Town Square

Editorial: City proudly leads on 'carbon neutral'

Original post made on Feb 6, 2013

As President Obama promised to take on the threat of climate change in his inaugural speech last week, Palo Alto residents can take comfort that their city has been focused on the effort to reduce greenhouse gases for quite a few years.

Read the full story here Web Link posted Friday, February 1, 2013, 2:37 PM


Posted by Cedric de La Beaujardiere, a resident of Barron Park
on Feb 6, 2013 at 7:54 pm

Cedric de La Beaujardiere is a registered user.

It is great to learn that the City is not only pursuing carbon neutrality, but attaining that goal. Climate change presents the largest threat to global ecology and human civilization and economy which this planet has ever faced. Yet global and national governments are immobilized by gridlock and irrationality, and have so far failed to take meaningful steps to address this crisis. It leaves it up to state and local governments to take what action they can and lead the way for others to do the same.

If I recall correctly (IIRC), the sewage incinerator is the single largest consumer of natural gas and the single largest source of carbon emissions in the city. Fortunately, Council has directed public works to retire the incinerate as soon as possible (and not necessarily wait for its end of life, i.e. systemic equipment failures). When this happens, it is likely to be replaced with equipment that generates energy from our waste rather then only consumes energy, either wet anaerobic digestion (the most common type of sewage treatment in California) or possibly gasification. It is possible that this change could move the city to negative carbon, possibly even carbon sequestration through the production of biochar (Web Link).

On the national level, the next step is to urge President Obama to kill the keystone pipeline project, and prevent super dirty tar sands from being extracted. Tar sands extraction is a process which emits an enormous amount of CO2, while at the same time would destroy huge tracks of virgin Boreal forests which currently sequester carbon (Web Link). There is a rally to send Obama this message, on Sunday 2/17 from 1-3 pm at One Market Plaza, 1 Market St, San Francisco: Web Link

Posted by Craig Laughton, a resident of College Terrace
on Feb 7, 2013 at 8:19 am

Over 60% of Palo Alto's electricity supply is from large hydroelectric sources. Apparently, PA went out of its way to lock up contracts for hydro, thus preventing other cities from using this resource, which is finite and not increasing. There will be no more large dams built on our rivers.

By locking up the hydro resoure for PA, other cities are forced to buy power from coal plants, natural gas plants, etc. It is not fair to ask them to match our carbon neutrality, if they are not allowed to use our hydro resource.

Web Link

Posted by Cedric de La Beaujardiere, a resident of Barron Park
on Feb 7, 2013 at 8:56 am

Cedric de La Beaujardiere is a registered user.

If Palo Alto has picked the last of the low hanging fruit of hydroelectric carbon free power, then it may make it more difficult for other utilities to grasp that easy carbon neutrality source. However, hydro is a limited resource, and the difficulty of bringing online future hydro is not Palo Alto's fault, but due to the damage it causes to aquatic life, including endangering salmon. Further, most municipalities do not own their own utilities and can't directly control PG&E, so they would need to seek carbon neutrality in the domains they can control.

Posted by Craig Laughton, a resident of College Terrace
on Feb 7, 2013 at 12:39 pm


As a thought exercise, suppose Palo Alto would be willing to sell its hydro rights (low hanging fruit, as you say) to say, nine (9) other California cities, then its slice of the hydro pie becomes about 6%, instead of 60%. Further assume that this is done in the next year. How will we make up the difference? Coal, nuclear, natural gas? Would we be seeing self-congratulatory editorials, then?

OK, forget the thought exercise...we are already doing just that. We simply push the dirty power sources onto other cities, because we have locked up the clean source (hydro...of course our use of hydro destroys fish populations and wild rivers). Of the various alternative sources, at large scale, only nuclear is carbon free.

Covering up our deserts with solar panels, and industrializing our wild ridges with wind turbines suggest that carbon-free power production is not, indeed, free.

I don't think we deserve bragging rights.

Posted by Unbeliever, a resident of Crescent Park
on Feb 7, 2013 at 1:52 pm

It is hard to believe that with all the traffic that comes thru this town, that we are leading as a carbon-neutral city. The trains going through don't help the pollution, either. Someone is being self-congratulatory too soon.

