop technological tools, and finally a Community Air Action Plan which can be elevated to the CA Air Resources Board to secure resources and to enforce new rules in line with community priorities.
Overall, we believe that the resources and tools that we are bringing to the table will help residents move the needle on public health in our region’s frontline neighborhoods. Especially in the age of COVID-19, it is absolutely critical that we address environmental and health disparities by empowering communities with real decision-making power, and do it in a transparent and equitable manner.
If you have any feedback to share or are interested in partnering in this work, please reach out by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org! To stay up to date with our work to improve regional air quality, subscribe to Valley Vision’s “Cleaner Air News” email newsletter!
Adrian Rehn is a Valley Vision Project Leader overseeing the Cleaner Air Partnership, Sacramento Neighborhoods Activating on Air Quality, and Valley Vision’s online communications.
Tesla Model S Makes Meg’s Week
In mid-May I had a birthday. Birthdays aren’t usually something I get all that public about, because it can seem really self-centered, and so I’ve certainly never written a blog about a birthday before. But here’s one! Although it’s not mainly about the birthday itself. It’s mostly about what happened as a result of my birthday: I got to drive a Tesla Model S for an entire week!
If you know me well, you probably know that I have coveted Teslas for years, well before I got to lead Valley Vision’s work in the Clean Economy and was able to get involved with the region’s Plug-in Electric Vehicle (PEV) Collaborative. So this birthday gift (from an inspired husband and some teenage co-conspirators) was superlative.
I’d driven a Tesla once, briefly, almost exactly four years earlier, in a ride-and-drive event in Napa. But this was an entire week. So, what did I take away from the experience?
- It accelerates like a bat out of hell. For someone (me) who was trained as a driver in the assertive New Jersey style of driving, this is a dream come true. The acceleration will truly snap your head back if you want it to. (I demo’d that for CEO Bill Mueller one day; he liked it too!)
- Auto-pilot is really remarkable, and a harbinger of the autonomous future to come. And it performed exceptionally. I used auto-pilot on surface roads in Davis and Sacramento, on our freeways, on the merge onto the Causeway in rush hour, in the rain (yes, rain), in heavy and variable traffic, and on highway 49 up to Grass Valley one day, as the road transitioned from undivided four-lane to a twistier and hillier two-lane.
- Auto-pilot can even change lanes on the freeway, which was freaky when I discovered it by accident. I turned on my signal for a lane-change before disengaging auto-pilot as I thought was necessary. Feeling the car begin to change lanes on its own was a little more exciting than I was ready for! But after that first surprise, it was just amazing.
- It will charge when plugged directly into house power overnight. But it will not charge quickly! We’d gain 30-40 miles in a ~10 hour overnight period. If I ever own a Tesla, of course we’ll install the special home chargers to get close to full overnight recharging.
- Tesla Superchargers are good. And easy. And free. There’s one in Natomas, which I frequented, and also one in Rocklin that I used on the day I went to Grass Valley.
- “Range anxiety” is a thing, even with a convenient Supercharger. I usually drive a Prius, with 500+ miles between fueling. The Model S would charge to a 200 mile range, but if one drives or accelerates assertively (ahem), that compromises your total range. I’m sure if I owned the car, I’d get accustomed to driving it closer to “empty,” but the relative scarcity of Superchargers and the slowness of charging on a regular outlet made me conservative and a little twitchy whenever my range fell below 75 miles.
- If you’d like this same experience for yourself, there’s an app for that, of course. It’s called Turo, and it’s just exactly like Airbnb, except with cars rather than homes. We regretfully returned our lovely Tesla to the home of its owner, in the Pocket, on a Saturday morning.
- There are more of them out there than even I’d noticed. One afternoon I left the parking garage behind the library in downtown Sacramento, and waited at a light to turn left, with one black Tesla Model S behind me, and a second one in the lane to my right. We were like a little Tesla flock.
- I’m not the only one who stares (and sometimes points) as a Tesla goes by.
