Nearly 200,000 San Jose residents — one in five — found themselves in the dark during the August rolling blackouts that crippled California.
Wildfires, heat waves, PSPS events and rolling blackouts, which are only growing in intensity and duration, are what PG&E and the California Public Utilities Commission say will be our fate for years to come. And when the power goes off, dirty diesel generators flip on, polluting our skies and poisoning our communities. Clean, intermittent renewable power alone, such as solar and wind, can’t provide the necessary resilience, and even when supported by batteries can only do so for short durations.
Tuesday, the San Jose City Council can choose to keep the city powered by supporting reliable and resilient sources of clean energy while advancing our climate goals. The City Council can accomplish these twin goals by focusing on three core values shared by San Jose communities and companies: equity, the environment, and the economy.
Equity: A decision to prohibit gas pipelines in new facilities can be expected to lead to widespread use of dirty diesel backup generators, compounding local air quality problems, and given their likely location, will disproportionately impact vulnerable populations and underserved communities. There’s a growing body of evidence indicating that local combustion-related air pollution has far more serious and harmful consequences to human health and the environment than previously understood, including recent findings about combustion-related air pollution, such as diesel generators:
• May be as harmful to our lungs as smoking cigarettes.
• Increase pre-term birth risk.
• Cause dementia.
• Make particulate matter the largest environmental health risk factor in the nation.
The costs of PSPS events and blackouts carry economic and environmental burdens on those who can least afford it, including the elderly and working families.
Environment: The public health and environmental impacts of combustion-related pollutants like diesel generators are both significant and quantifiable and have become even more pronounced by the respiratory challenges caused by COVID. The economic and health benefits associated with reducing nitrogen oxides, sulphur oxides and particulate matter emissions outweigh the same benefits of reducing carbon emissions on a per-ton basis. A single diesel generator is currently used for as much as 800 hours each year — the equivalent of 33 full days — and are often deployed near neighborhoods and schools.
The Economy: California’s electric grid is facing unprecedented challenges, and communities served by PG&E have been especially hard hit. An uninterrupted supply of electricity is an indispensable element for the state’s post-COVID economic recovery. Essential employers are not spared, whether it’s our corner grocery store, a datacenter, an assisted living facility or a manufacturer. It’s why a balanced approach by the City Council has been urged by San Jose employers of all types, large and small, including Allied Telesis, Bloom Energy, Borelli Investments, California Water Service, Gordon Biersch, Infinera, Mott MacDonald, Navitas Capital, Nutanix, Power Integration, Republic Urban, Samsung, San Jose Water, SDS NexGen, Silicon Valley Bank, TransPak, Webcor and others.
Utilizing existing gas infrastructure with low- to no-carbon fuels will increasingly enable cost-effective, reliable, resilient and renewable power generation to complement intermittent resources such as solar and wind. Hydrogen provides a promise of a zero-carbon fuel that can be leveraged to decarbonize the gas system. Banning the pipeline infrastructure will limit the city’s ability to fully decarbonize. The roadmap to meeting the state’s carbon-reduction goals must include a variety of policies and technologies to enable a clean, reliable and affordable transition. Intermittent renewable resources must be paired with reliable generation to keep the lights on for everyone.
While the current power grid repeatedly fails us, the right response from the City Council on Tuesday can ensure that we have reliable, resilient, clean power that provides equity for our neighborhoods, protects our environment and preserves our economy.
Rob Lapsley is the CEO of the California Business Roundtable. Linda Moore is CEO of TechNet.