Bob Dylan’s Nobel Prize Acceptance Speech

The singer-songwriter recorded an obligatory speech earlier this month, or else he wouldn’t get the prize or the cash.  Complete with some strange background soft piano, the talk offers some insights into his influences and his thoughts about music versus literature.

Spoiler alert if you listen in: he discusses the books Moby Dick and All Quiet On The Western Front at some length.

You can listen to the full talk here:

The New York Times also has a summary of the speech.

Are Tesla Solar Roofs Actually A Bargain?

Tesla solar roof tiles

A few weeks ago, I blogged about how Tesla solar roofs may have a rocky start due to the high costs and technological uncertainty.  But Understand Solar recently dug into some of the initial numbers and provides some reason for thinking these tiles may be a bargain, assuming your home needs a new roof and the tiles perform as advertised.

First, the site did the basic calculations on how much the solar roofs would cost:

  • 1,000 square foot home: $21,210 ($21.21 per square foot)
  • 2,000 square foot home: $40,250 ($20.12 per square foot)
  • 5,000 square foot home: $95,970 ($19.19 per square foot)

That ain’t cheap.  And traditional roofing materials are much cheaper, especially asphalt shingle:

  • Asphalt shingle: $3.40 per square foot (estimate from Homewyse)
  • Metal Tile: $10.26 per square foot (estimate)
  • Clay Tile: $14.85 per square foot (estimate)
  • Slate Tile: $15.06 per square foot (estimate)

Even the most expensive slate tile costs about 25% less than Tesla’s solar roof tiles. So that’s not great.

But here’s the rub: assuming a 30% federal tax credit and that the tiles can produce as advertised over 30 years, the total net savings for a house in Los Angeles is as follows:

Los Angeles, CA

  • 1,000 square foot home: produce $49,900 worth of electricity (net savings of $28,690)
  • 2,000 square foot home: produce $94,800 worth of electricity (net savings of $54,550)
  • 5,000 square foot home: produce $180,600 worth of electricity (net savings of $84,630)

So the savings (and eventual profit) are there in spades.

But how would this savings rate compare to simply adding traditional panels on top of an existing roof?  According to estimates, Tesla’s solar tiles have a payback of 11 years, while a traditional solar installation has a payback of just 6.5 years.  So you lose some payback, but you gain a whole new roof.

Overall, if you’re in the market for a new roof and are willing to gamble on new technology, plus you like the look of solar tiles as opposed to traditional panels, the Tesla product would be a good deal.

How Republicans Could Change Their Mind On Climate Change: The Case Of “Red State” Renewables

Republicans tend to be skeptical of climate science and actions to mitigate greenhouse gas emissions out of concern for the negative economic impacts and the potential for more government regulation.

But the reality is that fighting climate change represents a generational business opportunity for the United States.  As I wrote recently, the required action will necessitate huge investments in everything from the electricity grid to the automobile sector.

Renewable energy in particular may be the “gateway drug” to get Republicans to support these investments.  Take wind energy, as the New York Times reports:

The five states that get the largest percentage of their power from wind turbines — Iowa, Kansas, South Dakota, Oklahoma and North Dakota — all voted for Mr. Trump. So did Texas, which produces the most wind power in absolute terms. In fact, 69 percent of the wind power produced in the country comes from states that Mr. Trump carried in November.

So it’s not surprising that representatives and senators from these states have been some of the strongest supporters of federal tax credits for renewables in congress.

Overall, the electricity sector is one area where states have a lot of sovereignty to push for low-carbon technologies.  Blue states in turn can encourage red-state action, which will help change the politics on clean technology in these states, as the clean tech industries mobilize and lobby their representatives.

A good example is the effort to integrate California’s grid with western states, as the New York Times story describes:

California and other Western states are discussing linking their electricity markets more closely, which would allow more renewable energy generated in the red states to flow to California consumers — and move California money into the pockets of red-state landowners.

Republican-led Wyoming, the nation’s largest coal-producing state, could be a prime beneficiary, with a proposed wind farm that would be one of the biggest in the world. The governors of Wyoming and California are discussing a deal, though both are nervous about giving up some control of their electricity markets.

That plan is held up by politics in California and a fear among these other states of having their grids controlled by California interests.  But for climate advocates, it could be not only a long-term energy strategy, but a political one as well.

Google Goes Infill, While Apple Goes Full Donut Sprawl

Perhaps a metaphor for their approach to innovation, Apple is fully embracing the sprawl office model of the past, while Google embraces the future with talks to build a downtown San Jose campus near rail.

Apple’s soon-to-open donut office.

The Apple “donut” campus (photo right), set to open soon in Cupertino, is a giant parking lot with an office building on top, no matter how many solar panels and EV charging stations the company boasts about adding.  It was Steve Jobs’ last vanity project, and at heart it’s firmly of the decade he was born — the auto-oriented suburban office campus of the 1950s.

