Rooftop solar is under attack

solar rooftopThe solar-energy industry has been an engine of growth for California over the last decade, and now the investor-owned utilities (IOUs) want to boost their profits by throttling back that engine. Of course, the rapid expansion of solar power has been an environmental boon as well—and the IOUs' latest rate proposals, if enacted, will ensure that fewer solar panels are installed and more greenhouse gases are emitted. Not a good idea.

The three major corporate IOUs—Pacific Gas & Electric, Southern California Edison, and San Diego Gas & Electric—have, to one degree or another, been relatively welcoming to solar energy in the past. They have mostly gone along with the green initiatives of the legislature and the Air Resources Control Board. In 2014, for example, they built several very large solar plants, adding 1,900 megawatts of generation, and the state is now producing five percent of its electricity from utility-scale solar.

Rooftop solar good!

Rooftop solar, too—small-scale photovoltaic (PV) installations by homeowners and businesses—has been a welcome addition for the IOUs, since the added capacity has been funded mostly without their direct investment. As a result, these corporate utilities have been able to meet increasing demand while building fewer fossil fuel plants. In fact, some inefficient plants have been removed from service.

The IOUs have fought back only at the margins for increased rates or limitations on time-of-use pricing, and net-energy-metering rules have allowed rooftop-solar customers to bank their excess electricity by sending it to the grid. When the sun shines, during the day and during the summer, the utility gets electricity from rooftop PV, often at the very times there is highest demand, such as for air conditioning. Then, at night and during the winter, the solar customer gets electricity from the grid; and billing is adjusted annually with a small charge or, sometimes, a check.

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Brown signs SB 185: Divest coal!

Governor Jerry BrownGovernor Jerry Brown signed Senate Bill 185 last week. Our two state pension funds are now required to purge their portfolios of that most pernicious of fossil fuels, coal. It's time to celebrate!

The enactment of SB 185 is an enormous step forward for the divestment movement—in fact, for the entire climate movement—because CalSTRS and CalPERS are the largest state pension funds in the country, larger than any public funds worldwide other than a handful at the national level. It's an inspiring example, and we can expect other institutions and organizations to follow, beginning with New York and Massachusetts. California is again clearing the path for more reluctant states and nations in the struggle for a habitable planet.

Next we must divest the rest. Oil and gas companies are bad investments too: bad for human health, bad for the environment, and bad for the portfolio. There is no reason for our state funds to continue holding Chevron and Exxon and Shell stocks and bonds. The emissions from these companies' products are killing people and exacerbating the dangerous rise in global temperatures. We must move to a non-carbon, renewable energy economy as soon as possible, and complete divestment from fossil fuels is one important strategy in that transition.

Many thanks

So as we celebrate we want to thank all our allies, the many people involved in this triumph. Thanks to President pro Tempore Kevin de León of Los Angles for introducing SB 185 in the California Senate and pushing it through to passage, along with the other bills in this year's historic climate package. Thanks to Assembly Member Rob Bonta of Alameda for shepherding the bill through the Assembly, and all the other legislators who cosponsored and voted aye.

And thanks to Governor Jerry Brown for signing SB 185 into law, taking strong action to build on his signing SB 350 Wednesday and to back up his recent warnings on climate change. Speaking at the Vatican in July, Brown said:

There are tipping points, feedback loops. This is not some linear set of problems that we can predict. We have to take measures against an uncertain future which may well be something no one ever wants. We are talking about extinction. We are talking about climate regimes that have not been seen for tens of millions of years. We’re not there yet, but we’re on our way.

We're also on our way to doing the right thing. Tipping points and feedback loops can move the world in a beneficial direction, too. And each person and organization working to pass SB 185 has put a little more weight on the green side of the balance.

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Assembly passes SB 185!

ColorfulFireworks_350ba.pngThe California Assembly has passed SB 185, the coal divestment bill, by a vote of 47–27!

One more step remains before the bill is enacted: Governor Jerry Brown's signature. Let him know that when he signs this bill into law, California will become the first state to legislate fossil fuel divestment, a model for other states and nations worldwide.