Having meetings in Sacramento, Davis, Grass Valley and places in between, I drive significantly more than some. The Tesla enabled me to do that driving with a clearer personal conscience and in tight alignment with my professional life at Valley Vision – including the Cleaner Air Partnership, focused on air quality and transportation emissions, and the Capital Region Climate Readiness Collaborative, focused on climate and impacts. Keep up with Valley Vision’s leadership in these areas by subscribing to our monthly Cleaner Air News email newsletter!
Meg Arnold is Managing Director of Valley Vision, leading the Clean Economy and Innovation and Entrepreneurship Strategies.
Valley Vision Takes the #MyCleanAirPledge
At Valley Vision, we recognize the importance of clean air to the communities we serve.
Air pollution is everyone’s problem – from low-income neighborhoods burdened by diesel truck emissions to homesteads in the rural Sierra foothills, which face dangerous woodsmoke and wildfire risk. According to the American Lung Association, the Sacramento MSA in 2018 has the #5 worst ozone pollution (“smog”) and #19 worst short-term particle pollution (soot, smoke, and exhaust) in the country. Further, the region does not meet federal and state clean air standards, risking harm to our economy and the potential loss of millions of dollars in transportation funds. We also risk harming our environment, our health and our wellbeing.
This is why seven Valley Vision team members joined Breathe California Sacramento Region, each taking an individual #MyCleanAirPledge during the month of May. Below are their thoughts on the successes, challenges, and lessons learned in following their respective clean air commitments:
- Valley Vision Managing Director Meg Arnold will encourage the Cap-to-Cap 2018 Air Quality team to use bikeshare in DC! #MyCleanAirPledge
“#MyCleanAirPledge benefited from the very willing members of the Air Quality team at Cap-to-Cap. In fact, I didn’t really have to do any “encouraging,” as I had committed to. As of the very first day we were in DC, we were on bikes for the almost-three-mile ride from Union Station back to the Mayflower Hotel at the end of the day’s meetings at the Capitol. We enjoyed a variety of DC’s well-thought-out bikes lanes, team co-captain John Lane’s knowledgeable history of DC bikeshare’s success and fast growth — and also DC’s unseasonably chilly, cloudy, and windy weather that day. Bike sharing continued through the rest of the trip — even including a meeting at EPA that John had to miss, because he was babysitting the group’s bikes, which we’d been unable to dock and return due to the docks all being full! Thanks to my Air Quality team-mates who made #MyAirQualityPledge really easy to succeed at!”
- Valley Vision Communications Intern Ruben Moody will bring his reusable bags with him when grocery shopping! #MyCleanAirPledge
“Keeping myself accountable for bringing reusable grocery bags has been a great exercise in remembering commitments and taking steps to reduce waste. The first time I went shopping in May I did not bring my bags, but since then I have brought my large bags each time! Because I go to a smaller grocery store, the cashiers have taken notice of me getting better about bringing my reusable bags. I look forward to keeping my pledge going after Clean Air Month wraps up!”
- Valley Vision Project Manager Adrian Rehn takes the #MyCleanAirPledge to commute to work via bicycle at least 2x per week during the month of May! #MyCleanAirPledge
“I’ll admit it – I have a history of getting a little lazy each Winter when it comes to biking to work and to meetings. This transgression is compounded by the fact that I reside a mere mile and a half from Valley Vision’s Broadway offices. May turned out to be a great month to break my bad habit, as Sacramento’s mythical “Spring” actually lasted more than 3 days, resulting in minimal rain and moderate temperatures – perfect for biking. I have now completed my pledge and even gone further – playing around with those new JUMP Bikes about half a dozen times. I will continue to keep the bike riding momentum going as best I can. See you out there!”
- Valley Vision Executive Assistant Chloe Pan will force her parents to go to Refill Madness with her this month! #MyCleanAirPledge
“I became more aware of my carbon footprint and how much waste we produce when I was going to school in Santa Barbara. However, I moved back to Placer County after graduation and was tossed back into my parents’ lifestyle – where you don’t think twice about buying chemical drain cleaners, having meat in every meal, or throwing recyclables together with the trash (“They sort it out, sweetie!”). The opportunity to make a Clean Air Pledge gave me the push I needed to introduce my parents to Refill Madness. I can’t say that they were convinced to change their way of life, but it was nice to show them that there truly are concrete, practical, convenient ways of making a difference in our local community.”