Meanwhile, Google looks to be following other advanced tech companies, like Amazon, LinkedIn, and Salesforce, by exploring options for a high-rise, infill mixed-use office right next to the future high speed rail stop and current Amtrak and Caltrain depot in downtown San Jose.

Silicon Valley is an an absolute housing and traffic crunch, due to those cities’ willingness to permit office sprawl but no accompanying housing.  The choice by Apple will only reinforce that failed dynamic, while Google’s efforts show that the worker of tomorrow does not want to repeat the insanity.

Responding To Criticism Of UC Berkeley’s 2030 Housing Report

Jennifer Hernandez of the law firm Holland & Knight and John Gamboa of the Greenlining Institute criticized our recent UC Berkeley report on 2030 housing scenarios for California that could help meet the state’s long-term greenhouse gas goals.

Their piece in the Fox & Hounds website makes the hard-to-argue-with point that California policy makers should design climate policies — and particularly cap-and-trade — with an eye toward the costs on average Californians.

From my perspective, the state is already moving in that direction, with detailed assessments of the impacts of these programs on everything from gas prices to electricity rates.  The state is also mitigating the impact for residents, with “climate credits” on our electricity bills, a guaranteed set-aside of cap-and-trade auction revenue for disadvantaged communities, and greater electric vehicle rebates for low-income residents, among other efforts.

But sure, more could be done, and it’s smart to examine these policies critically.  Certainly from a pure political perspective, California’s climate efforts won’t retain support if they cause price and other shocks to residents.

So I’m all with Hernandez and Gamboa on the general point, although I think they fail to acknowledge how much care and analysis the state has already put into the programs involved.

But then the article singles out “Right Type, Right Place” report for criticism for being obtuse on the impacts of climate-friendly housing on everyday Californians:

In one recent report, for example, some of the most respected housing policy thinkers in the state make the case that if California could only build more high-density housing in a narrow subset of urban areas along the coast—where transit is already in place—greenhouse gas emissions from cars could be reduced by nearly two million metric tons per year, household utility bills trimmed by $5 a month, and monthly transportation costs lowered by $58. All while requiring people to spend only $38 more per month on rent—and less than $14,000 more for an average home.

Where do we sign up, right? What the study, like so many others, fails to account for is the social cost—and the economic unlikelihood—of this “infill-only” scenario actually coming to pass. The authors’ housing cost data doesn’t factor in the cost, for example, of relocating hundreds of thousands of people already living in existing lower-cost, lower-density homes in these areas. The study doesn’t account for the fast-growing fees many coastal jurisdictions are imposing to slow this very type of housing (as much as $100,000 per unit in some places). Nor does it account for the stark differences in the cost of land, which is between three and 10 times higher in coastal areas than inland California (and which is the biggest reason so many workers slog through three-hour commutes each day).

Most importantly, the study seems to accept the fact that this “preferred,” coastal-focused housing scenario will produce an average monthly rent of $2,702. Even without factoring in massive displacement, rising local exactions, and land costs that are likely to push development elsewhere, this number alone should give everyone pause. To pay that much rent, an “average” household would need to earn $97,200 a year! The median income in California today is only $62,000.

First, let’s look at the claim that our study limited development in the infill scenario to just a “narrow subset of urban areas along the coast.” One look at the map below of “purple” infill areas should dispel that characterization:

Sure, some of the purple areas are near the coast, but so is the vast majority of California’s population.  This map shows that there’s actually a lot of land that could meet the preferred criteria all around the state.

Second, while it’s true our report methodology didn’t include a way to measure “social costs,” our policy recommendations addressed concerns around gentrification and displacement from infill development.  And we offered ways to mitigate those impacts.

Third, the policy recommendations in the report also addressed the need to remove local barriers to housing in prime infill areas, such as the escalating fees on urban development that Hernandez and Gamboa mentioned.

Finally, Hernandez and Gamboa’s effort to compare the average rent in our infill scenario to median household income seems less important than comparing that rent amount to what Californians are actually paying today, when you combine average current household and transportation costs.  That would be a more interesting comparison.

I should also note that if California actually succeeded in building enough housing to meet population growth, as our scenario assumed but as is not happening in reality, my personal view is that the extra housing supply would stabilize prices and rents in these infill areas (although we didn’t model that effect in our report).

As a general response to this criticism, our report did not do a financial feasibility analysis of the scenarios, so I think critiques related to that lack of information are valid. But we were up front about missing that level of analysis and recommend that future research build on this work.  After all, this is the first comprehensive, academic effort to look at 2030 housing scenarios and how they can fit with the state’s greenhouse gas reduction goals.  This report is an important starting point for this discussion, and we hope others build on it.

