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Palo Alto's bold proposal to jumpstart home electrification

Uploaded: Sep 25, 2022

Six years ago Palo Alto set a goal to reduce city emissions to 80% below 1990 levels by 2030. At the time, emissions were already 35% below 1990 due to cleaner electricity. But since then, progress has been slow.


In 2019 our emissions were 38% below 1990 levels. They were much lower in 2020, but most of that effect was due to temporary pandemic-related changes. The city estimates that emissions would have been about 42% below 1990 levels if not for the pandemic. Source: Palo Alto’s 2020 Greenhouse Gas Emissions Inventory

In particular, we have been slow to electrify our homes. For six years, the city has offered us rebates to install heat pump water heaters, and for six years we have largely ignored that offer. But making this change remains one of the simplest and most cost-effective actions we can take to reduce our building emissions.

This gulf between climate ambition and results has been frustrating for City Council and environmental advocates alike. With a new analysis in hand confirming that we should be electrifying about 1000 water heaters every year to hit our emissions target, our sustainability staff worked with community advisors to grab the reins and draft a proposal that goes well beyond rebates, with the aim to make this switch as easy and affordable as possible.

The proposal includes:
- Turn-key installation by a city-supervised contractor.
- $1500 up front cost (similar to a gas water heater) (1)
- $1200 additional cost, either paid up front or via $20/month on the utility bill (0% interest for five years). This cost will be partially or even fully offset by tax credits and bill savings. (2)

Interested residents need only place a call to Palo Alto’s Home Efficiency Genie, who will visit the home, determine the best options, and provide a written report. Customers who want to move forward can then sign an agreement and schedule the installation. Equipment has a 12-year warranty and labor a 1-year warranty, though the city is looking at a 5-year option for labor.

Homeowners who want to use their own contractor can do so, and will receive a rebate of $2300, up from $1200 today. Renters are encouraged to participate as well. About 20% of homes in Palo Alto are rented out. Tenants will get materials from the city to help them talk with their landlords about making the switch to a HPWH.

This robust plan aims to make it as easy, affordable, and satisfactory as possible for residents to make the switch. But the proposal’s authors are setting their sights well beyond 1000 water heaters in that first year.

A year of rapid HPWH adoption will enable the city to gain experience with building electrification, develop promising on-bill financing options, attract contractors to the area, and raise awareness among residents of the need and feasibility of electrifying their homes. This, along with cost improvements due to increased competition and scale, will hopefully allow an extension of the program at lower cost, along with a similar pilot tackling space heating. The 1000 heat pump water heater installations will also provide the city with the information and experience needed to draft a requirement that water heaters be replaced with HPWHs when they fail.

Two aspects of the plan that the report focuses on are grid capacity and cost. Grid capacity is not anticipated to be a problem with this rollout. Because HPWHs have a relatively low power draw of 300-400 watts most of the time, similar to that of a desktop computer, they are expected to have minimal impact on the electric distribution system. By promoting this water heater switch first, the city is able to make headway on its grid modernization effort while still making good progress on emissions. Yes, the city can walk and chew gum at the same time!

The costs for this program are higher than the city was hoping, but staff has identified relevant sources of funding to cover the expected $7.4M in expenses, which include plumbing labor and materials, electrical work, and evaluation and necessary follow up visits. (3) Residents will pay about $1.7M in upfront payments (the $1500). Another $1.2M will come from revenue the City has already received from the sale of cap-and-trade allowances that are issued to our gas utility for energy efficiency and electrification. The final $4.5M will come from the utility’s Electric Special Projects reserve, which today has a balance of $29.6M. (4) This fund will be paid back over time (with interest) from the $20 monthly payments from residents, the revenues from the additional electricity that is sold, and income from a Public Benefits charge that the utility collects for energy efficiency and other purposes. (5)

I find this proposal to be comprehensive and compelling, offering a big assist to Palo Altans who are interested in reducing their home’s emissions. I have spoken with many who would jump at this offer. The city is taking its climate goals seriously, acting on the cost-impact analysis they have done, and applying what they have learned from the programs that they and other cities have offered to date. Acknowledging their experience that rebates are not enough to drive rapid adoption of these appliances, the proposal offers turn-key installation from a vetted contractor at a fixed price, with low upfront cost and zero percent on-bill financing. It allocates substantial funding from relevant sources to drive rapid electrification of water heating and, eventually, space heating in residential buildings. It doesn’t get much better than that. I think the City can legitimately say “We are giving it our best shot” with this program if Council approves it.

