Hopefully we haven’t leapfrogged from winter into summer, and we’ll get to enjoy spring weather for a while. Spring always brings with it a burst of life energy as dormant trees begin to leaf out, the hills and fields are covered with an intensely beautiful green carpet of grass, and flowers explode in color out of the ground. The chill of winter is replaced by what are really only warm days but which feel hot as we adjust from the winter cold.

Spring also seems to me to bring with it tangible physical changes in both mind and body: elevation of mood, quickened step and brightness of mind. Hope, positivism, and optimism seem easier to come by as the sun rises earlier and daylight fills more hours of the day.

Without going into too much detail on any of them, here are a few tidings of spring that seem an awful lot like good news.

First, right here in our backyard: the Sacramento International Airport has installed a nearly 8-megawatt solar farm consisting of more than 23,000 solar panels that track the sun during the day to keep the panels constantly in the best orientation to efficiently gather sunlight, like sunflowers always turning their face to the sun.

The panels will save nearly $1 million annually and will offset one-third of the airport’s electricity demand on most days, and up to 100 percent on some days. Parenthetically, I was reading in Don Shor’s gardening column in last Friday’s Enterprise that “Sacramento is the sunniest city on Earth from June through September. With the complete absence of cloudy weather here in summer and fall, we have one of the longest growing seasons anywhere.” This means we also have one of the longest periods for gathering the sun’s rays to produce electricity.

And, to the point of the climate crisis, the panels will offset greenhouse gas emissions equivalent to taking 62,000 cars off the road. The Sacramento airport is just one example of the transition to renewables that is accelerating in California. The California Independent System Operator monitors electricity use and balances supply with demand so that if it’s cloudy in Los Angeles and sunny in Sacramento, they can move electrons accordingly.

So much new energy generation is coming from solar and wind that CAISO is working to figure out how best to manage these “intermittent” sources of clean energy, including through battery storage and expansion of the western Energy Imbalance Market. The EIM is a system involving electricity customers in 8 western states, with as many as 6 more joining in 2020.

At any rate, Sunday, March 4 at 12:58 pm was a big day for renewables in California meeting a record 50 percent (actually, 49.95 percent) of demand for electricity. And then, on March 5, CAISO also reported a record 10,411 megawatts from renewables, up from the prior record of 9,913.

Of course, there are also some clouds in the bright blue sky in spring, and in this case it is that so much electricity is being produced from renewable sources that the California Public Utilities Commission has proposed a pause, what a recent article on the subject describes as “virtually no additional renewables in 2018” for utility portfolios. This does not apply to homeowners putting solar on their rooftops, but instead to large-scale solar farms.

The CPUC says it needs time to figure out how to reconfigure the grid to handle all this renewable energy. This same article quotes Jan Smutney-Jones, the Chief Executive Officer of the Independent Energy Producers commenting that, “It’s really disappointing. They’re basically saying ‘There’s too much going on; we don’t know what to do, so we‘re not going to do anything for a while.’ For me, it’s a little hard to sit in a meeting and talk about 100 percent renewables when our chief regulator isn’t moving the ball.”

Speaking of 100-percent renewables, there’s also movement in the transportation energy sector. There’s a bill in the California legislature — AB 1745 — that according to the Legislative Counsel’s Digest, would, “commencing January 1, 2040, prohibit the department (DMV) from accepting an application for original registration of a motor vehicle unless the vehicle is a zero emissions vehicle, as defined.”

The bill’s definition is, “For purposes of this section, zero emissions vehicle means a vehicle that produces zero exhaust emissions of any criteria pollutant or precursor pollutant, or greenhouse gas, excluding emissions from air conditioning systems, under any possible operating modes or conditions.” Basically all newly registered cars would have to be either electric or hydrogen powered. Wow.

This is not an idea that can be dismissed as some form of California eccentricity. It’s an approach to the climate crisis that is gaining traction the world over. The basic idea is that rather than wait for the marketplace to create demand, we should create demand by defining the marketplace. So, countries are doing what AB 1745 would do: Norway by 2025; Germany and India by 2030; France and England by 2040. And, although China hasn’t committed to a target date, they are also moving in this direction.

— John Mott-Smith is a Davis resident with a sunny, spring disposition. This column appears the first and third Wednesday of each month. Please send comments to johnmottsmith@comcast.net.

Crossposted from the Davis Enterprise

 Published online April 3, 2018
Printed April 4, 2018 edition page B5