But it’s not accurate to suggest we didn’t think about these “social” and other economic costs.  And this criticism also misses the added benefit of more infill housing for low-income residents which we also didn’t quantify: access to high-paying jobs in cheaper overall housing.  Right now, with lower-cost housing out in sprawl areas, these residents not only face long commutes at high cost to access good jobs, they’re contributing to environmental degradation for everyone.

Solving that problem would be an environmental and economic win-win for all of California’s residents.  And in any back-and-forth over details, we should not lose sight of that larger, more important point.


Budget Fight 2017 & Its Environmental Consequences For Transit And Clean Energy

With so much noise coming out of Washington DC these days, from phony bill signing ceremonies to endless provocative tweets and misinformation, it’s easy to lose sight of the real, consequential policy battles going on at the moment.

On the environment, the big battle in Congress will take place over the budget late this summer.  A temporary stopgap measure helped preserve funding for key environmental initiatives, such as clean energy research and transit projects like Caltrain electrification.  But that bill just kicked the can down the road to September, when the government must act to avoid a shutdown.

The Trump administration’s proposed budget would zero out basically all environmental programs, including all new transit projects. I’m following the fate of clean energy research at the uber-successful ARPA-E in particular, at the Department of Energy:

September is now the new showdown date for the future of federally-funded breakthrough energy research in the United States. And if Trump has his say, the September fight could be waged in a higher-stakes, post-filibuster, 51-votes-to-pass-a-bill Senate. (Regardless, apparently, of any consequences for Republicans when Democrats next control the White House and/or Congress.)

On transit, the administration wants to end all federal support for urban transit projects, essentially ending a half-century of federal involvement in this area. As Transportation for America writes:

The administration reiterates their belief that transit is just a minor, local concern.

“Future investments in new transit projects would be funded by the localities that use and benefit from these localized projects,” they write, making it clear that they see no benefit in providing grants to cities of all sizes to build new bus rapid transit or rail lines, or expand existing, well-used lines so they can carry more passengers.

The administration even uses the example of local cities approving their own funding measures for transit as a reason to discontinue federal support, when those local measures were actually sold as ways to leverage federal dollars in this longstanding partnership.

The good news is that many of these programs and initiatives have bipartisan support.  We saw that in action with the stopgap measure passed this spring.  But that support will be put to the test as we witness an assault on federal dollars for the environment and public health like we’ve never seen before.

Climate Investments As A Rural Jobs Strategy

Trump’s announcement yesterday that the U.S. will withdraw from the Paris climate agreement (although technically not for another three years or so) was a big victory for his die-hard political supporters. A significant percentage of Republican voters simply discount climate science and hate the idea of global cooperation to address it.

Why do they feel that way? There’s been a fair amount of research on the question, but the bottom line is that they must feel like climate policies and programs will have no benefit for them — and may instead drive up their costs and undermine their employment opportunities.

At the same time, the U.S. economy has experienced an uneven recovery since the last recession, which has essentially only benefited the urban, knowledge-based parts of the country while almost completely leaving behind the rest with stagnant or declining wages. And that’s where these Trump voters made their stand and determined the election last year.

The irony though is that climate policies and related investments have a huge potential to benefit these rural areas and compensate for the tectonic economic changes that have left them behind. Just take California’s San Joaquin Valley, a poor and economically challenged part of the state. Our recent Berkeley Law report with Next 10 and UC Berkeley’s Labor Center showed that California’s three major climate programs — cap-and-trade, renewable energy, and energy efficiency — boosted the San Joaquin Valley’s economy by more than $13 billion and created thousands of new jobs to date.

Or take high speed rail, which is a long-term effort to move people around the state on low-carbon electricity rather than petroleum-guzzling cars and airplanes.  The Sacramento Bee editorial writers argued in support of the project precisely for its economic benefit to the San Joaquin Valley:

The $20 billion Central Valley to Silicon Valley leg won’t carry commuters until 2025, give or take. But once it does, the forgotten part of California that coastal residents fly over or zip past en route to Yosemite will become connected to the rest of the state and gain their share of California’s bounty. That’s not a boondoggle. That’s fair.

Nationally, a “deep decarbonization” strategy for the entire U.S., with its attendant investments in the electricity grid and vehicle electrification, could generate up to 2 million jobs by 2050, according to ICF International.  Many of those jobs would happen in the economically challenged parts of the country that supported Trump and his decision yesterday.

So the solution to building more political support for climate change policies therefore rests within the solutions to combat climate change in the first place.  But given recent events, that message is simply not coming across to the parts of the country that need to hear it.

Planning for Utility-Scale Solar PV in the San Joaquin Valley: Evening Event, Tuesday June 6th

California aims to generate 50 percent of its electricity from renewable sources by 2030, and a new bill now in the legislature seeks to get to 100% renewables by 2045.  A significant amount of this energy will come from solar photovoltaic (PV) installations, with much of the deployment likely to occur in California’s San Joaquin Valley.