On Tuesday, September 27 at 7:30 pm, City Council will be discussing this proposal. I hope many of you will listen in and speak up, or send a note to City Council with your thoughts. This is an ambitious proposal and a great opportunity for us to begin to drive down our building emissions.

Notes and References
1. Income-qualified households will be able to get one at no cost.

2. Heat pump water heaters consume much less energy than gas tank water heaters, and the total energy bill will be lower once they are installed. Total savings are greater for households that use more hot water. A home that burns about one therm of gas in a gas tank water heater each day could save more than $20/month at Palo Alto’s low $0.20/kWh electricity rate. (One therm of gas costs about $2. One therm is about 30 kWh. If the heat pump water heater is 5x more efficient than the gas version, then it will use only about 6 kWh, which would cost only $1.20/day. Many heat pump water heaters emit about 3.7x more energy than they use, while many gas tank water heaters waste energy, emitting about 0.7x more energy than they use. So the heat pump is 3.7 / 0.7 = 5.3x more efficient.)

3. Venting, drainage, electrical circuit, and conduit are all included. Uncommon expenses like upgrading a panel or moving a wall will be additional costs for the customer.

4. The staff report explains: “The Electric Special Projects Reserve was created in 2015 from the Calaveras Reserve, a reserve fund created in the late 1990s to offset potential stranded costs from California’s transition to a competitive market for electricity. These stranded costs did not materialize and the Council changed the name to the Electric Special Projects Reserve, which was intended to fund innovative utility projects.”

5. The staff report explains: “Public benefits funds come from a charge that Public Utilities Code 385 requires local publicly owned electric utilities to collect from customers, which can be used to fund cost-effective demand-side management services to promote energy efficiency, low-income programs, research and development, and renewable energy. Due to Palo Alto’s low electric rates and the efficiency of heat pump water heaters compared to their gas counterpart.”

Current Climate Data (August 2022)
Global impacts, US impacts, CO2 metric, Climate dashboard

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Comments

Posted by Matt Schlegel , a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis,
on Sep 25, 2022 at 8:07 am

Matt Schlegel is a registered user.

I am looking forward to seeing this plan presented at the city council meeting on Tues Sept 27 at 7:30om.


Posted by caseyc, a resident of Downtown North,
on Sep 25, 2022 at 9:54 am

caseyc is a registered user.

This plan is indeed “comprehensive and compelling", and what a boon for Palo Altans who want to unhook from fossil fuels wherever they can. I really hope people attend the Tuesday 9/27 Council meeting at 7:30 pm to show the City this plan will be a great step in the drive to de-carbonize our buildings.


Posted by KOhlson, a resident of Old Palo Alto,
on Sep 25, 2022 at 11:19 am

KOhlson is a registered user.

If approved as described, count me in. With a water heater approaching its 10th year, the timing is perfect. I am slightly skeptical of the city's ability to pull this off. I hear too many stories, and have some experience with what can be described as as overly-bureaucratic and process-over-results planning and building department.

Here's a recent example. After being approached in Costco by someone from Sunrun, the conversation stopped *immediately* when I said I lived in PA. I asked the nice person, "so this is how to stop the conversation?" And he nicely confirmed, "Yes, PA is too hard to deal with." Say what you will, but I have yet to hear any contractor say "We love working with PA!" And that somehow has to translate into 4 HPWH installation a day, for starters.

Love to be proven wrong on this.


Posted by Bystander, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood,
on Sep 25, 2022 at 11:29 am

Bystander is a registered user.

I think the truth is that most of us who live in Palo Alto realise that the infrastructure, reliability of supply, and the difficulties in so many areas of doing any work, is behind the distrust many of us have in our utilities.

Unless our power supply is more reliable, why should any of us change our habits?

When we lose power 4 times in 7 days, when we are told not to charge cars or do household tasks in the evening when we come home after our daytime activities, when we see power outages due to squirrels, other wildlife, balloons, planes and car collisions, we learn from experience that relying on electricity is not an option. For many we are told it is just a few hours inconvenience, but it is not just inconvenient when many depend on power for health issues, when we lose power when food is in the process of being cooked and therefore spoiled, when important meetings/interviews/examinations are interrupted by loss of power, and when something as simple as a car not charging overnight means no transportation for the following day, we see it much more than a simple inconvenience. I can function reasonably well in the dark when my power goes out. Nowadays though, I need reliable power for much more than electric lights.


