Chris Treadway: Good afternoon everybody, welcome to this week’s OLLI speaker series called Berkeley 2050. I’m Chris Treadway and I’m the assistant chancellor for government and community relations at UC Berkeley and very pleased to be here today to introduce our illustrious speakers to you all, it’s going to be a good conversation. Before I do this though, I did want to thank Susan Hoffman for having me here and the whole OLLI team for producing these speaker series. I think it’s a great service to the community, so thank you to Susan and her team. One of the things I love about what I do at Berkeley is that we get to engage with our faculty experts on a regular basis. We take them to meet policy makers and elected officials on any topic you can think of under the sun, so it’s a real perk for us to work with our faculty and our staff experts.
They’re not only really leading the frontiers of knowledge, but they’re also engaged in solving real world problems and bringing their expertise to the community, I think is a great service. I’m happy to be here to highlight the work of two of our star faculty and staff today to share their research and best practices and insights with you here today. First of all, Kira Stoll is the director of sustainability at UC Berkeley and she was the 2016 recipient of the Sustainability Champion Award at the California Higher Education Sustainability Conference. She was celebrated for recognizing the critical role that staff play in transforming campus operations as well as providing leadership for UC system-wide initiatives.
At the campus level, Kira spearheaded a solar energy procurement project, which brought one megawatt of photovoltaic energy to the campus through a collaboration with 19 other public agencies. She’s also worked diligently to improve alternative transportation options on the campus, as well as reducing greenhouse gas emissions from our operations. In her system wide role as co-chair of the climate change working group and representative to the UC Global Climate Leadership Council, Kira has advocated for staff engagement and climate action planning that has driven progress towards UC’s goal to be carbon neutral by 2025. We’re also pleased to have David Wooley joining us as visiting professor at the UC Berkeley Goldman School of public policy and executive director of the Center for Environmental Public Policy.
He has more than 30 years experience with electric power regulation, climate policy and Clean Air Act implementation. David is also of counsel at the Oakland firm of Keyes & Fox LLP, a law practice focused on distributed energy resources and as a consultant to the energy foundation. Previously, David served as an assistant attorney general in New York, taught energy and environmental law at Pace University law school, and was a founder of an executive director of the Pace energy project. Later he directed the American Wind Energy Association Northeast Policy Project, served as counsel to the clean air task force and as vice president for domestic policy initiatives at the energy foundation in San Francisco. Finally, David is also the coauthor of the West groups clean air handbook. Now please join me in welcoming Kira Stoll to the stage.
Kira Stoll: Wonderful. Good afternoon and thank you for having me, I’m really happy to be here and to be talking to this group. Thank you, Susan and thank you Chris for that nice introduction. Again, Kira Stoll and the director of sustainability at the campus. I’ve been at the UC Berkeley campus for about 18 years and I was also raised here in Berkeley, so my heart is here and that’s … I feel fortunate that I’m able to work in the community on really critical issues around the environment, environmental justice issues and particularly climate change and the urgency around what we need to do in our communities and more broadly to address climate disruption. I’m going to spend 15 or 20 minutes talking to you a little bit about what we’re doing at UC Berkeley around these environmental issues within the context of the University of California and what we’re doing as a very large and influential state agency around this, some of the initiatives that we’re doing.
Then David’s going to come on up and talk about some of the policy level issues at the state and the federal level, and then we’re going to have some time for Q&A at the end so I’m looking forward to having a conversation as well. There’s some of those solar photovoltaics that Chris was mentioning and that’s on our MLK Student Union. We were very happy to get some onsite solar in the last few years and we’re looking at some larger installations coming up in the next few years. Just for context, why higher education and why are we important when we’re talking about a climate action. There’s so much research that goes on that’s really important in these areas and there’s also activation around what we’re doing as an institution.
