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Exclusive Interview: Mayor of America’s 10th Largest City on Benefits & Challenges of Electrification

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Published on January 20th, 2021 | by Joe Wachunas

January 20th, 2021 by Joe Wachunas 


I’ve been following San Jose’s Mayor, Sam Liccardo, for some time. In 2019, I heard from environmentalists in California about how he was instrumental in getting all-electric building legislation through the city council of the nation’s 10th largest city. I’ve also been tracking San Jose’s nation-leading efforts in clean electricity and electric vehicles (with over 20% of new cars being EVs). I’ve wanted to know the secret to this city’s sauce and look for strategies and takeaways that the rest of our country might follow.

I was thus tickled pink when I had the opportunity to sit down with Mayor Liccardo and ask him about the ways in which his city was leading the nation, specifically on transportation and building electrification. And without spoiling the interview you’re about to read, I have to say our talk was quite interesting. Rather than unabashedly embracing the electrify everything movement his city is spearheading, he was more measured and objective in talking about both the opportunities but also the challenges of moving away from fossil fuels at the city level. Perhaps I got a taste of why he is so popular and won reelection in 2018 with 75% of the vote. His city is cutting edge and leading the nation in electrification but he’s measured, clear eyed, and realistic about the challenges of getting off fossils.

Mayor Sam Liccardo, courtesy of the city of San Jose

Mayor Liccardo, thanks for taking the time. You’re the mayor of the 10th largest city in the US and leading the charge on electrification both in buildings and transportation. Tell us, how do cities play a unique role in transportation and building electrification that other levels of government can’t or don’t?

Electrification is a great opportunity for us, certainly with buildings but also with transportation infrastructure since that’s the primary source of greenhouse gas emissions in most of our cities. Moving our automobiles to the grid is crucial and San Jose is the leading city in the country on electric vehicles. We need to do it all and the push is on in all sectors, whether it’s in new building codes or electrifying train systems. In our case, we are currently electrifying a train which was built during the presidency of Abraham Lincoln.

At the same time we need to make sure we are greening our grid. Here in San Jose that really happened dramatically through the Community Choice Energy Program a couple of years ago, we were the largest city in the country to do that. Starting in January, 92% of our power will be drawn from non GHG emitting sources so it’s either hydro or renewables and we’ll be pushing it towards 100%.

It’s all downhill from here. How do I top an interview with one of the coolest mayors in the country?

Let’s talk about buildings a little bit. San Jose is the biggest city to electrify first residential buildings and now multifamily and commercial. What advice would you give to other cities looking into electrification?

I know there are a lot of different situations in different cities, some cities have investor owned utilities, some have municipal owned utilities, some have cooperatives. Whatever the relationship might be, it’s important that there is a really clear commitment to green the grid first because pushing folks to electricity if it’s coal fired doesn’t do any good.

The second issue is to really grapple with the perils of electrification and to be very clear and honest about the limitations. The limitations are much more severe down here in San Jose than they are in your neck of the woods (Portland, Oregon) because of all the problems we have with our infrastructure. PG&E and its lack of investment in maintenance and capital replacement, as well as all the impacts of climate change and wildfire and so forth that are causing everything from power safety shutoffs to having our independent system operator, which operates the grid for the entire state, literally browning out during high usage periods in the summertime, which is happening occasionally. Then we’re also seeing blackouts resulting from failing infrastructure so we’ve got a real problem with the grid and we need to be honest about that. Residents are understandably leery about us pushing them towards a solution that is not reliable and is not terribly resilient.

So the message is to be careful about the problems of the grid. But San Jose is still pushing for an all-electric future, so how do you balance that?

Yeah, we are, and it’s a really hard balance. It helps if you’re starting with new construction, because obviously that’s a small percentage of the built environment that you’re dealing with, so it helps to start there. We had to take some baby steps at first. We actually started this about a year ago with residential and some commercial, but we were hesitant about going to high rise because of some limitations around technology and what we were hearing from builders. So we engaged in a lot of outreach to see how it could be done and be feasible and be at least the same cost or lower. Because we’re blessed to have a very proactive private sector around us, we think we found good solutions that everyone can live with.

