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Coca-Cola beefs up green fleet

The world's largest soft-drink maker, Atlanta-based Coca-Cola Co., wants you to know that your beverages may be delivered by a new hybrid or electric truck.

Coca-Cola hybrid electric truck Coca-Cola has nearly doubled the size of its greener fleet of trucks since 2010, company officials said, and they are making the claim of having the nation's largest low-emissions bottling fleet at a 1 p.m. event in downtown Los Angeles today.

The event will be held at Coca-Cola Refreshments of Southern California at 12th and Birch streets in downtown Los Angeles.

"We as a company are working very hard to get sustainability into our business practices, so we are transforming a good portion of our fleet with green technology with the intent to push our carbon footprint down and get better fuel efficiencies," said Tim Heinen, vice president of field operations for Coca-Cola's western region.

"By the end of the year, we will have more than 740 alternative-fuel vehicles operating throughout North America, and about 40% of them will be right here in California," Heinen said.

The Coca-Cola fleet currently has 691 hybrid electric medium-duty trucks, for example, with 43 more on order, he said

The total Coca-Cola fleet has about 10,000 trucks, Heinen said.

Ron Stassi, fleet manager for the company's western region, added that Coca-Cola hopes to be rolling out other new technologies, such as forklifts powered by hydrogen fuel cells for use in its warehouse in San Leandro.

He said the newer trucks have helped the company reduce its fuel costs by 22%.

Heinen said that more customers care about sustainability practices and are making purchases based on the efforts that businesses put into reducing their emissions footprint.

"We know that it does matter to people, and we want to show that we are trying to make a difference. We are committed to it," Heinen said.

-- Ronald D. White

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Oakland solar firm Sungevity expands east, woos customers with free ice pops

PRN5-SUNGEVITY-ICE-POP-TRUCK-1yHigh On the East Coast, does a free ice pop translate into new solar panel customers?

Sungevity is about to find out. The Oakland-based residential solar company is sending a bright orange truck stocked with the icy treats around the five Northeastern states where it is expanding its business.

The truck, powered by biodiesel and the sun, is also equipped with iPads where ice pop munchers can multitask by getting a free quote on solar panel installations.

The sweet setup will hit music festivals, farmers markets, minor league baseball games and other events in New York, New Jersey, Maryland, Massachusetts and Delaware. Last month, Sungevity bought up all the advertising space on an Amtrak line running through the states.

The company is hoping its unconventional advertising will help endear its solar offerings to the promising East Coast market. Like competitors and fellow Bay Area companies SunRun and SolarCity, which have already made headway in the area, Sungevity has a solar lease program designed to cut back the heavy upfront costs of installation.

RELATED:

Solar electric lease firm Sungevity expands to Los Angeles DWP service area

SolarCity sees bright future for residential solar systems

-- Tiffany Hsu

Photo: Sungevity's biodiesel, solar-powered ice pop truck tours the Northeast. Photo: PRNewsFoto/Sungevity

Online calculator estimates savings from home solar systems

Ever wonder just how much benefit can be gained by adding solar panels to a new or existing home? Well, now you can go online, fill in the requisite details such as the address and the size of the solar system you're contemplating, and get an answer.

Logo The California Energy Commission has launched the Solar Advantage Value Estimator, or SAVE, officials said, to provide a long-term and cost-effective method for calculating the added value of solar photovoltaic (PV) systems.

"This changes the perception of solar in the housing industry that benefits homeowners. Today's changing real estate market requires a credible method to determine a home's value with solar and this tool is an example of California's leadership to develop new methods to cultivate clean energy," said Energy Commissioner Carla Peterman.

Amy Morgan, a spokeswoman for the Energy Commission, added: "This is a tool for the homeowner. They may be looking to purchase a solar home or they may be selling one. This calculation will give you a monetary value to show potential buyers."

The SAVE calculator will offer an estimate of annual energy savings by using the address and solar system size by automatically combining it with specific climate zone data and local electric utility rates. The calculator is also designed to be used by real estate professionals, appraisers and builders to provide information to potential clients.

On the same Web page, visitors will find other calculators that may provide them with useful and related information. The Clean Power Estimator "calculates the potential costs and benefits of installing a PV system at your home or business."

