Renewable natural gas, created by converting organic waste into fuel, is a carbon negative energy source with successful deployment around the world. The Planning Report spoke to the executive director of Californians for Balanced Energy Solutions, Jon Switalski, and board chair, Temecula City Council member, and CSU San Marcos Environmental Leadership Institute and Wildfire Program director Matt Rahn, to discuss the valuable role that renewable natural gas can play in supporting a resilient, all-of-the-above energy strategy that meets the state’s emissions reduction goals and its residents’ need for affordable and reliable service.
Matt Rahn “An important benefit of gas is that, even when we have power outages or controlled brownouts and blackouts, the gas will still be there.”
Jon, what is the mission and focus of Californians for Balanced Energy Solutions?
Jon Switalski: Californians for Balanced Energy Solutions is a coalition of natural and renewable gas suppliers and users. That makes us a very broad-based coalition, representing members of the public, small and large businesses, neighborhood organizations, and nonprofits.
Our starting point is opposing the call from Sacramento to eliminate the use of natural gas in homes and businesses and to compel Californians to use only electricity. We support measures to combat climate change, but we believe that our approach needs to be technology-neutral, and that is why we advocate for an all-of-the-above strategy. One of our goals is therefore to educate the public about the importance of natural and renewable gas for our economy and environment.
Additionally, we believe that mandates do not work. If we are going to bring consumers along with us on the path to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and fight climate change, we cannot impose one-size-fits-all “solutions” that increase their costs and impact their quality of life. This is as much an equity and economic issue as it is an environmental issue. It touches Californians’ pocketbooks and their daily lives. That is why our board includes nonprofits, like the Southeast Churches Services Center in Southeast LA and Faith and Community Empowerment in Koreatown; businesses, like the California Association of Realtors and California Steel Industries; industrial manufacturers, like MCA Tile; and unions.
What enticed each of you to join the leadership of C4BES? How does its vision connect to your prior experience?
Jon Switalski: I’ve done a lot of environmental work, and I remain committed to reducing human impacts on the climate. I’ve recently moved my focus from the political space to the advocacy space.
As a state legislator in Michigan, I led the charge to adopt clean and renewable energy policies, and I drove state regulators and the governor to move away from coal and toward wind and solar. I continue to do so through C4BES, which supports wind and solar as part of our energy solution—just not the only part.
Matt Rahn: I’ve been working in education and research related to the environment and energy for close to 20 years. I’m now a professor at the Environmental Leadership Academy, in addition to serving on the Temecula City Council. I teach and speak often on the importance of balanced energy sources: not only keeping multiple options open, but also considering stability as well as environmental sustainability as we make choices.
We all want the same things: a high quality of life, a successful and prosperous economy, and clean water and air. For me, the key is bringing folks together, having the conversation about balanced and sustainable options, and educating decisionmakers and the public about the consequences of the choices we make. This isn’t the typical conversation in California’s energy field right now. But CB4ES was having it, and that made us a natural fit. I was happy to help create this organization.
What is the role of organic waste in an all-of-the-above energy portfolio, and how is it reflected (or not) in California policy?
Jon Switalski: Organic waste is a critical resource. The state legislature has mandated the reduction of emissions from short-lived greenhouse gases—that is, methane—the primary source of which is dairy farms. Converting that methane into renewable natural gas and using it as a transportation fuel actually has a negative carbon impact. It makes all the sense in the world to do this, and in fact, I don’t see how we could meet our emissions reduction goals if we don’t.
However, there are strong forces in Sacramento committed to the ideology that there is only one way to reduce greenhouse gas emissions—electrification—and that we shouldn’t be using all of our assets to do so. We strongly disagree.
The devastation caused by recent fires appears to challenge the electrification-only agenda. Matt, what are your thoughts about resilience in the “new normal” of climate change?
Matt Rahn: We need to make a deep commitment to protecting our communities as well as managing our landscapes in a resilient manner. Certainly, the choices we make for energy sources have a lot to do with that.
All over the country, we allow development to occur in high-risk areas—whether the risk is hurricanes, floods, or fires. The choice to place communities and infrastructure in these high-risk areas shouldn’t be taken lightly. We should be doing everything we can to create the most resilient communities possible in order to protect that infrastructure, those resources, and those lives.
At the same time, we have obligations—not only intrinsically, but also under the law—to protect our watersheds, air quality, habitats, and ecosystems. It is incumbent upon us to create the highest possible standards for protections. That’s what we’re learning in California: Our development choices can come at high risk of incredible devastation.
To read the complete interview, go to www.planningreport.com/2019/07/12/promoting-reliability-growth-diverse-energy-portfolio