- Valley Vision’s Director of Strategy and Evaluation Evan Schmidt will carpool at least once per week during the month of May! #MyCleanAirPledge
“I’ve kept up my clean air pledge to carpool once a week by carpooling every Monday with Linda Cloud, a friend and neighbor who works at Local Government Commission in downtown Sacramento. Carpooling every Monday has been a great way to connect with a friend every week in addition to reducing air pollution. Also, I drive my electric Leaf (all the time) and so get even more benefit when I’m able to drive with someone else.”
Valley Vision’s Thousand Strong Intern Anessa Chacon and Project Leader Tammy Cronin also took the #MyCleanAirPledge. Anessa committed to reducing pollution in the air by walking to work and Tammy rode the Big Blue Bus (aka El Dorado Transit) to work instead of driving!
Valley Vision, Breathe California Sacramento Region, and the Sacramento Metro Chamber of Commerce anchor the Cleaner Air Partnership, a diverse coalition of business leaders, environmental advocates, regulators, and others who have been helping the Sacramento region protect public health and promote economic growth for 30 years. Keep up with this important work by subscribing to our monthly ‘Cleaner Air News’ email newsletter, or by contacting Project Manager Adrian Rehn at (916) 325-1630 or emailing email@example.com.
Adrian Rehn is a Valley Vision Project Manager overseeing the Cleaner Air Partnership and Valley Vision’s online communications.
Cleaner Air Partnership Tracking EPA’s Moves on Vehicle Emissions
The Sacramento region’s longstanding Cleaner Air Partnership, anchored by Valley Vision, Breathe California Sacramento Region, and the Sacramento Metro Chamber, has been keeping an eye on the Trump Administration’s moves to potentially roll back vehicle emissions standards.
Sources claim that the U.S. Department of Transportation has drafted a proposal to freeze vehicle requirements at 2020 levels through 2026, pulling the plug on progressive emissions requirements put in place by the Obama Administration, and adopted by California leaders. In a region heavily impacted by vehicular, or “mobile source” pollutants, this could deal immense damage to public health and economic vitality in communities across the 7-County Sacramento region.
Alberto Ayala, Executive Director of the Sacramento Metropolitan Air Quality Management District (SMAQMD), penned an Op-Ed in the Sacramento Bee on this very subject last month, when it became apparent that the EPA was seriously considering these changes. “Rolling back the standards ignores reality – cleaner, more efficient cars are already abundant on our roads — and wastes large investments by automakers. Beyond innovations to gasoline engines, electric vehicles are improving battery life and charging times. And hydrogen fuel cell cars are coming up fast right behind. These advances are reflected in growing sales in California and other leading markets. Electric cars are the superior, no-compromise, and cheat-proof alternative to combustion.”
Erik White, Air Pollution Control Officer for the County of Placer, echoed these concerns. “Cooperative federalism does not abdicate EPA from its responsibilities to protect public health and address climate change. The federal government cannot selectively choose when it wants to support state’s rights and take when it wants to abrogate them. EPA must stay the course on the technologically feasible light duty standards already on the books such that it supports American leadership on automotive standards and the right of California to enact its own standards when necessary.”
These and other experts at the Cleaner Air Partnership will keep you apprised of this conversation as it develops. If you haven’t already, please subscribe to Valley Vision’s Clean Economy newsletter, share this piece through your networks, or email me if you want to be involved in clean air efforts (or know someone who does). Join us! Together we can ensure a more healthy, prosperous, and equitable Sacramento region.
Adrian Rehn is a Valley Vision Project Manager overseeing the Cleaner Air Partnership and Valley Vision’s online communications.
Air Quality Team Makes Moves at Cap-to-Cap
As usual, the Metro Chamber’s annual Capitol-to-Capitol program was jam-packed, tightly-scheduled, well-run – and very large. This year’s delegation numbered 375, including the business community, local electeds, nonprofit leadership, and representatives from our academic institutions.
The Air Quality team’s seventeen members took an equal number of meetings in two-and-a-half days, with plenty of bike-share commuting as well, despite this being one of the chilliest and rainiest Cap-to-Caps in memory. The four issue papers we “carried” (on federal funding, forest resilience, biomass, and broadband access) were well-received by the majority of our regional Congressional delegation, as well as by Senators Feinstein and Harris.
