Wednesday, December 23, 2009

California and China -1

Not too many people know that Oakland, a port city, is a sister city with Dalian, China's 3rd largest port.
[Dalian (near Korea) is located quite close to where Japan destroyed the Russian fleet in 1905 at what was called Port Arthur, the northern most ice-free, strategically important port in what was then Manchuria. Today, Dalian is home to 4-5 MM people, the site of major new Intel fab plant, plus a major software park with tenants like IBM, HP, British Telecom, Citibank and with ambitious plans to compete with Bangalore. ]

Likewise, not too many people know that California and Jiangsu Province, 1 hour west of Shanghai, are also sisters.
[Nanjing, site of mass killings during WWII and once China's capital, is Jiangsu's capital and Suzhou is known for silk products, canals, and gardens. "Heaven is above, but on earth there is Suzhou and Hangzhou," another nearby city.] Suzhou is now known more for booming Singapore-Suzhou industrial park, home to companies like Delphi, AMD, cosmetics and, unfortunately, polluted canals. More on Jiangsu.

I know a bit about Suzhou because when I had just arrived in China, a complete greenhorn, a new Chinese friend took me on a bicycle trip - past the unversity, past the endless crowds, road building, dust and construction cranes, past the relatively tranquil, orderly industrial park and finally to a lake on the city's edge. To her, this was a nature break from a hot, noisy, teaming city to a place where you could see the (polluted) sky. To me, it reminicent of teenage bicycle rides to the New Jersey meadowlands, on 'oasis' of tall weeds, with unfettered polluted swamps, surrounded industrial New Jersey but yes, you could also see "sky."

At the very edge of Suzhou, by a lake, on a bicycle, in 2003, I began to count the high voltage lines converging, from every direction. "Power - a lot of power," it looked like industrial New Jersey.

Just a few months later in southeastern China, I talked to a Hong Kong businessman whose mainland factory had closed for the day. "There is no electricity." In 2003, like a thin hyper-active teenager, China could not seem to get enough power.

China - always a paradox to westerners - is a country in vast transition, a place where you can see "all the continents - the best of North America and Europe in parts of Shanghai; and the poverty of Africa in the countryside". China is filled with energy efficiency ( no kitchen ovens, wearing coats in-door, bicycles, "sun-dried" clothing, ubiquitous elevator-free 7 story residential buildings, almost no "to go" food, hot water "only on demand" systems) and energy inefficiency (buses belching clouds of black smoke, cold or unheated libraries and classrooms where students insist on an open window for "fresh air", insulation so poor that "To heat up your room in Shanghai, you first need to heat up all of Shanghai" and new portable electric heaters, crumpling State Owned Enterprises in need of captial, technology and new ideas, kept alive solely to prevent thousands from becoming unemployed.)

The "new China" began in 1949. What we see now is the "new, new China"; one which changes daily and a generation is 5 years. A place where for decades but 1 bridge spanned a river, now adjacent to one or even two new ones simultaneously under construction.

"We don't have time to plan everything. We have to build a new building as fast as we can; and then we must build another one - right away. We are behind and we need to catchup, " one Government official told me.

Just as California has led the way in US efficiency, with policies to keep electricity use per capita flat or to reduce automobile pollution, so too California has lead the way in engaging China.

In following posts, I will attempt to outline some of groups working with China and write about California's October 2009 agreement with Jiangsu Province, an important "sub-national" agreement. Universities or NGOs like the China Energy Group at Lawrence Berkeley Lab (LBL) or NGO Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) have been in China for years and done extraordinary work below the 'radar screen.'

I also want to follow developments at the national level: China-US Energy Clean Energy Council (CERC), announced during President Obama's Beijing visit in November, 2009. And along the way, I want to try to answer the question, "Why help China with energy and energy-efficiency?", which I believe is very important that Americans consider.

Friday, December 18, 2009

CaliforniaFirst - Financing Efficiency/Solar

The Santa Cruz Sentinel published an article this past week about Santa Cruz County's plan to join a financing district. Here is my letter to the reporter, Kurtis Alexander.

Hi Kurtis:
cc: Allison Endert, Board of Supervisors

From what I know about municipal financed district for solar/energy efficiency is a good idea. Certainly has worked elsewhere.

Still, I have questions that neither the Board of Supervisors nor Commission on the Environment would answer.

I posted these questions on Sentinel website ( and below.