This was just a few examples of why academia in these areas. Chancellor Carol Christ formed a group earlier this year in Davos looking at what we can do as institutions, academic institutions and our role in our communities and then how do we also make our institution better in their environmental practices. Similarly, the UC system is part of a group called UC3, formed … President Nepal Caetano from the UC system formed that group with some similar missions. Then just mentioning We Are Still In, which is a movement of businesses faith based groups and academia and various other organizations that have come together and said that we need to hold up our obligations to the Paris accord regardless of what maybe the federal government is doing, and there’s 350 academic institutions that are part of the We Are Still In area.
What are we doing, at UC we’ve been very active in the sustainability area for a number of years. We were one of the first academic institutions to develop what we call a sustainable practices policy. We now have a policy that covers nine areas in the environment from climate change, green building, supply chain management and procurement, food, water, transportation, and a few other areas and that policy continues to grow over time as our environmental movement does. One of the major pieces of that sustainability policy is our climate action area, we made some, uh, first climate policy commitments in 2006 and more recently, in 2013, the UC system committed to be carbon neutral from our operations, our energy operations on the campus and from our vehicle fleet by the year 2025.
So, across the UC system, in greenhouse gas terms, that’s about 1.4 million tons of greenhouse gas emissions that we’ve committed to become carbon neutral on by the year 2025. It’s a very ambitious goal, but it’s also been very activating around what we think we can do in terms of implementation. These are the carbon neutrality goals again, I’m in summary, I mentioned the carbon neutrality by 2025. We also look at other areas where we have carbon impacts, things like the waste we send to the landfill or the greenhouse gas emissions associated with the water we use. That falls into a category where we have a further out time horizon 2050, but we may commit to something earlier than that. Then we have supporting parts of our policy and some very new additions to that had been that new buildings and large renovations that we do that are off of our main campus energy systems will be zero net carbon starting in July, 2019, so any project that’s approved after that time.
We’ll be focusing on electrification so getting away from natural gas and focusing on electric systems where we know that over … in a much sooner time frame we can have 100% carbon free electricity. Then we have energy efficiency reduction targets, we’re looking at some biogas replacement for our natural gas systems and onsite renewables. You know the Berkeley campus, I know you’re probably all familiar with it, but it’s always good to kind of put it in context. We’re 150 years old plus now, we have old buildings, newer stock, 50,000 plus people come on and off the campus every day so when we’re talking about the environment in the carbon, we’re a small city and so we have that set of challenges and opportunities. This is just a picture of what our annual greenhouse gas emissions look like, we track on an annual basis how much carbon we admit from our operations on the campus, and it’s about 182,000 metric tons.
The majority of those emissions come from a plant we have on campus, the cogeneration plant that produces steam that we use for heat and electricity on the campus. We also procure a small amount of electricity for some of our buildings off the main campus and then the remaining, what we call scope three, that other category is mostly transportation, business, air, travel, commute and other categories. Just to mention, when we’re thinking about strategies, we’re thinking about them in these categories. We’ve been at this for a while, over a decade, we’ve produced three climate action plans to move us forward, the most recent was a framework we did in 2016. We set a target in 20 2007 to reduce our emissions to the levels they were in 1990 and we accomplish that in 2012. We’ve been tracking our emissions even as we’ve been growing because of the efficiency measures that we’ve taken on that actually, per square foot we’ve seen some reduction in our emissions over time.
We’re working on it but there’s a long way to go is you could see from that pie chart I just showed. I wanted to share a little bit about some of the more recent actions we’ve taken, our green building program. We have been doing a program called lead for a number of years, which is a green standard for a new building, so we’ve been following that and being more ambitious about those measures, how efficient we can be in our energy savings or our water savings. I did say I wasn’t going to use the pointer, but the building, the large picture of the building on your left is our newest building, the Berkeley Wide building, which you may have noticed. It’s on Shattuck at Hearst, that’s about a 260,000 square foot building, and it is not completely on electric but uses very little natural gas.
It uses just natural gas to do the domestic water heating, everything else is either electric or it’s got a lot of natural ventilation in it. That’s the direction we were moving, and these are some of our other new building. About 12% of our building stock now in terms of square footage has had some sort of environmental improvement and certification associated with it. Going forward, that will be the case for sure, it’s going back into older buildings as we’re doing renovations to make those improvements as well. Solar, solar now only accounts for about 1% of the electricity that we use, but we are, like I mentioned looking at some additional sites that we can do more solar in. We’re trying to add about two and a half more megawatts in the next five years to the campus system and these are just some pictures of what we did. This is the recreation sports facility, it’s very Fun to do these projects because you get to get on roofs and look at some pretty fabulous views, that’s been the best part.
