Recent trends indicate that industrial and residential electricity consumption throughout California and the Bay Area has been growing steadily. Statewide, total electricity consumption increased by an average of 2% per year in the 1990s, increasing by a historically high 4% in 2000 – an event that only added pressure to California’s already strained electrical infrastructure.1 Data from the California Energy Commission indicate that Bay Area residential electricity consumption has witnessed a similar rise in recent years, increasing by 9.5 percent from 1992 to 1997 alone.2
Unfortunately, such demand has come at a high price for many in the Bay Area. Until its recent closing, a highly-polluting PG&E power plant in San Francisco’s Bayview Hunters Point district has afflicted area residents with cervical and breast cancer rates double those throughout the region. Asthma has become epidemic: 10 percent of all residents and 15.5 percent of children in the district suffer from this disease according to Dr. Michael Kozart of San Francisco General Hospital.3
As the use of fossil fuels has escalated over the past century, so too has the atmospheric build-up of “greenhouse gases” – mainly consisting of carbon dioxide, methane, and nitrous oxide – which trap the sun’s heat in the earth’s atmosphere. Consequently, global warming has become increasingly acute, leading to rising and warming waters and more frequent and intense hurricanes, tornadoes, and other storm systems. Twenty-five percent of the world’s greenhouse gases are generated in the United States, over 80 percent of which is attributable to fossil fuel burning to produce electricity and power cars, trucks, and other vehicles.4 The impacts of global warming in the Bay Area could be far-reaching: increasing heat waves could endanger the elderly and the very young, warmer waters could eliminate cold-water fish from many of our streams, increased wildfires could wipe out our region’s signature oak trees, and higher temperatures could make the Central Valley’s agricultural lands even more dependent on water diversions from the Bay-Delta.5
With economic and environmental costs rising and concerns over supply mounting, it is vital that our region reduce overall demand through efficiency and conservation. An American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy (ACEEE) study shows that California could feasibly achieve a 10% gain in overall efficiency in both electricity and natural gas use over a ten year period.7 A recent study by the Natural Resources Defense Council and the Silicon Valley Manufacturing Group found California could cost-effectively slash its electricity needs by at least 5,900 MW – equal to the combined output of 12 giant power plants – through strategic energy efficiency investments over the next decade. These investments could return $12 billion to Californians’ pocketbooks.8
On the supply side, our state and region hold huge promise for the development of renewable energy sources. Under California’s Renewable Portfolio Standard (RPS), electricity suppliers must provide up to 20% of electricity from renewable sources by 2010. Toward this end, an estimated 30-40 million tons of California biomass could feasibly be collected and utilized each year for renewable energy generation, with a prospective annual retail value of more than $4 billion, potentially creating 14,000 primary jobs and slashing annual greenhouse gas emissions by over 13 million tons.8 California’s recently passed “Million Solar Roofs Initiative” could help deploy 500 megawatts’ worth of photovoltaic (PV) solar systems by 2010,9 much of which would be particularly feasible in commercial and industrial zones in the Bay Area where peak demand coincides with daylight hours. Total potential tidal energy from water flow into the San Francisco Bay is estimated at 2,000 megawatts10 – more than twice San Francisco’s peak power demand – and combined potential wind energy at six prime San Francisco sites is estimated at just over 64,000 kilowatt hours annually.11
2 Natural Resources Defense Council, “Individuals’ Contribution to Global Warming,” Natural Resources Defense Council, http://www.nrdc.org/greengate/air/climatef.asp (accessed July 17, 2006).
3 Dr. Michael Kozart, “Hunters Point power plant – time for closure,” San Francisco Chronicle, May 13, 2005, http://www.sfgate.com/cgi-bin/article.cgi?file=/chronicle/archive/2005/05/13/EDG8HCOHB91.DTL
4 Bluewater Network, “Global Warming Solutions,” Bluewater Network, http://www.bluewaternetwork.org/campaign_gw_transportation.shtml (accessed July 17, 2006).
5 Natural Resources Defense Council, “Individuals’ Contribution to Global Warming,” Natural Resources Defense Council, http://www.nrdc.org/greengate/air/climatef.asp (accessed July 17, 2006).
6 Steven Nadel, Anna Shipley and R. Neal Elliott, The Technical, Economic and Achievable Potential for Energy-Efficiency in the U.S. – A Meta-Analysis of Recent Studies (Washington, D.C.: ACEEE, 2004), 3.
7 Natural Resources Defense Council, “Energy Efficiency Leadership in California: Preventing the Next Crisis,” Natural Resources Defense Council, http://www.nrdc.org/air/energy/eecal/execsum.asp (accessed June 18, 2006).
8 California Biomass Collaborative, Biomass in California: Challenges, Opportunities, and Potentials for Sustainable Management and Development (Davis: California Energy Commission, June 2005), iv-vi.
10 Terry Surles, David Navarro and Christopher Guay, “Oceans 2003,” California Energy Commission, http://www.energy.ca.gov/pier/papers_presentations/2003-09-26_Oceans.PPT (accessed on July 17, 2006).