3rd Round of AC Transit Cuts Averted – For Now

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AC Transit and the union representing its bus drivers and mechanics reached a new three year contract deal on Tuesday after months of painful arbitration. Both parties were ordered to binding interest arbitration after the union took the agency to court over an imposed contract in July. The agreement will save the agency a projected $38 million over the life of the contract.

The new contract will require that union members make co-pays for medical visits and take a stepped-down pay decrease over the next three years (6 % in the first year, 5% in year two, and 3% in year three).

The agreement avoids the December implementation of deep weekend service cuts that could have been a debilitating blow to an already tested ridership that has borne both two rounds of cuts (amounting to over 14% of service) and a fare increase during the past year. AC Transit has also instituted management cuts and spending reductions during its fiscal crisis.

Interim General Manager Mary King issued a statement saying, “There are no winners or losers in this arbitration. Both AC Transit and the union focused on what is best for the riders and taxpayers of this district and what is in the long-term interest of maintaining public transit for the people we serve.”

Although the December cuts have been avoided for now, the agency will still be struggling with a budgetary deficit.

Read more at AC Transit’s website and in the SF Examiner.

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PCL’s 8 Affordable Water Strategies

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The Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta (Image credit: Wikimedia Commons)

The environmental lobby group Planning and Conservation League (PCL) has released a set of 8 strategies to cost-effectively meet the many challenges facing California’s water infrastructure.

PCL cites fisheries collapse, climate change and fiscal meltdown as key challenges for California’s water future moving forward, and created the 8 strategies to step back from CA’s contentious water politics and offer practical, actionable solutions that could be applied cost-effectively.

The eight “solutions” offered by the PCL are:

1-Use already approved bonds first. With $3 billion remaining in already approved voter bonds, these funds should be allocated to highest priority projects before considering any new borrowing.

2-Increase water supplies through safe recycling. PCL recommends that the Department of Health develop a broad set of criteria for safe water recycling.

3-Develop flow standards for the Delta and major rivers. Water diversion efforts and fisheries could be more successful side-by-side with greater amounts of scientific data on flow rates and how much water is needed to reliably retain health in the waterways.

4-Analyze a smaller Delta tunnel. Instead of a large-scale peripheral canal to meet the water needs to the south, PCL advocates a smaller, less costly tunnel diversion and a new series of  diversions from already existing Southern Delta facilities.

5-Require water-neutral development. Aggressive conservation standards and use of state of the art technologies in new development can help counteract the water needs of the expected 10 million growth in California over the next 20 years.

6-Convert unfarmable land to solar production. PCL advocates transforming failed and unfarmable agricultural lands on the West side of the San Joaquin Valley into large scale solar fields.

7-Protect California’s major water source. Protecting against degradation in the Sierra Nevada headwaters should be a top priority.

8-Consider a smaller water bond when the economy improves. Only if the economy rebounds in the next 2 years, should a new water bond be put to voters to improve drinking water safety and supply.

Download the full report from the Planning and Conservation League’s website here.

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Prop. 26 and the Environment

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The November 2 midterm elections are over and the returns are in.  And while Californians handily defeated Prop. 23, an attempt by non-California based oil companies to delay and effectively repeal California’s landmark climate legislation AB 32, another proposition with a group of oil, tobacco, alcohol and other business backers managed to fly under the radar.

Prop. 26 re-frames the practice of charging regulatory fees for certain harmful or polluting corporate and industrial activities as levying a “tax”, and will now require a 2/3 vote  for implementation of such “taxes” rather than the simple majority required to implement a fee.

Prop. 26 directly challenges the ability of the state legislature to hold polluters accountable and instead may create a climate of political gridlock as the high bar of a 2/3 majority can paralyze necessary actions toward the implementation of Prop. 23.

Prop. 26 is also a strong step away from the concept of “extended producer responsibility”  that has been gaining support across the country, and will likely result in a loss of revenue for the state.

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See Anna’s  post on Prop. 23 and Prop. 26 funders.

See my  post on Extended Producer Responsibility.

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Regional Bike Sharing in the Bay Area

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photo: a bike sharing system in the St. Etienne metro region wikimedia commons

Regional transit authorities have recently announced that they will go ahead with a new bike sharing program slated to start next year and  attributed as the first of-its-kind regional effort at a comprehensive bike sharing program in the nation.

The pilot program will put 1,000 new bikes on the road, and up to 100 kiosks around the Bay Area, with approximately half the amount being placed within the City of  San Francisco, and the other half being placed along the peninsula transportation corridor that includes Redwood City, Mountain View, Palo Alto and San Jose.

