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The big questions about electric cars

News.com.au 9 April 2019

Fears have been raised Australians will lose their beloved SUVs, utes and vans and be forced to drive electric cars. So are they that bad?

Will Australians lose the SUVs, utes and vans they love — to accommodate the rise of the electric car?

Fears have been raised that people’s cars will be taken away from them after Labor unveiled an ambitious policy to support the take-up of electric vehicles.

It wants 50 per cent of all new cars sold in Australia to be electric by 2030 and also plans to introduce a carbon emissions target for new cars.

The plans have raised a number of concerns about electric cars and whether people will still be able to buy the vehicles they love.

So what’s the deal with electric cars and Labor’s new emissions targets?

HOW LONG DO THEY TAKE TO CHARGE?

A lot of figures have been thrown up about how long it takes to charge an electric car, and it all comes down to how big the car is and what type of charger you use.

When Labor leader Bill Shorten was asked how long it would take to “charge it up” on the Kyle and Jackie O radio show last week, he said eight to 10 minutes.

“It depends on what your original charge is, but it can take … eight to 10 minutes depend on your charge, it can take longer,” he said.

Crucially, he added: “It depends how flat your battery is”.

If you are only topping up your car’s battery at a superfast charging station, it may only take eight to 10 minutes if all you’re wanting to do is drive the 15 minutes home.

But charging an empty battery to full power takes longer.

It depends on how big your battery is and what type of charger you are using.

According to UK electric vehicle charging provider Pod Point, a small car such as the Nissan LEAF, which has a 40kWh battery, can be fully charged in one hour using a fast charger. This will allow it to travel up to 230km.

But if you are charging at home, it takes up to six hours using a special converter or about 11 hours using just your normal household power point.

The Tesla Model S Long Range, which can travel up to 480km, is able to use a special supercharger to power up its much bigger 100kWh battery, also in one hour.

But it can take between six to 27 hours to charge at home, depending on whether you have a normal power point or are using a special adaptor.

On Sunday, Wiebe Wakker arrived in Sydney in an electric car he drove from his home in the Netherlands.

Mr Wakker’s car had a small 37kWh battery that only allowed him to drive a maximum of 200km. But he made it across Europe and through Turkey, Iran, India, Myanmar, Malaysia, Indonesia and across the Nullarbor to Sydney.

His car, an older model produced in 2009, had a slow charging rate, and so it took him up to 15 hours to recharge using normal domestic power points in Australia.

But at commercial charging stations, he was able to fill up in about 20 minutes.

Mr Wakker said he only ran out of charge four times on his world trip and these all occurred in Australia.

“To make it more convenient for long-distance travelling, infrastructure needs to step up,” he said news.com.au.

However, he noted that most electric cars sold in Australia could now travel distances of up to 450km, and this was enough to get by.

“I estimated that if you have a battery with a minimum range of about 300km, Australia is really easy to travel through. You can even turn on the airconditioning and not worry about the energy used.”

Mr Wakker was able to find places to charge his car on plugshare.com but says this often involved using normal power points, which take longer.

“At some point, to really be convenient, you need to put into place fast chargers,” he said.

HOW EXPENSIVE IS IT?

The cost of charging an electric vehicle varies depending on where you live and how expensive your power is — but it’s a lot cheaper than filling your tank with petrol.

According to the blog My Electric Car, the average price for electricity in Australia is $. 025 per kilowatt hour, and it takes about 18kWh to travel 100km. So it costs about $4.50 in electricity to travel 100km.

In comparison, it costs about $16.65 to travel 100km if petrol is $1.50 a litre. This is based on the average petrol car using 11.1 litres of fuel to travel 100km.

At the moment, electric cars are more expensive to buy. There are only four models available in Australia priced at less than $60,000.

However, it’s expected that EVs will become cheaper and will be the same price as petrol cars by about 2025 — that’s just six years away.

ARE THEY WORSE FOR THE ENVIRONMENT?

Critics of electric cars point out that their carbon emissions can be worse than some petrol cars.

This is because 63 per cent of the electricity in Australia in 2016-17 is still being sourced from coal-fired power stations.

However, once more renewable energy is added, emissions will improve.

In his review of the national electricity market, Australia’s chief scientist Alan Finkel noted the uptake of electric vehicles — combined with a decarbonised electricity grid — could help to achieve significant emissions reductions in the transport sector, which accounted for about 18 per cent of Australia’s emissions in 2015.

The CSIRO Energy Roadmap has estimated electric vehicles could reduce carbon emissions by about 15-25 million tonnes by 2030.

Despite its criticism of Labor’s electric car policy, the Coalition’s own climate change policy was projecting electric cars would make up between 25 per cent and 50 per cent of new car sales by 2030.

Environment Department officials on Thursday confirmed to Labor senator Kristina Keneally the Government had been eyeballing a similar electric vehicle target to Labor’s.

CAN THE POWER GRID HANDLE IT?

Electric vehicles will place more demand on the power grid, but experts have suggested this can be managed.

Labor has set a target that 50 per cent of new cars be electric by 2030 and it seems this ambitious goal will require careful management of the grid.

A report done by Evenergi and Australian Renewable Energy Agency, looked specifically at South Australia, but was also intended to inform policy around Australia.

It noted that it was difficult to predict the impact of electric cars but did not predict any significant problem for the grid up to 2025.

However, even without Labor’s target, the report pointed out the EV market would grow rapidly from 2025 and the network needed to be ready for it.

“This will require appropriate management of load and therefore a consciously crafted network architecture — with the ability for demand side control,” the report said.

It said the greatest risk to grid stability was “hotspots” of public charging stations in carparks, highways or in places were lots of vehicles gathered, such as bus fleet carparks. In residential areas a higher than expected number of fast home chargers located close together could also create issues.

The report said “demand management” could address hotspot issues. This could involve incentives being offered for people to charge their cars at certain times when excess power is being produced.

It was also crucial that networks were informed of plans for new chargers and these should also be registered once active.

Grattan energy program director Tony Wood said the biggest problem was if everyone installed a fast charger at home and plugged their cars in at the same time when they got home from work.

“It would be the equivalent of several airconditioning units all being turned on at once,” he told news.com.au.

Mr Wood said there needed to be integrated planning to prevent problems like the blackouts that had occurred in South Australia for example, with the rise of renewables.

“There are issues that need to be addressed, but there’s no reason why they can’t be managed,” he said.

Meanwhile, a potential benefit for the grid, which has not yet been commercially proven, is for electric cars to provide energy back to the grid during peak times. In this way the car could function as a large battery.

WILL WE LOSE OUR BELOVED CARS?

The Coalition is going hard on Labor’s policy, with the Prime Minister Scott Morrison saying the party had declared “war on the weekend” and were stopping Aussies from buying vehicles “with a bit of grunt”.

Energy Minister Angus Taylor also tweeted a photo of an electric car plugged into a generator to mock Labor’s policy.

Despite the fearmongering, Labor’s target for 50 per cent of new cars to be electric doesn’t mean people will be forced into buying electric cars.

However, the types of petrol cars that are available in Australia could change because of Labor’s plan to introduce a vehicle emissions standard.

Emissions of new cars would be restricted to less than 105g of carbon per kilometre. This is the same as the US standard but higher than the European standard.

Mr Taylor told Chris Kenny on Sky News most vehicles in Australia didn’t reach those standards.

And it’s true Australians love heavier vehicles such as SUVs, utes and vans.

Unfortunately, these vehicles use more fuel and are more carbon intensive because they have larger engines.

According to an information paper released by the National Transport Commission last year, the average emissions from new passenger and light commercial vehicles in Australia was 181.7g/km in 2017.

And the top three highest-selling car models in Australia were the Toyota HiLux ute, the Ford Ranger ute and the Toyota Corolla.

Ninety-two per cent of all new cars sold in 2017 were one of 15 makes, and none of these had emissions low enough to be considered a “green” model (with emissions lower than 120g/km).