We also have done a lot, really the cornerstone of what we’ve done in the last decade is around saving energy and energy efficiency. We’ve done hundreds of energy efficiency projects on our buildings, they’ve ranged from lighting retrofits, when I first came to the Berkeley campus, we were retrofitting the entire campus with more efficient fluorescence. We’re now on a three year cycle to go through the entire campus and do led retrofits throughout the campus and now the pricing is right and they’re much more efficient. We also go into buildings and tune them up and make sure the mechanical systems are working well together. Then we also have, um, this dashboard that you see, and part of it is that it’s saving energy is also about engaging people in activities and actions they can take to reduce energy themselves.
When we’ve done some studies or some very concentrated behavior change programs, we found that we can reduce our electricity use by five to 10% by people just taking more actions like doing computer settings, turning out extra lights, that really is an important part of what we’re doing. We also have a pretty aggressive new energy efficiency goal and that is to reduce on an annual basis, the energy intensity through efficiency measures by 2%. We’re going to be saying a steeper decline in our, which is a good thing, in our energy use. We’ve been doing a lot around, um, reducing our impacts from fossil fuels and in transportation, we are using less fuel today than we were in 1990 by about 25%, even though we’ve seen growth. We’ve been eliminating some of our fleet, we’ve been transitioning to alternative fuels, but a lot of it is around what we’ve done in the commute program.
We have a wide range of transportation options for people to commute and we’ve also been reducing the amount of parking that we’re being able to provide, the combination of those two have really reduced that. Faculty and staff to the Berkeley campus, about 38% of that group still drives alone but the rest of the group, over 60%, are doing things like bicycling, walking, taking the bus, taking BART. Students, what we call the drive alone rate for students, is about 8% so that’s been a big focus of ours as well. Also, saving water and reducing waste, we’re sending to the landfill a third less waste than we were 10 years ago, which is good for the … It’s good for the landfills, good for the environment, also good for greenhouse gas emissions. We’ve been doing a lot more reuse and recycling, composting of organic materials.
Saving water, we have been doing retrofits of our domestic water features and some of our large equipment in our labs, but the water is actually an area where I think we’re going to need to have more focus in the future. We live in a dry climate and it’s going to continue that way and there’s … I think there’s a lot of room for improvement for the campus and the area of water savings. Again, around engaging folks, in this we just completed a UC system wide campaign called the cool campus challenge. I’m proud to say, although the official word isn’t out yet, that Berkeley … It was a competition between the campuses to see how much we could pledge to reduce our carbon footprints and I think Berkeley came out on top so we’re proud of that but it’s back to this, we as a community, uh, need to, uh, all fully engaged as much as we can in addressing climate change.
What does it look like for the future? We have this big goal 2025 to reduce our carbon emissions to zero net or net zero and this is what the pie looks like right now. I’m not going to say business as usual, but that we continue with our energy sourcing in a similar way as we are today. You see that green bright green bar there, that’s the … we’re going to be much more aggressive around energy efficiency, that 2% annual improvement. What we’d like to be able to do since we have a plant on campus and its operating on natural gas right now, we’d like to find biogas, which is a carbon free alternative to replace some of that natural gas. We’re working as a UC system to see what we can do in terms of large procurements for the whole UC system. I think the blue bar there is probably … It’s going to be difficult for us to source that much biogas in a cost effective way by 2025, but that’s what we’re focused on so it may still be possible.
Then we’re looking at least for a time period of using carbon offsets, that’s investing in projects that are reducing carbon somewhere not on the campus, but somewhere where we can make some effective change and carbon reductions. This is the picture that we have today, really the ultimate goal is that we will really be reducing to zero net our use on campus. It’s just a matter of how much time will it take for us to find the renewable energy sources for that and I’m optimistic that we will get there. This is just an idea of if we were to replace the energy system on campus with something that uses far less natural gas. Still, a little bit of natural gas in camp we’re calling it a nodal heat recovery energy system, that’s the red bar there. That would really change how we’re going to reach carbon neutrality on campus with a focus on what we’re doing on campus with our energy system.
