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Planning for the peak oil in the SF North Bay

Energy Bulletin is pleased to have dual coverage of this Peak Oil event. First, one of the organizers, Steve Wohlrab, gives a formal report. Next, Liz Logan from Atlanta, Georgia gives a participant's view.

North Bay Energy Vulnerability Summit

By Steve Wohlrab (EVS Planning Committee)

An unprecedented regional "Energy Vulnerability Summit" organized exclusively for local elected and appointed officials from San Francisco's North Bay was held on May 19th at the Community Center in Petaluma, CA. The event featured keynote presentations by distinguished authors, Richard Heinberg ("The Party's Over," and "Power Down") and Julian Darley ("High Noon for Natural Gas").

North Bay leaders came together to discuss the potential impact, challenges and opportunities of rising energy costs on their local municipalities. Attendees included local city and county officials and representatives from Sonoma, Napa, Mendocino and Marin Counties.

A major emphasis of the Summit was Peak Oil and Peak Natural Gas. Backed by a substantive body of evidence, each of the keynote speakers highlighted the ominous and rapidly approaching global situation. According to Heinberg and Darley, point to fast approaching global production peaks for these resources at a time when world energy demands are increasing. The authors believe that, if unmitigated, this situation will culminate in dramatic shortages that will have a profound socio-economic impact around the globe.

Among the more distressing pieces of information presented were conclusions reached by the 2005 Hirsch Report, commissioned by the U.S. Department of Energy. Among the report’s many findings is a recommendation that mitigation efforts need to be implemented at least ten years ahead of “peak”. Although the exact moment of global peak oil production is unknown and can only be verified in retrospect, there is a growing consensus among energy experts that this moment is close at hand (if it has not occurred already). Another equally troubling topic covered during the event was the prohibitive costs and limited scalability of current alternatives. The program included a realistic examination of the best available solutions.

Darley’s presentation, which dovetailed nicely with Heinberg’s, also included an overview of current government efforts already taking place . After unpacking the peak natural gas arguments, Darley went on to provide examples of progress being made by other county’s and cities around the world, including recent Burnaby (Canada), San Francisco and Portland Peak Oil Resolutions. Other notable examples included Willits and Sebastopol, California, as well as efforts by countries such as Sweden and cities such as Kinsale, Ireland.

Heinberg and Darling noted that an unparalleled collective effort will be required in order to transition from fossil fuels and bring about the necessary lifestyle changes required to reduce demand. Both speakers acknowledged the need for increased conservation measures as well as the need for ongoing government support for local businesses. Evidenced by their comments, local officials seemed to understand the crucial role that their leadership would play in helping mid-wife the transition. Confronted by this enormous challenge, officials expressed some concern about their ongoing ability to provide essential services.

According to EVS (Energy Vulnerability Summit) Planning Committee Member Matt Stevens, "The conference was, by all accounts, a great success. We had a total of over 40 (people in attendance, including elected officials), with the mix being North Bay elected and appointed officials representing cities from and counties of Marin, Sonoma, Napa and Mendocino.”

Also in attendance were a number of interested parties consisting of event sponsors (see list below), as well as, academics from UC Davis, and key peak oil organizers from WEL (Willits Economic Localization). Other attendees included community representatives from as far away as Portland, Oregon and Atlanta, Georgia as well as a former oil well performance and reserve estimate specialist from BP.

Efforts to connect Global Warming and Peak Oil mitigation initiatives were evidenced by support from Ann Hancock (Sonoma County Climate Protection Campaign), whose relentless efforts have resulted in Sonoma County's commitment to GHG's (Green House Gases) reductions. Both presenters acknowledge the need for dramatic reductions in GHG's and strongly emphasized that energy solutions not contribute to this serious problem.

The unprecedented event sponsored by the Leadership Institute for Ecology and the Economy (Santa Rosa, CA - www.ecoleader.org) and driven by a core group of dedicated and highly talented volunteers who worked together for months in order to bring this event to fruition. The event featured an innovative format, cutting edge facilitation approaches along with advanced audio/visual and power point presentations. Summit Sponsors included Leadership Institute for Ecology and the Economy, PG&E, Sonoma Mountain Village, Bay Area Air Quality Management District, Post Carbon Institute, local philanthropist Jonathan Frieman, Sonoma County Climate Protection Campaign, Community Fuels, Cooperative Community Energy, Whole Foods, and Deaf Dog Coffee.

The EVS Planning Committee intends to following up with conference attendees, gather feedback and determine how best to coordinate future efforts. The committee is looking at how find ways to improve and build upon the momentum initiated by the Summit. The EVS team remains interested in helping provide leaders with additional resources on best practices as well as in promoting and implementing sustainable policies. The committee is also exploring the possibility of organizing future conferences.



Report on the Energy Vulnerability Summit

By Liz Logan

I am inspired. The Energy Vulnerabilty Summit in Petaluma. CA was perhaps the first time in history when local government officials have gotten together to learn about and discuss peak oil. It was, by all accounts, very successful. Here is my diary of the day:

Up at 5:00 AM: For some reason the stove won't light. Are we out of propane? Harbingers of the future. I have toast instead of eggs. And lots of coffee.