Then the other thing we had to do bluntly is we had to hedge our bets to some extent. For example, we made exceptions for hospitals, for data centers. If they’re using distributed energy which meets a certain standard around having zero emissions for NOx and SOx and particulates, then we’ll allow it (them to use natural gas). Not all environmentalists embraced this strategy because it still relies on some natural gas, but if you’re running a data center or you’ve got some industry that is super reliant on a grid that is always going to be up and running, you’ve got to give them options, and just having dirty diesel backups isn’t a very good solution. 

Let’s turn to transportation. San Jose has the highest per capita percentage of EVs in the country — what’s the secret to its success?

Well, have Tesla located next door (laughs). We’ve got a lot of Tesla employees in our city. In truth, there are a lot of different electric cars. I drive a Chevy Volt, my wife drives a Bolt. Like Portland, we’re a city with a relatively well educated population, with a progressive mindset. And people understand it and get it about climate change. It also helps to be in a place where you already have a significant amount of solar deployment because there seems to be a high correlation between those who have solar and those who drive electric vehicles, because we all feel better when we’re drawing the power off our roof. 

How about policies on the city side to promote transportation electrification?

We have been working really hard on the transit piece. We have the largest deployment of electric buses at our airport of any city* (there may be cities that have passed us now since we did that last year). It helps having some local producers here, like Proterra, who’s in the Bay Area. So, we’re working hard on the deployment of electric buses. There is a real constraint there on battery life and charging but we think with supercharging coming onboard that may get around that. For transit agencies, it’s just a problem with longer routes and having buses that just rely on the batteries.

It helps to have some state mandates in place. That’s really important. It forces the investor-owned utilities to make investments — for example, in car charging infrastructure — so you need to have partners at the state level that are willing to push with you.

[*Editor’s note: This is in regards to US cities only, not globally.]

I work with a nonprofit organization called Forth that does transportation electrification. How do NGOs play a role helping cities meet their climate goals?

Yeah, super important. One is to push us cause we’re often not even aware of what’s out there. City Hall can get siloed at times, and it’s really important to have the NGOs who are interfacing more proactively with the innovators. It’s also really important around moving the community. Because what we know about climate change is the most impactful things we can do really involve behavior and behavioral change. And all the great technology in the world is going to help, but it won’t really move the needle like we need.

For example, we’re partnering with some NGOs looking at the parts of the city where there’s not a good enough transit service because of budgetary constraints and asking if we can engage low-income residents in a cooperative model on an electric carsharing pilot. That’s where NGOs are really instrumental, bringing people along who may not speak English, helping them with a technology they may not be familiar with, and hopefully making mobility less expensive for them in the process. 

That brings me to another question: how do electrification and equity go together from where you’re sitting?

I think given the extraordinary capital costs we have ahead to upgrade our grid and deal with the legacy problems we’ve had. You look at gas infrastructure here, for example — we actually had a horrible explosion about ten years ago, a lot of people’s lives were lost in San Bruno. What we know is that consumers are going to be paying more and more and more for infrastructure, even as renewable energy gets cheaper. It’s going to be critically important that we can make these changes in ways that don’t further impact those who are already struggling mightily to pay their utility bills. 

One place to really start is to focus on multifamily housing and seeing how we can dramatically reduce the bills and make multifamily housing more fuel efficient and cost efficient. 

Do you think electrification inherently does that? And is that why San Jose is mandating electrification in multi-family buildings?

It’s certainly cheaper from a construction standpoint. There are competing theories about whether gas or electric prices are going to be rising faster in the long run, and I know it’s going to vary a lot by market given the particular infrastructure in that region. I’m not going to weigh into that debate other than to say — I’m firmly convinced that our future is electric (emphasis mine), so we better be investing dollars and making sure we’ve got a resilient grid. I think this is the greatest challenge for us as we think about all of our sustainability measures — we’ve got to ensure that there is a green dividend for the great majority of residents who can’t afford a Tesla, and I don’t think we’ve done a good enough job of that yet. We’re spending a lot of time thinking about how to do it better, but we haven’t gotten there. 

