In the two months since Berkeley, CA, officials banned natural gas in new construction, activists’ anti-fossil fuel efforts have stirred more debate and second thoughts from industry and policymakers.
In city council chambers, corporate boardrooms and other organizational leadership sessions across the state, climate change and the reality of the global dependence on fossil fuels is increasingly a topic of discussion, even as the Trump administration downplays the issue.
University of California chief investment officer Jagdeep Singh Bachher and Richard Sherman, the school’s board of regents chair, said recently that they think they can continue to make money for the university without investing in the fossil fuels sector. They pledged to make the university’s $13.4 billion endowment fund “fossil free” by the end of September, and the $70 billion pension fund also will be the same in short order. They intend to do that while still earning “the best possible return” on the funds’ investments, they said.
University President Janet Napolitano and campus chancellors are responding to a “climate emergency” by joining 7,000 other colleges and universities around the world in addressing “one of the greatest existential threats of our time.”
Catherine Reheis-Boyd, president of the Western States Petroleum Association (WSPA), said the university investment managers are short-sighted, and that the oil/gas industry is developing innovations in alternative and renewable energy sources. “Investing in members of our industry is investing in possible solutions toward a sustainable energy future balancing the economy, environment, social equality and energy mix,” Reheis-Boyd said.
Menlo Park, CA, officials approved a measure calling for electric-only heating systems in new homes and buildings beginning in 2020, and only electricity in all new commercial, office and industrial buildings and high-rise residences. The city council in San Luis Obispo passed resolutions this month opposing new oil/gas drilling and hydraulic fracturing, and declared a “clean energy choice” policy in the city. Carlsbad’s city council has adopted a “reach code” to allow the local energy building code to go beyond state requirements.
More than 50 cities and counties in California are pursuing similar local codes, shifting to zero-emission electric new construction, according to a Natural Resources Defense Council blog.
California Independent Petroleum Association CEO Rock Zierman argues that state policies that limit oil/gas production ultimately hurt California residents through higher energy costs and less tax revenues for public programs to serve communities. “It makes sense for the economy and the environment to keep production in California under the toughest regulations on the planet,” Zierman told NGI.
“All of the oil currently produced in California is used in California, but it is still not enough to meet our vast energy needs. More than half the oil used in California comes from overseas imports, mainly Saudi Arabia,” said Zierman, adding that recent events in the Middle East “shows the negative impact of leaving our state’s energy security to geopolitical forces in other countries.”
Earlier this month, the California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) rolled out a grid reliability proposal that includes continued, albeit decreasing, reliance on gas-fired generation through the early 2020s. According to CPUC, the proposal would allow California to make progress toward power grid de-carbonization by 2045 and, in the meantime, direct utilities to deploy an “all-source” approach to their generation mix.
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