More challenging was our conversation with the Environmental Protection Agency, which focused significantly on vehicle emissions standards and the importance of not weakening the Clean Air Act, given all the benefits it has brought to the nation since its inception. Administration appointees debated with us the significance of vehicle emissions and particularly the issue of California continuing its higher standards.
Our discussion with the Majority staffer for the Senate’s Committee on the Environment and Public Works featured a slightly broader range of topics, with two pieces of welcome news and one piece of less ideal, though unsurprising, news. We learned that cuts to EPA’s budget are “not a high priority for many in Congress; that’s more the Administration,” and also that the Committee’s Republican Chair and Democratic Ranking Member are jointly sponsoring a bill that would fund the Diesel Emissions Reductions Act (DERA) at its statutory maximum of $100M. The not-surprising topic was that of CAFÉ standards (vehicle emissions standards), where our team’s strong points in support were acknowledged but met with a “we’ll have to agree to disagree” response.
As one final note, we were fortunate to benefit from two strong “freshmen” members of the team, who each set a high bar. Alberto Ayala of the Sacramento Metro Air Quality Management District was an able leader of “sub-team Ayala,” while Breathe Board member Paul Adams of Capital Public Radio arranged a special side-tour of the NPR headquarters for Cap-to-Cap attendees.
All in all, it was a successful Cap-to-Cap and the Air Quality team enjoyed a fun and impactful time in D.C. We are all looking forward to next year!
To keep up on the latest Valley Vision and Cleaner Air Partnership news, our research findings and analyses, and personal commentary and thoughts by those on the staff team, sign up for our Cleaner Air News and Vantage Point email newsletters!
Meg Arnold is Managing Director of Valley Vision, leading the Clean Economy and Innovation and Entrepreneurship Strategies.
Standing up for Cleaner Air in Our Communities
For over 30 years, the Cleaner Air Partnership has brought environmental advocates, business leaders, and decision-makers together to fight for cleaner air and job growth across the Sacramento region. Investing in clean air improves public health, grows and attracts businesses, and is simply the right thing to do.
The work of ‘CAP’ has been an immense boon to our communities for a long time. But the time has come to do more.
The Sacramento region has 5-7% of California’s population. It also has 5-7% of the state’s population who live in disadvantaged communities, as designated by the state’s CalEnviroScreen 3.0 mapping tool. But in key programs like the statewide Cap & Trade system, which reinvests money charged to polluters into a variety of state agencies and projects, our region is not getting its fair share. As a whole, our region only receives 1-2% of air quality-related Cap & Trade funds, while Southern California, the San Joaquin Valley, and the Bay Area in particular receive many times more funding to do this work. This is about more than money – it’s about the ability of our low-income neighbors to live healthy and full lives. It’s about making our communities more livable for everyone. It’s about our region’s future.
The Cleaner Air Partnership coalition, led by Breathe California Sacramento Region, the Sacramento Metro Chamber, and Valley Vision, is a catalyst for the vision of the future that I just described.
As an example, the Sacramento Metropolitan Air Quality Management District has identified over $365 Million worth of shovel-ready projects in Sacramento County alone, much of which could be funded if our region were to receive proportionate Cap & Trade funding. Potential projects include electric bus conversions, electric vehicle charging infrastructure, cleaner locomotives, low-emission agricultural equipment, and more. The region’s other four Air Quality Management Districts (AQMDs) have similarly identified numerous shovel-ready projects in need of funding.
Through the leadership of Sacramento County Supervisor and CA Air Resources Board representative Phil Serna, CAP has been meeting with our region’s state-level elected officials and advisors, further building its coalition to include leaders skilled at navigating state legislation, the budget process, and the inner workings of California government. Our recent trips to the State Capitol to educate and inform leaders about how the state allocates Cap & Trade money have proven quite fruitful, as our region’s leaders at all levels are ready to do what it takes to modify the system. Addressing the Cap & Trade conundrum is a tangible first step in this new area of activity for CAP; as we become more connected and knowledgeable, we could engage with state representatives and agencies in all sorts of ways to the benefit of our communities.