The National Renewable Energy Laboratory's PVWatts calculator "determines the energy production and cost savings of grid-connected photovoltaic (PV) energy systems throughout the world." Just launch the viewer and enter a ZIP code to begin.

--Ronald D. White 

Gov. Brown pushes renewable energy goal at UCLA conference

Jerrybrown Gov. Jerry Brown wants a major chunk of California’s renewable energy to come from urban rooftops and backyards, rather than just the massive solar and wind installations scattered around the outskirts of the state.

How that’ll come to pass, though, is still up in the air.

So Brown called a conference to figure out how to execute his plan, which calls for rooftop solar panels, small wind turbines, fuel cells and other clean-power technologies across California generating 12 gigawatts of electricity by 2020. That’s enough to power roughly 3 million homes.

More than 200 energy experts convened Monday at UCLA to create a preliminary roadmap to help diversify the state’s renewable energy portfolio, which is currently laden with large wind and solar farms sprawling over remote sites.

So-called distributed generation, usually involving smaller renewable-energy projects placed on and around local buildings, avoid many of the disadvantages of utility-scale installations, supporters said.

Distributed generation cuts out the expensive transmission infrastructure needed by desert and mountain-bound projects to deliver electricity to urban customers, supporters said. Smaller projects are also built faster and usually not on land that is environmentally or culturally sensitive, they said.

But implementation of the 12-gigawatt goal won’t be without hurdles. The permitting process for local clean electricity projects varies by city and county and will need to be streamlined. Many property owners are still skeptical about the cost and efficiency of renewable energy technologies and may hesitate to adopt them.

“This is tens of thousands of little decisions,” Brown said. “The distribution is its strength and also its challenge.”

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-- Tiffany Hsu [follow]

Photo: Gov. Jerry Brown in Sacramento last month. Credit: Rich Pedroncelli / AP Photo

PACE green home retrofit program could be revived by Congress

Solar

A program that helped property owners install green upgrades before it ran into government roadblocks last year may be resuscitated by Congress.

A group of legislators introduced a bill Wednesday to jump-start the Property Assessed Clean Energy program, known as PACE. The program used low-interest government financing to help fund installations of energy-efficient solar panels, insulation, water conservation systems and more.

More than half of the country had approved some version of the program, which was a magnet for stimulus funding. Retrofits were mostly financed with bonds issued by local governments and then applied as a regular surcharge on homeowners’ property taxes, lightening the heavy upfront costs of such improvements.

But the Federal Housing Finance Agency balked at a component of the program that, in a foreclosure, prioritized the PACE lien over an existing mortgage.

The housing authority warned last summer that PACE posed “unusual and difficult” financial risks. The agency directed mortgage finance giants Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, which it regulates, to tighten its underwriting criteria for participants or steer clear entirely.

Homeowners were told that the program could be a violation of their mortgage terms and grounds for foreclosure.

Since then, the program has lain dormant. But the PACE Protection Act from Reps. Mike Thompson (D-Calif.), Dan Lungren (R-Calif.) and Nan Hayworth (R-N.Y.) would compel the housing finance agency to back down and allow PACE to proceed.

“We’ve tried everything to work with them, but they’re just being stubborn,” Thompson said of the agency. “It’s come down to introducing legislation, which is not the route we wanted to go. These guys are just pigheaded.”

Continue reading »

California rooftop solar installations surge; renewable energy approaches oil output, reports say

Solar Renewable sources in the U.S. are starting to produce enough energy to rival oil output, according to the federal Energy Information Administration.

Biomass and biofuels along with geothermal, solar, water and wind-power generation were responsible for nearly 12% of the country’s energy production during the first quarter of the year. That’s nearly 6% more than nuclear’s output and 77% of the amount coming from domestic crude oil, the agency said.

Electricity from wind sources is up 40% from the same period last year, according to the agency. Solar output more than doubled.

The boom is especially evident in California, where the rate of installations for rooftop solar energy systems is on a tear, according to the California Public Utilities Commission.

Homes, businesses, nonprofits and government agencies in the state put in a record 194 megawatts of new solar capacity last year -- 47% more than the amount installed in 2009.