This is partly because Australia is one of the only developed nations in the world without a carbon emissions standard for cars.

But it can’t hold progress back forever.

Interestingly, carmaker Toyota is one of a number of manufacturers already developing electric and lower emission vehicles. It has a zero emissions target by 2050 for its sites and vehicles.

A Toyota spokeswoman told news.com.au it welcomed Labor’s announcement on the emissions target and supported, in principle, initiatives that helped to reduce the environmental impact of transportation.

Last year Toyota vice-president of national operations Sean Hanley even went as far as calling for politicians to introduce emissions targets but said this should be done at the same time as introducing tougher fuel quality requirements.

“Australia must harmonise its emissions standards with leading overseas markets,” Mr Hanley reportedly said during the launch of Toyota’s new Corolla.

But the car industry has warned it would be unable to meet Labor’s new emissions target using the petrol currently available in Australia. They are pushing for new sulphur standards but Australia’s fuel refineries say this would force them out of business, according to The Australian.

Environment Minister Melissa Price recently postponed fuel standard improvements until July 1, 2027.

Mr Hanley also dismissed reports emissions targets would kill off the rugged diesel vehicles that Toyota was known for but said targets should distinguish between passenger cars and work-orientated commercials and certain 4x4s.

He said Toyota had a responsibility to “take a stand” and was not waiting for emissions laws to be enacted in Australia.

“We can assure you, Toyota is not waiting for emissions laws to be enacted,” Mr Hanley said.

“We recognise all car makers must reduce the environmental impact of their vehicles. The impact of mass-market hybrids is vital, and no-one knows hybrid better than Toyota.”

According to caradvice.com.au, about 40 per cent of Camrys sold in Australia have been hybrid drivetrains, and a new RAV4 SUV will also be available as a hybrid for the first time.

The Federal Chamber of Automotive Industries, which has been calling for an achievable emissions target for some time, also welcomed Labor’s policy announcement.

“The key is to implement achievable emissions targets, designed in consultation with industry, as part of the transport sector’s contribution to lower overall emissions.,” FCAI chief executive Tony Weber said in a statement.

“It’s well known that Australians love their sports utility vehicles (SUVs) and light commercial vehicles (LCVs). Our market is made up of approximately two thirds SUVs and LCVs and one third passenger vehicles (PVs).

“We need to have a realistic and stepped approach to the implementation of emissions targets.”

https://www.news.com.au/national/federal-election/the-big-questions-about-electric-cars/news-story/ce8761992652d6e454a51f7395c45d84

20-minute suburbs: Australia’s walking-friendly cities

Government news, 25 March 2019

A league of experts is calling for targeted investment in walking infrastructure as Melbourne tests the 20-minute neighbourhood.

The 20-minute neighbourhood is based on the concept of ‘living locally’ by giving residents the opportunity to access all the services they need with a 20 minute walk, cycle or public transport trip.

The term, first coined by the state government in its five-year Plan Melbourne bid for a more liveable city, was explored at the MAV Smart Urban Futures event on Friday, where Duane Burtt from Victoria Walks joined a panel to discuss the program’s pilot project.

The program has the potential to transform resident behaviour while also improving perceptions of the local area, he says.

“I think it’s a new way of thinking about planning and economic development, for the state government in particular but also to an extent local government, and it does offer the potential to see stronger local communities from a number of dimensions –economically but also socially and in terms of health,” he told Government News.

The project is part of a broader bid to create a sustainable, less congested city as Melbourne’s population grows by 125,000 year-on-year.

On the back of the movement is a growing push for walking-friendly infrastructure to support healthier, less congested spaces.

Investment in walking infrastructure has the potential to generate substantial returns, Dr Francesca McClean, a consultant for city economics and planning at independent engineering firm Arup told the conference, with a benefit cost ratio of $13 for every $1 invested.

“Walking infrastructure has really exciting potential to create healthier, safer and more equitable communities if we invest in it properly,” she said.

But she says the economic value of walking has been overlooked in some of Melbourne’s biggest transport plans despite inactivity costing the economy in excess of $13.8 billion each year.

“We’ve seen some major public transport business cases not take into account walking benefit streams,” she said.

Walking is aptly known as the “invisible mode” she says, and is often overlooked by urban-planners as a recognised transport mode when key infrastructure decisions are made.

Walking stimulates local economies

Infrastructure that encourages walking can boost local economies, Dr McClean argued, potentially reeling in thousands to local areas, as well as creating cities that are healthier and less congested and polluted.

Promoting just 30 minutes of walking a day can also help alleviate the costs associated with physical inactivity.

“Improved walkability can improve retail spend and the economic development of areas – some walking interventions can increase the number of people entering shops by 40 per cent and significantly increase the economic value of the grid,” she said.

Property prices spike in walkable areas

Cities with more walking infrastructure also have substantially higher property values, the conference was told.

Jodie Walker, a researcher at the Secret Agent, a property management company, told the event that walkable neighbourhoods are in high demand.

Ms Walker, who has been conducting research on the Melbourne property market for more than five years, said research from the Secret Agent found walkability accounted for as much as 60 per cent of price difference.

Walkability has a “protective effect” on property prices, she said, with the price of property increasing substantially in line with the walkability score of suburbs.

The same correlation applies for suburbs with a significant amount of greenery, Ms Walker told the event.

“Walkable regions will continue to grow individual economies and that will continue to push up property prices in these areas and also rents in these areas,” she said.

Case study: Change to Walking

The Change to Walking program in action at a Melbourne school and train station.
An innovative program in Melbourne is exploring the use of ‘nudges’ to encourage walking by train commuters and local school students.

The program, which was presented at the event by director of independent consulting practice Active City, Alice Woodruff, initiated a huge shift in locals’ perceptions of the desirability of walking, and in some areas, the uptake of walking.

The first project, which involved the erection of campaign signs at the train station to prompt people to walk, saw a five per cent lift in the number of people walking at a local station, Ringwood, and a five per cent increase in the rate at which regular walkers were walking to the station.

There was also a dramatic shift in perceptions, with 31 per cent of locals who usually drive considering walking as a result of the campaign.

Another program at a local primary school sought to encourage students to walk to school by incentivising walking through a series of rewards including giving students stickers or a badge at the end of the day and erecting a school wall chart.

The project saw more students walking to school, with 84 per cent of students who were previously walking, walking more and 45 per cent of students who usually drove walking to school.

20-minute suburbs: Australia’s walking-friendly cities

Labor Government could buy petrol, diesel, jet fuel and crude oil to prevent Australia running out

ABC, 28 February, 2019

A national stockpile of crude oil and fuel would be created if Federal Labor won the next election, Bill Shorten has said.

Key points:
Australia only has 18 days’ worth of car petrol and 22 days’ worth of diesel in reserve
Under an international agreement, importers of fuel should have 90 days’ worth stockpiled
Stocks have fallen over recent years, coinciding with oil refinery closures
Australia imports most of its crude oil and refined petrol, and only has a few weeks’ worth of fuel in reserve.

Stocks have been below mandated levels since 2012, raising fears of severe shortages in the event of conflict.

Opposition Leader Bill Shorten said creating a government-owned reserve was “an important national security measure”.

“It’s simple — to increase our national fuel security, we need to increase our national fuel stocks,” he said.

“As we’ve become more reliant on the global fuel market, we’ve also become more vulnerable to international risks and uncertainty.”

Major oil companies in Australia currently hold stocks, as do some large consumers, but there are no laws forcing them to do this.

At the end of December, Australia had 18 days’ worth of car petrol, 24 days’ worth of crude oil, 22 days’ worth of diesel and 107 days’ worth of aviation gas.

It is unclear which refined fuels would be held in reserve.

Mr Shorten said a consultation process would be established before the measure was introduced.

“We will consult with industry, oil and gas importers, refineries and with national security experts on the implementation of the government national fuel reserve.”

A number of domestic fuel refineries have closed over recent years.