Consider this a call to action. Over the next four weeks, the Cleaner Air Partnership will host three working sessions to build out a ‘Cap & Trade Playbook’ – a comprehensive plan to secure a balanced share of Cap & Trade funds for important air quality-related projects in the Capital region. We will be having additional meetings, beginning in May, with our elected representatives to share the Playbook with them and begin to implement our new strategy.
As the new Project Manager for the Cleaner Air Partnership beginning in January 2018, I’ve been tasked with continuing to build upon the strong foundation set by fellow VV’ers Tammy Cronin and Tara Thronson before her, their clean air colleagues, and surely others beyond my memory. I’m also responsible, under the supervision of Managing Director Meg Arnold (Valley Vision’s Clean Economy guru), for ensuring that this stepped-up level of activity leads to success. It’s a tough assignment, but achievable with the right partners, good data, and the wind at our backs.
If you haven’t already, please subscribe to Valley Vision’s Clean Economy newsletter, share this piece through your networks, or email me if you want to be involved in these efforts (or know someone who does). Join us! Together we can ensure a more healthy, prosperous, and equitable Sacramento region.
Adrian Rehn is a Valley Vision Project Manager overseeing the Cleaner Air Partnership and Valley Vision’s online communications.
Sacramento Takes Next Step On Solar
Sacramento has taken a significant leap forward in establishing itself not only as a driving force in California’s commitment to reduction of greenhouse gas emissions, but also in highlighting Sacramento’s capability and true potential behind being a 21st century economic hub.
On Thursday, December 14th, the Sacramento International Airport unveiled its Solar Farm, which lies over two solar array fields. The environmental and economic implications for Sacramento following the solar farm are monumental. Built on land that was previously underutilized, the Solar Farm, will now be responsible for providing about one third of the electricity needs of the Sacramento International Airport and equate to an average annual cost savings of $850,000 over the next 25 years. This solar facility is now the largest on any airport in California and one of the largest airport-based solar facilities in the entire U.S. The message that seeps through to employers, employees, businesses and residents is one of Sacramento’s dedication to sustainability, and above all, commitment to a ‘community of livable quality.’
The newly constructed solar farm is the fruition of a joint partnership between Borrego Solar Systems Inc. and NRG Energy Inc. Borrego provided the capital infrastructure, while NRG provided the financial support and will continue to own and operate the facility. Under a Power Purchase Agreement, NRG will sell electricity to the Sacramento International Airport at below-market rates—a mutually beneficial agreement for both parties. The infrastructure financed for the solar farm by NRG came with no up-front costs to the Airport of Sacramento County. Instead, NRG will be reimbursed over the 25 year period through the Power Purchase Agreement.
A particularly important benefit of this solar farm is that solar electricity is a renewable source of energy and does not contribute to greenhouse gas emissions. The annual environmental benefit generated by the solar facility is quantified as having a carbon reduction equivalent to that of removing more than 2,300 cars from the road, not consuming 25,000 barrels of oil, or not burning 11,500,000 pounds of coal. Using more than 23,000 solar panels, all of which are mounted on tracking equipment that follow the suns path over the course of the day, ensures ultimate efficiency and productivity.
Discussing these remarkable attributes at the press conference were John Wheat, Jackie Pitera, Kevin Prince, David Tamayo, Supervisor Don Nottoli, Senator Richard Pan and Assemblymember Kevin McCarty. A common theme stressed among these officials was the important role the solar farm plays in asserting and depicting Sacramento’s commitment to its communities. These leaders explained the importance behind a city’s commitment to community health by describing how at the heart of economic growth and prosperity lies health at the community level. In order to thrive economically, communities and the residents must be healthy. Seeing this solar facility project through is a step in the right direction—as Assemblymember McCarty stressed, “pushing hard to make California clean only leads to a multiplier effect”, and the implications for community health behind the ‘multiplier effects’ are critical.
Valley Vision manages the Cleaner Air Partnership, which helped the Sacramento region attain the federal particulate matter standard (PM 2.5), experiencing a 66% reduction in smog-forming emissions and a 63% reduction in smog-forming reactive organic gasses. This solar farm will help further reduce regional emissions. It is great to see progress being made by other entities and it is exciting to see what the future holds for environmental health improvements.