Is there a particular program you feel like is on the right track?

All of them cost money, the ones that I can think of, so there is no great solution. At a time when we’re literally spending general fund money to feed people who can’t afford food, a lot of these programs are a lot harder to come by. Maybe this is a conversation that is easier to have when we’re not in the middle of a pandemic. I think there is great value in a lot of the utility-sponsored programs that have been focused on education with a small subsidy that helps somebody replace their gas water heater. I think there is great value in that. But it’s hard work and requires an army of trusted community partners. 

What are the next steps for San Jose in the electrification of transportation and buildings?

Certainly retrofits are where lots of folks are focusing now, and we’ve had some experience in that, but costs are challenging. Certainly that is one frontier that is an important one. Let me say there is one other one that we have to pay attention to and it goes back to the grid. We need at the national level a concerted microgrid strategy to enable more distributed generation of power and a more resilient supply. Or else a lot of our efforts will be undermined with the next hurricane, the next earthquake, or the next power safety shutoff if you’re down in California. We know that battery technology is a ways off — it’s still too expensive if you’re looking for storage that is going to last three to four days. There may be some interesting solutions using hydrogen and fuel cells that could be zero emission that are very exciting. But we’ve got to get to that holy grail of distributed generation that is resilient. I know it’s true not just in California but around the country. Read the book called The Grid and it will scare the hell out of you just how bad of shape our grid really is in. We know we got to get to electrification, but we need infrastructure that will be there for us.

I don’t mean to be Debbie downer, this is important work, but we don’t want to save people from one cliff while we’re pushing them off another one. 

Watch the full interview with Mayor Sam Liccardo here

  
 


 


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Tags: electric buses, electrify everything, Proterra, Sam Liccardo, San Jose, San Jose clean energy, Tesla


About the Author

Joe Wachunas lives in Portland, Oregon, and works for the nonprofit Forth, which promotes electric transportation. He is also involved with Electrify Now because he believes that electrifying everything, from transportation to homes, is the quickest path to an equitable, clean energy future. And of course, Joe and his family live in an all-electric home and drive an EV.



Source: https://cleantechnica.com/2021/01/20/exclusive-interview-mayor-of-americas-10th-largest-city-on-benefits-challenges-of-electrification/

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Tesla Is Partnering Up With New Caledonia For Nickel

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Tesla is partnering with the New Caledonia nickel mine as a technical advisor as a way to secure stocks of nickel, Mining Global has reported. The deal was signed in the French Pacific territory and noted that the partnership is a “technical and industrial partnership” in which Tesla will source raw materials for batteries.

This is a pretty big deal for New Caledonia given its political structure and how it literally fell apart over a nickel deal and independence push earlier this year, according to The Guardian, all of which included the collapse of a multi-party government led by President Thierry Santa. There’s a lot going on there, for sure.

Mining Global noted that the Brazilian miner Vale’s choice to sell its nickel mine and processing plant to a consortium that included Trafigura, a Swiss commodity trader, added a lot of fuel to the fire by sparking opposition from pro-independence groups. Violent protests led Vale to shut down its site in December.

However, a  recent agreement between the political groups and other interests was established and both Vale and Trafitura seem to be satisfied. Under this agreement, political groups proposed a 51% stake in the Vale operations to be held by New Caledonia’s provincial authorities and local interests. Trafigura will have a 19% stake, which is less than the original 25% that was in the sales deal with Vale.

In a statement, Vale said, “Our task now is to complete any and all outstanding items to allow the transaction to formally conclude.”

A Trafigura spokesperson stated, “We’re looking forward to operations resuming and for final completion of the transaction as soon as possible.” Tesla’s part in all of this is being an industrial partner that will help with product and sustainability standards. Tesla will also be taking supply for its battery production, the political agreement noted.