The setups provided power directly to 19,877 sites. Californians have installed a total of 924 megawatts of capacity at nearly 95,000 individual sites through the first quarter of this year.

And with dropping prices, 2011 is expected to be another record year, with 110 megawatts of solar already put in place through mid-June.

RELATED:

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-- Tiffany Hsu

Photo: At the Solar Power International 2010 Conference and Expo at the Los Angeles Convention Center. Credit: Al Seib/Los Angeles Times

First Solar wins $4.5 billion in federal support for California sun-power projects

CstSte_6281_FS_CA_WB_M Sun-power developer First Solar scored big Thursday as three of its projects landed nearly $4.5 billion in long-anticipated conditional loan guarantees from the federal Department of Energy.

The awards for the Antelope Valley Solar Ranch 1, Desert Sunlight and Topaz Solar thin-film photovoltaic facilities –- all in California -– cap a blockbuster month for solar installations seeking financing. 

The government doled out $680 million in conditional commitments to the 230-megawatt Antelope Valley installation, which is to produce enough power at its western Mojave Desert site to power 54,000 homes.

The 550-megawatt Topaz plant, based in eastern San Luis Obispo County, is expected to generate enough electricity for 110,000 homes. Desert Sunlight in eastern Riverside County, which is to be the same size as Topaz, got a partial commitment $1.88 billion. 

The projects, which all are to use cadmium telluride thin-film photovoltaic modules made mostly at First Solar’s U.S. factories, will create 1,400 jobs at the peak of construction, the company said.

First Solar, an Arizona-based panel maker that earlier this week was embroiled in a tussle with Riverside County supervisors concerning potential fees on the Desert Sunlight project, had anxiously awaited news of the loan guarantees. Without financing, executives said, the projects could have been indefinitely delayed. 

So far, the Energy Department's loan programs have handed out $16 billion in conditional commitments for 15 solar projects and are also involved in geothermal, wind and nuclear efforts. The renewable-energy industry, still heavily dependent on subsidies, is dreading the programs' expiration later this year.

Continue reading »

House oversight panel considers subpoena in Solyndra loan guarantee investigation

Solyndra Solyndra Inc., the Fremont, Calif., solar company known for its cylindrical panels, is causing a tussle in the nation's capital.

A House panel is investigating why the Obama administration handed a $535-million loan guarantee to the company, a controversial move now that Solyndra has closed a factory and canceled plans to go public.

The oversight and investigations panel of the House Energy and Commerce Committee said it wants documentation about the decision to give Solyndra aid.

The company landed the first loan guarantee from the Department of Energy in 2009 through a multibillion-dollar, taxpayer-funded program. Solyndra used the boost to build a new factory, but also shut down an older facility and laid off workers. Then last summer the company canceled its plans for a $300-million IPO.

Rep. Cliff Stearns (R-Fla.), who chairs the oversight panel, believes the hiccups could mean that the government gave a loan guarantee to a company that wasn’t qualified. He said the panel has hounded the White House Office of Management and Budget for months for more details into the decision process.

But after Jeffrey D. Zients, deputy director of the budget office, failed to appear Friday for a hearing on the issue, Stearns said the no-show was because of White House stonewalling.

The budget office blamed a scheduling conflict resulting from the panel’s last-minute request. It said its representatives are eager to help and have already turned over extensive documentation in addition to more than 20,000 pages from the Department of Energy.

Stearns said the panel is now considering a subpoena to force the White House to turn over communications that may suggest that staffers had reservations about Solyndra.

RELATED:

House members probe $535-million loan guarantee by Obama Energy Dept. for Solyndra solar plant

Solar company Solyndra to close factory, cut jobs

-- Tiffany Hsu [follow]

Photo: Solyndra panels on Quest Field Events Center in Seattle. Credit: Greg Gilbert / Seattle Times

Consumer Confidential: Cash rewards top cardholders' list; Exxon rakes in the bucks

Here's your throat-warbler-mangrove Thursday roundup of consumer news from around the Web:

-- So what's the most popular credit-card reward out there? Not airline miles, it turns out. Credit-card users value cash-back rewards more than any other type of perk, according to a report from comScore. A hefty 57% of cardholders say getting some sort of rebate is the best possible reward for using their plastic. "Merchant rewards" and "flexible points" tied for second, with airlines miles coming in third. Surprisingly, gas rewards came in fifth with a 5% vote of confidence. My guess is that as pump prices keep creeping higher, those percentages will change.

