News and analysis about energy in California with an eye toward renewables.

Silicon Valley City to be Carbon-Neutral by 2017

Palo Alto's roofs | Photo: Andrew Mager/Flickr/Creative Commons License

The Silicon Valley city of Palo Alto, home to Stanford University and a frillion startups, says it will be run on entirely carbon-neutral electrical power by 2017. The Northern California city's announcement, made by the Palo Alto City Council this week, came on the heels of an agreement to buy power from three utility-scale solar projects in California.

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Under the set of Power Purchase Agreements (PPAs), Palo Alto has agreed to buy all the power produced by the Elevation Solar C and Frontier Solar facilities in the northern San Joaquin Valley, and the Western Antelope Blue Sky Ranch B in Los Angeles County's desert Antelope Valley. The PPAs take effect on December 31, 2016 and run for 30 years each.

The PPAs will provide Palo Alto with 182,500 megawatt-hours of electrical power each year, about 18 percent of the city's annual demand.

Palo Alto already claims carbon-neutral status for its electrical supply, but it gets there by buying renewable energy credits to offset its use of fossil-fuel-fired electricity for about 30 percent of its current demand. Between the three solar PPAs and continuing to rely on hydro, Palo Alto hopes to make that particular bookkeeping maneuver a thing of the past.

"Palo Alto has bought the entire output from these three new projects which are being built right here in our home state," says the announcement on the city's home page. "When these projects are completed, people can go gaze upon the fields of solar panels and know that's exactly where their electric power is coming from!"

Palo Altonians thinking of taking that advice might do well to refrain from letting Western Antelope's neighbors, at least, know the reason for their visit. Despite all three solar projects' being sited on retired agriculture lands -- certainly a wiser move than placing them on intact wildlands -- solar development in the Antelope Valley is increasingly linked to fugitive dust emissions, sometimes at catastrophic levels. Local solar projects aren't always necessarily a big hit with the people who live near them.

Of course, there's a lot more to carbon-neutral status than getting off fossil-fueled electrical power. Transportation fuel is a major contributor to any city's carbon footprint. If those same Palo Alto residents put some solar panels on their roofs, they could go do that gazing without firing up the Prius. Just a thought.


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About the Author

Chris Clarke is a natural history writer and environmental journalist currently at work on a book about the Joshua tree. He lives in Joshua Tree.
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Aaaahhhh yes, the smug stench of energy imperialism rises from yet another monied faux-eco enclave.

The giddy self-congratulations can be heard for miles around, while the fugitive dust and dead wildlife are sanitized from view and left for "those people" to live with.

Meanwhile, virtually no actual contribution to solutions (whether it's installing their own rooftop solar, slashing their own total energy usage to less than ten thousand kWh/year, designing their structures for passive heating/cooling, walking to work, etc.) will be made by the ruling classes despite having the resources - financial, technological, and solar - to slash their consumption and substantially power themselves from within their own built environment.

"Let them eat dust!" is the underlying motto of those destroying someone else's home (including our non-human species) so they can greenwash their gluttonous behavior. Get it together Palo Alto, and take some responsibility for yourselves and leave our deserts and their residents in peace.