We are in process right now of setting what those alternatives might be and what direction we can go. Um, and then how we can finance it so there should be more discussion about that coming up. Really, we’re looking at how can we build this climate smart future and we’re not alone in it as a UC system, across UC system we’re all looking at how we can do this climate smart future visioning. I mean, we have to think about when we’re making big infrastructure decisions, where are we going to be in 2050, the theme of today’s talk, and what how can we make those best decisions knowing what the future might bring. Our work at Berkeley, our work across the UC system is paralleling many in the community. There’s an effort going on in the city of Berkeley some of you might be familiar with, vision 2050. The city is looking to what book does the infrastructure need to look like to be climate smart to deal with climate change and all of those impacts and then how do we make like smart investments around what we’re doing.
Then I had to put the peregrine falcon up because I have been obsessing on the camera, has Anybody seen the camera on the camping area? Yeah, okay. Anyway, it’s just for me a beautiful symbol that in this crazy urban area that we live in, that we can have peregrine falcons that want to come back and nest and have their babies on the camping area with the bells ringing every hour and we can all find a way to live together and make this a better place. With that, thank you, I’m turning it over.
David Wooley: I’m glad you got to hear from Kira because I’ve been learning a lot about what she’s been up to and one of the things that’s so striking about Kira is that she’s being able to really galvanize this great energy from the students. I was at an event where she gave a bunch of awards, she helped organize some awards and the excitement and the graphics and everything was really inspiring to me. As somebody who’s been working on this for a long time, it’s really great to see that kind of energy. What I was going to do was sketch some of the policy landscape that’s out there on climate change. There’s a theme throughout this thing of optimism, for me and it comes from I guess a long career in this stuff.
I started my career fighting strip mines in West Virginia and went on to be an advocate for energy efficiency in buildings, worked really hard on the early stages of getting renewable energy industries off the ground, cultivated a network of energy advocates at the state level nationally for many years at the Energy Foundation and now I’m so pleased to be here at the Goldman School of Public Policy where I’m tracting the environmental center. What are we going to do is talk about sort of in general, the landscape and then use some examples of where things that are particularly interesting or exciting or cutting edge, including some of the things that we’re working on at the Goldman Schools environmental center. It’s hard to put in one frame, one as slide, all the things that are going on, particularly in the California side. That list on the left, is only just a very rough sketch.
There’s so many things going on, California is clearly a leader, California has very sophisticated state agencies with, with great staff and pretty much where there’s an opportunity we’re seeing the state go after that and a lot of states are following California. Sometimes they don’t want to say the word California, but they really are following us quite a bit in a lot of these innovations. At the federal level, we saw some progress, certainly under the Obama administration and the good thing about our democracy is it a lot, a lot of that momentum is still there in spite of what happened in the White House. I’ll just go through a couple of them, one was this regulation under the Federal Clean Air Act, that’s one of my specialties is the Federal Clean Air Act I publish a reference book on it every year, so the Obama administration moved after the carbon emissions in the electric power sector and got that done just in time for Trump to cancel it.
The good news is that because of the tone it’s set and because of combinations of other economic drivers, we got almost all of the carbon reductions that the clean power plant would have gotten if it had been fully implemented in the current administration. That was kind of a nice success even though it’s been pulled back. Some real strong work on methane emissions, methane is one of the things that was a sleeper issue for climate in a lot of ways. We didn’t really know in the 2000s how bad of a problem we had with leaky gas wells, pipelines and more recently we’re discovering that methane, which is a very powerful greenhouse gas, something like 84 times the impact of carbon dioxide on a 20 year basis, we’re discovering that it’s leaking everywhere. It’s leaking in the street, it’s leaking in buildings and so the whole move towards decarbonizing the building sector is really important, not just from a climate standpoint, but from an indoor air quality and a safety perspective.