But these facilities often engender controversy related to the loss of agricultural and biologically sensitive lands, among other conflicts.  How can stakeholders and policy makers ensure that future solar PV deployment occurs only in “least-conflict” lands (which are least likely to engender objections and possibly litigation) in the San Joaquin Valley region and beyond?

This was a subject that Berkeley Law covered in last year’s report “A Path Forward: Identifying Least-Conflict Solar PV Development in California’s San Joaquin Valley.” It is also the topic for discussion at a free evening event next week, Tuesday, June 6th, from 5:30 to 7pm at Farella Braun + Martel LLP’s downtown San Francisco office.

In addition to my overview of the report, panelists will include:

  • Erica Brand, Director, California Energy Program, The Nature Conservancy
  • Renee Robin, Senior Counsel, Allen Matkins
  • Diane Ross-Leach, Director, Environmental Policy, PG&E Company

You can learn more about the event or register now.  Space is limited.  Hope to see you there!

U.S. Withdrawal From Paris Climate Agreement Would Be Symbolic But Not (Yet) Substantive

If it’s true, as reported, that Trump will withdraw the United States from the international climate change accord negotiated in Paris in 2015, it will be a symbolic abdication of U.S. leadership on clean technology and climate.  And if the U.S. does not get a more climate-friendly president in January 2021 (or sooner), or somehow get a change of heart from this current one, it could have serious environmental consequences for the planet.

It’s important to note that the agreement itself was essentially symbolic, although it provides an important structure for global cooperation on greenhouse gas emissions reduction and can be strengthened over time.  The agreement isn’t binding, and the U.S. contributions to the global emissions reduction effort are predicated on domestic policies like the Clean Power Plan, which the Trump administration is now trying to roll back anyway.

As my UCLA Law colleague Ann Carlson notes, staying in the agreement would mean masking the administration’s full-scale attack on domestic climate change programs.  So in some ways, the agreement itself is a distraction from the administration’s policies on everything from expanded oil-and-gas exploration on public lands, rollback of vehicle fuel economy standards, and efforts to undermine renewable energy and public transit, among others.

In terms of actual emissions reductions though, the Paris agreement — and the policies supporting it like the aforementioned Clean Power Plan — weren’t really meant to start immediate changes to our energy system.  The real action for most of these efforts begins in the 2020s.  So the good news is that substantively, there’s still some time to make progress on climate, even with a four-year (or less) pause in federal climate action.

But the bad news of course is that we lose these years of taking action, with no guarantee that the U.S. will change course politically anytime soon.  And time is already running out to avert the worst impacts of climate change.

But one other silver lining to the administration’s anti-climate actions: it has motivated states like California and cities across the country to do more to reduce emissions, while also emboldening the European Union and China to step in and become economic leaders in the effort to transition to low-carbon technologies.  While that’s a political loss for the U.S. as a whole, it points to the potential for much more decentralized, global action on climate.

The Urgent Need For Parking Policy Reform — My L.A. Times Op-Ed

Perhaps no other local land use issue can be as important — and detrimental — to quality of life, convenience, and the environment as parking.  High local parking requirements for new development drive up home prices and rents, induce more traffic, and waste space.  And poor parking management of existing spaces leads to more air pollution and congestion.

Yet too often failed parking policies soldier on, based on zombie regulations from outdated planning guidelines and the fear of making destinations inconvenient to access by private cars.  It’s particularly a waste in transit-oriented, infill neighborhoods where convenient alternatives to driving exist.

With that in mind, I was pleased to co-author an op-ed in today’s Los Angeles Times with Mott Smith, director of the nonprofit Council of Infill Builders.  The organization just released a new report Wasted Spaces: Options to Reform Parking Policy in Los Angeles at Los Angeles City Hall a few weeks ago, and the op-ed contains recommendations based on that publication.

The issue of parking policy reform is particularly acute in Los Angeles, where 14% of the county — over 200 square miles — is now dedicated to parking. After over a half-century accommodating the automobile at all costs, the region now has 18.6 million spaces for 3.5 million housing units, or 3.3 spaces per vehicle.

To bring reform, Mott and I argue in the piece that:

Local leaders should prioritize urgent reform of L.A.’s parking policies, particularly in transit-oriented neighborhoods, with the following measures:

  • Eliminate or reduce parking requirements for any new development projects.

  • Ensure that revenue from parking benefits the local community.

  • Rather than mandate new parking requirements in the zoning code, promote shared parking and alternative transportation options.

Local leaders should start these reforms now, or risk continuing the failed legacy that has been so stifling for mobility, affordability, and air quality in the region.

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