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Palo Alto looks for new strategies to battle climate change

Original post made on Feb 18, 2021

As Palo Alto struggles to meet its ambitious sustainability goals, the City Council is preparing to consider new measures, including ways to shift single-family homes away from natural gas and toward clean electricity.

Read the full story here Web Link posted Thursday, February 18, 2021, 12:42 PM

Comments (17)

Posted by Since_1978
a resident of Crescent Park
on Feb 18, 2021 at 1:24 pm

Since_1978 is a registered user.

Carbon offsets currently are priced at around $17/ton. The City should not mandate changes that do not yield an economical offset.

I use about 240 therms of natural gas per year to heat my home. At 12 lbs CO2 per therm, that's 1.4 tons of CO2/year, which I could offset for $24/year. Spending $15,000 to avoid $24/year is insane - a 625 year break-even at 0%!

Of course, converting a home to electrical heat involves substantial energy costs, so it's nearly certain that mandating home electrification will cause a net increase in CO2 emission.


Posted by Since_1978
a resident of Crescent Park
on Feb 18, 2021 at 1:37 pm

Since_1978 is a registered user.

Also - contrary to Greg Scharf's claim, we do not all agree that climate change is the single biggest threat facing us at the moment. As this article shows, ignorance and innumeracy are terrible threats, along with misguided and destructive government mandates.

The number one place where we will help the world is to get micronutrients and medicines to the world's poorest children - a $63 benefit for each $1 spent. Other key areas are expanding malaria treatment ($35 benefit per $1 spent), immunization for children, and deworming. Ending tariffs on exports from the poorest countries will help lift millions out of poverty. Read more at the Copenhagen Consensus.


Posted by Resident11
a resident of Fairmeadow
on Feb 18, 2021 at 1:49 pm

Resident11 is a registered user.

Homes with clean energy sell for higher prices. This is a good investment and on-bill financing makes it possible. I wouldn't want to own the last gas house on the block.


Posted by neighbor
a resident of Midtown
on Feb 18, 2021 at 2:06 pm

neighbor is a registered user.

As I write this, people are dying in Texas due to atmospheric-pollution-related extreme weather.

Unfortunately, I'm skeptical about seeing dramatic progress (re pollution reduction) within Palo Alto. I've had a chance to speak with many of the local players about 80x30. My experience has been that most residents are "concerned" enough about the problem that they want somebody, somewhere, to do something about it. As Commissioner Scharff suggests, few people want to start significant pollution-reduction actions by making changes in their own lifestyle (let's buy a cheeseburger and a milkshake while on the way to the airport in your car...).

On-bill financing, and adding electrification to "Fiber to the Premises" while undergrounding overhead electric equipment both sound promising (truly). However, if residents don't understand how to connect the dots between poor people dying in Houston and the pollution we create here, why should they want to contribute money or time to come up with solutions?

In my opinion, the next step the City should take is a simple educational campaign about the moral urgency behind the reasons for a radical reduction in greenhouse gas pollution - causes and consequences. Fortunately, Palo Alto Online already provides a good example of this with its blog: A New Shade of Green.

Thank you,
David Page


Posted by Bystander
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Feb 18, 2021 at 2:10 pm

Bystander is a registered user.

Two things that must be taken into account while discussing this.

At present most homes are using way more electricity than normal. People are working from home, doing school from home, etc. Heating, water usage, and of course additional use of lights, computers, and charging are all drawing on the need for reliable power supplies. Additionally EVs are becoming ever more popular. At present our power reliability is very poor. For someone working from home, or a student doing school from home, the power going out is a major problem. PA Utilities have to prioritize the reliability of power before anyone makes a decision to become all electric.

Our city budget finances, we are told, are in a downward spiral. Anything that is going to cost the City money is not a good idea at present. So the big question has to be how much any of these "ideas" cost?


Posted by Online Name
a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Feb 18, 2021 at 2:31 pm

Online Name is a registered user.

Another consultant gravy train and ironic timing. Did we forget all the PG&E rolling blackouts in part because they decommissioned the cheaper gas plants too fast without coming up with a backup plan?

When's the city going to process those payments due to us re the successful citizen lawsuit filed against its historic "surcharges" aka overcharges that have averaged $20,000,000 for the ;past 5 years?? This lawsuit was limited to overcharges for electric rates.

When last reported, the city attorney was trying to find another way to stall those payments to us. I hope they'll be applying credit card-like interest rate of 18+% to us.


Posted by Mike Bechler
a resident of Midtown
on Feb 19, 2021 at 12:32 pm

Mike Bechler is a registered user.

"That means we will likely need to commit heavily to single-family residential electrification as ... our most cost-efficient and technical course of action," Abendschein said.

Nonsense. They're ignoring the lowest-hanging fruit on the tree.

Time the traffic lights on residential arterial streets. No measure on the table could be less of a burden on the residents and visitors to Palo Alto than this. It will increase mileage, saving heaps of fuel. It will also reduce wear and tear on both nerves and automobiles, and it will reduce traffic accidents as people slow down and fewer people run red lights. 30 mph without stops gets you there just as fast as 45 mph with unpredictable stops.