The administration got started on vehicle efficiency to reduce greenhouse gases from a wide range of the vehicle sectors and federal facilities were a big leader. There’s nothing like turning over an energy efficiency carbon reduction mission to the military to see something really happen and there’s some really great stories. Then we started looking at carbon sequestration at the federal level with some incentives and some research but in both places, there’s a lot of unfinished business. The wildfires of course have set California way back in terms of its greenhouse gas reductions and we really have to begin to address that more seriously. There’s a movement in California that is moving towards greater local control over the procurement of energy for residentials and businesses, sometimes called community choice aggregation and that’s gained a lot of momentum.
I believe it’s a good thing because you’re going to see a lot more innovation in the distributed energy world and technology if the cities and towns can determine their own fate on that. But it’s kind of under attack right now at the state level and we’re just getting started on adaptation. In the climate world, there are two pieces to it. There’s mitigation that is reducing the emissions that are causing the problem, but we know that we’re going to see a lot of adverse effects, even if we were to cut emissions to zero today. So there’s a need to get started on adaptation and California has a very good legal policy planning framework for that but we’re really just getting started on the work of implementing that. We have a cap and trade system here for greenhouse gases, which is a really important sort of one of the pillars for how you reduce greenhouse gases and there’s some flaws in that system that California needs to look at.
At the federal level, there all the rollbacks coming from the Trump administration that have to be resisted and hopefully reversed in two years or less. The other thing that’s disturbing at the federal level is just this massive investment in gas infrastructure, pipelines, LNG export terminals, power plants. This is really setting us back and was not adequately addressed in the prior administration and certainly not now. You notice, I don’t say … I say gas rather than natural gas. There’s nothing natural wit that gas, it’s a highly refined product and it explodes. It’s actually one of the things that has been underappreciated as a driver of greenhouse gases and it’s something we have to do. Finally, I’ll say as a Clean Air Act expert, we’re seeing these kinds of insidious attacks occurring at a really deep technical level on the health science foundations for clean air standards and it’s something that we have to really watch carefully because the Trump administration could do some real damage there.
I’ve talked about state and federal, but the thing that is one of the most exciting things to me about this moment in time on climate, is what’s happening at the local level. You notice on that map that it isn’t just on the coasts or in the northeast, this is happening all over the place, even in very conservative states. You see cities stepping up and saying, wow, we have a lot of greenhouse gases and there are a lot of things we can do about it and save our citizens’ money, and we’ll take some initiative on this. This is particularly important in a period of time when the national government is really not doing a very … is doing bad things actually. This is happening at the state, at the local level I think it’s very important for the longterm, these mayors and city council members and department heads will be the future leaders at the state level and the national level in many cases.
I wanted to spend a few … just a few minutes on electrification of buildings. Here’s a picture I took in the Los Angeles Library, I suppose what it is, is in the event of an earthquake that this thing would go off if there was leaking gas in the building. It’s great that they have that, the problem is that there’s gas in almost all buildings and it’s already leaking and certainly a big accident risk. The electrification of buildings is completely feasible today and we need to get working on that. I wanted to show you this a quote here which says, it’s quite possible than 20 years from now, you will only be using electricity homes, mobility businesses. But look who said that, an oil company, Royal Dutch Shell. This just a couple of visuals on the kinds of technology that are out there.
They weren’t even there five, six, seven, eight years ago, the heat pump technology has come along very well and is a complete substitute for water heating, space heating. I used to be in one of those fields and really liked my gas stove, but there’s an alternative even to that. Induction stoves are quite an effective substitute and all the famous chefs of the world really liked them so we’ve got options even in our homes and our restaurants and businesses. You’ve heard a lot about the transportation sector and the ability for electrification to occur there, you can see electric vehicles, EV, electric vehicles, sales are really surging, not just here in California, but really around the world. It looks to us like the cost of electric vehicles will reach parity, that means that it’ll cost about the same, as an internal combustion engine, that’s the ICE, in three to four years.