New Caledonia is the world’s 4th largest nickel producer.

 



 


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Source: https://cleantechnica.com/2021/03/07/tesla-is-partnering-up-with-new-caledonia-for-nickel/

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Making Starbase, Texas, Sustainable & Resilient, Part 1: General Principles

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A few days ago, Elon Musk announced that he’s going to be starting a new city: Starbase, Texas. When asked if this was the current Boca Chica Village, he said that it was going to be a lot larger, but didn’t get more specific.

I took over 50 credit-hours of graduate school emergency management courses and learned quite a bit about making places more resilient. In this article, I’m going to share some concepts from that education as well as ideas I’ve developed on my own based on my other experience and training in law enforcement and other similar fields.

A Great Opportunity

Ask any city planner or emergency manager, and they’ll all tell you that it would be their dream to have input on creating a new city, and not only because some of them played SimCity as kids. One of the greatest challenges in emergency management, and urban planning in general, is that there are always problems baked into existing cities that you can’t easily get rid of. It’s said that “an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure,” and in some places the opportunities for prevention are severely limited by not only bureaucratic inertia and political will, but also the physical environment that has already been built up.

Another great thing is that operating a city will help people involved in space colonization to gain some experience in self-government before setting out to build space colonies. In theory, space vessels will be under the jurisdiction of whatever country authorized their launch, but in reality, Mars is several minutes away even by radio and will have a certain measure of de facto independence no matter what legalities may exist on Earth. Experience in managing a civilian government will be of immense utility if the mission of colonizing Mars is to be a success.

Perhaps more importantly, it gives potential Mars colonists a chance to build a resilient and sustainable culture prior to getting on a Starship.

Getting The Clean-Sheet Design Right

Emergency management personnel divide their efforts into four phases: mitigation, preparedness, response, and recovery. Most people only think of preparedness, response, and recovery because those parts of the job tend to get into the news. Citizens and officials prepare for disasters, sometimes holding big training exercises. When disaster comes, officials respond to it and try to prevent as much death and destruction as they can. Once it’s over, you clean up the mess and rebuild. But what if you could head disaster off at the pass and keep it from happening at all?

Let’s take a hurricane, for example. We really can’t prevent a hurricane from happening (no, not even with nuclear weapons), but even the biggest hurricanes sometimes aren’t a disaster. Why? Because sometimes hurricanes just don’t pass over any people. Even the most powerful storm possible wouldn’t be a problem if it stays out in the ocean.

For a disaster to happen, risk must meet vulnerability. A lit match isn’t very dangerous, but it’s a big deal if someone drops it in your gas tank. A burning cigarette butt won’t hurt anyone in the middle of a parking lot, but it could kill thousands if dropped in a dry forest. A tiger in an Asian jungle probably won’t hurt anyone, but it’s a big deal if one escapes from the zoo in a major city.

To prevent disaster from being an issue, you find ways to keep the risks away from the vulnerabilities. That’s called mitigation. If an area is prone to flooding, either don’t build things there or find a way to divert the water elsewhere. If there’s a risk of fire, make sure buildings have clear space around them to keep it from spreading. Keep riots from happening by not doing things that upset the population, and more importantly, by avoiding even the appearance of evil in city government.

Some forces of nature are too powerful to keep away, so mitigation for them means failing gracefully (resilience). In places with earthquakes, buildings are made to not kill the occupants during a major quake. The building may need rebuilt, but the irreplaceable people inside can be saved. Places with frequent flooding can be built to coexist with the excess water rather than be ruined by it.

Any serious all-hazards emergency and city growth plan needs to consider climate change. What is rare today could become more and more common in the coming years. Sea levels are likely to rise. Extreme heat and cold will become more normal. Fail to plan for any of that, and you’ve only planned to fail.