Posted by Cedric de La Beaujardiere, a resident of Barron Park
on Feb 7, 2013 at 3:15 pm

Cedric de La Beaujardiere is a registered user.

Far be it from me to dispute the need to clean up our power generation system as a whole. In fact, I am currently providing some computer assistance to the CLEAN Coalition in support of their Distributed Generation + Intelligent Grid (DG+IG) Initiative to "...prove that local renewables connected to the distribution grid can provide at least 25% of the total electric energy consumed within the distribution grid, while maintaining or improving grid reliability." (Web Link) If 25% of the annual power is provided by solar, it can mean that some summer days 100% of the power is from solar. And solar doesn't have to be in remote pristine lands, it can be on our roofs and parking lots. A small portion of my roof has solar and we generate more power than we consume in a year. Some wind turbines have been designed to handle the shifting winds of cities and not kill birds.

I have also worked on the energy efficiency side of things, helping SolarCity do accurate energy evaluations and predictions of which upgrades would save you the most energy for the least cost (Web Link). As we see from the article, it is not just electricity that needs to be addressed but other energy use and green building codes and transportation, all things that any city can have a hand in to reduce our overall emissions.

Palo Alto is taking a necessary step in the right direction, and other jurisdictions must do what they can too.

Posted by Anonymous, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Feb 7, 2013 at 4:26 pm

It's not April Fools yet. Publish this again then.

Posted by Craig Laughton, a resident of College Terrace
on Feb 7, 2013 at 4:37 pm


I can agree with you on the low hanging fruits of efficiencies. It is a good idea, no matter the source of power, however it depends on the final economic costs.

>Far be it from me to dispute the need to clean up our power generation system as a whole....

Actually, Cedric, it IS up to you to see the big picture. Otherwise, you might decide to support an absurdity like an anaerobic digestion plant in our parklands.

Just to make it transparent: Palo Alto is NOT carbon neutral, it just displaces the carbon metric to other cities. PA has attempted to puuchase its way to carbon neutrality. It doesn't pencil, at any rational level.

Time to get to a rational approach for the City of Palo Alto. At this point, we are just being greedy, and pretending to be carbon neutral. Nothing surprising about this, because it makes some PA officials and supporters feel good, but it is vapid.

When will there be a realistic discussion about PA power production?

Posted by Cedric de La Beaujardiere, a resident of Barron Park
on Feb 7, 2013 at 6:44 pm

Cedric de La Beaujardiere is a registered user.

When I wrote, "Far be it from me to dispute the need to clean up our power generation system as a whole," I meant that I do not contradict this need, I do support it.

My understanding is that some of our actual emissions are zeroed out by purchasing emissions offsets, like paying to plant trees somewhere to absorb that carbon. One could argue that it would be better to not emit in the first place, and I would agree. None the less, forests are being destroyed at an unsustainable level, and in addition to the damage this does to local ecosystems, it also impairs our planet's ability to sequester CO2. Thus, paying to plant trees on a large scale in a responsible manner does help to reduce carbon in the atmosphere.

Posted by Cedric de La Beaujardiere, a resident of Barron Park
on Feb 7, 2013 at 6:51 pm

Cedric de La Beaujardiere is a registered user.

You can watch a video of the first satellite observations of global plants breathing and emitting CO2 and O2 in cycles, with anthropogenic (man-made) emissions of CO2 taken out to see just the natural cycle: Web Link There's a little explanation at the start and the breathing part starts a minute in.

Posted by Craig Laughton, a resident of College Terrace
on Feb 7, 2013 at 8:14 pm


Is Palo Alto carbon neutral, or not? Or is it just a fantasy?

I think it is just a fantasy.

There are many climate change arguments in the ether, but that is beside the point. The point of this thread is that Palo Alto has achieved carbon neutrality, but it has not. PA should not be claiming credit for what it has not achieved. Buying hydro power is NOT the same as achieving carbon neutrality. It is just displacement metrics.

