Blogging Bayport Alameda

July 13, 2017

Mark Irons: Apocalypse Now !

Filed under: Alameda — Lauren Do @ 6:03 am

Lauren’s blog for June 19th  was about the essential hypocrisy of places like Berkeley which is trying to hold back it’s infill housing, yet wants to jump on the Paris Accord band wagon. In 1975 I lived in West Berkeley where our 95 year old neighbor remembered when West Berkeley was farmland tilled with a horse drawn plow. “Farms in Berkeley?” You bet, but not anymore. The image appeals to my romantic nature, but we have already passed the point of no return on climate. Regretfully the past is the past. We must compromise for the greater good.

Closer to home, I read the recent Op-Ed in the Sun by Richard Bangert advocating for a solar farm at Mount Trashmore. I was curious about that notion so I contacted a PUB member as well as a former engineer at AMP with whom I’m acquainted. I expected to be prepared argue for community solar farm, but Richard told me the manager of AMP said straight up they have no intention to pursue such a project so I let the notion of advocating for such a system drop. Private and public utilities are extremely complex. I come away agreeing that AMP wants to act green, but does not walk their talk.

Along these lines, I agree with Gabrielle Dolphin’s letter in the Sun, also critical of AMP. I get that AMP is a business with a primary fiduciary responsibility to the City. They’ve chosen to sell off what by state standards is “surplus” renewable generation to bolster their bottom line, but they ignore the benefits of local generation, also known as “distributed generation”.

AMP’s “Go Green” program is a ruse. By paying an additional $6 a month on your AMP bill, you can pretend the electrons you use are 100% green. AMP sold off this so called surplus of real green generation capacity to bolster its bottom line, and for $6 a month you get the privilege of buying it back! If AMP wishes to say it is green, as it actually was, perhaps it should raise rates $6 per customer and not sell the “surplus”, but that would create a political problem.

Two assets of AMP owning its own green generation in the form of solar farm are 1) no transmission costs, and 2) emergency back-up. The battery technology is making progress in leaps and bounds.

Most people are unaware that for safety reasons, after an earthquake all the existing roof-top solar will be shut down indefinitely. It seems like a centralized solar farm at Mt. Trashmore could be exempt from those safety concerns.

On the subject of emergency preparedness, a major earthquake is very likely to leave Alameda with no water pressure at our hydrants, which could lead to a catastrophic fire. The City of Berkeley studied the situation and bought two large diesel salt water pumps, and six miles of hose. It cost them about $6 million. It doesn’t seem very practical for town like Berkeley but they practice deploying their pumps. It seems much more practical for Alameda which is surrounded by deep water on most of three sides. In the opinion of AFD (Alameda Fire Dept.) deploying pumps and 10” hose is a liability which I can abide.

In 2015 the City had a $14 million dollar surplus. AFD had a proposal to budget a study of options, and an immediate plan to buy a pair of 2500 gallon tanker trucks to be filled in alternation by our fire boat. The council authorized purchase of the two tankers for $250K a piece, and canned the study. During a CERT (Citizens Emergency Response Team) training I could not get a straight answer from our fire department about the efficacy of the tankers to address potential post quake fire load. An article in Alameda Magazine, on the very subject of post quake water sourcing quotes an authority from UC Berkeley who was critical of such tankers. He claims a tanker is only good for one building. Even at ten times that amount two tankers seem inadequate.

Meanwhile, the City in spending $12 million of the upgrade of station three and its emergency command center with its own electrical generator. Fine to upgrade station 3, but the command center seems like a Gilded Lily. It will have it’s own emergency electrical generator.

I’m just just a lay person second guessing a bunch of professionals. I believe in science but at some point I can’t ignore what seems like common sense.



  1. Would you consider editing your article? Your point is missing.

    Comment by Nowyouknow — July 13, 2017 @ 7:18 am

    • I think he wants to visit Cambodia on a boat ride.

      Comment by jack — July 13, 2017 @ 11:04 am

  2. Mark,

    I agree with you that the AMP can do more to modernize its vision and its products and services.

    The AMP is a very conservative organization, and understandably so – after the “Fiber” fiasco – a venture that lost millions of dollars. We are truly fortunate to own our own utility — but it would be great to see more growth in renewable energy solutions.

    Comment by Karen Bey — July 13, 2017 @ 7:31 am

    • Agreed!

      Comment by Jon Spangler — July 13, 2017 @ 11:25 am

  3. Who shuts down roof top solar?

    Comment by jack — July 13, 2017 @ 7:48 am

  4. If you haven’t figured out by now…”common sense” and Alameda do not go together.

    Comment by Il Cane di Ferro — July 13, 2017 @ 9:11 am

  5. Mark, up for a meeting? I’ve got a couple of other’s as keen as you and I on the issue. We may have the nucleus of an activist group that can get further than each of us individually attempting to lob ideas at the impenetrable force field.