Peter Jennings from the Australian Strategic Policy Institute previously said a lack of refineries and fuel farms meant Australia currently did not have the capacity to store large quantities of fuel.

“We would not be able to actually keep much in-country stock, because our fuel farms are now so decrepit and falling out of service that we wouldn’t have the capacity to store it all,” he said.

Energy Minister Angus Taylor said the policy could cost “tens of billions of dollars” and Labor needed to explain how it would be funded.

“Will it be a tax on all of us through the tax system, or will they slug us at the fuel bowser?” he said.

“We are not going to increase the price of fuel at the bowser when it seems clear Labor wants to do that one way or another.”

Liberal Senator Jim Molan has previously raised concerns about the situation, and the Coalition last year announced an inquiry into fuel reserves.

Earlier this week, Labor announced it would create a strategic fleet of merchant ships to help secure crucial supplies if a crisis emerged.

The vessels would be commercially operated but could be repurposed by the government in an emergency.

https://www.abc.net.au/news/2019-02-28/labor-announces-national-fuel-reserve-policy/10857562

The Biggest Saudi Oil Field Is Fading Faster Than Anyone Guessed

Bloomberg, 2 April 2019

It was a state secret and the source of a kingdom’s riches. It was so important that U.S. military planners once debated how to seize it by force. For oil traders, it was a source of endless speculation.

Now the market finally knows: Ghawar in Saudi Arabia, the world’s largest conventional oil field, can produce a lot less than almost anyone believed.

When Saudi Aramco on Monday published its first ever profit figures since its nationalization nearly 40 years ago, it also lifted the veil of secrecy around its mega oil fields. The company’s bond prospectus revealed that Ghawar is able to pump a maximum of 3.8 million barrels a day — well below the more than 5 million that had become conventional wisdom in the market.

“As Saudi’s largest field, a surprisingly low production capacity figure from Ghawar is the stand-out of the report,” said Virendra Chauhan, head of upstream at consultant Energy Aspects Ltd. in Singapore.

The Energy Information Administration, a U.S. government body that provides statistical information and often is used as a benchmark by the oil market, listed Ghawar’s production capacity at 5.8 million barrels a day in 2017. Aramco, in a presentation in Washington in 2004 when it tried to debunk the “peak oil” supply theories of the late U.S. oil banker Matt Simmons, also said the field was pumping more than 5 million barrels a day, and had been doing so since at least the previous decade.

In his book “Twilight in the Desert,” Simmons argued that Saudi Arabia would struggle to boost production due to the imminent depletion of Ghawar, among other factors. “Field-by-field production reports disappeared behind a wall of secrecy over two decades ago,” he wrote in his book in reference to Aramco’s nationalization.

The new details about Ghawar prove one of Simmons’s points but he missed other changes in technology that allowed Saudi Arabia — and, more importantly, U.S. shale producers — to boost output significantly, with global oil production yet to peak.

The prospectus offered no information about why Ghawar can produce today a quarter less than 15 years ago — a significant reduction for any oil field. The report also didn’t say whether capacity would continue to decline at a similar rate in the future.

In response to a request for comment, Aramco referred back to the bond prospectus without elaborating.

Lost Crown

The new maximum production rate for Ghawar means that the Permian in the U.S., which pumped 4.1 million barrels a day last month according to government data, is already the largest oil production basin. The comparison isn’t exact — the Saudi field is a conventional reservoir, while the Permian is an unconventional shale formation — yet it shows the shifting balance of power in the market.

Ghawar, which is about 174 miles long — or about the distance from New York to Baltimore — is so important for Saudi Arabia because the field has “accounted for more than half of the total cumulative crude oil production in the kingdom,” according to the bond prospectus. The country has been pumping since the discovery of the Dammam No. 7 well in 1938.

On top of Ghawar, which was found in 1948 by an American geologist, Saudi Arabia relies heavily on two other mega-fields: Khurais, which was discovered in 1957, and can pump 1.45 million barrels a day, and Safaniyah, found in 1951 and still today the world’s largest offshore oil field with capacity of 1.3 million barrels a day. In total, Aramco operates 101 oil fields.

The 470-page bond prospectus confirms that Saudi Aramco is able to pump a maximum of 12 million barrels a day — as Riyadh has said for several years. The kingdom has access to another 500,000 barrels a day of output capacity in the so-called neutral zone shared with Kuwait. That area isn’t producing anything now due a political dispute with its neighbor.

While the prospectus confirmed the overall maximum production capacity, the split among fields is different to what the market had assumed. As a policy, Saudi Arabia keeps about 1 million to 2 million barrels a day of its capacity in reserve, using it only during wars, disruptions elsewhere or unusually strong demand. Saudi Arabia briefly pumped a record of more than 11 million barrels a day in late 2018.

“The company also uses this spare capacity as an alternative supply option in case of unplanned production outages at any field and to maintain its production levels during routine field maintenance,” Aramco said in its prospectus.

Costly Strategy

For Aramco, that’s a significant cost, as it has invested billions of dollars into facilities that aren’t regularly used. However, the company said the ability to tap its spare capacity also allows it to profit handsomely at times of market tightness, providing an extra $35.5 billion in revenue from 2013 to 2018. Last year, Saudi Energy Minister Khalid Al-Falih said maintaining this supply buffer costs about $2 billion a year.

Aramco also disclosed reserves at its top-five fields, revealing that some of them have shorter lifespans than previously thought. Ghawar, for example, has 48.2 billion barrels of oil left, which would last another 34 years at the maximum rate of production. Nonetheless, companies are often able to boost the reserves over time by deploying new techniques or technology.

In total, the kingdom has 226 billion barrels of reserves, enough for another 52 years of production at the maximum capacity of 12 million barrels a day.

The Saudis also told the world that their fields are aging better than expected, with “low depletion rates of 1 percent to 2 percent per year,” slower than the 5 percent decline some analysts suspected.

Yet, it also said that some of its reserves — about a fifth of the total — had been drilled so systematically over nearly a century that more than 40 percent of their oil has been already extracted, a considerable figure for an industry that usually struggles to recover more than half the barrels in place underground.

https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2019-04-02/saudi-aramco-reveals-sharp-output-drop-at-super-giant-oil-field

Saudi Aramco says climate lawsuits ‘could result in substantial costs’

Climate home news, 2 April, 2019

The world’s largest oil producer made more money than Apple and Alphabet combined last year, but the company sees litigation and clean tech as threats

Climate lawsuits, clean energy and electric cars pose threats to Saudi Aramco’s mammoth profits, according to a historic public disclosure on Monday.

The state oil producer netted $111 billion in 2018, more than tech giants Apple and Alphabet combined, it revealed in a bond prospectus.

It is aiming to raise funds to buy petrochemical company Sabic, as part of Saudi Arabia’s strategy to diversify its economy away from crude oil.

Saudi Aramco will continue to be “significantly impacted” by the international oil price, the document noted, warning: “Climate change concerns and impacts could reduce global demand for hydrocarbons and hydrocarbon-based products and could cause the company to incur costs or invest additional capital.”

Climate policies such as renewable energy mandates, carbon pricing and energy efficiency standards are expected to dampen demand for fossil fuels, it said. Trends in electrification of transport and clean energy prices will also be critical.

Meanwhile the company faces legal challenges over the role of its products in causing climate change. On 2 July 2018, US state Rhode Island sued oil and gas companies including Motiva, an Aramco subsidiary, for damages to coastal infrastructure. “Claims such as these could grow in number,” the note said, and “litigation could result in substantial costs”.

Peter Barnett, a climate lawyer with ClientEarth, agreed. “Climate litigation is gathering pace as citizens, cities, states and shareholders seek accountability for continued reliance on fossil fuels as the impacts of climate change are increasingly acutely felt,” he said. “As Saudi Aramco’s prospectus underscores, climate litigation is now of mainstream financial concern to fossil fuel-exposed companies and their investors.”

