The Silicon Valley Clean Energy Authority (SVCEA) will switch all Los Altos customers from PG&E unless those customers actively opt out of this change.
SVCEA has contracted for 100 percent “carbon-free” electricity free of greenhouse gas emissions.
Los Altos City Councilwoman Jeannie Bruins and the city claim that SVCEA will reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
“We recognized that this was the single most effective action we could take to reduce greenhouse gas emissions,” Bruins said in the Town Crier (“LA residents slated to receive clean energy soon,” Feb. 8).
The same article also reported that “According to a staff report, city officials expect communitywide emissions from electricity to decrease by more than 90 percent once the entire city is under SVCEA service by the end of the year.”
And from the city’s website: “Currently, electricity used to power homes and businesses creates about a quarter of our region’s emissions. Using more renewable energy is an easy, economical way to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and improve our carbon footprint. It’s the single most effective way to accomplish the Los Altos communities’ climate action goals.”
But while SVCEA electricity is “carbon-free,” it will do almost nothing to decrease greenhouse gas emissions.
Why is that? Here’s a similar, simpler situation:
Your neighbor installs a new solar panel on her house; that panel’s energy is carbon-free and reduces greenhouse gas emissions.
A few years later, you purchase energy from your neighbor’s existing solar panel. The energy you purchased from your neighbor’s panel is carbon-free, but there is no reduction in greenhouse gases. That reduction occurred years back when she first installed the solar panel. The fact you purchased that energy had no impact on total greenhouse gas emissions. If you had not purchased that energy, it would have been created anyhow and utilized elsewhere.
There is nothing incorrect in claiming the energy purchased from your neighbor is 100 percent carbon-free; however, it’s incorrect to claim that your purchase caused a reduction in greenhouse gas emissions.
SVCEA is purchasing all of the energy it will deliver to Los Altos from existing sources of carbon-free energy. Nothing new is being generated. The vast majority is being purchased from our neighbors in the Pacific Northwest, including British Columbia. This purchased power comes from facilities that have been operating for years and in the past has been sold to other buyers.
Just like the simple solar panel example above, SVCEA purchasing the energy has no effect on global greenhouse gas emissions. And just like above, there is nothing incorrect in claiming that the energy is carbon-free. Claiming reduction in greenhouse gas emissions, however, results in incorrectly tying carbon-free to reduced greenhouse gas emissions. This is sloppy logic at best, and outright misleading at worst.
Richard Fancher is a Los Altos resident and retired electric power consulting engineer.