Cedric, I think you need to address the issue in this thread. Palo Alto should not be allowed to claim credit for carbon neutrality, when it has not achieved bought it. This fact forced other cities to buy power from coal and natural gas and nuclear. Do you disagree?

Posted by Sharon, a resident of Midtown
on Feb 7, 2013 at 9:37 pm

This whole project is a scam and a waste of taxpayer money.

Al Gore championed carbon trading-and a lot of people got on the scam as a way of making money.

Al Gore just sold his media company to Qatar- one of the leading oil states-carbon producers-in the world.

Gross hypocrisy-but Gore made $100 million out of the deal while he flies around the world in his private jet

Gore uses 14 times the average home energy in just one of his homes

A major scam-and Gore is laughing all the way to the bank

Enough is enough

Posted by Cedric de La Beaujardiere, a resident of Barron Park
on Feb 8, 2013 at 1:11 am

Cedric de La Beaujardiere is a registered user.

I disagree.
1. paying for carbon sequestration can be a legitimate means of neutralizing carbon emissions, as I stated above.
2. "Most of the water-generated energy comes from the Calaveras Hydroelectric project, which the city has co-owned with other municipal utilities since the early 1980s, and the federal Western Area Powers Agency." (Web Link) Palo Alto has had a stake in this project for 30 years, so I think it has the right to claim that hydro power's carbon credits.
3. As I stated before, Palo Alto has no control over allowing or disallowing future hydro to be built. It is a finite resource. If Palo Alto didn't claim that hydro's carbon credit, someone else would, and everyone else is still left with the question of from where to get their power. But dirty power is not the only option. Take San Francisco for example: they don't own their own utility, yet they have none-the-less been seeking to add significant local solar generation.
4. Your focus on electricity ignores the many other steps the city has taken to reduce emissions from its own operations and from residents and businesses within its jurisdiction.
5. The meta point is that all parties, from individuals to global governments and corporations, need to make significant effort to reduce or absorb carbon emissions, and Palo Alto is on the right track.
Can more be done? Certainly, and my original post mentioned the likely switch from burning energy to making energy in handling Palo Alto's sewage, whether through Wet AD or gasification, it will be an important step.

Posted by Craig Laughton, a resident of College Terrace
on Feb 8, 2013 at 10:30 am

The state does not recognize large hydro as a renewable resourcce. Web Link Perhaps this is becasue large dams destory the environment, including flooded lands and fish and wildlfie depredation. This means that over 60% of Palo Alto's electrical energy comes from non-renewable sources. Yes, it is carbon-free, but it is not environmentally friendly. Certainly, it is nothing to be bragging about.

Solar and wind are also damaging to the environment.

Posted by Craig Laughton, a resident of College Terrace
on Feb 8, 2013 at 4:27 pm

I should also add that passive solar design does work. I suppose that it could be put into the category of efficiency. It is a very old concept (e.g. Anasassi aboriginal peoples...Mesa Verde), but it works. Bascially, a buffer between hot and cold daytime/nightime temps. South facing windows, with proper heat sinks and sun angles. I (along with some good friends) built a garage/woodshop in my backyard, some decades ago, with passive solar concepts. It works! Saves a bunch of energy for heating and cooling.

Posted by Cedric de La Beaujardiere, a resident of Barron Park
on Feb 8, 2013 at 4:27 pm

Cedric de La Beaujardiere is a registered user.

I agree that hydro can be damaging to the environment, as I stated above, which is why it may not be possible to build any more hydro. Ideally dams on salmon runs will be decommissioned, or salmon will be provided with effective means of circumventing them, and downstream water flows will be regulated to maintain healthy riparian ecologies. It seems we agree on this. If decommissioned, either power consumption must go down, or we'll need to replace them with carbon free power.

Large scale solar in remote deserts is not ecologically sound, at best it is a tradeoff between climate change and habitat, and does nothing to address losses of power through long-distance transmission (though there are alternative forms of transmission with lower loss). Solar is best done as close as possible to the point of power use, and the energy used to manufacture PV is fairly quickly payed off by the power it generates. There are chemicals and resources used in their manufacture, just as there are in the manufacture of computers, which we are both using to debate these details. At least PV has a much longer usable lifespan than all our electronic gadgets.