Saudi Aramco dismisses peak oil demand ‘hype’, touts carbon efficiency

These caveats did not stop agencies Fitch and Moody’s giving the company a solid A+/A1 credit rating, judging it a fairly safe bet for investors.

Saudi Aramco’s relatively low cost oil production makes it better placed than many competitors to weather the global transition to clean energy.

To meet the goal of the Paris Agreement to hold global warming below 2C, oil will ultimately need to be phased out. In the short term, though, climate models allow a budget for its continued role in the energy mix.

Less than 10% of Saudi Aramco’s capital spending to 2025 falls outside that 2C budget, analysts at Carbon Tracker judged in a 2018 ranking of 72 oil companies. That compares to 20-30% for Exxon Mobil, Total and Petrobas, or up to 60% for US-based Energen.

Saudi Arabia also wastes less energy in the extraction process and through gas flaring than most oil-producing countries, a 2018 study in Science found.

For all these advantages, Saudi Aramco is not immune from pressure on the sector to shift investment into renewable energy. At a conference in February, its chief Amin Nasser described a “worrying and growing belief among policy makers… and many others that we are an industry with little or no future”.

Crown prince Mohammed bin Salman in 2016 proposed floating part of the company on the stock exchange. If that ever comes to pass, it will only bring more scrutiny on its carbon and financial accounting.

Shareholder resolutions on climate change have become a regular feature of AGM season for publicly listed companies. Several oil majors have bowed to calls to disclose what the 2C warming limit means for their business. The next ask is to set emissions reduction targets in line with the Paris Agreement goal – a proposal Exxon Mobil is trying to block.

Another focus for activists is the mismatch between companies’ climate-friendly rhetoric and covert support for lobbying against climate policies. Shell revealed on Tuesday it was quitting the American Fuel & Petrochemical Manufacturers over its climate stance – but staying in the controversial American Petroleum Institute.

Saudi Aramco says climate lawsuits ‘could result in substantial costs’

Australia’s plunging wind, solar, storage costs stun fossil fuel industry

Renew Economy, 29 March 2019

This week the federal Coalition government decided to dump 90 per cent of the coal projects that had been submitted to its big underwriting program, and chose instead a shortlist dominated by renewables backed by battery storage and pumped hydro, and some gas and just one coal upgrade.

The choice may have been driven more by politics than economics, given the project developers were asked for only a broad outline of their proposal and there is an election just a few weeks away.

But when the final detailed tenders come in later this year – assuming the program survives the upcoming election campaign – the economic case for favouring renewables and storage projects should be crystal clear, if the latest numbers from global analysts BloombergNEF are anything to go by.

The stunning fall in the costs of wind, solar and storage – estimated on a global scale – has already put the fossil fuel industry on notice, as we reported earlier this week.

Now, we can publish the BloombergNEF cost estimates for Australia, and they reveal an even more devastating outcome for the fossil fuel industry and their cheer leaders in politics and the media.

The headline number is the cost of “bulk energy”, where unsubsidised solar and wind easily beat coal and gas. Even the highest priced wind and solar is cheaper than the lowest cost estimate for coal, so the Coalition might as well save $10 million to taxpayers funds and stop the feasibility study for the new Queensland coal generator now. We already know it makes no sense.

But the BNEF numbers tell us a lot more, and reinforce the cost estimates produced by the CSIRO and the Australian Energy Market Operator last year, that found that wind and solar, even backed by hours of storage and fully dispatchable, still beat the fossil fuel generators.

The graph above shows the cost of “bulk energy” on the left, and in the middle is what BloomberNEF describes as “dispatchable” generation, which includes what is usually described as the “base-load” coal and gas generators, and onshore wind and solar PV “firmed up” by storage to make them dispatchable.

To the right is what BloombergNEF refers to as “peaking plants”, and it is where it groups technologies like pumped hydro, open cycle gas, fast-start gas reciprocating engines and stand-alone batteries.

These two columns under dispatchability and flexibility deserve further explanation, because when the cost wind and solar plunged so dramatically in the last decade, and turned the tables on coal and gas on the cost of bulk energy, the fossil fuel spruikers have been hanging on to this idea of “baseload” and “back-up” to argue that the “intermittents” are still more expensive.

This week the federal Coalition government decided to dump 90 per cent of the coal projects that had been submitted to its big underwriting program, and chose instead a shortlist dominated by renewables backed by battery storage and pumped hydro, and some gas and just one coal upgrade.

The choice may have been driven more by politics than economics, given the project developers were asked for only a broad outline of their proposal and there is an election just a few weeks away.

But when the final detailed tenders come in later this year – assuming the program survives the upcoming election campaign – the economic case for favouring renewables and storage projects should be crystal clear, if the latest numbers from global analysts BloombergNEF are anything to go by.

The stunning fall in the costs of wind, solar and storage – estimated on a global scale – has already put the fossil fuel industry on notice, as we reported earlier this week.

Now, we can publish the BloombergNEF cost estimates for Australia, and they reveal an even more devastating outcome for the fossil fuel industry and their cheer leaders in politics and the media.

This graph above prepared by BloomberNEF shows how.

The headline number is the cost of “bulk energy”, where unsubsidised solar and wind easily beat coal and gas. Even the highest priced wind and solar is cheaper than the lowest cost estimate for coal, so the Coalition might as well save $10 million to taxpayers funds and stop the feasibility study for the new Queensland coal generator now. We already know it makes no sense.

But the BNEF numbers tell us a lot more, and reinforce the cost estimates produced by the CSIRO and the Australian Energy Market Operator last year, that found that wind and solar, even backed by hours of storage and fully dispatchable, still beat the fossil fuel generators.

The graph above shows the cost of “bulk energy” on the left, and in the middle is what BloomberNEF describes as “dispatchable” generation, which includes what is usually described as the “base-load” coal and gas generators, and onshore wind and solar PV “firmed up” by storage to make them dispatchable.

To the right is what BloombergNEF refers to as “peaking plants”, and it is where it groups technologies like pumped hydro, open cycle gas, fast-start gas reciprocating engines and stand-alone batteries.

These two columns under dispatchability and flexibility deserve further explanation, because when the cost wind and solar plunged so dramatically in the last decade, and turned the tables on coal and gas on the cost of bulk energy, the fossil fuel spruikers have been hanging on to this idea of “baseload” and “back-up” to argue that the “intermittents” are still more expensive.

Not so, says the BloomberNEF data, along with that of the CSIRO and AEMO. As BloombergNEF’s head of energy economics Elena Giannakopoulou observes, batteries in Australia are already cheaper than gas plants in providing peaking services.

In the right hand column, the comparison Bloomberg makes (on a $/MWh basis) is between stand-alone batteries and technologies that have been offering peaking services, namely open-cycle gas turbines (OCGTs) and gas reciprocating engines.

“And we see that there are markets today like Australia, U.K. and Japan where batteries are already cheaper than gas plants in providing peaking services,” she tells RenewEconomy by email.

The middle column is also interesting.

These costs reflect the combined system, wind or solar plus the battery, and include capex, and operating and maintenance costs for the power generating asset (ie solar or wind) and the battery.

The range in estimated costs for wind and solar plus storage reflects the number of hours of storage.

The cheapest is one hour, and the more expensive four hours. The reason why the batteries appear cheaper when paired with wind and solar, rather than stand-alone, is because they source the electricity for charging for free, as part of a combined asset.

“There is no charging cost here as batteries are charging from the renewable energy asset,” Giannakopoulou says. “The storage capacity here (ie output in MW and duration in hrs) is determined by the amount of electricity generated by solar/wind you want to “firm” ie ensure that is available when it’s not sunny or windy.

“These systems can now offer what we call “dispatchability” ie give solar and wind plants access to high value hours when they might otherwise be offline. As a result they compete with thermal plants that provide bulk electricity ie combined -cycle gas plants and coal plants.

“Already, in a number of major markets like Germany, the U.K. and the U.S., new solar and wind-plus-battery systems with, say, four hours of storage sized at 50 per cent of the generating plant capacity, can compete with new coal and gas plants on an unsubsidized cost-of-energy basis.