-- Speaking of which, I'm pleased to report that our friends at Exxon Mobil are now about $11 billion richer. The world's biggest publicly traded company pocketed $10.65 billion in the first three months of the year, which will no doubt draw cheers of support from drivers facing the highest gas prices since 2008. In fact, the quarter was Exxon's best since it earned a record $14.83 billion in 2008's third quarter. Anticipating a strong reaction from drivers and politicians, Exxon says on a company blog that it has little control over the price of oil, which has risen to near $113 per barrel. Unsaid was whether Exxon will use more of its profit to develop alternative energy sources so we aren't stuck with sky-high oil prices forever.

-- David Lazarus

 

 

Brown appoints former banker to Public Utilities Commission

Gov. Jerry Brown has appointed a former international banker turned charity executive to the California Public Utilities Commission.

Mark Ferron, 52, of Mill Valley is the senior partner at Silicon Valley Social Ventures, a donor network  that, according to its Web page, "leverages its financial, intellectual and human capital to make a meaningful, measurable impact in Silicon Valley and beyond."

From 2001 to 2009, Ferron was chief operating officer for the global markets division of Deutsche Bank in London and had responsibility for all trading in the fixed income, currency, commodity and equity markets. Prior to Deutsche Bank, he worked for Salomon Brothers and Bank of America.

"His background is finance and operations," Brown spokeswoman Elizabeth Ashford said. "There was a feeling that this is something that the PUC would benefit from."

Ferron is Brown's third appointment to the PUC since taking office in January. The panel, which regulates private sector electric utilities, water companies, natural gas suppliers and other businesses, now is fully staffed with all five constitutionally designated members.

Ferron, who has served as an informal counselor to Brown, is not well known in the utility, energy or environmental community groups with considerable interests at the PUC.

"We don't know anything about him," said Bill Magavern, California director of the Sierra Club. "We've been calling for Jerry to appoint someone who is strong on energy efficiency and renewable energy and we hope this guy fills the bill."

The PUC needs leadership on clean energy, Magavern said.

Ferron's appointment comes at a difficult time for the PUC. The agency has come under fire for its alleged lax regulation of natural gas pipelines. The explosion of a Pacific Gas & Electric Co. pipeline in San Bruno last September killed eight people and destroyed about 50 homes.

"Mr. Ferron will join the commission at a pivotal time. The commission has been under a great deal of criticism for being too cozy with the utility companies and too soft on PG&E," said Mark Toney, executive director of the Utility Reform Network, a consumer advocacy group. "It desperately needs to change direction if it is going to restore public faith in its effectiveness."

Ferron was unavailable for comment on his appointment.

-- Marc Lifsher

Electric utilities close to meeting renewables goals

The state's three biggest investor-owned utilities, led by Southern California Edison Co., are edging closer to meeting their mandated goal of producing 20% of their electric power from renewable energy sources.

Edison at the end of 2010 generated 19.4% of its electricity from wind, solar and geothermal sources, up from 17.4% in 2009, according to a report issued Thursday by the California Public Utilities Commission.

Pacific Gas & Electric Co., based in San Francisco, produced 17.7% of its electricity from renewable sources, compared with 14.4% in 2009, while San Diego Gas & Electric Co. hit 11.9% last year, an increase of 1.4 percentage points over 2009.

California law originally required the three utilities to produce 20% of their power from non-fossil-fuel sources by the end of 2010, but none of the companies could reach that goal. The PUC subsequently extended the deadline to the end of 2012.

But meeting the 20% goal in the next two years would not be enough to satisfy California policy makers. Two years ago, then-Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger signed an executive order demanding that the three electric companies and their municipally owned counterparts produce a third of their power from renewables by 2020.

At least two efforts to write that requirement into law either failed to get out of the state Legislature or were vetoed by the governor.

Lawmakers this year are again trying. Sen. Joe Simitian (D-Palo Alto) has introduced a bill that has a good chance of passing and being signed by Democratic Gov. Jerry Brown.

-- Marc Lifsher

 

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