Decentralization is also a good strategy for resilience, and it goes hand-in-hand with sustainability. If every new structure in Starbase has a solar roof, enough battery to keep it running 24 hours, and has a source of backup heat (like fireplaces), then Starbase would be in a position to sit out bad situations like the rest of Texas faced both this year and in 2011. Because next to nothing has been built in the area, it’s not a hardship to make this a requirement, and the city will be built right from the beginning.

In short, every decision about how the city should be planned and run should consider potential disasters, climate change, resilience, and sustainability. By doing this from the beginning, none of these issues will present major problems that could have been avoided.

Building A Better Culture For Starbase That Can Extend to Mars

There’s only so much a city government, major employers, and influential people in the community can do to make the new city resilient and sustainable. Fostering a local culture that values these things can make the difference between success and failure here, because if you find yourself fighting against the population to get things done, they won’t get done.

The best thing the city and its major employers can do is scrap the idea that resilience and sustainability is somebody else’s responsibility, or that the city government is the sole entity responsible. It should be widely known that Starbase is a city where people step up to the plate and take care of each other. It should be a city where the city pays for second responders, because the citizens themselves are there first getting the response started. I discuss the reasons personal responsibility works in more depth in this other article.

To do this, the city should require every adult to learn at least one skill useful in an emergency. Examples include:

  • First aid/CPR
  • Emergency communications
  • Firearms
  • Mental health first aid
  • How to plug an air leak on a spacecraft or Mars habitat

Well, maybe we can save that last one for later, but you get the idea. By having people invested in some way toward the safety of their city, it will matter more. Having them spend a weekend a few times a year training with the city’s professional emergency personnel will help everyone be on the same page and have an appreciation for each other instead of creating an “us vs them” mentality that already creates problems on Earth and definitely won’t do very well in space. Research also shows that having working relationships in place helps bad times go more smoothly, and there’s no reason that these relationships shouldn’t extend outside of government.

There does need to be professional law enforcement, EMTs, and skilled firefighters in Starbase, but they should be acting as leaders in public safety and not the people doing the whole job alone while everyone else lets things get worse. As was expressed in the Peelian Principles, “… the police are the public and that the public are the police, the police being only members of the public who are paid to give full-time attention to duties which are incumbent on every citizen in the interests of community welfare and existence.”

Corporations operating in the area likewise should be encouraged to adopt this better mentality. Business as usual, where a company privatizes the benefits of operating in a jurisdiction but makes the public pay for its safety, is a dead end (sometimes literally). Absolving corporate entities of any responsibility for being part of the public safety effort leads to them making poor decisions, like putting up a “no guns” sign, but not using metal detectors and armed guards to secure a sensitive facility. When something bad happens, they want the cops and EMTs to come take care of the mass casualty event that shouldn’t have ever occurred on their watch, and then enjoy limited liability when the families of the deceased sue. Making companies (especially multinational corporations) take responsibility and be part of the city’s overall efforts keeps poor decisions like this from happening and costing lives.

One big benefit companies get from coordination with an enlightened local government would be having a professional review their operations to help them be more resilient and secure. Everyone on both sides wins here.

A city with Elon Musk as one of its founding fathers deserves to be a hub of innovation, from top to bottom, and not just another city with intractable problems that plague it year after year. This can be done by getting things right from the start by taking advantage of centuries of knowledge. The worst thing Starbase, Texas, and future Mars settlements can do is take the baggage of bad Earth practices into the future. Because Starbase will be starting fresh, it’s definitely possible to do better, but only if there’s a serious effort to make sure it happens that way.

Featured image: A render of a possible future Mars colony. Image by SpaceX.

 



 


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Source: https://cleantechnica.com/2021/03/07/making-starbase-texas-sustainable-resilient-part-1-general-principles/

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Tesla Is Building Its 1st Superchargers In Israel

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Tesla has started the construction on its first Supercharger in Israel, Tesmanian reports. The new Supercharger is a V3 and will be located in Tel Aviv, with more stations to come in the next quarter (Q2). The article noted that the construction of Israel’s first Supercharger stalls is planned for Q1 2021. The new Supercharger will be located at Derech Menachem Begin 132, Tel Aviv-Yafo, Azrieli Mall, and feature eight V3 Supercharging stalls.