“In Australia, a wind-plus-battery system with 100 per cent dispatchability is already beating new coal and CCGT plants. And even in China, new solar- and wind-plus-battery systems with a low degree of dispatchability have reached cost parity with low-cost coal plants.”

Of course, not every wind and solar farm will need to have its own batteries or pumped hydro and match each MW of output with an equivalent in storage. Like the gas plants that have long provided back up for the fleet of coal generators, this is best provided on a system-wide basis.

And that is what is going to make the results of the government underwriting tender very interesting. On these estimates, it will be hard to see how the five fossil fuel plants beat the renewables plus storage proposals on costs.

Some of these proposals may depend on a “system” case, and the three pumped hydro projects in South Australia, for instance, are competing for what is for now a narrow window. (i.e. there is probably not room for all three.

But so far the government hasn’t bothered to seek advice of the Australian Energy Market Operator, which has put together its Integrated System Plan.

Even so, with costs of renewables and storage continuing to fall, as BloombergNEF reported earlier this week, they have fallen by between 10 per cent and 35 per cent just this past year – the argument for a new coal generator becomes even more a fantasy than it was at the start.

Finally, it should be noted that the headline on this story says that these cost falls will stun the fossil fuel industry. Actually, they won’t. They know full well that their technology is no longer competitive, as the heads of all the major utilities, and even their peak body, has admitted.

The only people that don’t know, or won’t accept, are the ideologues and ill-informed who insist on taking the Catweazle approach to modern technologies. One day, they may wake up, and they will be stunned by what they see.

Australia’s plunging wind, solar, storage costs stun fossil fuel industry

Rethinking traffic congestion to make our cities more like the places we want them to be

The Conversation, February 25, 2019

Soon after becoming prime minister last year, Scott Morrison appointed a minister for “congestion busting”, signalling the importance he attaches to this issue. The large number of Google search results on “traffic congestion in Australian cities 2019” (9.5 million) and “traffic congestion in Australian cities costing the economy 2019” (8.3 million) seems to support his opinion.

But what if this concern for traffic congestion is based more on “groupthink” than a careful look at the relevant data? What if congestion is not such a big social or economic problem? What if congestion costs are overemphasised?

In thinking about these questions, it should be recognised that there is always an underlying demand for driving, which exceeds the road space available, so building more roads induces more traffic. Congestion soon returns but with more vehicles affected than before. In addition, congestion is likely to increase with rising population and living standards.

Is traffic congestion a problem for the economy?
The Bureau of Infrastructure, Transport and Regional Economics (BITRE) estimated the “avoidable social costs” of traffic congestion for Australia’s eight capital cities at A$16.5 billion in 2015. While the estimate is carefully calculated, there is scope to consider other relevant factors such as:

traffic congestion is usually a problem only for commuters in or near metropolitan CBD areas – for other road users, their average time delay is a relatively minor problem

the BITRE estimate is a small proportion (about 1%) of Australia’s 2015 GDP

more than one-third of the A$16.5 billion estimate is for private time costs that aren’t factored into GDP calculations

except perhaps for congestion charging, avoiding the BITRE cost estimate would require capital expenditure, reducing the net benefit that action to reduce congestion costs could capture

the BITRE estimate gives insufficient attention to changes in travel behaviour and location decisions in response to congestion.

There is evidence that road users, both private and business, adapt to congestion by changing travel route and time of travel, as well as changing location. In addition, the effects of the so-called Marchetti travel time budget (time saved on one route tends to be used for more travel elsewhere rather than for non-travel purposes) does not seem to have been considered in the BITRE calculations.

Using congestion to guide development

While the avoidable social costs of road congestion are arguably not a big deal, it’s pretty clear congestion plays a significant role in structuring urban areas.

Urban planners in Vancouver recognised this some 40 years ago. Rather than trying to reduce traffic congestion, they consciously used that congestion to limit commuter car access to the city centre. They went so far as to say “congestion is our friend”.

A “carrot and stick” approach was adopted in Vancouver. Traffic congestion was used to discourage commuting by car from the suburbs to the CBD. At the same time, complementary urban planning and design policies were enacted to make the inner city a more attractive place to live for all family types including those with young children. High-quality public transport (particularly the SkyTrain metro system) to the CBD was expanded to cover more of the metropolitan area, providing an attractive alternative to commuting by car.

Of course, congestion management can be used to support other land use planning strategies, such as metropolitan decentralisation. Again this would require a “carrot and stick” approach.

Congestion narrative fuels ‘the infrastructure turn’
Urban researchers have identified what has been called “the infrastructure turn”. This is an excessive focus on building infrastructure, particularly large transport infrastructure, rather than on integrated strategic land use and transport planning.

The infrastructure focus is a simplistic response to growing city populations. Importantly, it fails to manage travel demand towards a more sustainable long-term result, such as metropolitan decentralisation like Sydney’s “three cities” approach.

Emphasising congestion and its estimated costs reinforces a sense that urgent action is needed, and supports the “infrastructure turn”.

Planning for the city we desire

A best practice approach to metropolitan planning requires that transport planning and land use planning work together to achieve a desired future for the city. And community deliberation determines this desired future. The performance of the transport system should be measured mainly by how well this desired future is being achieved, rather than by the level of traffic congestion.

While traffic congestion is real and annoying to many (and also a worry for politicians like the prime minister), it’s not a big social or economic problem. Instead, the congestion could be managed – rather than just catering to projected demand – so our cities become more like the places we want them to be.

https://theconversation.com/rethinking-traffic-congestion-to-make-our-cities-more-like-the-places-we-want-them-to-be-111614?utm_source=twitter&utm_medium=twitterbutton

The Political Battle Over California’s Suburban Dream

Citylab 5 April 2019

State Senator Scott Wiener’s SB 50 would rewrite the state’s single-family zoning codes. What’s wrong with that? A lot, say opponents.

In a hearing room in California’s capitol on Tuesday, State Senator Scott Wiener described a widespread housing crisis in stark terms. California is short about 3.5 million homes, he said, citing a McKinsey report that projected housing demand by 2025. Buying a home at the Golden State’s median price—over half a million dollars—is a fantasy for most households. Rents are soaring, homelessness is up, and displacement is refacing storied neighborhoods.

“Red or blue, all of our communities are struggling,” Wiener told an audience of lobbyists, citizens, and members of the state senate housing committee, who would later have their say about how to address the housing crisis.

As they spoke, the painted figures in a Depression-era mural depicting the state’s romanticized origins looked on. Flanked by a missionary, a prospector, a frontiersman, and a native Californian, Calafia, the Amazon goddess from whom the state supposedly gets its name, graced its spectacular and varied terrain. In the foreground, a white working-class couple, child in arms, surveyed their land of promise.

As Tuesday’s hearing made clear, rarely has California’s mythic story of opportunity seemed further from reality. From Sonoma to San Diego, the state faces a massive affordability crisis; across the political gradient, few residents disagree on that, even if they don’t see eye to eye on how to solve it. Investment in below-market-rate housing?

Stronger tenant protections? Better city planning? They’re all part of the solution, said Wiener. But what California fundamentally lacks is adequate housing supply, he said, and it needs to tear down needless barriers to market rate construction.

That’s the intention behind Wiener’s Senate Bill 50, which proposes to rewrite the laws that have blocked high-volume housing construction. Like its predecessor SB 827, the transit-oriented housing bill that captured national attention last year, SB 50 faces vigorous opposition from many angles. But it cleared its first legislative hurdle this week when it passed that housing committee (which Wiener leads) with a bipartisan 9-1 vote.

The bill would set an unprecedented state standard for residential zoning codes in certain corners of California. Currently, it is illegal to build anything but single dwellings designed for single families, sometimes with an in-law unit, in roughly 80 percent of California’s residential neighborhoods. SB 50 would change those laws in areas that are near high-frequency transit lines, job clusters, and good schools, prying open opportunities for developers to build to taller heights, with more units per square foot.