Posted by Online Name, a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland,
on Sep 25, 2022 at 12:38 pm

Online Name is a registered user.

In addition to the recent repeated warnings to cut power during the heat wave to avoid stressing the already-limited electrical grid, I'm reminded of 2 other articles I read this week that suggests we're jumping the gun again:'

1) Owners of EVs were strongly advised to stop charging their cars over night but to do so between 8AM and 2PM to avoid causing shortages. Of course that's when many are at work and probably don't have access to chargers

2) A travel article from either the SF Chronicle or New York Tines about someone trying to drive from Berkeley to LA and her inability to find places to recharge her car.

And here PA's giving higher priority to spending $143,000,000 to compete with big companies for the fiber market instead of upgrading our electrical grid and/or undergrounding utilities to prevent blackouts..


Posted by Bruce Hodge, a resident of Palo Verde,
on Sep 25, 2022 at 4:41 pm

Bruce Hodge is a registered user.

Thanks to Sherry for a great description of the proposed program! It surely is an innovative proposal that shows that City staff has done their homework. There's really no reason why folks should be installing new gas water heaters when this program becomes available.

This is just the start of a larger effort where Palo Alto can prove that it can address the huge challenge facing our community in concrete ways. Finally, these efforts will be noted by other communities and utilities, so the impact will resonate far beyond Palo Alto's borders.

Be sure to contact City Council now with your approval.

Sign up with http://carbonfreepaloalto.org to stay informed of further opportunities to push innovative public policy to address the climate crisis.


Posted by d page, a resident of Midtown,
on Sep 25, 2022 at 9:38 pm

d page is a registered user.

S.L. - "I think the City can legitimately say 'We gave it our best shot' with this program."

I'd like to respectfully disagree, but it should be a step in the right direction.

S.L. - "rebates are not enough to drive rapid adoption of these appliances."

Yes, and one reason why is: The City has yet to do enough to "raise awareness among residents of the need and feasibility of electrifying their homes."

I M O, this is true, especially the part about the "need". If neither the Council, the Utility, nor the Weekly explain how the production of greenhouse gases by Palo Alto residents connects to ever-worsening deadly weather, where will our neighbors learn such information?

And without such knowledge, why should voters concern themselves about the invisible greenhouse pollution we generate?

On the other hand, given awareness of the suffering (via pollution) caused by using airplanes, eating burgers, and driving (conventional) cars, many WILL change their lifestyle.

However, first things must come first, someone has to deliver the bad news before people choose to take responsibility to stop their greenhouse polluting.

Generally, politicians don't win popularity contests by spelling out who is dying due to common components of a comfortable way of life. Nevertheless, Palo Alto civic leaders, and media, should tell the truth: it will not be cost-free nor convenient to cut out our pollutants, but it will be morally worthwhile!

And this blog regularly shows how it can be done. Thank you Sherry.


Posted by MichaelB, a resident of Pleasanton Meadows,
on Sep 26, 2022 at 8:16 am

MichaelB is a registered user.

"Generally, politicians don't win popularity contests by spelling out who is dying due to common components of a comfortable way of life. Nevertheless, Palo Alto civic leaders, and media, should tell the truth: it will not be cost-free nor convenient to cut out our pollutants, but it will be morally worthwhile!"


I agree. Time to tell the truth about the authoritarian(communist)reasoning process behind the environmental movement. These are the same people who created an unreliable energy supply in the state, will not take responsibility for it, and are now telling residents to "shut up and take it" when things don't go as planned.

Politicians are supposed to abide by the United States Constitution and serve the needs of their constituents/voters, not "save the world" for the "collective good". There is nothing "morally worthwhile" about more government micromanaging over the lives of the citizens, the costs of goods/services/energy artificially increasing (and people not being able to afford them) because of shortsighted policies, and lecturing others that "people are dying" because someone eats hamburgers, drives a car, or flies on a plane.


Posted by Mondoman, a resident of Green Acres,
on Sep 26, 2022 at 9:20 am

Mondoman is a registered user.

As with so many conversations about other aspects of "going green", this one again seems to ignore the fact that many are not situated to take advantage of this program without substantial cost. The story notes "Uncommon expenses like panel upgrades or water heater relocations will be additional costs for the customer." I argue that these are in fact *not* uncommon.

