I jest, but when a moderator joked that someone had suggested California, Oregon, and Washington secede and become a separate country, everyone had a good, happy laugh. The topic of this year’s LABC Sustainability Summit was: Regional Solutions for an Inclusive, Clean Economy. By inclusive, I thought they meant inclusive of all income brackets. While some panelists were sure to point out how clean energy improves the lives of all, like in the 710 corridor, inclusion here primarily meant including our little sisters to the north. While Seattle has the fastest GDP growth in the US (largely due to Jeff Bezos’ personal bank account, I’m sure), California’s total GDP still eclipses the rest of the states. Combined, the three states have a GDP of $3 trillion, shared rather unequally among 54 million people and representing 20% of the global economy.
It was a testament to the size and economic importance of Los Angeles that Presidential hopeful Mayor Eric Garcetti was on this panel alongside the governors of Oregon and Washington. Granted, it’s Los Angeles county, more than just the city, that’s the real powerhouse, but the city gets all the press. The panel was moderated by LA’s (city) former Chief Sustainability Officer, Matt Petersen, who’s taken a (presumably) easier job running LACI, the Los Angeles Cleantech Incubator. Governor Jerry Brown has come to previous LABC Sustainability Summits, like this one in 2014.
The good news first: the three states are working hard to consolidate their electricity sources, to improve efficiency and demand management. Polly Shaw of Stem Energy was on a panel, and it was exciting to see what Stem is doing with AI smart grids to help utilities waste less. Utilities like Glendale Water and Power, which recently stopped a plan to convert a coal-powered plant to natural gas. That plan was four years in the making, and they realized it made more sense to get RFP’s for renewable energy instead. The panel discussed the benefits of creating a unified regional grid with one central operator managing supply. California produces a surplus of solar energy, while Washington could certainly keep the lights on all night if that waterfall in Twin Peaks were put to work. Oh wait, it is.
While Los Angeles continues to have the worst air quality in the US, and the worst inequality, Garcetti knows better than to make a Presidential bid without fixing at least one of those problems. The thing is, they’re inter-related, smog and housing. Which is why one of the keynotes came from developer Emile Haddad of FivePoint, the folks behind three very livable, transit-friendly communities. Mayor Garcetti has done a lot lately to speed up construction of affordable and low-income housing, and voters have made this easier by approving measures to house the homeless. Garcetti has done a good job building on the momentum of Metro LA started by his predecessor, Gubernatorial contender Antonio Villaraigosa, under whose lead LA saw carbon emissions drop by 28% in four years. Thanks to Measures R and now M, Los Angeles County has a permanent source of income for transit projects. This article from 2016 shows which projects could happen first.
Speaking of homes, Jason Barrett, VP of Structured Finance and Investments at GAF Roofing. talked about how all the recent changes in solar have affected them. He explained that the federal solar tax credit, which was recently extended to remain at 30%, has been helpful. He also detailed how Trump’s 30% tariff on imports didn’t hurt their bottom line. He said it was offset by the corporate tax rate being reduced 25%, thereby reducing depreciation. But now GAF and other solar installers might not have to worry about that tariff after all. Last Thursday, Congresswoman Jacky Rosen (NV-03) announced the Protecting American Solar Jobs Act (H.R. 5571). Our correspondent Joshua Hill covered that in detail here.
Kroger’s Myeisha Gamino gave a rousing speech about all the great things Kroger is doing socially and environmentally, specifically at its Ralph’s stores here in Southern California. She talked about some of the great things Kroger is doing to improve the environment, like its work toward reducing food waste. Its push into EV charging has already been covered here, but the big news from Kroger these days is how it is hiring more people, using its tax cuts to invest in its workforce and giving shareholders a boost as well.
Finally, we ended with the bad news. The water crisis is real, and it’s not going to be an easy fix. While we did hear about some exciting stormwater capture projects, and how the Delta bypass tunnels finally got approved, the real crisis remains that most of California’s water is horribly mismanaged. While Southern California has the Metropolitan Water District managing the supply for most of the state’s population, we’re still a tiny sliver of the state’s water use. The thirstiest residents are the cattle and crops of the central valley, whose water is managed by a patchwork quilt of mom and pop water suppliers who lack the means to manage as efficiently as MWD does. So those of us who would like to continue living in this great state can only hope that our next governor can bring those little water suppliers together to create a more efficient resource management. Because in California, Water Is Power. And if we keep letting Central Valley owners mismanage it, we won’t have any left and we’ll all have to pack up our toys ($2.816 trillion worth) and leave. Somehow I can’t picture Zuckerberg, Ellison, Page, Brin, Musk and their families as climate refugees. Yes, we need food. But some of that food can grow almost as easily in places with more water. And we won’t be able to grow anything here if we keep wasting water.