Subscribe to Valley Vision’s Cleaner Air Partnership newsletter to keep up with our region’s efforts to ensure clean and livable communities!
Alejandra Gallegos was a Valley Vision Project Associate working on the Cleaner Air Partnership and broadband initiatives.
Seven Questions with SMUD CEO Arlen Orchard
The Sacramento Municipal Utility District (SMUD) has been Sacramento County’s publicly owned, not-for-profit electric service since 1946. We recently sat down with Valley Vision board member Arlen Orchard, the CEO and General Manager of SMUD, to talk Cap-and-Trade, cannabis legalization, and cultivating a clean and sustainable economy in the Sacramento region.
1. Why is the extension of the Cap-and-Trade program important to SMUD?
SMUD has been committed to environmental stewardship for many years and has invested significantly to reduce greenhouse emissions for its customers and California. The extension of the Cap-and-Trade program over the next decade is the cornerstone of reducing greenhouse gas emissions in California and allows California to continue to play a leading role in addressing climate change. The extension includes continued allocation of allowances to utilities, a known and stable market structure, and important allowance price control mechanisms that will collectively provide a reasonable cost approach to deeper greenhouse reductions while providing the State with needed funds for greenhouse reduction investments. The extension of Cap-and-Trade program will help SMUD provide clean, reliable power at affordable prices and support our goals of electrifying transportation while significantly reducing greenhouse gas emissions in our region and throughout the state.
SMUD sees a surplus of Cap-and-Trade allowances at times, particularly during high hydro years, and has sold those allowances in quarterly auctions. The revenue helped fund several greenhouse-gas reducing projects in SMUD’s service area to benefit SMUD’s customers, including disadvantaged communities and customers. For example, SMUD funded three programs that delivered deep energy efficiency retrofits to low-income customers; a program to train high school students in underserved communities in energy audit techniques, leading to energy efficiency retrofits at the students’ seven schools and potential career paths for the students; and a program to fund and demonstrate deep energy efficiency retrofits at local non-profits and small businesses.
2. Washington State saw energy use increase by an unanticipated 20% rate after legalizing cannabis. What is SMUD doing to prepare for the high energy demands and other aspects of the emergent cannabis industry?
SMUD is taking a multi-pronged approach to serving new indoor cultivation loads. SMUD is working with these new customers to understand their facilities and loads while providing assistance with energy efficiency programs, like lighting and HVAC, to reduce the load as much as feasible. SMUD is also planning capacity additions to meet the new loads quickly and evaluating alternative ways of providing service to the customer as reliably and cost effectively as possible when standard distribution service may be costly or delay new service. SMUD is reaching out to various business partners to encourage new indoor cultivation in areas that meet their permitting requirements but also have utility system capacity available to serve this new load. This proactive approach ensures we can meet the needs of this growing industry efficiently and cost effectively.
3. Why is broadband deployment important to meeting greenhouse gas reduction goals?
While SMUD does not provide broadband or communication services to our customers, we recognize the important role that broadband plays in supporting economic development, access to information, and opportunity to disadvantaged communities. Along with ensuring the sustainable energy practices and investments that support disadvantaged communities, access to broadband can play an important role in creating sustainable communities. Specific to our business, widespread deployment of broadband allows SMUD to collect real-time data on customer behavior and energy usage, which can be used to design programs targeted to achieve various objectives. This includes design of programs and rebates that help reduce overall customer usage, especially during peak periods when higher pollution generating resources are needed to help meet customer loads.
4. Valley Vision’s Green Communities project has helped San Joaquin Valley households save over 13 million kilowatt hours. What opportunities do businesses and nonprofits have to conserve energy in their communities?