Many houses in Palo Alto are not newly built or renovated within the past 30 or 40 years. Our house has 100A electrical service, but all the circuit breaker slots are full and half the house retains its ungrounded wiring. Thus, adding power to replace the gas water heater with an electrical one would require not just a new panel, but massive rewiring, which is very expensive in old construction. Add in the fact that the current gas water heater just barely fits in its place and a new HPWH would require rebuilding the laundry room, constructing some sort of addition, or the equivalent very close to the property boundary. In total, we're talking tens of thousands of dollars to convert.

I would be surprised if even half the houses in Palo Alto are suitable for the $4-6k conversion described in the story. Of course, I'm happy to be proved wrong with actual data. Sadly, I expect the City is moving forward on this without really knowing the burden it is imposing on its residents. Again I find myself wishing that the Los Altos/Palo Alto border could be shifted perhaps 1/2 a mile northwards... :)


Posted by Jake Waters, a resident of Birdland,
on Sep 26, 2022 at 10:13 am

Jake Waters is a registered user.

I think a lot of our problems are going to be solved when Newsom starts purchasing, in bulb, sunshine and wind from China. Though it will increase the CO2 levels in their country, it will keep the lights on here a little longer and you can use the A/C a few more times a month.


Posted by Online Name, a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland,
on Sep 26, 2022 at 12:26 pm

Online Name is a registered user.

Today's New York Times featured an article Web Link titled

"Dodging Blackouts, California Faces New Questions on Its Power Supply

Extreme heat is testing the way energy is generated, delivered and traded " and raising the prospect of perpetual emergencies.

The article notes that since CA doesn't produce enough power, it's going to end up in a bidding war with other western states, The article's well worth reading re the complexity of the issues involved.


Posted by Sherry Listgarten, a Almanac Online blogger,
on Sep 27, 2022 at 12:45 pm

Sherry Listgarten is a registered user.

@Mondoman: I think you are right that many homes here have old electrical wiring. I rented a place here once that had glass fuses. Everyone refused to work on anything electrical in that house. My neighbor just told me he has the 8-switch original electrical panel (1955). My uncle wanted to electrify and was told he couldn’t with his old electric panel, it wasn’t safe. So, yes, people are living with unsafe electrical equipment, and the city’s contractor is likely to refuse to work on it. I think you are right about that. But is it unfair? Either way, the city will be getting good information about this and experience understanding different remedies and their costs. That will be very useful, as you say. And in the meantime, some homes will become safer.


Posted by Mondoman, a resident of Green Acres,
on Sep 27, 2022 at 2:06 pm

Mondoman is a registered user.

@Sherry In thinking more about it, you make a good point about the city getting more information about the installation process, and of course this is not a mandate. My concern is that the city will only keep track of those people who apply, a group massively skewed toward install-ready houses, and assume that all the houses in the city are similar. The wording in the staff proposal that you very helpfully linked to suggests this may be the case.

I'd also like to comment that although adding something to an existing system might not be safe, the un-added-on system is likely perfectly safe (assuming it is not damaged). It's mandating an add-on that triggers having to expensively rebuild an electrical system to current standards. If the city is not going to fund that, we're left with an unfair expensive unfunded mandate, with arguably no noticeable beneficial effect on society or the world.


Posted by Donald, a resident of South of Midtown,
on Sep 27, 2022 at 3:28 pm

Donald is a registered user.

I am about to replace a gas water heater with another gas one, although next time I will probably (or may be required) to go heat pump. My water heater is in a small closet in a hallway near bedrooms and has no electrical service. The size, power requirement and noise of a heat pump water heater make it unsuitable for my location (the Energy Efficiency Genie agrees). The market is changing, though, and I have heard about two-part units that have the compressor on the roof so noise is abated, and units that have a small tank of extremely hot water that is mixed with cold water at the output so the tank size is reduced. When my new water heater needs to be replaced and those options are common then I will bite the bullet and pay for the electrical service to be installed.


Posted by Larry, a resident of Downtown North,
on Sep 27, 2022 at 7:31 pm

Larry is a registered user.

Hi Sherry:

The first graph in your article shows the "Brown Power Supply (electric)" GHG emissions amount went to essentially zero after 2019. I assume these are the emissions from the burning of fossil fuels to generate electricity. But the California ISO Supply page shows that for a typical day like today, after sunset almost half of our electricity is coming from the burning of natural gas (more if any of the "imported" electricity comes from burning fuels.) So what gives? How is it that California has to burn fuel to get electricity at night but Palo Alto doesn't?