7:15 AM: I join the gang at the Petaluma Community Center. I am put to work folding napkins for lunch. Our event has been "greened" by Green Mary. We use real plates and compost our food. I chat with Daniel Lerch. He is down here from Portland. He brought a white paper he wrote for the Metro Council on "how Metro may approach the possibility of future uncertainty in the supply and price of oil." He found that framing peak oil as "uncertainty" enabled municipalities to tap into the problem with their "risk management" paradigm. I munch on poppyseed muffins. To heck with the diet. And drink more coffee.

8:30 AM: People are starting to register. They expect about 40 local elected and appointed officials. Less than they want, but more than they feared.

9:00 AM: Tanya Narath welcomes us. She is the executive Director for the Leadership Institute for Ecology and the Economy that runs a once-a-month training program about public policy and sustainability issues. She introduces our first keynote speaker, Richard Heinberg, author of Powerdown and The Party's Over and core faculty member at the New College of California.

9:15 AM: Richard leads us through a very skillful introduction to our energy vulnerability (the non-confrontational way to say "peak oil" to municipalities). You can practically see the light bulbs turning on over the participant's heads. Much of it is probably familiar ground to most readers, but I did hear a statistic that is new to me. By 2010 we'll need 30 Mb/day in addition to our current production globally, but we only have 16.5 Mb/day coming on line. So we can plan on being 14.5 Mb/day short in four short years.

He also pointed out the Hirsch reports use of the word "unprecedented" in their report.
Another fact that hasn't gotten any press is about the demand destruction of natural gas. $15/1000 sq Ft costs forced companies to relocate overseas where NG is cheaper. And 100 chemical plants have shut down in the last six months, loosing 100,000 jobs.

His final message was that our primary strategy must be to reduce demand, and secondarily to find alternatives.

10:00 AM: We have a lively Q&A. One theme was the folly of investing in infrastructure for LNG or coal or even uranium because at some point, and in some cases very soon, we will run out of cheap LNG and coal and uranium.

A petroleum engineer said that the decline is not speculation--it is well known and based on thousands of wells and how they decline. She also added that we won't find another giant--they know where the fields are, and the technology to find fields is quite mature.

Richard said that retired oil executives come up to him all the time after his talks and validate peak oil. He even met the guy who did Chevron's "will you join us" campaign. He said that Chevron's CEO wanted to get the word out to people without panicking them.

10:45 AM: After a break, the participants met in groups to discuss the question "what are the vulnerabilities, challenges and obstacles faced by your jurisdiction?" I don't want to violate the confidentiality of the participants by writing about it here, but suffice to say that people began to grapple with the issues that they will face trying to fulfill their responsibilities to provide services with expensive, scarce oil and an eroding tax base.

11:45 AM: We had a yummy lunch catered by Whole Foods. I enjoyed getting to know community leaders who were (now) concerned about peak oil. I switched to decaf.

12:30 PM: Tanya introduced our second keynote speaker, Julian Darley, the founder of the Global Public Media and the Post Carbon Institute and author of High Noon for Natural Gas.
He emphasized the importance of working with local officials--how they are the ones who have the power, and are the ones who are going to be feeling the crunch. The lesson of Katrina is YOYO (you're on your own!)

He shared a survey of what municipalities are doing around the world to deal with their energy vulnerability. I won't go into detail here, but will list them in case you want to do follow up research:

  • San Francisco, California
  • Burnaby, British Columbia, Canada
  • Portland, Oregon
  • Kinsale, Ireland
  • Denver, Colorado
  • Hervey Bay, Queensland, Australia
  • Franklin, New York
  • Sweden
  • Sebastopol, California
  • Willits, California
  • Hamilton, Ontario, Canada

He is working on a new book with Richard called Relocalize Now!

1:15 PM: Another Q&A session. Julian pointed out that the European carbon trading market has collapsed in the last few weeks. They gave away rights to the companies which set up an inflation pattern. This was probably the result of industry pressures. So he says learn from their mistakes.

He felt that for car co-ops, the best option was public ownership via municipalities. Most co-ops have about 20 cars per person. He pointed out that when we start to share, we immediately get a factor of 10 energy demand reduction instantly.

He explained that many European cities, know for their walkability, were laid out pre-petroleum. The ones that survived were a cluster of people surrounded by farmland. If we want to farm for our energy needs, without petroleum inputs, we need to do careful planning and start early as it takes time.

He also addressed the problem of the absurd amount of regulation we have around thing like getting permits for a vertical wind turbine--it can take $100,000 to go through the permitting process for a $1000 turbine.

1:45 PM: Another break out session, with the question "Discuss specific, actionable ideas that will enable you and your jurisdictions to successfully navigate the vulnerabilities, challenges and opportunities that you identified this morning." Switch from decaf to regular.

2:45 PM: Report back from the groups. My personal favorite actionable idea was that in each suburban tract the city would commandeer a house every half a mile to become the neighborhood store.My personal commitment is to get a forum going (probably at Post Carbon) for peak oil facilitators/educators. I discovered that this "niche" that I had figured out is one coveted by several other people. I hope we can work together and support each other.

3:15 PM: Close. We had a lovely poem and Tanya thanked the sponsors and volunteers.

I was so pleased that I had the opportunity to participate. They are planning on having another summit the last weekend in September that is open to the public and I hope that I can come to that one as well.

Editorial Notes: UPDATE (June 5): Corrected the statement by EVS Planning Committee Member Matt Stevens to say that the total number in attendance was over 40. Previously the statement said that the number of elected officials attending was over 40. -BA

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