Just last month, Tesla entered the Israeli market, with a starting price of 180,000 shekels after taxes ($54,600) for a Model 3. So, it makes sense that Tesla is bringing its innovative Supercharging network to Israel as well.

Tesla plans to have charging stations coming to Haifa, Eilat, Be’er Sheva, and Tel Aviv, Calcalist Tech reported back in January. The article noted that Tesla published an initial list of where its Supercharging stations would be located. According to this, Tesla estimated that one Supercharging station in the Red Sea resort city of Eilat will be completed during Q2 2021 along with a station in Be’er Sheva.

The article also pointed out that at the time, Tesla didn’t make it known which type of charging stations it planned to deploy. Thanks to Tesmanian, we now know that they will be V3 at the station in Tel Aviv. Though, that has to be assumed as the norm going forward anyway.

 



 


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Source: https://cleantechnica.com/2021/03/07/tesla-is-building-its-1st-supercharger-in-israel/

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NHRA Reaches Out To OEMs With Plans To Expand Electric Drag Racing

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Electric cars are fast. We know that, because we’re CleanTechnica readers and we’ve watched Tesla after Tesla beat up on supercar after supercar time and time again. It’s expected here, but there are a whole lot of people out there in middle America who still equate electric cars with golf carts, and it’s those people who are set to be most surprised the next time they head out to an NHRA drag racing event. That’s because the NHRA is planning to expand its electric drag racing classes, and it is reaching out to the OEMs for input on how to do that successfully.

Specially-built electric drag racing cars have been something of a trend with carmakers in the last few years. It was just last spring that Ford launched its 1400 HP all-electric Cobra Jet concept, and even that car was a bit late to the party, having been launched a full year after Chevrolet’s own 700HP eCOPO Camaro. Stripped-down, lightweight versions of the new Mustang Mach-E and a new Ford Lightning are, doubtless, on their way, along with an electric Corvette, the ultra-powerful new GMC Hummer, and more.  So, you can kind of see where the NHRA is going with all this, right?

Image courtesy of Ford

“It’s certainly no secret that electric vehicles are becoming more and more popular with consumers, and the technology associated with them continues to move forward at a rapid pace,” said Ned Walliser, NHRA vice president-competition. “At (the) NHRA, we are eager to keep pace with the latest developments in EV technology … from the vision that Wally Parks had when he founded NHRA in 1951 to our current ‘Speed for All’ campaign, NHRA has always strived [sic] to provide a welcoming environment not just for competitors from all walks of life, but also to accommodate a very wide variety of vehicles, and that includes electric cars and motorcycles.”

OMG, you guys — I forgot electric motorcycles. Them’re fast AF, too.

The NHRA is looking ahead to the next steps in the expansion of electric drag racing. And, as such, the group has extended an open invitation to interested parties and stakeholders in the sport to participate in an open dialogue on the topic during the upcoming Amalie Motor Oil NHRA Gatornationals at Gainesville Raceway, March 12th-14th. The invitation has been extended to OEMs, aftermarket companies, racecar builders, event promoters, and companies that specialize in safety and fire suppression. It’s worth noting, too, that increasing noise regulations have been threatening to close several high-profile, historic drag strips and circle tracks in recent years, as well, so a quieter class of racer that can still put on a heck of a show is almost guaranteed to be attractive to the people who own those venues.

What about you guys? Would you, dear readers, be more likely to check out an NHRA event if you knew there was a professional electric drag racing class to watch? Would you want the cars to have more in common with the road cars you could buy, like a pro stock class, or would you prefer something really wild, pushing the envelope of speed, like a funny car class?  Scroll on down to the comments section and let us know!

 



 


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Source: https://cleantechnica.com/2021/03/07/nhra-reaches-out-to-oems-with-plans-to-expand-electric-drag-racing/

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