Web Link


Posted by Sherry Listgarten, a Almanac Online blogger,
on Sep 28, 2022 at 6:54 pm

Sherry Listgarten is a registered user.

What a great set of comments and questions, thanks!

@Mondoman, that’s a good point about the city getting biased input. If the city is going to use the information gathered to determine what a mandate might look like, which they want to do, then as you say they will have to be sure to get a representative sample. You should do your part and apply!

Also, I agree 100% that small is different from unsafe. If someone has a small and safe panel, then there are low-power HPWH options. It’s also the case that many panels have more room than they appear to. One bummer about our not having smart meters is it’s hard for us to know what our loads are like. I love circuit monitors, which are inexpensive and allow you to see how much power you are drawing throughout the day/week/month to get an idea of whether 400 watts is too much.

I wrote some about panel capacity here. There’s also some great information here. Someone interested in their electric load can buy a circuit monitor and install it themselves. I got this one.

Anyway, I really hope that you apply for the heat pump water heater, and report back here what they found.

@Donald, I think the two-part unit you are referring to is the Sanden, or at least that’s the one that people are installing today. It’s a great water heater but expensive. They’ve been around for a while. Maybe the price will come down.There’s a version of that water heater that will also heat your house, Harvest Thermal. Peninsula Clean Energy has been piloting these.

I think the higher-temperature unit you are referring to is the Rheem Hydroboost, a new model just for the California market, which plugs into a standard outlet. These are new, so I’m not sure how widely available they are yet or what they cost. But I think they are a good fit for our market.

@Larry, Palo Alto doesn’t match supply to demand on a 24x7 basis, we match it on an annual basis, which is much easier. But we do have some energy sources that operate at night (hydropower, wind, biogas -- not sure about battery). And since our city’s load profile looks more like a company than a residential area (it is daytime heavy), we aren’t as far off as you might think. (We have a lot of hydropower in a normal year, and it is flexible hydropower.)

In drought years we have to purchase renewable certificates, which are not as good as buying our own clean energy. The city voted to do this a year or so ago to keep rates low. But all of this is revisited periodically, and will be again soon as our hydropower contracts come up for renewal. You can write to the city and/or Utilities Advisory Council with your preferences, and I’ll try to let readers know when the portfolio and accounting are being discussed.

One interesting thing is that another way to define “neutral” is to say that the (monetary) value of the power you are putting on the grid is the same as the value of the power you are consuming from the grid. That often correlates with marginal emissions and, since we operate our hydropower to maximize profit, we have historically done pretty well by that metric.

Palo Alto is not alone in doing annual “truing up” of emissions. It is pretty common, though obviously not the end goal. Google did annual accounting for years, but now they have shifted to a 24x7 goal by 2030. Peninsula Clean Energy also has a goal to be 24x7 by 2025. Palo Alto does not yet. It’s to keep rates low, but I would really like to see us move in this direction. Smart meters will help because they will enable rates that incentivize load shifting.

Anyway, thanks for the questions/comments.


Posted by Larry, a resident of Downtown North,
on Sep 28, 2022 at 7:19 pm

Larry is a registered user.

Hi Sherry:

Thanks for the reply.

I would love to know why the City's load profile looks more like a company than a residential area. I thought Palo Alto WAS a residential area. Can you point us to where can we see the CPAU load profile data, particularly residential vs. commercial?

Your answer begs the question: why doesn't everyone just buy hydro and renewable electricity like Palo Alto does? Wouldn't that solve the the overall emissions problem?


Posted by Native to the BAY, a resident of Old Palo Alto,
on Sep 29, 2022 at 11:23 pm

Native to the BAY is a registered user.

"Renters are encouraged to participate as well. About 20% of homes in Palo Alto are rented out. Tenants will get materials from the city to help them talk with their landlords about making the switch to a HPWH." Sorry renters make up about 46% of the housing market. I hardly think landlords will work that willingly with their tenants on this. Yet they'll gladly raise rents yet again with their "all new water pump heaters". And how about Alta Housing? Are they on board to switch at no extra cost to their low income to very low income renters? Our low-income renter residents are already overly burdened attempting to keep up with rent increases and not get evicted. As for the "materials" provided by the City for renters. That is vague. You mean a flyer or a bunch of paper work the landlord will have to fill out. Again if a renter does get buy in from the landlord it's up to the renter to do all the walking while the landlord gets to raise rents and property value. I don't see how this is equitable or fair, Please elaborate on the "materials" part. What's the return for renters? What the return for Alta Housing?