But (3) is a topic I have many concerns about, as you probably know. I'm afraid it's often a bit beyond my ability to discern which hat an individual is wearing at given moment. 45.1 51
[Full disclosure: I have sent the District Attorney two complaints re: COE about Brown Act, Conflicts-of-Interest].

I hope you'll report on the the contract for managing the energy efficiency/solar program and then monitor compliance. As I think we all agree, it is very important for the public to have all the information it needs to make decisions. Likewise, public and private interests must never be confused.

FYI, as you may know, the County spent 19 months with funding to do a mobile GHG emissions study and, from what people have told me, did "nothing." Ecology Action is on that contract. I have asked the County how many other contracts are "languishing." This is another area I hope you will consider writing about.

I have gotten no answer from the Board of Supervisors.

All in favor of more solar, efficiency cost savings etc. but I hope to clarify some things in my mind:

(1) Market need?
Given the dropping solar panel prices, loans now on the market, the PG&E savings now, etc., how many ADDITIONAL homeowners be motivated to act? Has anyone estimated the EXTRA energy/electricity and CO2 reduction this program will achieve vs. with out it? (If so, I haven't seen.) Because I want to compare that to the cost to taxpayers.(i.e. cost/benefit)

(2) Efficiency 1st?
Before installing new hardware, how does this program ensure that homeowners do PG&E audits, "cool roofs", insulation, think efficiency - preferably, right now?

(3) Program Mgmt
Again, all in favor of jobs. But we also want to stimulate a new industry (renewables) and sustainable real job growth - not just rely on Government handouts.

I am curious about the final statement.
"Santa Cruz County-based Ecology Action is leading the statewide push for the money. Executive Director Virginia Johnson says the proposal is compelling and the chances are good."

Is private Ecology Action just being a good citizen cheerleader or have an undisclosed financial interest we should know about?

By the way, I did ask County's Commission on the Environment these questions, but never got an answer.

Friday, December 11, 2009

'Plan B' - California Preparing to Adapt?

In early December, pre-Copenhagen, the San Francisco Chronicle ran a lead story about California's efforts to plan for - not mitigate - the results of climate change.

Following a recommendation of the new report "California Climate Change Adaption Strategy - 2009" , the Governor in December created a new 23-person State's Climate Change Advisory Panel (CCAP) to make specific suggestions and recommendations in 6 months, by July 2010, especially to prepare for:

  1. Increased wildfires and extended fire seasons.
  2. Rising sea levels along 1,100 miles of coastline.
  3. Reduced availability of water with reduced snow pack in the Sierras and extended periods of drought.

To visualize climate risks in the State, Google is preparing "Cal-Adapt" (prototype for Windows or Mac only)

Downtown Santa Cruz, built on a flood plain, was singled out as an area of risk in the released report (page 68)

"For example, the City of Santa Cruz has a levee system that protects some low-lying parts of the city against a 100-year flood. With a sea-level rise of approximately one foot, the anticipated 100-year flood event in Santa Cruz is expected to occur every 10 years, increasing the likelihood of storm-related inundation."
"... By 2050, sea level rise, relative to the 2000 level, ranges from 30 cm to 45 cm. As sea level rises, there will be an increased rate of extreme high sea level events (Figure 19 and Table 7), which occur during high tides, often when accompanied by winter storms and sometimes exacerbated by El NiƱo occurrences (Cayan et al. 2008c). Importantly, as decades proceed, these simulations also contain an increasing tendency for heightened sea level events to persist for more hours, which would seem to imply a greater threat of coastal erosion and other damage. Virtually all of the increase in frequency and magnitude of sea level exceedances can be ascribed to the underlying secular increase in mean sea level.... "]

Also a blog report here from Legal Planet (UC Berkeley and UCLA - Law Schools)

Useful Reading:
FAQ (from past summer) - best thing to read - note: SFO underwater
A number of very useful, interactive maps (Pacific Institute)
And a Pacific Institute Report on Sea level rise. Full Report

SC 100 year flood: (Pacific Institute)

What we can do - events this weekend

What we can do...

A few environmental events this weekend:

  1. "Flow" Coastal-Watershed Council - Free Environmental Film Series -- 6:30 PM Friday Dec. 11 in the Santa Cruz Harbor Community Meeting Room, 365 Lake Ave. (harbor side)

  2. Candle Light Vigil - Sat Dec 12 - 4 pm - Clock Tower

  3. Sounds of 350 - Sun Dec 13 - Interlight Service (Soquel)