(When I buy computer parts, I look for the label ROHS, for Reduction of Hazardous Substances, and other designations of low/no toxicity and high energy efficiency. The EPA has an EPEAT database of greener technology products: Web Link, and there are other resources calling out good and bad companies and products.)

Wind power that is not well placed or well designed can harm bird populations, so care must be taken of bird migration routes and habitat areas. Additionally, I believe there now exist bird-friendly turbine designs, and turbines that perform well in urban environments where the direction of the wind is often shifting. These were designed through bio-mimicry: looking at how plants and animals are designed and how fluids flow to design more efficient products. Like solar, ideally wind power would be close to the point of use.

Wave and tidal power generation is showing promise as well. And we should produce power from our organic wastes, rather than letting it release methane in landfills.

I hesitate to support nuclear, because of the nuclear waste issue. Though there is someone in Palo Alto who is a big fan of a form of nuclear (maybe Thorium: Web Link) from which, if I recall correctly (IIRC), the output is less radioactive, with a much shorter decay lifespan, and can not be used to produce weapons. IIRC, it can also use as fuel the spent products of conventional nuclear, and consume war heads. If this is all accurate, this may be a good avenue to pursue.

I think we may finally agree on all or most of the above.

Posted by Cedric de La Beaujardiere, a resident of Barron Park
on Feb 8, 2013 at 4:36 pm

Cedric de La Beaujardiere is a registered user.

Thanks for mentioning that, I am a fan of passive solar as well, and agree that appropriate heat sinks are necessary. The seventies saw a profusion of passive solar with expansive south-facing solar windows, and insufficient heat sinks, so the results were houses that got too hot, and also probably lost their heat at night through the windows. I have some good books on the subject but have never had the opportunity to put them to practical use. The best I do now is open my blinds on winter mornings to let in the hot sun, and close them at night. In the summer we open all the windows to cool the house, and shut them in the morning to keep in the cool. We also now have a highly reflective and emissive white roof, so our house stays cooler in the summer (and presumably in the winter as well, though the differential is lower). We've insulated all the walls and parts of the floor, and installed double pane windows, all of which have helped.

Posted by Craig Laughton, a resident of College Terrace
on Feb 9, 2013 at 2:30 pm

An additional benefit of a massive solar heat sink, if it is low to the ground (e.g. massive slab floor), is that it provides protection against earthquakes. The 1989 Loma Prieta quake rattled my home a lot, with many things dumped to the floor, however in my passive solar designed workshop (with 22" thick reinforced concrete pad), not a single thing moved. and there was not a single crack in the walls.

Passive solar design, with proper heat sinks, deserves another look. It is so simple, and it works.

Posted by Chris Zaharias, a resident of Crescent Park
on Feb 10, 2013 at 7:11 am

This Palo Altan thinks AGW is unproven and more a political/social movement than anything else. If environmentally conscious people were honest with themselves, they'd have to admit that tax breaks & other govt subsidies that prematurely increase Western economy's use of renewables only serves to artificially depress the price of dirty non-renewables and thus increase their use in developing countries who burn fossil fuels much more inefficiently than we do. Well-intentioned environmental engineering leads to a bad outcome.

As much as I really, really don't like the spite I get directed towards myself for saying anthropogenic climate change (ACC) is bogus, it is, and there will hopefully be more and more Palo Altans who tell their city govt that carbon neutrality is no more worthy a goal than pixel dust neutrality, other than to the extent it makes us feel all warm & cozy on the inside.

Much more pressing goals exist:
1. Increase volume & affordability of $750K-$1.5M single-family homes.
2. Attract & retain more startups throughout their lifecycles. Too many great startups leave PA before their high-growth phases.
3. Increase teacher pay.

A few points on AGW/ACC that bear restateing:

1. Natural long-term temperature cycles pre-date man, including 100-year and 1000-year cycles. For example, 800 years ago -- many centuries before humans began to burn fossil fuels in significant quantities -- the Earth's atmosphere was considerably warmer than the highest average global temperature of the past two decades, whereas in between then and now there were periods when temperatures were much lower than they are today. The fact is that global warming periodically occurs, as does global cooling. Polar bears have obviously been able to adapt to these temperature cycles.