From the office of Senator Kevin de León, author of the bill:

“Coal is losing value quickly and investing in coal is a losing proposition for our retirees; it’s a nuisance to public health; and it’s inconsistent with our values as a state on the forefront of efforts to address global climate change,” Senate President pro Tempore Kevin de León said. “California’s utilities are phasing out coal, and it’s time our pension funds did the same.”
“Coal is the fuel of the past and it’s no longer a wise investment for our pensioners,” said Assemblyman Rob Bonta (D-Oakland), who presented the bill before the Assembly. “I’m pleased that my colleagues agree: it’s time to move on from this dirty energy source.”
Bill McKibben, co-founder of 350.org said, “What a signal of hope amid California's relentless drought and the planet's hottest summer. That California—earth's 8th biggest economy—will begin to pull its money out of fossil fuel stocks is a sign about what technologies are the future, and which are the dirty past.” 
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Oil, lies, and video ads

SB350_drivers_myth_fact.pngThe petroleum industry is running scared. They know that their product is to the 21st Century what buggy whips were to the 20th. So as the California Assembly votes this week on SB 350, SB 185, and ten other climate bills, Big Oil is deploying some pretty oily tactics.

First, the oil companies create and hide behind front groups with blandly good-citizen–sounding names. Astroturfing, as it's called—as in "fake grassroots." Would you believe what the Western States Petroleum Association (WSPA) says about a climate bill? Okay, how about the California Drivers Alliance? Sounds much better. Most of us are drivers, and if it's an alliance it must be a public-spirited group of people just like you and me.

Second, oil companies use the astroturf group to spread lies about the content and effects of climate bills that combat carbon pollution. Not surprising, since they are in the business of selling carbon—pollution included. They have no other business plan, having almost abandoned their few earlier forays into renewable energy. So they spread misinformation, to confuse voters and try to sway legislators.

In yesterday's Sacramento Bee, David Siders quotes a California Drivers Alliance television ad. An actor says:

The Gas Restriction Act of 2015 will restrict the use of gas and diesel in California by 50 percent. This law will limit how often we can drive our own cars. The state will also be collecting and monitoring our personal driving habits and tracking how much gas we use.

In fact, there is no "Gas Restriction Act of 2015." The law that does require a 50 percent reduction in petroleum use by 2030 (SB 350) does not limit how often we can drive. And it contains no monitoring or tracking provisions. These are pure scare tactics, without factual basis.

But this TV ad is not the only example of WSPA's efforts to mislead. Adrienne Alvord of the Union of Concerned Scientists reports that Big Oil's lobbying organization is also sending out mailers and broadcasting radio ads to try to defeat SB 350. She calls it a "massive and highly dishonest oil company campaign denouncing one of the best and most exciting bills that has been considered by the California legislature in a decade."

Senate President pro Tempore Kevin de León, author of SB 350, has countered this and other Big Oil lies on the California Climate Leadership website. The graphic above is one example, demonstrating that it makes economic as well as environmental sense to move away from the carbon-polluting internal combustion engine. We can reduce oil use, and we will all be better off.

But the lies will keep coming, no doubt, at least until no one wants to buy buggy whips any more. As Alvord concludes: "So, in the end, the simple truth that explains all of WSPA’s lies about SB 350 is that the legislation, while good for people, is bad for oil companies."

Join our campaign to do what's good for people. Support the entire package of climate bills.

Cross-posted at Fossil Free California.

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Nobody's buying coal


Fossil fuel divestment is a campaign that's snowballing—if you'll excuse a mixed metaphor. In just the last month San Luis Obispo, California, and Corvallis, Oregon, have voted to divest. The University of Hawaii and the Rhode Island School of Design have done the same. And the University of Washington decided to divest from coal, as did the $900-billion Government Pension Fund of Norway.

Coal, in fact, is the easy one. No fossil fuel is more harmful to health, more destructive of the environment, or more of an accelerant to global warming. So it's great news that many institutions not yet ready to make the leap to total carbon divestment are purging their portfolios of coal companies.

Last week the California Legislature took a giant step in that direction. Senate Bill 185, which has cleared the state Senate, was overwhelmingly approved by the Assembly Retirement Committee. If enacted, the bill would require the two largest state pension funds in the US to divest from coal.

Coal is a bad investment

There is one additional fact about coal that sometimes gets lost in the flurry of describing its murderous impact: coal is a bad investment. And it's been moving in a negative direction for some time. 