It’s a solution to what is, in one respect, a geometry problem. Cities that cling to their coveted coastlines can expand outwardly only so far, and even in big metros like L.A. and the Bay area, the share of land that’s zoned for single-family housing is still about 70 percent. Governor Gavin Newsom has pledged to meet that 3.5 million-unit gap by 2025. But UCLA urban policy experts recently showed that zoning constraints prevent cities and counties from building more than 2.8 million new homes. “If you’re prohibited to build enough housing, then you’re sort of stuck,” Wiener said on Tuesday.

Unfortunately, however, the housing crisis isn’t just about the math. These politics probe deep into fundamental emotional concepts about ownership, sovereignty, and identity. A diverse mix of Californians—from the richest suburbs in the country, to rent-strained neighborhoods fighting gentrification and displacement, to struggling towns from the vast farming region—have arranged themselves on either side of the bill, which has tapped a powerful strain of anxiety about who should live in this state, and how.

For its opponents, SB 50 functions as a Rorschach test that reveals the “real” housing crisis. At Tuesday’s hearing, a parade of naysayers had their moment at the mic.

“This is about destroying suburban, one-home-per-lot neighborhoods … this is discrimination,” said Karen Klinger, a Sacramento real estate broker.

Jason Rhine, a legislative director with the League of California Cities, had another concern: He complained that the legislation would undermine local plans to increase housing supplies. “You tell us to plan, you approve our plan, and now the rules are going to be changed without additional input,” he said.

Rene Christian Moya, the director of Housing is a Human Right, led a group of low-income tenant-activists from Los Angeles and Oakland to testify at the hearing about their key objection: the fear that SB 50 would bring rent hikes and displacement. “We contest vigorously that trickle-down housing is the way to build,” he said. (His organization is a subsidiary of the AIDS Healthcare Foundation, the global healthcare and advocacy nonprofit that’s become a figure for fighting density measures in Southern California.)

SB 50 is already further along than its predecessor, SB 827, ever got. That bill’s premature demise (it didn’t clear its first hearing) was largely due to the concerns of low-income community advocates, who justly saw transit-adjacent upzoning as a gentrification accelerator. It’s hard to parse the exact reasons why people leave their neighborhoods, but rising rents are indisputably driving some poorer Californians out of their longtime neighborhoods. Highly visible examples can be found in the Mission in San Francisco, and Boyle Heights in Los Angeles.

SB 50 contains a number of new provisions that address those criticisms. That includes a five-year carve-out for “sensitive communities” that could be at risk of displacement, which the bill is leaving up to local planners and advocates to define. It boasts stronger provisions for inclusionary requirements, and it excludes properties that have long had tenants living in them or have been recently subject to evictions. It also targets neighborhoods that are rich in jobs and great schools, in addition to transit-adjacent ones, for higher-density allowances. That way, desirable communities that have long been immune to new development pressure—high-income, high-opportunity, and zoned to be exclusionary—would have to step up, too.

Wiener has drawn a broader coalition behind SB 50 than he was able to do for its predecessor. Supporters include AARP, the California Labor Federation, the California Association of Realtors, CalPIRG, the Natural Resources Defense Council, Habitat for Humanity, Fair Housing Advocates of Northern California, the Non-Profit Housing Association of Northern California, the BART Board of Directors, and the mayors of San Francisco, Oakland, San Jose, Stockton, and Sacramento. Three-quarters of residents in San Francisco—where housing affordability is the top civic concern, polls show—support SB 50, according to a survey by the SF Chamber of Commerce.

But some tenant advocacy groups and community justice organizations still fear that SB 50 could toss fuel on the fire of urban displacement. And although this draft goes further to establish affordability standards to make sure that new projects are mixed income, its focus is still principally on building market-rate apartments. That doesn’t cut it for very low-income Californians, Moya said, who are struggling the most to hang on to homes. He’s a native of the gentrifying, historically Latino neighborhood of Highland Park in Los Angeles, where median home prices have more than doubled since 2012. Moya has experienced housing insecurity himself, he said: “This is personal for me.”

Other advocates fear that the state government pre-empting community control over zoning and planning—long authorities vested at the local level—would set a dangerous precedent, particularly for vulnerable populations who’ve been left out of planning processes in the past. “Sensitive communities” might also be too narrowly defined by the bill’s language so far, say dozens of prominent low-income housing developers, social justice advocates, and anti-poverty legal groups from around the state who sent a long letter of concerns to Wiener’s office last month. “SB 50 must accurately identify all sensitive communities and preserve meaningful self-determination in those communities so that they can plan for an inclusive future,” that letter states.

But California housing politics creates strange bedfellows. Probably the loudest voices of dissent against SB 50 right now are affluent homeowners who worry that it will bulldoze local control over housing allowances and imperil “historic character”—traditional concerns of Not In My Backyard adherents. Groups like Livable California, founded last year by Marin anti-growth activist Susan Kirsch (who recently told Palo Alto Weekly that she prefers to the milder word “problem” to “crisis” when it comes to housing), have found footing up and down the state. In late March, a few dozen homeowners—mostly white, mostly older—gathered outside a church in downtown San Luis Obispo, where scarcely any building stands higher than two stories, to protest Wiener’s appearance at a housing summit organized by the local chamber of commerce. (I was also on the panel.) They raised signs, passed out Livable California literature, and chanted anti-SB 50 slogans. Sample couplet: “Density is not the way!/Where is the parking, who will pay?”

“We just want to preserve our quality of life,” said Allen Cooper, the secretary of Save Our Downtown, an anti-density preservation group in San Luis Obispo. “And part of that is we don’t want seven-story buildings looming over our houses.”

That’s not what SB 50 would do; it would raise height limits gradually, dependent on the codes already on the books. Nevertheless, S.O.D.’s members join with opponents in affluent communities and their elected leaders from Marin County to Redondo Beach to Sherman Oaks (my own childhood neighborhood in L.A.’s San Fernando Valley).

Up in the Bay Area, Cupertino Mayor Steve Scharf recently joked that the city planned to build a wall around itself to tame congestion problems and would force San Jose to pay for it. In his city, the median price for a single-family home is more than $2 million, unaffordable even to well-paid Apple software engineers. Yet it failed to require that Apple build any new housing when it approved the tech giant’s $1 billion, 10,000-worker new headquarters. In nearby Palo Alto, Mayor Eric Filseth railed against the bill in his recent state-of-the-city speech, complaining that targeting zoning codes would fail to hold big employers accountable for their role in the housing crunch. That’s true, but SB 50 wouldn’t override local housing elements that go above and beyond it.

John Mirisch, the vice-mayor of Beverly Hills, also used a recent address as an anti-SB 50 tirade, likening pro-housing legislators to Haman, a villain from the Jewish holiday of Purim, who attempted to kill off the Jews. He also referred to apartment buildings as “slums,” and encouraged everyone to live in single-family homes. (Median home price in Beverly Hills, the vast majority of which is zoned for single-family homes: $3.5 million.)

These pricey enclaves aren’t wrong to see themselves in the bullseye of SB 50. “We are targeting places like Beverly Hills that have shirked their responsibly to contribute to fixing this crisis,” said Laura Foote, the executive director of YIMBY Action, ahe pro-housing advocacy group.* “We are targeting places like Cupertino, which have added a lot of jobs and not a lot of housing.”

Considering the root of their respective concerns, it makes sense that low-income tenants rights groups concerned with displacement, and the representatives of the wealthiest neighborhoods in California, would be in the anti-SB 50 boat together. Fights against displacement in gentrifying areas generally happen in neighborhoods where it is already possible to build new, multi-family housing units with higher rents than existing tenants can afford—which is to say, in the few neighborhoods in California where that’s allowed.

