Departing Public Utilities Commissioner Has Strong Words For Utilities, Legislators

Mark Ferron | Photo: CPUC

Revealing that his fight against prostate cancer has taken a turn for the worse, California Public Utilities Commissioner Mark J. Ferron resigned Thursday from his seat on the CPUC. In the process, he made a remarkable statement about the future of energy in California in which he had some startling things to say about both California utilities and the state's legislators.

Appointed to the CPUC in 2011 by Governor Brown, Ferron said Wednesday he had hoped to complete his term as Commissioner, and had been considering the possibility of a second term. Diagnosed with prostate cancer in 2012, Ferron found last week that his cancer had survived a year of aggressive treatment. "We are now into strategies to drive my cancer into remission or to prolong a high quality of life for as long as possible until a cure can be found," Ferron wrote in his final Commissioner's Report Thursday. (We at ReWire wish Commissioner Ferron the very best of luck in contending with his cancer.)

But Ferron's final Commissioner's Report didn't just contain an update on his health. It also contained a remarkably frank assessment of the health of California's renewable energy and cleantech scene. The departing Commissioner's words echoed what many advocates of solar and other renewables have been saying for some years -- and Ferron may not have made California utilities happy as a result.

Officials Push for L.A. to Get 20 Percent of Power from Rooftop Solar

Generating rooftop power under the June gloom atop the Metro Support Services Center | Photo: Metro Library and Archive/Flickr/Creative Commons License

The push to make Los Angeles more energy independent is gaining steam, as a group of local, state, and federal elected officials called Friday for California's largest city to meet a fifth of its peak power needs with local solar within six years.

Congressman Adam Schiff, State Senators Kevin de León and Ted Lieu, Assemblymembers Bonnie Lowenthal, Jimmy Gomez and Mike Gatto, and L.A. City Councilmembers Paul Koretz and Mike Bonin have signed on to support a rooftop solar goal L.A. Mayor Eric Garcetti adopted last year, when he said he'd push for building 1,200 megawatts of solar capacity on Los Angels' roofs and parking lots. That's a bit less than a fifth of the city's usual summer peak consumption, about 6,100-6,200 megawatts.

Now, with last week's announcement that the city's public utility will be hiring a new general manager at the end of the month, those officials and a broad spectrum of other solar advocates are pushing to take advantage of the opportunity to put the L.A. Department of Water and Power solidly behind Garcetti's goal.

"It's time for Los Angeles to take its place in the sun as a world leader on solar power, and it can only happen with strong leadership from Mayor Garcetti and the next general manager of LADWP," said Emily Kirkland of Environment California, a backer of Garcetti's initiative.

California's Drought Could Mean Power Shortages This Summer

This Folsom Lake warning sign is a long way from the beach this winter. | Photo: Robert Couse-Baker/Flickr/Creative Commons License

California's record-setting drought stands to do major harm to the state's ability to generate hydroelectric power, with a possible drop in output from just the state's ten largest hydro power plants potentially exceeding the loss of generating capacity from the shuttered San Onofre Nuclear Power Plant.

According to realtime data provided by the California Department of Water Resources (DWR), 10 of the state's 12 largest reservoirs are well below historic average water levels, with half of those reservoirs holding 55 percent or less of the average amount of water that managers generally expect in January.

Those reservoirs feed water through hydroelectric plants with a total generating capacity just above 2,500 megawatts. The longer the drought continues, the less likely it is the state will be able to count on that generating capacity, which could mean a loss of power greater than that from the closure of San Onofre.

Solar Orbs: Nice, But No Miracle

Rawlemon's ball lens | Photo: Rawlemon

Another day, another Gizmodo piece on renewable energy gadgets to debunk. Last week ReWire took a critical look at the gadgetry site's strange lauding of a car-top wind turbine that couldn't possibly work. This week, it's solar orbs: a form of concentrating solar involving glass ball lenses.

In a piece published Monday, Gizmodo writer Kelsey Campbell-Dollaghan waxed lyrical over Rawlemon, a startup currently crowdfunding its concentrating photovoltaic design. Rawlemon uses a large ball lens to focus light on photovoltaic cells. Rawlemon's designer claims the lens can concentrate available light by up to 10,000 times, boosting the output of the small solar cells by a considerable amount.

Campbell-Dollaghan's take on the potential product is somewhat breathless. "Rawlemon," she writes, "by sheer force of numbers, has the power to outperform traditional solar panels by many thousands of times," even offering the possibility of generating power from moonlight. Sadly, a bit of simple math deflates her claim. While Rawlemon's technology may well offer some nifty advantages for specialized uses, the system is unlikely to be competitive with plain old solar panels anytime soon.

California's Carbon Market a Success in its First Year, Report Finds

California's emissions trading system celebrates its first full year. | Photo: Environmentblog/Flickr/Creative Commons License

Despite earlier gloomy prognostications that California's greenhouse gas cap and trade system would violate the law and tank the state's economy, the program's first year has been a remarkable success. That's according to a report on the program released this week by the Environmental Defense Fund (EDF).

According to the report, entitled California Carbon Market Watch: A Comprehensive Analysis of the Golden State's Cap-and-Trade Program, Year One,, the first year of the cap and trade program's emissions credit auction coincided with a strengthening state economy and a growing renewable energy sector, while setting a stable price for the privilege of emitting greenhouse gas pollution.

According to the report, those achievements -- along with last week's link to Quebec's similar cap and trade market, and moves to do likewise with Australia and China -- show that it's possible to strictly regulate greenhouse gas emissions without plunging the world's economic activity into chaos.

There Was More Wrong With This Gizmodo Story Than its Headline

Gizmodo's original headline (left) and the new one (right).

After a lot of public criticism, Gizmodo has changed the headline on a story by Andrew Liszewski from Wednesday. The criticism wasn't surprising. The old headline gave the impression Gizmodo thought perpetual motion machines were possible: "Strap this wind turbine to your electric car and you can drive forever."

The claim, repeated in a corresponding Tweet, provoked a cascade of eyerolling comments on the site and at least one link to a video containing a statement by a noted fictional expert in the physical sciences. It's understandable that Gizmodo changed the piece's head to "Strap This Wind Turbine To Your Electric Car To Stay Juiced in Park," claiming the original headline was intended tongue-in-cheek.

ReWire will take Gizmodo at its word on that. But there are still some problems with the claims that remain in the piece. Attaching a wind turbine to your vehicle and expecting to gain any energy at all, other than when it's parked facing the wind, still violates the laws of physics.

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