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Watch SB 185 Assembly hearing

On June 24, the California Assembly Committee on Public Employees, Retirement, and Social Security approved SB 185, Senate President pro Tempore Kevin de León's coal divestment bill, by a vote of 5 to 1. The bill now goes to the Appropriations Committee and then to the floor of the Assembly.

Here is a video of the hearing. It includes testimony from Senator de León, NextGen Climate COO Daniel Lashof, and investment managers from Trillium and Green Century. Thirteen more speakers announced their support, including Fossil Free California coalition members RL Miller of the California Democratic Party, Linda Rudolph of the Public Health Institute, Rick Guerrero of SEIU Local 1000, Chris Brown of 350 Sacramento, and Carla West of 350 Bay Area.

Be sure to sign our petition addressed to Assembly Members.


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Coal divestment advances

Today the California coal divestment bill, SB 185, cleared another hurdle. The Assembly Committee on Public Employees, Retirement, and Social Security voted to send the bill to the Assembly Appropriations Committee by a vote of 5 to 1.

With this success, much remains to be done. You can help by signing this petition and contacting your Assembly Member. Legislators respond to their constituents, so be sure to let your voice be heard about this important legislation.

“I’m delighted to see SB 185 advance in the Assembly. California once again leads the nation in saying ‘no’ to fossil fuels and ‘yes’ to investment in clean energy jobs,” said RL Miller, chair of the California Democratic Party’s environmental caucus.

Carla West of 350 Bay Area also spoke. Carla, a California divestment organizer currently working with 350.org, said: “These pension funds are intended to secure a stable future, but that is impossible if we keep investing in fossil fuels. We are glad to see this bill to divest from coal pass through the first committee."

Several other Fossil Free California and 350 Bay Area members were at the meeting to demonstrate their support for the bill. Investment manager Jodi Neuman of Trillium Asset Management also gave the committee some hard data: fossil free investing has outperformed the S&P 500. Therefore, it would be financially responsible for them to support SB 185.

If passed by the Assembly and signed by the Governor, the bill will ban investments in thermal coal companies by the California Public Employees' Retirement System (CalPERS) and the California State Teachers' Retirement System (CalSTRS). It will be the first action by a state legislature in the US to mandate any kind of fossil fuel divestment.

You can learn more here about the devastating effects of coal pollution. It's bad for the environment, for public health, and for the financial stability of California's pension funds. To say nothing of its outsize contribution to global warming.

To keep the inevitable temperature rise at less than 2 degrees Celsius, we must stop burning coal. And we must stop investing in the companies that traffic in this dangerous carbon-based drug.

Please sign the petition now!

Cross-posted at Fossil Free California.

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CalSTRS rally for teachers and students

On June 12, the Fossil Free California rally at CalSTRS headquarters drew 50 protesters, an extraordinary number for an 8:15 am gathering on a weekday in West Sacramento. Thanks to the organizational efforts of Jane Vosburg, FFCA CalSTRS coordinator, people came from all over Northern California, including several 350 Bay Area members. Among them were many active and retired teachers who wanted to let the California State Teachers' Retirement System know that their pension money should exclude all fossil fuel companies. Here is a slideshow of the rally.

Following the rally, many of the protestors attended a meeting of the CalSTRS Investment Committee. Tom Steyer, founder of NextGen Climate, presented a compelling case for divestment to the committee. (Video here.) He pointed out that over the last 35 years, a fossil-free index investment would have outperformed an index that included oil, gas, and coal. Coal, in particular, is a bad investment now, and he would recommend immediate divestment.

As for oil, Steyer said that exploration and extraction costs continue to mount, while costs for renewables are on a rapid downward trajectory. Every doubling of the solar installed base, for example, results in a 24 percent reduction in costs. In that competitive environment, he does not see that high oil prices are sustainable; as a result, over time oil companies are likely to lose significant value due to stranded assets. This is a generational issue, he said, and the pressure on fossil fuels will continue to increase as younger people engage. "The only way it will stop is if all the scientists are wrong."