2. There are shorter-term temperature cycles roughly one decade in length that appear to be influenced to the greatest extent by sunspot activity. The sizable decline in the average global temperature over the past two years, for example, has coincided with a large decline in sunspot activity (a large rise in the number of "spotless" days).

3. The sunspot-related temperature decline of 2007-08 has been "inconvenient" for the Global Warming Alarmists because it has resulted in the polar ice caps expanding to their average level of the past 30 years and the global temperature dropping back to 1980s levels, despite the greater amount of CO2 now in the atmosphere. But as discussed in item 5 below, the Alarmists have an ace up their collective sleeve.

4. Some time ago it was discovered that there has been a positive correlation over the millennia between temperature and the level of CO2 in the atmosphere. Al Gore used this correlation to dramatic effect in his much-heralded promotion of the Global Warming cause, but additional data collected since then shows that the CO2 level FOLLOWS the temperature change, not the other way round. In other words, the empirical data suggest that if there is a long-term cause-effect relationship between CO2 and temperature it works the opposite way to the way in which Gore and Co. claimed.

5. There is evidence that the world has embarked on a cooling cycle, but not to worry: the term "Global Warming" over the last several years has been replaced by the more general term "Climate Change". Altering the terminology in this way is smart because the Earth's climate has been changing since the beginning of time and will continue to do so REGARDLESS of what mankind does or doesn't do. In other words, the climate alarmists are ensuring that they will have justification for imposing their collective will no matter what.

6. Some scientists extrapolated the most recent upward trend in temperature to yield cataclysmic forecasts. This was akin to someone in the Northern Hemisphere noticing, in August, that the temperature had been rising month after month since March and exclaiming: "If this keeps up we'll all be dead by December!"

7. The claim made by the current US President and other politicians that the science of Global Warming is beyond dispute is a lie. Many scientists dispute the idea that human-generated carbon emissions have a significant effect on global temperature, including the more-than 100 scientists who signed the petition at Web Link and the 31,000 scientists who signed the petition mentioned in this Telegraph article.

8. Despite the US Environmental Protection Agency's assertion to the contrary, CO2 is NOT a pollutant.

Posted by Craig Laughton, a resident of College Terrace
on Feb 10, 2013 at 8:29 pm

Anthropogenic increases in CO2 levels is real. Does it really matter? I don't know. Ice core samples suggest that increased temperatures produce increased CO2 levels, but not the inverse. Infrared radiation forcing into space is another issue which has not been resolved. It is an ongoing discussion, despite the funding metrics that try to prevent such a discussion.

A carbon neutral agenda is a very costly thing. For example, Palo Alto is guilty of killing off many native fish, and destroying wild streams, because it buys so much of its electrical power from large hydro. Palo Alto is also guilty of killing hundreds of thousands of wild birds, because it purchases wind power. This is an inconvenient truth for Palo Alto.

I think that passive solar design should not offend anybody. It works, and is not all that expensive.

Frankly, I am more concerned about energy independence from foreign sources, than I am about carbon neutrality. Cheap natural gas (from horizontal drilling and fracking) will be the future for the next half century or so, despite all the hand wringing. Alternative energies will be an add on.

Posted by Cedric de La Beaujardiere, a resident of Barron Park
on Feb 20, 2013 at 3:23 pm

Cedric de La Beaujardiere is a registered user.

@Chris Zaharias, you're getting fooled by fools. Try watching less Fox "News". I don't have time to debunk you point by point, but the solar spots thing is debunked here: Web Link (we're in a minimum of minimums of solar activity, yet global temps are at record highs).

For other misleading graphics debunked, check out: Web Link

The overwhelming scientific consensus (like 99%) is that global climate change is real and man-made. Of ~14000 peer-reviewed climate articles, only 24 (less than 0.2%) dispute global warming: Web Link

See as well wikipedia, which has a telling list of the scientific bodies "non committal" on climate change (surprise, petroleum scientists top the list): Web Link