    Comment by gabydolphin — July 13, 2017 @ 9:13 am

  6. As “progressive” as some Alameda leaders are (or say they are), I am astounded that our city leaders–from the fire department to the Public Utilities Board members to the City Council–are not preparing more aggressively for the inevitable “Next Big Quake,” which has been accurately documented and forecast by the US Geological Survey:

    The same lack of vision and/or unwillingness to consider the realities of California’s failing electrical grid seems to drive our PUB and the Alameda Municipal Power staff decisions (or non-decisions) about installing both large-scale and small-scale solar and wind generation capacity here on the island. (In both cases, using the status quo as a guide and not accurately facing future realities are counterproductive and short-sighted.)

    The city and its departments need to consider economic calculations beyond just the private (dollars and cents) cost of buying emergency preparedness equipment (like large-scale direct salt water pumping systems) or dramatically expanded solar and wind generation capacity here in our five-island community.

    If we factor in the considerable costs of NOT pursuing adequate emergency preparedness (i.e., the predictable and avoidable costs of fire damage in Alameda from earthquakes like the one that destroyed San Francisco in 1906), we would be making more farsighted decisions. Similarly, not pursuing local energy independence through renewable resource expansion is only “cheaper” in the short term and undercuts our ability to respond to
    power grid failures and other contingencies.

    As Mark has clearly pointed out, making bolder decisions will ultimately serve us better and reduce our costs when (not if) the California power grid and the stability of the land beneath our feet fail…and we know they will.

    Comment by Jon Spangler — July 13, 2017 @ 11:56 am

    • The city thinks it is prepared because it has a big new emergency center – where 1 person at a computer will be communicating with others on their cell phones out in the field. Center is the worst waste of money the city has spent in the recent past. Lots of other questionable spending historically.

      Comment by Nancy Hird — July 13, 2017 @ 2:37 pm

    • Well said, I agree!

      Comment by michonnekatana — July 15, 2017 @ 9:38 am

  7. 1. This piece is what it is, not one of my better pieces, but I had a shot and I took it. I told Lauren I thought it was barely coherent but I guess she needed content. But I did put my name on it as opposed to your anonymous pot shot.

    My points were really simple: If AMP wanted to be as green possible it had that capacity. Instead they have morphed into a cash cow for the City. Most cities maintain street lights as a public works function, but AMP sold off $25 million in genuine green generation because it could do so and and still meet the state’s low threshold for carbon neutral generation. LED streetlights doesn’t actually reduce the carbon footprint very much because they use power at night when wind power and hydro power delivery to the grid is at its highest. They do reduce overall power demand for the year and as a result, AMP requires fewer renewable credits to meet requirements…the excess can then be sold. The real driver behind LEDs was the reduction in maintenance costs. This whole project should have been paid for by the city of Alameda. Had Alameda been in PG&E service territory, it would have been the city’s responsibility. Maybe the sell off is probably justified, I just think it’s misrepresented.

    The emergency water supply is something I’m not entirely confident has been addressed by two tankers. They will only be tested once. A tanker was supposed to be in the 4th of July Parade but I missed the it. The Sun described them as 3000 gallon capacity but I was going by the original proposal to council.

    Jack, I think the systems shut themselves off when the grid goes down. There is a lot of hardware on the systems. I could have made a call or two to verify this, but I was feeling pressed for time. Think about it. If the grid goes down and the solar stays hot the grid will not be there to absorb the production.

    Comment by MI — July 13, 2017 @ 11:57 am

    • My idea about installing solar is a decision made by individuals who don’t trust the AMP or any other power provider in an emergency and chose to be off the grid. If an emergency happens no one can shut them off except the owner.

      Comment by jack — July 13, 2017 @ 7:16 pm

      • If your home is on fire, the fire department needs to be able to independently shut off your PV system so they don’t get electrocuted.

        The inverter (the thing that allows mixing of AMP power with your solar power automatically does this if it senses AMP is shut off). If you have a “grid-independent” system, I still think code requires that you have a shutoff breaker that is easily accessible by the fire department.

        Comment by brock — July 14, 2017 @ 9:06 am

  8. Mark, at one time in the not too distant past, Alameda had a pair of emergency generators. They were huge machines installed about 10 ft off the ground on poles behind the Del Monte property. I can’t remember what catastrophe caused the City to invest in them, but after a few years of never needing them, they quietly went away.

    Comment by Not. A. Alamedan — July 13, 2017 @ 3:50 pm

  9. What about sea level rise? There does not seem to be enough energy invested into planning for impacts to Alameda which is alarming to me.

    These impacts were highlighted in yesterday’s release of the Union of Concerned Scientists’ new report and GIS mapping tool that includes projections of impacts in specific time frames which is very interesting. They identified a handful of Bay Area communities that will face chronic inundation by 2100 in the intermediate scenario, of which Alameda (Bay Farm and the main island) is one of the most significantly affected with chronic flooding. Here is a summary of the report on the UCS website with links to other relevant info and the maps.

    Comment by dya — July 13, 2017 @ 6:01 pm

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