Jane Vosburg and Tom SteyerThe committee members were receptive, clearly considering how to find a practicable path toward divestment that would not compromise their concern for fiduciary responsibility. Several of our members—including retired teachers and CalSTRS members Jane and Bill Vosburg, Deborah Silvey, and Joyce Banzhaf—spoke about the dangers of climate catastrophe, the futility of shareholder engagement, and the financial risks of continuing to hold fossil fuel investments. (Video here—the photo shows Jane Vosburg and Tom Steyer.)

Teachers Carmen Osorio of Santa Rosa and Heather MacLeod of Oakland described their students' responses to learning about climate change. Osorio pointed out that global warming affects Latinos and other people of color disproportionately, and she says it is difficult to instill hope in her students without action from their elders. MacLeod told a story of an eighth-grade student of hers, never previously interested in math or science, who was so astonished by the 600,000-year "hockey-stick" temperature graph that she became passionately interested in climate change—and in graphs. MacLeod said that, as teachers, we must be able to tell our students we're doing something.

As all the speakers said, there is something that CalSTRS can do, for the teachers and for the students: begin the process of divestment now.

Rally photos are available on Flickr (Creative Commons).

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State Senate passes SB 185 to divest coal

CA_Senate_press_conferenceThis week the California State Senate made history, passing SB 185 by a large margin, 22–14. The bill calls for the nation’s two largest state pension funds, the California Public Employees’ Retirement System (CalPERS) and the California State Teachers’ Retirement System (CalSTRS), to divest from thermal coal. The bill now moves to the California State Assembly.

Senate President pro Tempore Kevin de León (at podium in photo, with Senator Fran Pavley) introduced SB 185 as one of thirteen bills in the Climate Leadership Package, all of which passed the Senate on June 3. It is the first piece of government legislation in the US that would compel public pension funds to divest their holdings from fossil fuels—signaling major momentum for divestment campaigners in California. And it was followed today by the passage of a similar coal divestment bill by the Norwegian Parliament.

“Investing in coal is simply not worth the risks,” said Senator de León. “We have a moral obligation to protect our children, as well as an economic imperative to get out of this sinking asset. I am pleased that my colleagues have approved SB 185, and I look forward to working with the Assembly and Governor Brown to ensure it is signed into law.”

The push for SB 185 has won major momentum in recent weeks, beginning with a strong endorsement from the California Democratic Party, and continuing with a joint letter of support signed by many health organizations, including the American Lung Association, Health Care Without Harm, and Physicians for Social Responsibility.

“It’s gratifying that California is taking this important step first—not because we want to be number one, but because we know the rest of the world is watching what happens here,” said Janet Cox of Fossil Free California. “CalPERS and CalSTRS are leaders among public pension funds. They are well-respected and financially massive, and their actions also attract a lot of global attention. Let’s hope this action will inspire other states and other governments to legislate divestment from fossil fuels that threaten everyone’s well-being.”

The Fossil Free California coalition, which includes 350 Bay Area, other local 350 groups around the state, Go Fossil Free, and other allies in the climate movement, will next work to ensure that SB 185 passes in the Assembly and is signed by Governor Brown. Divesting CalPERS and CalSTRS from coal will be a significant first step toward purging these public portfolios completely from investments in the fossil fuel companies that are destroying our environment.

Morally, it’s the right thing to do. Financially, it’s the smart thing to do.

And you can help!

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Why coal divestment is important

Coal plantOur goal at 350 Bay Area is to reduce investments in all fossil fuels—coal, oil, and gas—and to publicize their destructive effects. But some institutions, resistant to total divestment, are willing to consider divesting only from coal. Is that a position we can support? Emphatically yes!

A giant step

Divesting from coal is a giant step toward total divestment. We would certainly prefer divestment from oil and gas companies too. But Stanford's decision last year to purge its $18 billion endowment of coal stocks, for example, was an enormous victory, and the university also pledged that it would review additional divestment. San Francisco State has also divested from coal—and from tar sands as well—and promised to look into "removing all future investments in fossil fuels."

The question has come up again in the context of Senate Bill 185, Senator Kevin de León's proposed legislation which directs CalPERS and CalSTRS to divest from coal. The bill also mandates that the funds study the feasibility of divesting "additional fossil fuel investments such as natural gas and petroleum." In other words, SB185 explicitly frames coal divestment as a potential first step toward total fossil fuel divestment.

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