Posted by Eric Muller, a resident of Los Altos,
on Sep 30, 2022 at 4:40 am

Eric Muller is a registered user.

> Your answer begs the question: why doesn't everyone just buy hydro and renewable electricity like Palo Alto does? Wouldn't that solve the the overall emissions problem?

Because there isn't enough to go around. The Western grid has only 50% of GHG-free electricity. So for every customer that claims to have 100% GHG-free electricity, you need another one that has 100% fossil electricity.

All the claims of power mix that differ from what's produced/consumed across the whole grid (~ the 11 western states in our case) do not speak about the flow of kWh from producers to consumers, but rather about the flow of $ from consumers to producers (with an opaque conversion to kWh). When San José Clean Energy says "Signing up for TotalGreen, our 100% renewable generation service, means your electricity will be generated from carbon-free solar farms", they mean at best "all your dollars go to a solar farm".

IMHO, that's green washing, and it can be counter productive.

For example, one could conclude "if I get 100% GHG-free electricity, then everybody else can", with the unstated "it's relatively easy to solve the climate problem" and "I have done my part".

Or: "my electricity is 100% clean, I don't need to converse". But the fact is that every kWh that is saved can and should avoid the production of a kWh from fossil fuel.

Interestingly, even a residence with solar panels on the roof, that generates as many kWh every year as it consumes, cannot claim 100% solar electricity (as long as it is connected to the grid). It does make the grid a bit cleaner, but it consumes the same 50% GHG-free electricity as everybody else on the grid. As Sherry said in an earlier post, "the grid is a big puddle".



Posted by Paly Grad, a resident of Leland Manor/Garland Drive,
on Sep 30, 2022 at 8:21 am

Paly Grad is a registered user.

Sherry,
I would be interested in your thoughts on the 2030 ban on the sale of gas water heaters and furnaces in California. What about renters, what about home owners who cannot afford to upgrade their electric panel? Will some residents be left without hot water or heat in their homes when their furnace or hot water heater needs replacing?


Posted by MVresident2003, a resident of Mountain View,
on Sep 30, 2022 at 2:07 pm

MVresident2003 is a registered user.

I had not heard about this ban on gas furnace/water heaters in 2030. I will be sure to put “replace heater/water heater" reminder on my 2029 calendar.


Posted by Larry, a resident of Downtown North,
on Sep 30, 2022 at 7:42 pm

Larry is a registered user.

@Eric Muller:

Thank you, that was exactly the point I was setting up to make. IMO, the City is clearly “cooking the books" in order to meet their 80x30 goal. Not only do they NOT count emissions from our 50% fossil electricity, but they DO count the CO2 from our natural gas even though we pay for carbon offsets that supposedly makes it carbon-free. Dodgy bookkeeping indeed. Allen Weisselberg would be proud.

You are exactly right about the “I've done my part" mentality, which is the only thing the City apparently cares about. The CC may think they are being environmental “leaders," but what kind of leadership is it when their schemes don't really apply beyond our City limits. I calculate that as a group, the residents of Palo Alto are collectively responsible for about 0.00002% (1 part in 40000) of global CO2 emissions*. That is pretty close to zero, meaning that even if we were 100% carbon-free, the atmosphere wouldn't notice. The only non-symbolic value Palo Alto can bring is to create solutions that can operate at scale. Greenwashed accounting isn't going to cut it.

I would agree with you about residential solar, except that anyone with solar panels will be ready for when affordable and scalable local storage becomes a reality. Once storage is feasible, homes in our wonderful climate could dramatically reduce their draw from the grid, reducing (or even eliminating) the need to upgrade our grid, improving reliability, and saving money. And most importantly, residential solar can scale. If the City would augment their crusade against hot water heaters with a similar crusade in support of residential solar installation, they might have something that could actually make a difference.

* Based on PA's fraction of the US population and the US's fraction of global emissions. May be less due to Palo Alto's generally more eco-friendly nature, maybe more due to our above average wealth and consumption (air travel, food, etc.).


Posted by Sherry Listgarten, a Almanac Online blogger,
on Oct 1, 2022 at 5:46 pm

Sherry Listgarten is a registered user.

@Larry: I don’t remember where I saw the curve showing that our electric load is dominated by business with high daytime use, but there is some relevant information on page 149 of the city’s most recent financial report.

Re why doesn't everyone just use hydro, as Eric said, there isn’t enough hydro to go around, though a lot of work is being done to develop more.