Part of the reason anti-gentrification battles erupt in neighborhoods like Highland Park or the Mission is that single-family zoning codes have fiercely guarded against higher-density construction in most other surrounding neighborhoods. Homeowners in affluent neighborhoods, meanwhile, can exert disproportionate influence on the local zoning and development approval processes that effectively decide which communities are subjected to neighborhood change. “All of this is a legacy of the fact that you can build multi-family housing on only a few sites,” said Sonja Trauss, the co-executive director of the California Renters Legal Advocacy and Education Fund.

SB 50 seeks to upend that legacy by alleviating pressure on the most sensitive areas, opening up development in the areas where exclusionary zoning have put up the highest barriers to opportunity. It would rewrite the codes that have protected more suburban-style communities from physical changes to their composition, physical or demographic. “Homeowners generally benefit from scarcity,” said Michael Lens, a professor of urban policy at UCLA. “So pulling some of the zoning powers away from cities seems like something to consider to reduce those negative incentives.”

The drive down from San Francisco to Silicon Valley offers a visual lesson in why development pressures are so intensely concentrated in the few parts of the Bay Area where multi-unit housing is allowed. On the highway, the city quickly gives way to vast tracts of carefully preserved green fields and tiled-roof suburban sprawl that is nearly indistinguishable from the generally more politically conservative Orange and San Diego counties, hundreds of miles to the south.

The long, leafy, suburban peninsula holds many of the wealthiest zip codes in the United States, and yet is the country’s poster child for the extreme cost burdens created by extreme housing scarcity. It’s where county bus drivers are forced to sleep in their cars at night, and where proposals to house public school teachers spark online fundraisers to stop them by homeowners who are “distraught and concerned.”

Around here, residents look at SB 50 much like an incoming meteor. Silicon Valley’s Atherton, for example, is the very richest zip code in America, and is 100-percent zoned for single-family residential. It’s home to moguls like Sheryl Sandberg, Eric Schmidt, and Meg Whitman. It lost its weekday Caltrain commuter rail service in 2005, much to the chagrin of some residents with jobs in San Francisco or San Jose. But earlier this year, the local rail committee debated whether to petition to cancel its Caltrain service entirely, in case SB 50 might have upzoned the area around its historic train stop. In Atherton, some commuters apparently prefer to keep slogging through congestion than risk an incursion of apartment renters.

Concerns among social justice advocates about SB 50 are genuine and legitimate. Hardly all Californians who are vulnerable to rising rents and development pressures live in hotly contested urban neighborhoods. Take Vallejo, California, a still relatively affordable north Bay Area city and one of the most ethnically mixed places in the state. It has corridors rich in transit and jobs that could be upzoned under SB 50, potentially paving the way for more development, higher rents, and a more affluent demographic mix. “Some of the most diverse communities in Californian are made up of suburban-style, single-family homes,” said Michael Storper, a scholar of regional economics at UCLA who’s been a critic of the bill. It will take careful decision-making to determine what counts as a sensitive community, and eligible to protections from the new development that SB 50 is designed to accelerate.

But emerging analyses are suggesting that developers would be more likely to capitalize on new opportunities in wealthier neighborhoods anyway. A look at the potential effects of SB 50 in the Bay Area by UC Berkeley researchers show developers are more likely to profit from building in well-heeled Menlo Park than poorer Fruitvale, for example. And many constraints would still stand in the way of new construction, including slow permitting processes, local rezoning, and the sheer expense of building something new in California.

Still, it is worth considering what would happen to the people in areas more likely to be affected. High-income neighborhoods near good transit, jobs, and schools could see higher densities permitted in their neighborhoods. But that doesn’t mean leafy blocks of low-slung Craftsmans would be bulldozed overnight and transformed into looming mini-Manhattans. Available properties could be built, or rebuilt, to moderately taller heights. “SB 50 could thus result in a more gradual densification of housing in transit-rich neighborhoods, as underutilized sites become buildings with 10-20 units,” the Berkeley analysis found. The outcome that many anti-SB 50 activists dread is that their neighbors would choose to cash in, selling their houses to a developer who wanted to do that. “That sounds like an opportunity, not a threat,” said Foote.

It’s not hard to understand why homeowners are so sensitive to SB 50 messing with the formula of California living. This is the place that took the postwar suburban promise to its apotheosis. As population boomed in the 30 years after World War II, the state built approximately 6 million housing units. More than 3.5 million of them were single-family homes. These were the houses and backyards and station-wagon-filled driveways that Americans saw on TV every night in the 1960s and ‘70s; they represented the sun-kissed Golden Dream that lured so many millions of newcomers. To revive that promise, California now has to change its physical shape, and change is never easy for incumbents who’ve benefited. People are entitled to want to see their blue skies.

But the Golden Dream was never for everyone. Families with lower incomes and families of color, were locked out of California’s suburban prosperity by illegal and legal forms of discrimination— including the zoning codes that were pioneered here. A 1885 ban on washhouses (and the Chinese immigrants who mostly used them) from parts of Modesto is considered the first true zoning ordinance in the United States. In 1925, the California Supreme Court upheld one of the country’s earliest cases fighting for the “police power” of cities to allow single-family homes in certain areas and tenements in others. These practices were derived from explicitly racist attempts to segregate whites and non-whites. And as residential zoning evolved, stated rationales were rarely rational. Here’s how the judges in the 1925 case glorified the single-family home, and all that it represented:

The establishment of [single family] districts is for the general welfare because it tends to promote and perpetuate the American home… The character and quality of manhood and womanhood are in a large measure the result of home environment. The home and its intrinsic influences are the very foundation of good citizenship, and any factor contributing to the establishment of homes and the fostering of home life doubtless tends to the enhancement not only of community life but of the life of the nation as a whole…

It is needless to further analyze and enumerate all of the factors which make a single family home more desirable for the promotion and perpetuation of family life than an apartment, hotel, or flat. It will suffice to say that there is a sentiment practically universal, that this is so.

But often, that idealized model of California homeownership was a privilege reserved primarily for white people, like that pioneer couple in the mural presiding over the Sacramento hearing room. The millions of Californians who arrived after the postwar building boom ended found rising costs and narrowing opportunities. SB 50 would attempt to start pulling up these legacies, at least at one insidious root. (It does not address, for example, the effects of wage inequality.)

The bill faces long odds. Its next senate committee hearing will be led by a legislator who opposes it, rather than Wiener himself. “We’re not guaranteed to pass it,” Wiener told Palo Alto Weekly. “We’re working hard to build support and build momentum for it. But we have a shot.”

But supporters might take heart that not every resident in places like Beverly Hills or Cupertino agrees with their elected officials. Evan Goldin, a Palo Alto native in his early 30s, told the Weekly that he’s been frustrated by the rhetoric of his mayor and neighbors who don’t seem to want to make way for new faces.

“That makes me quite sad, as someone who grew up here and still lives here and wants to have strong bonds to the community,” Goldin said. “I want my friends to be able to afford to live here. I want my teachers and janitors and baristas to afford a chance to live where they work. The world will be OK if a few more families live on your block.”

*CORRECTION: A previous version of this article incorrectly stated that YIMBY Action is a co-sponsor of SB 50. In fact, California YIMBY, another pro-housing group, is the co-sponsor.

https://www.citylab.com/equity/2019/04/california-affordable-housing-bill-sb50-single-family-zoning/586519/

Cars are killing us. Within 10 years, we must phase them out

The Guardian, 7 March 2019

It’s the last straw. Parked outside the hospital doors is a minibus with its engine running. The driver is playing on his mobile phone. The fumes are blowing into the atrium. I step up to his window and ask him to turn the engine off. He does so, grumpily. Then I notice he’s wearing a health service uniform. I walk through the atrium, down a corridor and into the cancer department (not for cancer this time, but to talk about reconstructive surgery). I look around the huge waiting room and wonder how many of the people sitting here might be ill as a result of air pollution. I think of people in other departments: children with asthma attacks, patients being treated for road injuries, or suffering from a lifetime of inactivity, as wheels replaced their feet. And I’m struck by the amazing variety of ways in which cars have ruined our lives.