This is not just on the … This is on both the upfront cost of the vehicle, but also because the electricity tends to be less expensive than gas and so you saved money on fuel and maintenance. There’s really a massive amount of work going on for charging infrastructure for cars, that’s really an important development here. One observer of this said that by 2022, 2023, practically throw a rock at those years, EVs will dominate the market and by 2029, it’s game over for internal combustion engines. That’s how fast it’s happening. The same thing on buses, in fact, this is a bit of an exaggeration when I say it’s done, but today it doesn’t make any sense to buy a diesel bus anymore because the electric or the hydrogen buses already make more sense for a whole bunch of reasons.
But it’s not just buses and cars, this is one of the exciting things. I’ve had a chance to work on their whole series of things that are hard to decarbonize, trucking, maritime shipping, airplanes and yet there are technologies that they are able today they can get us really deep reductions here and we’re building on a lot of progress already. This chart shows over the past, I think only … the big gains had been in the past 10, 12 years. We’ve gotten the emissions from heavy duty trucking down dramatically, diesel in particular it’s not. But look at the gaps, see in the lower right hand corner, the greenhouse gas emissions haven’t gone down in the factor trending up. But today we have opportunities to even get reductions from this heavy duty transport section and we need to, because even with that reduction in emissions, the vehicle miles traveled by heavy duty trucking is rising and we’ve got air pollution hotspots that still exist in many communities.
I’m working particularly with groups in West Oakland to deal with a diesel emission exposure from port operations there and we’re looking for ways to basically decarbonize the port of Oakland to follow the progress is being made in other ports, including the LA ports and European ports in particular. California has got a big role here because look how much of the total cargo that comes into the United States comes through our ports. Here’s what’s going to happen in just the next few years, truck manufacturers are coming out with new equipment, pretty heavily in the next … By this year, next year, 2021, 2022, you’re going to see even heavy duty trucks for a lot of uses. It doesn’t get all of trucking … We don’t yet have … For long distance trucking. It’ll be a different technology, probably hydrogen and fuel cells, but this is starting to happen even at that hard to decarbonize sector.
The other thing that it gives me optimism at this point is the surge of activity at the corporate level. I don’t know, maybe this was what unintended consequence of Trump is that he was so bad that a lot of the corporate level leaders started stepping up and said, “Well, we got opportunities, we’re going to do it.” When I moved to California, there were all these great IPA beers and all these great things but I think I’m going to have to go out and buy some Budweiser because this is a picture of one of the wind turbans they put up … You can see it when you’re going West on I-80 towards Sacramento. They’re doing all kinds of things, solar, they’re using that setting up a whole system of hydrogen fueling stations for their heavy duty trucks. I just want to get that six pack and have my picture taken with it and send it to the CEO and I said, I’ve come back.
Here’s another optimistic moment, look at what’s happened here. I spent a lot of my earlier career trying to fight power plant emissions which were causing acid rain, and ozone, and fine particulates on a regional level in northeast. When we started off that work, we had huge opposition from all the utilities and all the fossil interests and yet, the support for cutting those emissions, those acid gas emissions in particular, kept going up until we got into this range that we’re now seeing on climate. When that happened, the politics shifted ad we got really, one that was powerful environmental laws ever, ever enacted in world history in 1990 because eventually the will of the people came … drove action and it was really powerful action led by the California delegation, in particular, Henry Waxman, a member of the house from the LA area.
We’re seeing this stuff, we’re seeing the support all around, including from Republicans and Independents. One of the things … Two things strike me about this, 22% of the public does not believe climate change is happening. Well, okay, but they’re becoming overwhelmed by thinking people, no, just kidding. Then the other thing is that this is the first time this has ever happened, that climate rose to the top of the level of concerns of democratic and independent voters as one of their top concerns. Usually it was down there about fifth, six, maybe 10th, it’s top it’s top issue right now, at least among that group of voters. But there’s still a lot of work to do, certainly. Here’s just a list of things that I see at the regulatory area that we have to work on.
