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A plan to reduce emissions in San Diego that does not include solutions that reduce pollution from cars and other forms of transportation is incomplete.
Why? Because emissions from our transportation choices in San Diego County are twice as large as the next source, electricity, and account for more than 50 percent of all emissions. It’s the largest part of the pollution pie, and therefore needs to be addressed with the most urgency. But that’s not what’s happening.
While a bill in the state Legislature would adopt policy moving all of California to a zero carbon electricity market by 2045, far less attention is being paid to the enormous emission-reduction opportunities that exist in the transportation sector.
Many civic and climate leaders are focused on the electricity supply as the big target, with some calling on local governments, including the city of San Diego, to procure electricity instead of San Diego Gas & Electric. This structure, known as community choice aggregation, or CCA (which is another name for government-purchased electricity), would simply change who buys the electricity, not the delivery of the energy. It also does not guarantee any new reductions in greenhouse gas emissions.
CCA providers in California have bought the vast majority of the renewable energy they sell from renewable resources that already exist, and are already generating renewable electricity. While this practice may allow a government-controlled energy provider to say it is selling “renewable” electricity, it does not make any material difference in the amount of renewable electricity being generated, and for this reason, does not result in any new or meaningful emission reductions.
Everyone in the electricity space, including SDG&E, the state of California, the California Public Utilities Commission and CCAs, have expressed a desire to decarbonize the grid, ultimately getting to a 100 percent zero-carbon energy future.
So what plan or entity would get us there first? Funny thing about predicting the future: it’s incredibly difficult.
Currently, SDG&E has reached 43 percent renewable electricity, up from just 11 percent in 2010. This has San Diego leading the nation in renewable electricity procurement and generation. Clearly, the electricity industry is making great strides in reducing emissions.
Do we want to replace a system leading the nation to a greener future to a system with inexperienced politicians and government bureaucracies procuring electricity?
Introducing local politics, which often breaks along party lines, to our electricity system should worry every energy customer.
It’s also important to point out that electricity is not the emissions problem. Electricity is the emissions answer.
Shifting to electricity for most forms of transportation, combined with land-use practices that reduce the amount of vehicle miles traveled, would directly address our largest emissions problem.
For every megawatt hour of renewable electricity used to power cars, trucks and other forms of transportation, we reduce our greenhouse gas emissions by 2,800 pounds compared with gasoline- or diesel-powered vehicles. For every megawatt hour of renewable electricity used to power our buildings, we reduce our greenhouse gas emissions by 550 pounds compared with our current grid mix, which includes 43 percent of renewables from SDG&E.
The goal is to power electric vehicles with solar energy, and San Diego is leading the way.
More than 115,000 San Diegans now have a solar photovoltaic system on their roof. Think of each one as a gas station on the roof of a home to power the cars in the garage. Twenty-seven thousand electric vehicles are registered in San Diego, and that number is expected to climb quickly as electric vehicles increase their range from 80 miles to 200- to 300-mile ranges per charge.
The future of transportation is rapidly changing. In San Diego, we need to take a regional and comprehensive approach to reducing emissions with a focus on transportation, our leading source of emissions.
Peder Norby is a consultant whose clients include Sempra Services. He previously served as a San Diego County planning commissioner. He and his wife own an award-winning beyond net zero energy home in Carlsbad, with the home and their two cars powered by solar power. Norby’s commentary has been edited for style and clarity. See anything in there we should fact check? Tell us what to check out here.