2861 Mission Street, Santa Cruz, CA 95060 (Room 247) sustainablesystemsresearch@gmail.com 831.708.5836

News

Sustainability Now! Car-free living in Hayward?

Radio Show #14, March 8, 2020, with Dr. Sherman Lewis, Emeritus Professor of Political Science at Cal State East Bay, to talk about a proposal for Bayview Village, a car-free development in a disused quarry in Hayward and urban sustainability more generally.

Sustainability Now! Climate Justice in Watsonville, CA

Radio Show #12, February 23, 2020, with Nancy Faulstich, Director of Regeneración, a non-profit focused on climate and social justice in Watsonville, California and the Pajaro Valley, Tamela Harkins, Pajaro Valley High School English Teacher, and three members– Itzel Sanchez, Luke Zamora and Reuben Garcia–of La Vida Verde, a student environmental club at the high school.

Sustainability Now! bikes to Kansas

Listen to Professor Jenny Reardon of the UCSC Sociology Department talking about “Caring for the Prairie,” a “project involving biking through the prairies and small towns of Kansas, designed to develop embodied knowledge of the land and to find out more about attitudes towards contemporary US politics from the denizens of the prairies.” You can hear a podcast about her experiences in Kansas here.

Sustainability Now! speaks with Extinction Rebellion

Radio Show #10, January 26, 2020, with members of Extinction Rebellion in Monterey and Santa Cruz: Vanessa Mekarski, Dwight Mitchell, Jennifer Brugman and Magali Morales. Extinction Rebellion is a leaderless, decentralised, international and apolitical network using non-violent direct action and civil disobedience to persuade governments to act justly on the Climate and Ecological Emergency. 

Sustainability Now! Alcohol can be a gas! with David Blume

Radio Show #9, January 12, 2020, David Blume, CEO & Director of Research and Development at Blume Distillation, and author of Alcohol Can be a Gas, to talk about his distillation & permaculture operation just outside of Watsonville. There are two versions of this show: a shorter, edited one of my interview with Blume (hyperlinked above); a longer one with 15 minutes of filler here.

Sustainability Now! Solar Dividends

Radio Show #9, December 15, 2019,Robert Stayton, author of Power Shift: From Fossil Energy to Dynamic Solar Power and Solar Dividends: How Solar Energy Can Generate a Basic Income for Everyone on Earth discusses his proposal to give everyone on Earth 10 kilowatts of solar PV panels.

Sustainability Now! PG&E

Radio Show #8, December 1, 2019, Professor Dustin Mulvaney, Environmental Studies at San Jose State University, on “What do we do with a problem like PG&E?”

Sustainability Now! Local Agriculture

Radio Show #7, November 17, 2019, Nina Vukecevic, Farm Manager at Common Roots Farm in Santa Cruz, which provides disabled adults with access to agriculture.

Ronnie Lipschutz: Chicxulub is coming and PG&E is the dinosaur!

October 25, 2019 at 5:00 am

By Ronnie D. Lipschutz

Sixty-six million years ago, an 8-mile wide asteroid slammed into the Gulf of Mexico, near Chicxulub in the Yucatan. That impact abruptly ended the 180 million year-long Age of Reptiles, forever eliminating dinosaurs from the Earth. Today, large electric utilities are the dinosaurs, and an asteroid is coming.

The recent power shutoffs by PG&E were a clumsy response to the risk of catastrophic fires. one that does not bode well for large utilities. The fundamental reasons for creating monopoly utilities more than 100 years ago no longer exist. And centralized power systems like PG&E’s are rapidly becoming unsustainable.

Extinction is driven by instability and obsolescence. First, as the cascading impacts of climate change grow, adverse weather events, combined with decades of fire suppression policies. will increase the frequency of deadly conflagrations. With utility insistence on increasing shareholder dividends rather than maintaining a safe power system, those risks can only grow.

Moreover, given the size of PG&E’s service area and the complexity of its distribution network, even intentional cutoffs will not prevent failures in vulnerable parts of its system.

Second, PG&E’s distribution system is aging, while necessary modernization has barely begun. Its system was not designed for the new climate normal and rebuilding from the ground up (or digging into the ground) is the only way to reduce fire hazards and risks. That would be extremely costly- although not as costly as a future of uncontrolled wildfires. And who would pay for rebuilding? PG&E’s electricity rates are among the highest in the country, and customers will abandon the company in droves if rates go too much higher. The company’s shareholders will not be pleased if the utility’s earnings are plowed back into infrastructure rather than dividends. And it seems highly unlikely that the Legislature or the state’s voters would approve a utility bailout.

Ultimately, that very distribution network is the problem: PG&E buys electricity from large power plants scattered across California and beyond and it must be sent long distances to customers. When one part of the system goes down, resulting instability threatens the entire network. This arrangement arguably made sense a century ago. Today, it no longer safe or reliable.

Rather than trying to save a broken system, there is a solution that will cost less, be more reliable, and do more to reduce carbon emissions: community­ based, renewable energy microgrids. These are generation and distribution systems that serve localities but can also connect with other microgrids to provide power across the state. As the cost of renewable electricity, especially from solar photovoltaics, rapidly declines, we no longer need to rely on large, far away, mostly carbon-powered generating plants. In place of a monolithic, top-down utility linked microgrids offer a bottom-up solution that is far more stable, resilient, and compatible with widespread development of renewable energy resources.

A key benefit of renewable microgrids connected through a large distribution network is that they can disconnect from the grid, if necessary, continuing to deliver safe, reliable power and avoiding arbitrary blackouts of millions of people. The well-being of tens of millions of people will no longer be in the hands of a distant, profit-oriented utility but, rather, local decision-makers committed to their communities.

But who is going to lead this microgrid revolution? Community choice aggregators (CCAs)! These are municipal enterprises that provide power to local customers. Until now, the role of CCAs has been limited, because they purchase power on regional electricity markets and deliver it through PG&Es power lines. But CCAs could develop local renewable-based generating facilities and eliminate reliance an increasingly unreliable centralized grid.

There are 19 CCAs in California serving more than 10 million customers, and more are being planned. At some point, economics and risks are going to tilt the balance toward local microgrids and CCAs, and big utilities will go out of business. They may be politically powerful enough to delay this, but their fate is clear: Chicxulub is coming!

Ronnie D. Lipschutz is Professor of Politics at UCSC and co-founder of the Sustainable Systems Research Foundation (SSRF) in Santa Cruz. Find out more about SSRF at https://sustainablesystemsfoundation.orgl or by writing to systainablesystemsresearch@gma.cilom.