With transportation accounting for more than half of the air pollution in the Bay Area (SFMTA), the bike share project aims to reduce the number of vehicle miles traveled by encouraging people to increase bike travel for short trips in dense urban and downtown areas.

The Metropolitan Transit Commission (MTC) has approved an initial $4.29 million grant for the estimated $7 million project, that will be managed by the Bay Area Air Quality Management District (BAAQMD) and facilitated by a regional partnership between BAAQMD, SFMTA, SamTrans, Santa Clara Valley Transit Authority, San Mateo County and Redwood City. The participating jurisdictions and transit agencies will also contribute to the funding of the program.

When rolled out, the bike system will require users to buy a yearlong subscription and will utilize smart cards, GPS tracking and wireless technologies.

Read more:

San Francisco Bike Sharing Moves Ahead with Regional Plan and Funding: MTC grant to area partnership moves SFMTA plan forward, San Francisco Metropolitan Transit Authority(SFMTA) press release

Bike sharing project expected to begin next year, SF Chronicle

Bay Area maps out bike sharing effort, New York Times Green blog

Is the Grid Ready for Electric Cars?

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photo: the Nissan Leaf

There has been a lot of excitement surrounding electric vehicles as the first “mainstream” fully electric vehicles (EV) are hitting the road with the promise of many new models coming down the pipeline in the coming years. But are electric cars a truly “green” solution, or will we be simply replacing one problem (fossil fuel dependence) for another one (increased electricity demand, not necessarily met by “clean” energy technologies)? And, importantly, can the American energy grid sustain a powerful new surge in demand?

Casting around for answers, I have assembled a few of the arguments from both the “worry” and “don’t worry” camps.

Worry

- Grid stress could be felt on the local level if, for example, a single neighborhood has a high proportion of electric vehicles on one transformer and regular charging times are not sufficiently staggered or at off-peak hours.

- The only way to adequately manage supply-demand optimization is with smart grid technology that can communicate directly with vehicles and manage charging times. That widespread technology is still several to many years off.

- A 2007 Department of Energy Pacific Northwest National Lab (PNL) report found that even if smart grid technology were in place and charging regularly took place at off-peak hours, the nations energy infrastructure as it exists now could only accommodate a maximum 15% of vehicles being EVs.

Don’t Worry

- The average age of cars on the road is nine years and going up.  Thus, it is unlikely that electric cars will hit the road en masse, but rather slowly integrate into the car stock, giving utilities time to prepare for increased demand.

-Incentives provided by utility companies can be enough encouragement to persuade most drivers to charge at off-peak hours in the years before smart grid technologies are widespread. Time-of-use plans can have substantially lower rates at off-peak hours.

- Experiments with “Vehicle to Grid” (V2G) technologies (in which Eletric Vehicles actually can store excess energy when demand is low and feed it back to the grid at peak hours) are already underway around the world, and could play a key role  in the grid of the future. See Journalist Dave Levithan’s article on the subject here.

- The U.S. Government has pledged $2 billion in grants for the manufacture of EV car batteries as well as a $400 million “downpayment” to jumpstart EV infrastructure.

Read more articles on electric cars and grid capacity here:

PHEVs: Will the Grid be Ready?, Matter Network

Can US Power Grid Handle Surge of Electric Cars?, Aol News

8 Myths About the Electric Car, Alt Transport

Is the Power Grid Ready for Electric Cars?, MSNBC Answer Desk

Ford Studying Ways to Charge Electric Vehicles, New York Times

L.A.’s Electric Vehicle/ Mass Transit Experiment

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photo: Wikimedia Commons

The County Metropolitan Transit Authority (Metro) of  the City of Los Angeles is partnering with EV Connect to bring a large scale roll out of electric vehicle charging stations at strategic locations throughout the city’s transit network.

The pilot program will assess the viability and appeal of integrating electric vehicle charging into a mass transit network. Patrons will be able to leave an electric vehicle at a charging station, and then continue their commute on transit. The partnership will monitor and study the program to create benchmarks for a potential “charge and ride” transportation industry.

The pilot will help Metro move toward its sustainability goals for regional transit. See other environmental initiatives of Metro here.

Read a full story from the Kansas Star on the new program here.

33% of California Energy Renewable by 2020

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photo credit: Wikimedia Commons

Last month the California Air Resources Board (CARB) announced new standards to increase renewable energy sources into the California energy mix. CARB has unanimously passed a new standard for the state- to increase renewable source energy in California to 33% of energy usage by 2020.

CARB’s press release states that, “The standard will promote green jobs to construct and run renewable facilities in California, reduce hundreds of tons of harmful air pollution, insulate California’s economy from the shock of volatile natural gas prices and help establish the state as a global leader in the research, development and manufacturing of clean, renewable energy sources.”