SMUD spends over $35 million a year and offers a comprehensive set of energy efficiency solutions to our business and non-profit customers. These include offerings addressing lighting, HVAC, refrigeration, data centers, and custom energy efficiency solutions. We offer convenient direct install services as well as financing that can make conserving energy easy for our customers. We also partner with our customers to test innovative new technologies that can help create savings in the future. Recent additions to our customer offerings focus on the use of efficient heat pump technologies to reduce natural gas use for heating and water heating and thereby help the state achieve its carbon reduction goals. The online enhancements we’ve added to smud.org include bill alerts; “My Energy Tools” for residential and business customers that help them save energy; “My Account” charts that show customers how their usage compares to previous months and years; expanded payment options; an online rebate center; and other easy-to-use tools that give customers more choices and options regarding their energy use. These options have been very well received. SMUD also redesigned its low-income assistance rate to provide discounts to the customers who need it the most.
5. How will SMUD’s agreement to help Japanese power companies with technology adoption benefit customers in Sacramento County?
SMUD’s new partnership provides several direct and indirect benefits to our customers. The continuing deployment of rooftop photovoltaic (PV) and successful energy efficiency programs has resulted in flat to negative load growth from SMUD. Yet, costs to serve customers with services, and operate and maintain distribution, transmission and generation facilities, continue to rise predictably. Revenue diversification will allow SMUD to fund new investments in grid modernization and new technologies to benefit our customers without asking our customers to foot the entire cost. Indirectly, SMUD is gaining valuable global knowledge about emerging technologies in the Smart Grid arena that NEC and Japanese utilities are deploying to meet their needs – knowledge that will help SMUD shape the products, services and options to our customers in the future. The emerging technologies include better utility asset management and operational tools to reduce costs and improve reliability of electric service, as well as customer sited technologies such as storage and electric vehicles to name a few. Additionally, as Japan continues its deregulation of its electricity system, SMUD gets to glean valuable information about how this may affect SMUD customers should California consider deregulation of retail energy again in California.
6. Taking into account the devastation caused by tropical storm Harvey, have lessons learned from this disaster caused SMUD to modify its business resiliency plans?
The impacts from tropical storm Harvey re-emphasize the significance of our maintenance, asset replacement and grid modernization strategies in ensuring a safe and resilient grid. Our journey towards a modern and more resilient grid began in 2009 with the SmartSacramento® project. With the assistance of a $127.5 million Smart Grid Infrastructure Grant from the U.S. Department of Energy, SMUD invested a total of $308 million in our SmartSacramento® project. SmartSacramento’s scope ranged from the installation of 617,000 smart meters and distribution automation systems to a digital operations wall map and an improved outage management system. These investments equip our operations staff with tools to be able to quickly determine which customers have lost service, allow them to remotely operate equipment to quickly isolate areas affected by outages, and inform restoration strategies.
Since the completion of SmartSacramento®, we’re continuing to invest in the deployment of additional line automation switches and retrofitting existing distribution substations with remote data acquisition and control functionalities. These functionalities provide our distribution operators visibility at more granular levels to keep outages times low, protect equipment and maintain the grid without compromising reliability. These projects, as well as implementation of an Advanced Distribution Management System and upgrade of our communications network, round out the investments SMUD is making to ensure that we continue on the path to a modern and more resilient grid.
7. What is one bold prediction for what the electric utility industry will look like in five years, and what does that mean for the Sacramento region?
The electric utility industry is undergoing tremendous change. The disruption of our traditional business model is driven by the 3Ds – digitization, decentralization, and decarbonization. In addition, increasingly sophisticated customer expectations are requiring utilities to focus on customer engagement and providing customers with more information, tools, and choices. Nowhere is this more evident than in the growth of distributed energy resources and services which are allowing customers to take control of their energy supply and cost. With a proliferation of distributed services, new devices and technologies promise to radically change energy use and control. The next 5 years will see an immense innovation which will redefine our customer relationships, force us to become more efficient and effective at what we do, and provide new opportunities to create new products and services that will benefit our customers and community. We will need to make major investments in new and developing technologies to provide the visibility into our distribution grid to allow us to optimize the proliferation of distributed energy resources to maximize the economic value of a decentralized grid for our customers, third party providers and SMUD. The utility of the future will be the glue that binds all of these new technologies and services together to ensure reliability, access to all segments of society, and the fair allocation of the economic benefits.
Arlen Orchard is a Valley Vision board member and CEO and General Manager of the Sacramento Municipal Utility District (SMUD), Sacramento County’s publicly owned, not-for-profit electric service.