Carbon sequestration, it’s not enough just to cut the emissions, we also have to start pulling the carbon out of the air and out of the smokestacks, and building carbon into soils through changes in agriculture. This is going to be a really important thing that’s going to happen over … that needs to happen over the next 10 years. Another thing that’s happening is we need to shrink the amount of fossil gas that’s used in power generation and California is doing a lot of this right now. We’re finding that there are all these power plants scattered around the landscape that only operate intermittently because they’re in some kind of a load pocket to keep the electric system stable and reliable, but they’re all these distributed renewables, distributed energy efficiency storage technologies today that allow us to basically eliminate the need for those plants.
In the Midwest, it’s a different story. I just saw a report that said that an 850 megawatt gas plant proposed by a big utility in Indiana, not the liberal center of the world, was rejected by state government because they have better alternatives including renewables. A thing I was talking about just this morning in a meeting with some state officials and university officials is that, we don’t really … California is a big oil state. We produce a lot of oil, we refine a huge amount of oil. This is a big industry and there are a lot of people involved, there’s a lot of infrastructure, but we don’t have a plan for transitioning those workers, that infrastructure to something else and I think we need to start thinking about that.
I mentioned adaptation earlier and building electrification I think is a really important current focus right now. A lot of places around the country are still expanding gas distribution systems that are leaky when they start and they get leakier as they age. We need to really kind of stop that and begin to shrink these systems, California, New York and a couple of other places are leading on that. At the federal level, we really don’t have good national controls on methane emissions from oil and gas production pipelines storage. The states are beginning to pick up the mantle on that. And even in places like Wyoming and Texas we’re seeing increasingly better regulations, but we need it at the national level.
We don’t really have effective national regulations to control greenhouse gasses from gas fired power plants. I’ve done some work on coal, a lot of progress on coal, but gas is still out there and growing. The feds can really revive the vehicle efficiency in greenhouse gas standards for vehicles. California and a few other states are going to do it if the federal courts don’t stop us, but we need to get the rest of the country on there. That’s a key mission for the next administration and of course, R&D funding is really important from the federal government. Could we progress in the next five years, let’s say, to a national piece of carbon legislation and I think that the conversations around the green new deal are an interesting precursor to that need.
One of the dilemmas for an activist, I consider myself an environmental or an energy activist, is this thing that the individual action is so important. I’ve seen it so many times where one person or a small group of people had an idea and they were able to energize people and really get things going, but at the same time, you can’t change history by yourself. I just wanted to end with this one, a couple of quotes, one was some, a very good friend of mine who works for the Mohawk tribes in New York, we were talking one day, oh, this is such a heavy load, how are we going to do it, and he would say, “All you can do is apply a progressive force to history and with other people you can make a big difference.” Then since we’re here at the freight and salvage, I know that John McCutcheon was here, he’s a hammered dulcimer guy that I got to know when I lived in Appalachia.
He has the song and that that has the refrain that goes like this, drops of water, turn the mill singly, none singly, none. We get things done by all of us, standing up and doing what we can, projecting your ideas, forming coalitions, getting active. Here I am, a guy in my 60 … late 60s actually, and I keep saying to myself, “I got one more in me, I got a little more campaign in me. I got one more thing.” What always happens is I get done with that one more than I got one more, I hope that all of you have one more as well. Thank you.
We’ve got a lot of hands up here. I’ll let the person with the mic decide.
Audience 1: It all sounds good, but one of the things is, it’s easy to make these changes with new facilities, but when you’re dealing with existing lives in existing facilities, they have to be … Things have to be a lot more expensive in terms of fossil fuels. I mean, I drive a 22 year old car, it’s fairly fuel efficient but to upgrade to an electric car, I’d have to change out the service to my house, I’d have to change out the load center. I’d actually have to move the load center so I could have adequate space in front of the circuit panels. And in terms of induction cooking, which is a great idea, I’d have to change all the cookware that I got when I got married.
David Wooley: I agree, and one of the fun things I’d be dealing with in the past three months is been in this email chain of people talking about the difficulty of making that electrification in buildings and all this stuff that has to happen in the building trades. There’s a million little details that in order to make sure that the shift that you make is affordable and two, that it’s safe. It reminds me so much of the early days of solar energy, when there was a whole series of those little technical details that had to be worked out, but eventually we got there so this conversation gives me hope. Of course, the thing is that what we’re asking people … what people are being asked to do is not rip out something that they put in five years ago with something else.
