This past August the California Energy Commission approved Pasadena's latest 20-year plan for procuring electricity. This brings us two pieces of good news:
1) No more long-term contracts for fossil fuels.
2) Pasadena Water and Power managers tell us Pasadena was the first utility in the state to include the social cost of carbon in such a plan, and they hope they have encouraged others to follow suit.
What does this have to do with Transition Pasadena?
In 2017 and 2018, "Pasadena 100" (a project of Transition Pasadena) worked to persuade the City to move more quickly to ween its electric utility away from fossil fuels. The City had an existing commitment to coal usage, extending through 2027, and had opted into a scheme to replace the coal-fired Utah plant with a gas-fired plant. This would have emitted even more carbon pollution and possibly even extended the City's commitment until 2077!
Pasadena 100 used a classic inside-outside strategy to encourage change. First, members met with the Mayor, City Council members, and Water and Power executives to learn their views and build our case. During 2018 the City was required to revise its 20 year Integrated Resources Plan and, as part of that process, the City Manager appointed a Stakeholder Technical Advisory Group of residents to meet with Water and Power managers. Our members, John Odell and Cary Belling, were appointed to this Technical Group.
Meanwhile, on the outside, Pasadena 100 connected with other environmental organizations to stimulate more citizens to speak up in support, making clear our Technical Reps were speaking for more than just themselves. Many groups lent their logos to two beautiful cards that explained what was needed (see photo). We also received a gift of public relations expertise.
Pasadena 100 advocated that the City commit to signing no new long-term fossil fuel contracts extending beyond 2035 and that they get as close as possible to 100% clean energy by then. Pasadena 100 also argued that, if the City is going to choose among alternative energy portfolios based on cost, they should account for the indirect costs that society pays by burning carbon fuels. These indirect costs? Worsening climate change. Caltech had already started counting this social cost of carbon in major investment decisions but the City had never done so!
In addition to advocating at the governmental level, collaborating with allied environmental organizations also paid off. When Water and Power held public hearings, citizen turnout was impressive, in particular at the Hastings Ranch Library, where some 100 people packed the meeting room and no fewer than 50 lined up to speak. All but one of those speakers hammered the same point: we must get off fossil-based energy faster in the face of climate change. Present was Margaret McAustin, elected City Council Member and chair of the Council committee that oversees Water and Power. She later remarked that, while participating in such reviews for over a decade, she had never seen such forceful public participation!
Our patient, coordinated campaign demonstrated the effectiveness of collaboration and citizen lobbying. Most importantly, Pasadena decided to opt-out of a 50-year commitment to natural gas. Their new plan concluded that no other long-term commitments to fossil energy would be cost effective. (Bad news: LA is still going ahead with that gas plant even though other cities opted out. What’s up with that, Garcetti?)
Over the two decades of this new plan, Pasadena is also likely to import electricity on short-term contracts from elsewhere in California, some of which will be generated by gas. But the 2018 state law known as SB-100 requires the entire state to phase down gas combustion during this time.
Pasadena Water and Power also agreed for the first time to add indicators for the social costs of carbon to some computer models they used to estimate the lowest cost portfolios. There was no evidence they would have taken this step if not for the persistent work of Pasadena 100. They warmly thanked our reps for helping make the plan better.
In 2018, the share of renewables in Pasadena's electricity portfolio was 38%, which was above the state minimum but not high enough. The coal plant will continue to be responsible for the bulk of our electric carbon emissions until 2027, when those emissions will fall sharply.
The moral of the story: persistent advocacy and allied collaboration works.