Let’s abandon this disastrous experiment, recognise that this 19th-century technology is now doing more harm than good, and plan our way out of it. Let’s set a target to cut the use of cars by 90% over the next decade.

Yes, the car is still useful – for a few people it’s essential. It would make a good servant. But it has become our master, and it spoils everything it touches. It now presents us with a series of emergencies that demand an emergency response.

One of these emergencies is familiar to every hospital. Pollution now kills three times as many people worldwide as Aids, tuberculosis and malaria combined. Remember the claims at the start of this century, projected so noisily by the billionaire press: that public money would be better spent on preventing communicable disease than on preventing climate breakdown? It turns out that the health dividend from phasing out fossil fuels is likely to have been much bigger. (Of course, there was nothing stopping us from spending money on both: it was a false dilemma.) Burning fossil fuels, according to a recent paper, is now “the world’s most significant threat to children’s health”.

In other sectors, greenhouse gas emissions have fallen sharply. But transport emissions in the UK have declined by only 2% since 1990. The government’s legally binding target is an 80% cut by 2050, though even this, the science now tells us, is hopelessly inadequate. Transport, mostly because of our obsession with the private car, is now the major factor driving us towards climate breakdown, in this and many other nations.

The number of people killed on the roads was falling steadily in the UK until 2010, at which point the decline suddenly ended. Why? Because, while fewer drivers and passengers are dying, the number of pedestrians killed has risen by 11%. In the US, it’s even worse: a 51% rise in the annual death rate of pedestrians since 2009. There seem to be two reasons: drivers distracted by their mobile phones, and a switch from ordinary cars to sports-utility vehicles. As SUVs are higher and heavier, they are more likely to kill the people they hit. Driving an SUV in an urban area is an antisocial act.

There are also subtler and more pervasive effects. Traffic mutes community, as the noise, danger and pollution in busy streets drive people indoors. The places in which children could play and adults could sit and talk are reserved instead for parking. Engine noise, a great but scarcely acknowledged cause of stress and illness, fills our lives. As we jostle to secure our road space, as we swear and shake our fists at other drivers, pedestrians and cyclists, as we grumble about speed limits and traffic calming, cars change us, enhancing our sense of threat and competition, cutting us off from each other.

New roads carve up the countryside, dispelling peace, creating a penumbra of noise, pollution and ugliness. Their effects spread for many miles. The deposition of reactive nitrogen from car exhaust (among other factors) changes the living systems even of remote fastnesses. In Snowdonia, it is dropped at the rate of 24kg per hectare per year, radically altering plant communities. Wars are fought to keep down the cost of driving: hundreds of thousands died in Iraq partly for this purpose. The earth is reamed with the mines required to manufacture cars and the oil wells needed to power them, and poisoned by the spills and tailings.

A switch to electric cars addresses only some of these issues. Already, beautiful places are being wrecked by an electric vehicle resource rush. Lithium mining, for example, is now poisoning rivers and depleting groundwater from Tibet to Bolivia. They still require a vast expenditure of energy and space. They still need tyres, whose manufacture and disposal (tyres are too complex to recycle) is a massive environmental blight.

We are told that cars are about freedom of choice. But every aspect of this assault on our lives is assisted by state planning and subsidy. Roads are built to accommodate projected traffic, which then grows to fill the new capacity. Streets are modelled to maximise the flow of cars. Pedestrians and cyclists are squeezed by planners into narrow and often dangerous spaces – the afterthoughts of urban design. If we paid for residential street parking at market rates for land, renting the 12m2 a car requires would cost around £3,000 a year in the richer parts of Britain. The chaos on our roads is a planned chaos.

Transport should be planned, but with entirely different aims: to maximise its social benefits, while minimising harm. This means a wholesale switch towards electric mass transit, safe and separate bike lanes and broad pavements, accompanied by a steady closure of the conditions that allow cars to rampage through our lives. In some places, and for some purposes, using cars is unavoidable. But for the great majority of journeys they can easily be substituted, as you can see in Amsterdam, Pontevedra and Copenhagen. We could almost eliminate them from our cities.

In this age of multiple emergencies – climate chaos, pollution, social alienation – we should remember that technologies exist to serve us, not to dominate us. It is time to drive the car out of our lives.

https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2019/mar/07/cars-killing-us-driving-environment-phase-out

Carmakers on course for $2-12bn fines for missing EU CO2 targets: Moody’s

Climatechangenews.com 4 April 2019

The ratings agency warns of possible credit downgrades, while the UK’s auto lobby says ‘anti-diesel’ agenda has made targets harder to reach

Carmakers are on course to be hit with EU fines of between €2.4-11.2 billion euros ($2.7-12.6bn) for failing to meet the bloc’s emissions targets in just two years time, ratings agency Moody’s said on Thursday.

Without drastic action half of the world’s largest automakers will miss Europe’s 2021 standards for CO2 emissions. The penalties for failure could lead to credit downgrades, the ratings agency warned.

By 2021, manufacturers’ average car will need to emit a maximum of 95 grams of CO2 per kilometre, versus 118.5g in 2017. Manufacturers have the choice of how to achieve this, with some focusing on hybrids while others are betting heavily on fully-electric vehicles.

But companies are lagging far behind the looming standards. For most automakers, more than half of their new cars breach the 2021 standards. This includes Renault-Nissan, Volvo, Fiat Chrysler, Hyundai, BMW, Daimler AG, Ford, Volkswagen, Honda and Jaguar.

The report’s most optimistic scenario, under which makers push a swift transition, still predicts that half the manufacturers could rack up a cumulative €2.4 billion in penalties for failing to comply. The worst case scenario could see the industry pay up to €11.2 billion in fines.

“The rapid transition scenario should be feasible for most companies,” Moody’s said.

The credit rating agency found a shift away from buying diesel cars had made the transition harder. Diesel cars release less carbon dioxide than petrol vehicles. But Europeans have deserted the fuel following the revelations in 2015 that Volkswagen and other automakers had tampered with its engines to meet emission standards during laboratory testing. Between 2017 and 2018, sales of diesel-powered cars fell from 44% of new registered cars in Europe to 36%, down a peak of 56% in 2011.

Volkswagen, Fiat Chrysler, Ford and Hyundai-Kia lag most behind their 2021 targets. Accordingly, they are most at risk of large fines, said Moody’s.

“These fines would be credit negative for the companies,” the report concluded.

A spokesperson for the agency said ratings assessments took into account “how advanced the company is in developing ‘alternative fuel vehicles’”. This can work in a company’s favour too.

“We also referred to CO2 performance in a recent rating action on Peugeot – the company’s plans to comply were seen as a positive if they can be delivered,” the spokesperson said.

Boosted by its development of battery-assisted hybrids, Toyota emerged as the only company on track to meet EU targets.

The market threats do not limit themselves to Europe, the report noted, with the US and Chinese governments also pushing for electrification. In the US, car manufacturers get a $2,500 to $7,500 subsidy in the form of a tax credit for consumers for their first 200,000 electric vehicle sales, while sales of pure-battery, plug-in hybrids and fuel-cell cars skyrocketed by 138% in January in China on the back of generous subsidies. Together with Europe, the US and China account for about three quarters of light vehicle sales.

A spokesperson for the UK car lobby, the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders (SMMT) said the “industry is committed to a low carbon future but the anti-diesel agenda and slower than hoped take-up of electric vehicles is now jeopardising industry efforts to meet the most challenging CO2 targets in the world for 2021”.

Cuts to incentives to buying greener cars in the UK, such as plug-in hybrids, did not help the industry cut emissions, the spokesperson said.

“We need policies that encourage rather than confuse, which means a consistent approach to incentives and tax, and greater investment in charging infrastructure. This will be critical to meeting targets and avoiding crippling fines, which will only hinder industry’s ability to invest in future technologies,” said the spokesperson.

Carmakers on course for $2-12bn fines for missing EU CO2 targets: Moody’s

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