You can still do all those other things, but do the easiest first. Show that you mean it and make something happen.


Posted by Online Name
a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Feb 19, 2021 at 1:00 pm

Online Name is a registered user.

@Mike Bechler, ABSOLUTELY about fixing the traffic light timing. It's not like the city hasn't awarded multi-million-dollar contracts to its former transportation heads after they left office and after they failed to fix it while they were still working for the city.

I shudder to think how long I've been complaining about the Town & Country lights. Absolutely absurd the amount of time I've sat at those lights when there's no traffic or any expected at midnight from T&C or PALY.


Posted by Mondoman
a resident of Green Acres
on Feb 19, 2021 at 2:02 pm

Mondoman is a registered user.

So the proposal is to force single family homeowners into expensive upgrades just because they can't figure out how to do it for commercial buildings? Isn't that the trail wagging the dog.


Posted by Marie
a resident of South of Midtown
on Feb 19, 2021 at 3:37 pm

Marie is a registered user.

Single home electrification is a feel good solution. I'm all in favor of reducing fossil fuels. But much of the electricity in this country is generated by natural gas. Even if we don't buy it, natural gas is fungible. Increased electricity usage could easily increase overall use of natural gas or worse, coal. And using natural gas to heat homes directly is far more efficient than electricity generated by gas.

I would much rather see the city look at microgrids of locally generated electricity to replace existing sources of electricity than a feel good proposal that would have minimal impact on natural gas production and, oh yes, cost us consumers a lot more.


Posted by wmconlon
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Feb 19, 2021 at 7:19 pm

wmconlon is a registered user.

Truth is the first thing that dies in a war, and so it is with the City's approach to climate change.

The truth is that the city is a leader in deception and denial.

The deceit comes from asserting that climate neutrality means electrification will reduce emissions. The truth is that the city's portfolio is only carbon neutral on paper. The denial is the refusal to candidly recognize that our carbon-free electricity supply is not coincident with our electricity demand. The result is that the city depends on market power which relies on natural gas. This is a perverse twist on climate change denial.

Without truly aligning carbon-free energy resources with our electricity demand, further electrification will be served by the marginal generating resource, in other words the MOST carbon intensive resource. To be clear, and redundant, absent true decarbonization of the city electric supply, electrification risks MORE GHG emissions.

When I analysed the electric supply and demand about 5 years ago, CPAU had about 80 MW of base load (round the clock) demand, with peaks at about 170 MW five days a week in the afternoon. Clearly the city needs about 80 MW of baseload carbon-free power-- geothermal, hydro, or nuclear.

Hydro isn't available year round unfortunately and CPAU sells a lot of it, and nuclear is closing. While geothermal is expensive, let's compare it to the economic burden of 80/30 before we commit to a path with unintended (but evident) consequences.


Posted by BGordon
a resident of Midtown
on Feb 20, 2021 at 9:53 am

BGordon is a registered user.

I prefer to tax green house gases rather than mandate electrification. Green house gases hide in electric cars, in electricity, and in almost everything we consume. When the electricity is out, I like to have gas for cooking and boiling water. Reliability and backups are important. Mandating a single point failure is not a good idea. GHG taxation will bias the market in the right direction while allowing for considering reliability and other things.


Posted by StarSpring
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Feb 20, 2021 at 3:26 pm

StarSpring is a registered user.

We should put these people to work on figuring out the CalTrain grade crossings. Climate change is a global issue requiring a global response, like RIGHT NOW.

As Jim Croce said "You don't spit into the wind." It it tiring to see Palo Alto doing all this posturing instead of managing the city for the good of its residents.


Posted by AlexDeLarge
a resident of Midtown
on Feb 20, 2021 at 3:34 pm

AlexDeLarge is a registered user.

"We're doomed, doomed I say." - Dr Zachary Smith esteemed intergalactic psychologist
I hardly think the city council has the capacity of contending with climate change, they couldn't even manage Foothills Park.


Posted by Steve Dabrowski
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Feb 20, 2021 at 3:47 pm

Steve Dabrowski is a registered user.

After messing up Ross Avenue we are going to this bunch in charge of fixing climate change. Have a good laugh everyone.


Posted by felix
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Feb 20, 2021 at 10:24 pm

felix is a registered user.

The idea is good.
The need is great.
And many residents cannot actually afford to buy new major appliances, new water heaters, a heat pump system, etc. and pay to have it all installed. That’s a pile of money.
Not surprised this is plan has stalled.
Time and again, a carbon tax has been shown to be the most effective tool to counter climate change. Enact that, then use some/all of the proceeds to subsidize home conversion to electrical for qualified lower income households. And maybe small businesses?


Posted by Anonymous
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Feb 21, 2021 at 9:49 pm

Anonymous is a registered user.

Wow, what a great thread with informative posts! Thank you, all. I’m learning and thinking how to engage on this. Please forward this thread to friends and neighbors in Palo Alto! Useful!


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