It’s more like, look for those moments when the equipment is aging out so that the investment in something new occurs then, so it’s affordable. I think that that’s a metaphor, that thing in the home is a metaphor for what needs to happen in commercial buildings, in campuses, in heavy industry and in vehicle fleets because if you catch that moment when the old equipment is ready to go, and you invest in something new and if there’s state incentives to help you do that, where the cost hasn’t come down far enough. I think we need greater levels of incentives to help people make that shift in individual buildings, but you’re right, I don’t think they’ll pay for the new pots and pans.
Audience 2: I remember a few, at least I think I remember a few years ago, a fair amount of celebration that we were going to gas and to power plants is compared to coal because they were so much better, and here I’m hearing gas is not such a great answer. Is it in comparison to renewables, or there has something more been discovered?
David Wooley: Well, that happened in the mid 2000s, like ’05, ’06 or so, it was at a time when gas was still … well, a few years before that, gas still pretty expensive but then the fracking boom happened and gas prices dropped really dramatically. Gas was being used to displace coal and the thought in the early stages was well, that’s good because it’s only half the greenhouse gasses of coal. But what we discovered was that there was so much methane being lost at the well site in the pipelines, even at the power plants themselves and the methane was such a strong driver of global warming that when you compared the full lifecycle of coal and gas, it was only a little better and not nearly on the trajectory we needed to be.
There is still some gas going in and there might be an argument that we continue to use it in a period of transition, but we’ve got to get to 80, 90% reduction pretty fast. The idea that we would invest in new expensive gas infrastructure, power plants, pipelines, et cetera, when eight or 10 years out we have to speak out of it, it just doesn’t make sense. But that kind of huge investment is happening in the United States right now so it’s one of the big challenges here. The gas is better in some ways from the standpoint of conventional air pollutant particles, metals, acid gases, but from a greenhouse gas standpoint, it’s not much better.
Kira Stoll: I was just going to add, even 10 years ago when we’re having conversations in the state of California, we hadn’t even decided yet whether electrification of our vehicle fleets was going to be the direction we wanted to go. It was kind of undecided as the alternative and California is leading that way. One of the things is that we have become … we’ve made these large asset investments in natural gas plants and things like that and we’re not going to strand those assets. It’s really a good time to think about that natural gas plant that’s only going to live for another 20 years, what is it that it really needs to happen next? I can also say that the utilities are not that interested in buying electricity that’s produced from natural gas plants anymore, we were trying to sell some of our electricity and they really weren’t interested in it. These are all good signs that the market is going to shift us away from and I’m going to start using it, I’m not using natural gas anymore. I hadn’t even thought about that, it’s gas. I’m going to get away from gas.
Audience 3: I want to say to all the audience, that if you have a choice on what type of a heater or what type of cooking stove to buy, buy induction heaters, induction stoves, they are so damn good. I just got one about four or five years ago, the thing works so well is unbelievable. There’s no advantage gas has over this, this thing turns off instantly, turns on instantly. It’s pretty impressive. Anyhow, I have another question. In addition to carbon, I’m sorry, the methane that is released on our wellheads and all that stuff that is loose, methane is emitted from the ground in the north and it’s all in the natural freezing and melting of the ice cold up there, a ton of methane is released. What is the quantity of methane that’s naturally reduce produced compared to all the methane that is made by pipes and our bad stuff.
David Wooley: I don’t know that number precisely, but the risk is that through a warming of the permafrost, that the current levels will balloon because more of those methane hydrates, I think they’re called, will become mobile in the global environment. It’s one of those feedback mechanisms that are really frightening about how we could quickly go into a real crisis over even only a few decades. I think today, there are natural sources of methane and always have been, I don’t know how it compares with the anthropogenic, but I think it’s a lot lower from where we are today. I’ll try to … I’m going to research that because I need to know the answer to that one.