@Native, I don’t think they have worked out all of those details yet. Re the proportion of renters, maybe the difference you are referring to is one of individuals vs households? The staff report is referring to homes.

@Eric, imo the real issue is when people or organizations are putting low-value and/or low-emission electricity onto the grid and taking high-value and/or high-emission electricity off of the grid, yet claiming to be “neutral” as a result. That is what net-metering allows and it is also what virtually all “100% emission-free” organizations do. That model obviously doesn’t scale. California often has excess solar that they have to *pay other states to take off of our hands*. The big Investor Owned Utilities know this (they are the ones providing all of the evening and night energy), and the PUC has started requiring utilities to buy more “net qualifying capacity”, which is power that’s available during peaks like 4-9pm when solar is not available. Take a look at this Peninsula Clean Energy presentation and accompanying note for an example of how to do it right.

@PalyGrad: When new codes are introduced it can make things more expensive. Hopefully prices will come down and people won’t be as interested in installing long-lasting gas equipment that fewer and fewer people will know how to maintain. The state has also set aside more than $1 billion to decarbonize buildings, much of that for low-income families. If prices prove to be so unaffordable that people cannot heat their homes, I’m sure the market will produce other options or the legislation will be changed. California is pushing the market because gas in buildings is both a health issue and a pressing climate issue. So let’s get alternatives out there and create a market that ramps up quickly.

Here is a good write-up about the heat pump market.

@MVresident2003: You don’t have to replace your gas heater come 2030. The state just doesn’t want people installing new, long-lived gas heating appliances at that point. You can maintain yours for as long as it works (and as long as there is affordable gas coming to your house).

Thanks for the questions. The vote on this program is Monday at 6:25pm.


Posted by Robert Neff, a resident of Midtown,
on Oct 1, 2022 at 7:45 pm

Robert Neff is a registered user.

@larry - Palo Alto looks a like industry, because PA utilities serves industry in the research park, on E. Bayshore, Fabian Way. (And the utility transfer is kind of a business tax).

I like the description of Palo Alto being carbon free describes where our money goes, not where our energy comes from. But it does mean that there is a higher price for GHG free electricity on the grid, which should make those sources more profitable, and, if practical, more plentiful. Everyone cannot just go out and buy hydro because there is not enough, and, in the case of large hydro, there is not much more to develop. There is a great dam site on the upper Merced... It happens to be a National Park.

That's why the game is to figure out how and where to create new sources. The game could also be about how to use less. Nobody wants to be the politician who says we have to use less energy. People love to use energy.


Posted by Mondoman, a resident of Green Acres,
on Oct 1, 2022 at 8:14 pm

Mondoman is a registered user.

As far as I can tell the claim that "... gas in buildings is both a [significant] health issue and a pressing climate issue" lacks a solid analysis to support it.

Are there any potential health issues other than gas stove air quality? How many years of life will be saved per $1k in conversion costs? How much will emissions be reduced per $1k in conversion costs? How much will emissions be reduced per $1k in conversion costs for alternate schemes, such as replacing ICE cars with EVs? The mandated restrictions so far seem to be chosen according to what's trendy (like methane concerns).


Posted by Sherry Listgarten, a Almanac Online blogger,
on Oct 1, 2022 at 9:52 pm

Sherry Listgarten is a registered user.

@Mondoman, I'm glad that you asked that. How is it that suddenly our gas heaters and stoves are poisonous when no one worried about them much 5-10 years ago? California, as you may know, has major problems with health impacts from poor air quality. The California Air Resources Board (CARB) has worked to reduce the harmful emissions, especially in vehicles. As a result of that work, and the reduced use of coal in power plants, the role of so-called stationary sources has grown. You can see that in Figure 3 of this CARB report (pdf page 14), and also figures 7 and 8 of that same report (pdf page 22). So now they are going after the remaining sources. In California, buildings are a big one. See Table 7 in that same report (pdf page 48). Compare it with the heavy-duty trucks, for example.

Another interesting figure to look at is Figure 16 of this report. You can see, since coal is not an issue in California, that gas in buildings has more significant health impacts than many other sources. (Burning wood in homes is worse.)

So, I do agree that it’s trendy to look at the health impact of burning gas in buildings, but I think there’s a reason for it, namely that other larger sources are being cleaned up.