The new standard is also a significant push toward the fulfillment of the state’s landmark climate bill, AB 32,  coming at a time when AB 32 is under threat via proposition 23 in the November elections.

The new standard is a product of collaboration between CARB, the California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC), the California Energy Commission (CEC), and the California Independent System Operator (CA ISO).

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Gigaton Throwdown

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photo: Wikimedia Commons

While attending the two-day “Pathways to a Clean Energy Future” symposium put on by the Philomathia Foundation and U.C. Berkeley last week, I made a note to look up a recent initiative called the “Gigaton Throwdown” that was mentioned by Professor and Senior Energy and Climate Partnership of the Americas Fellow Dan Kammen, during his talk.

The Gigaton Throwdown Initiative is essentially a collaboration of a diverse group of academics and business/investment professionals, that spent 18 months looking at what it would take to bring nine clean energy technologies up to a gigaton threshold of power generation (one billion metric tons) by the year 2020. The nine technologies include biofuels, building efficiency, concentrated solar power, construction materials, geothermal, nuclear, plug-in hybrid cars, solar pv and wind. The technologies were selected for the capacity-building study because they already have a market presence and are able to attract investors.

The aim of this exercise, according to the Gigaton Throwdown website, is “to educate and inspire investors, entrepreneurs, business leaders, and policy makers to “think big” and understand what it would take to scale up clean energy massively over the next 10 years.” And really, in the face of the daunting challenges for the future of energy industries and policy, who can’t use the inspiration?

The GTI issued a report documenting the findings of their process. Key points center around the critical need for a cross-collaborative policy and investment framework to assist in the transition to a cleaner energy future.

Read the full report here.

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A few weeks ago, Dan Kammen, who leads the Renewable and Appropriate Energy Laboratory at UC Berkeley, was appointed by the World Bank to be its first Clean-Energy Czar. At the time, we pointed readers to a couple interviews, which you can read here.

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High Speed Rail

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News and perspectives from around the web on the status of high speed rail in California…

Daniel Curtin for the SF Examiner:

“Without a hint of irony, critics warn that moving forward with California’s high-speed rail project risks financial disaster for the state.  That train has left the station. There’s no need to predict disaster — we’re already living through one.”

Read the article here.

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From Business Review USA:

“Thinking Ahead: High-Speed Rail in Southern California is a new report released by the Center for Urban Infrastructure that discusses the benefits of a fast, convenient and efficient intercity high-speed rail system on southern California’s economy.”

Read the article here.

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Jonathan Weber for the NY Times:

“The Bay Area has a reputation as a place where it’s hard to get things done, but you’d never know it from all the recent progress on transformative megaprojects.”

Read the article here.

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For a counterpoint, try James Janz’s opinion piece for the San Jose Mercury News:

“When California voters approved Proposition 1A for development of a “safe, convenient, affordable, and reliable” high-speed rail system, I am certain they expected it to be a boon to the state because it would be done right…the High-Speed Rail Authority has done little right and much that is wrong.”

Read the article here.

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San Francisco Finds Parking…On the Web

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photo: Cawi2001

These are the days of traffic snarls, extended rush hours, bridge toll increases and scarce parking in many areas of the city.

However, there are some San Franciscans besides cyclists and public transit boosters taking matters into their own hands. I am talking about parking space brokers.

Its no surprise that established garages should have an online presence; many people opt to park in such lots everyday to go to work, so it’s nearly a given that such lots will allow reservations and payments via the web. But you can also arrange a ready space in a random private driveway, church parking lot or off-hour establishment.

Gottapark has been around for several years, bringing  the “haves” of parking together with the “have-nots”. Anyone will a parking space to rent, or a parking hopeful looking for a spot can log on and make a match.

Then there is ParkingCarma, a similar service that ups the ante by providing “real-time” monitoring for parking sites with high-tech gadgets. The company states in its online profile: “ParkingCarma is pioneering new ground by using technology to improve quality of life and the environment, while solving one of today’s largest metropolitan issues: Parking. SmartParking is the application of information technology to improve parking, thereby mitigating the environmental impact of vehicles.”

Um, okay.  I’ll go along with quality of life thing, but I doubt if lack of parking is the biggest environmental impact of vehicles.

But on further examination of the ParkingCarma site, they do make some persuasive points. Namely, pre-arranged parking could help ease traffic congestion and prevent people from driving around and around aimlessly looking for a spot- which would of course help to curtail greenhouse gas emissions. This model also is predicated upon the activation of under-utilized space, potentially preventing the need for (as many) new parking structures.

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