A plan to reduce emissions in San Diego that does not include solutions that reduce pollution from cars and other forms of transportation is incomplete.

CommentaryWhy? Because emissions from our transportation choices in San Diego County are twice as large as the next source, electricity, and account for more than 50 percent of all emissions. It’s the largest part of the pollution pie, and therefore needs to be addressed with the most urgency. But that’s not what’s happening.

While a bill in the state Legislature would adopt policy moving all of California to a zero carbon electricity market by 2045, far less attention is being paid to the enormous emission-reduction opportunities that exist in the transportation sector.

Many civic and climate leaders are focused on the electricity supply as the big target, with some calling on local governments, including the city of San Diego, to procure electricity instead of San Diego Gas & Electric. This structure, known as community choice aggregation, or CCA (which is another name for government-purchased electricity), would simply change who buys the electricity, not the delivery of the energy. It also does not guarantee any new reductions in greenhouse gas emissions.

CCA providers in California have bought the vast majority of the renewable energy they sell from renewable resources that already exist, and are already generating renewable electricity. While this practice may allow a government-controlled energy provider to say it is selling “renewable” electricity, it does not make any material difference in the amount of renewable electricity being generated, and for this reason, does not result in any new or meaningful emission reductions.

Everyone in the electricity space, including SDG&E, the state of California, the California Public Utilities Commission and CCAs, have expressed a desire to decarbonize the grid, ultimately getting to a 100 percent zero-carbon energy future.


We Stand Up for You. Will You Stand Up for Us?

So what plan or entity would get us there first? Funny thing about predicting the future: it’s incredibly difficult.

Currently, SDG&E has reached 43 percent renewable electricity, up from just 11 percent in 2010. This has San Diego leading the nation in renewable electricity procurement and generation. Clearly, the electricity industry is making great strides in reducing emissions.

Do we want to replace a system leading the nation to a greener future to a system with inexperienced politicians and government bureaucracies procuring electricity?

Introducing local politics, which often breaks along party lines, to our electricity system should worry every energy customer.

It’s also important to point out that electricity is not the emissions problem. Electricity is the emissions answer.

Shifting to electricity for most forms of transportation, combined with land-use practices that reduce the amount of vehicle miles traveled, would directly address our largest emissions problem.

For every megawatt hour of renewable electricity used to power cars, trucks and other forms of transportation, we reduce our greenhouse gas emissions by 2,800 pounds compared with gasoline- or diesel-powered vehicles. For every megawatt hour of renewable electricity used to power our buildings, we reduce our greenhouse gas emissions by 550 pounds compared with our current grid mix, which includes 43 percent of renewables from SDG&E.

The goal is to power electric vehicles with solar energy, and San Diego is leading the way.

More than 115,000 San Diegans now have a solar photovoltaic system on their roof. Think of each one as a gas station on the roof of a home to power the cars in the garage. Twenty-seven thousand electric vehicles are registered in San Diego, and that number is expected to climb quickly as electric vehicles increase their range from 80 miles to 200- to 300-mile ranges per charge.

The future of transportation is rapidly changing. In San Diego, we need to take a regional and comprehensive approach to reducing emissions with a focus on transportation, our leading source of emissions.

Peder Norby is a consultant whose clients include Sempra Services. He previously served as a San Diego County planning commissioner. He and his wife own an award-winning beyond net zero energy home in Carlsbad, with the home and their two cars powered by solar power. Norby’s commentary has been edited for style and clarity. See anything in there we should fact check? Tell us what to check out here.

    This article relates to: Climate Change, Opinion, Science/Environment

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    4 comments
    Don Wood
    Don Wood subscriber

    Norby says that "Shifting to electricity for most forms of transportation, combined with land-use practices that reduce the amount of vehicle miles traveled, would directly address our largest emissions problem." Yet he doesn't explain what he means by "land use practices that reduce the amount of VMTs." Without that, his op-ed is little more than an anti-CAA propaganda piece. VOSD should ask Norby to do a follow up op-ed that clearly explains how he believes that local governments can take specific actions to change their zoning and land use planning practices to reduce VMTs.

    Frank Landis
    Frank Landis subscriber

    There's possibly a scam embedded here, but I'll get to that in a second.


    First, Norby's right on getting pollution down.  If you believe San Diego County's draft Climate Action Plan, around 45% of greenhouse gas emissions in the County come from transport (cars and trucks).  It's the single biggest pollution segment, and we're not going to get greenhouse gases under control until we switch largely to transit, electric cars, and building cheaper homes closer to existing homes.


    This may sound all left wing, but our Republican majority Board of Supervisors approved a General Plan update that said this back in 2011.  The Supervisors keep entertaining amendments to the plan (as in Lilac Hills Ranch-style entertainments), but if they simply stuck to the plan they approved, we'd get more affordable housing and fewer miles driven.  So one thing you can do is to urge your supervisor, councilmembers, mayor, etc. to follow the General Plan and stop playing footsie with rich developers who are trying to develop awkward parcels in the back country.


    Now, about that possible scam.  My family just got a house with the express intent of decarbonizing our lives.  That means we put up solar panels, we're going to get an electric car (a Bolt, because we didn't get in line for a Tesla 3 and we do a lot of driving), and we've got to remodel various parts the house to switch out gas appliances for electric ones.  The total cost of this is well over $50,000, and most of that is for the car.  When we can get to having both cars running on electricity, I'll bet the total cost will be over $100,000.


    Now, multiply our cost by the 3.3 million people living in the county, assume that means somewhere around one million households, and you're looking at costs that could range up around $50,000,000,000 for decarbonizing San Diego house by house, as Norby suggests.


    That's a lot to ask of San Diegans.  My family is lucky enough that we can afford to start decarbonizing now, but how many people can afford to shell out $50,000, let alone $100,000, to do the right thing?

    So is it a scam that Mr. Norby wants us each to pay this much, while trusting Sempra while they keep profiting off selling us power?  Or are there ways that Sempra can shoulder some of our costs?  Also Sempra wants to bring a very methane--excuse me, natural gas--pipeline into the center of the County and possibly through Mission Trails Park.  Is any of this related to Norby's asking us to trust Sempra?  


    That's what we need to know.



    Bill Bradshaw
    Bill Bradshaw subscribermember

    The author is an ideal candidate for SANDAG leadership.  Now that the car batteries are achieving much longer ranges, all we need is a quick charge system and we'll all drive electrics (providing, of course, that government keeps subsidizing both their manufacture and purchase). 


    The urgency this author and countless others (Think, e.g., Al Gore) try to convey is highly questionable.  Check out the recent book "Lukewarming", which has lots of evidence that the actual rate of warming is a fraction of that projected by climate models used by the doomsayers, and calls into question the objectivity of government funded science performed by universities.

    Sean M
    Sean M subscriber

    Would you buy a good or service site unseen without knowing what is costs and agree to be billed for it forever? There is a reason why renewable energy advocates never mention costs when they extol the benefits of solar and wind...