As to costs, that’s a longer item than a comment can manage. But a few thoughts. Modern building codes in Florida were expensive. Are they glad to have them? Will they save money in the long run? Adapting to global warming will be expensive. Foster City is building a massive new steel wall. The residents all voted to pay for it, even though it ruins their view. Was there some kind of mass delusion there? Heat pumps are very efficient appliances that are common in much of the world and even in the US. Prices will continue to come down. They save energy and move us away from fossil fuels, plus provide some adaptation via the cooling they provide. That doesn’t sound so terrible to me.

@Robert: I think politicians love to talk about energy efficiency, especially Republicans. And it's been incredibly effective, from fuel standards for cars and planes, to LED lighting, to building codes, etc.


Posted by Mondoman, a resident of Green Acres,
on Oct 2, 2022 at 9:42 pm

Mondoman is a registered user.

Sherry, it seems like the CARB report figures you mention are projected NOx emissions for the LA area, which we all know has the worst air quality in the state. The concern seems to be that NOx can lead to ground-level ozone formation.

By contrast, Table 2 in that CARB 2022 State SIP Strategy shows that the Bay Area (and 8 other regions in California) have already met the ozone standard as of 2020 and are now in compliance. The CARB report admits that "The key challenges driving the need for emissions reduction measures are meeting ozone standards in the South Coast and San Joaquin Valley." Why should the other areas of California, already in compliance, have to suffer the costs of measures intended to fix the problems in those two areas? Emissions in the Bay Area do not significantly affect air quality in LA.

The paper with a reconstruction of recent public health burdens of energy is pretty much all multiple levels of modeling. I note that in their Fig. 1 they model big but declining health impacts from coal-based electricity generation, but essentially flat zero(!) health impacts from using gas, oil, "other" or wood/biomass to generate electricity during that same time period. Clearly, the modeling needs major remodeling :)

You make good points about updates to building codes; a core principle for such updates AFAIK is that existing building is not subject to the new code unless it is being renovated or rebuilt. Repairs and replacements of existing installations are thus not subject to the new code.

The new laws forbidding sale of gas-fired appliances go against this tradition, and as the Bay Area is already in compliance with the relevant air quality rules, seem arbitrary and thus unfair. IMO, it's bonehead mandates like these that build public resentment that ends up being expressed as opposition to mandates that are actually based on evidence.


Posted by Sherry Listgarten, a Almanac Online blogger,
on Oct 3, 2022 at 8:39 pm

Sherry Listgarten is a registered user.

@Mondoman: Thank you for looking at the report! Quibbles: (1) Table 2 in the CARB report is about ozone, not NOx. (2) The figures I pointed to in that report are all state-wide. (3) For the second report, the data for 2017 is spelled out in Table 16. It is not zero. Etc.

But it is absolutely the case that air pollution and associated health impacts is far from uniform within California. Traffic pollution is worse in parts of SoCal, agricultural pollution is worse in the Central Valley, wildfire pollution is worse in NoCal and the Sierras, etc. Moreover the effects are different. The wealthy can generally deal with these issues better than the lower-income, with better filtering and ventilation, better construction, homes in cleaner locations away from the most polluted areas, and access to good healthcare. Why should they suffer the burden of this building regulation?

So you ask, why can’t we have more targeted regulation? For example: If air quality in your building is poor, then either expand and ventilate your building, or electrify. If air quality is fine, then stick with your gas appliances. I’m not sure how they would enforce that, but you can at least imagine that. (*)

I can think of a few reasons why having micro-regulations like that is less appealing to policy makers. Sure, they are hard to craft and enforce and they are less equitable. Look at the lack of micro-insurance programs for these reasons, even though they too are “unfair” in many ways. But importantly these micro-regulations do not take advantage of the scale of California’s market to effect positive changes in the market that would lead to a much bigger change. Uniform policies can drive markets much more effectively within and across states to achieve multiple goals at a much bigger scale.

But less targeted regulations will meet with resistance, especially if they are not economical. At some point people will undermine them, and policymakers know that. So they are also throwing money and incentives and friendly policies at the clean tech industry to come up with better options.

I don’t know, that’s all I can say. This regulation is a better deal for some people than others. The 8-year notice and the many incentives should help level that out some. We’ll see how it plays out. In the meantime, don’t worry. You don’t have to electrify now. Consider updating your gas appliances in 2029 and take good care of them. Your furnace should last at least 20 years, and the world will look a lot different in 2050 when it will need replacing.

(*) The status quo is similar except people are given two other options: move or suffer the health consequences.


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