California still hasn’t launched its own damn satellite

NOT OUR OWN DAMN SATELLITE: California politicians have been talking up the impending launch of several state-affiliated satellites to track methane emissions. But they’ve been scooped.

The state has long been planning to deliver on former Gov. Jerry Brown’s 2016 vision for California to “launch its own damn satellite” after then-candidate Donald Trump threatened to cut off access to federal climate data if elected president.

In China last month, Gov. Gavin Newsom talked up his plans to send up a philanthropy-funded satellite, to be launched in partnership with the nonprofit Carbon Mapper and NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory. The device will be able to pinpoint emissions from oil and gas infrastructure, waste, livestock and agriculture — key sources of the super-pollutant that both state and federal regulators have struggled to get a handle on.

“Trust me, there’s not a lot of states in the satellite business,” said Newsom at his University of Hong Kong talk.

But last weekend, GHGSat, a Canadian company, launched three satellites at the Vandenberg Space Force Base north of Santa Barbara as part of its network that it says already provides the more-granular methane data that the state’s been looking for.

Two of GHGSat’s new satellites, which launched using SpaceX technology, track methane, and one is focused on industrial CO2 emissions, which the company says is a build-out of the high-resolution work it has already been doing on methane since 2016.

“It’s kind of an interesting situation where the state of California has kind of declined to use our data waiting for this system to be up,” Jean-Francois Gauthier, the company’s senior vice president of strategy, said in an interview. (GHGSat works with other governments and nonprofits, but its data is not free.)

California hasn’t said exactly when it’s going to launch the new Carbon Mapper satellite. Newsom’s office said it’d be ready this month, but the California Air Resources Board couldn’t confirm that. In addition to a second philanthropy-funded satellite the state has in the works with San Francisco-based organization Planet, the legislature also put aside $100 million in last year’s budget to send out eight more methane-monitoring satellites under its new Methane Accountability Program.

CARB has an open request for proposals right now as it looks for contractors to partner on the state-funded satellite projects. GHGSat believes they may not be a good fit for the contract because the state has indicated that it’s looking to launch satellites, but they’re already ready with the data.

“It’s kind of a bit of an awkward situation,” said Gauthier.

CARB spokesperson Lys Mendez said the state plans to select a contractor early next year. She said the RFP was written “based on insights from a decade of research of what components were necessary to make the project successful, including technological requirements, detection limits and ability to capture non-methane emissions and other indicators that will help inform the state’s overall climate and air quality efforts.” California plans to make the data from the first two satellites open source and available for citizen science initiatives. — BB

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NOT SO NICE FOR SOLAR: A relatively unpopular state solar program for apartment dwellers, farmers and schools is going to get less appealing early next year under a Public Utilities Commission decision issued today.

The commission voted to reduce the prices those customers (about 2,800 of them across the state, according to PUC figures on page 12 of this document) can get by selling the power they generate to utilities. The change resembles one the commission made last year to a program for solar power generated on the roofs of single-family homes. It applies only to new participants in the state’s Virtual Net Energy Metering program starting early next year.

The rooftop solar industry and some environmental groups said the changes will slow down California’s transition to carbon-free energy.

“The CPUC and policymakers need to stop undermining and meddling with the successful policies that made California a solar state in the first place and get back to promoting true solutions for consumers and the planet,” Bernadette Del Chiaro, the California Solar and Storage Association’s executive director, said in a statement.

But Public Utilities Commission President Alice Reynolds said the commission had to weigh the state’s clean energy goals against affordability, and rooftop solar’s made huge inroads since the programs were created 30 years ago.

“I absolutely agree that we need to reach our decarbonization goals as fast as we can to mitigate the impacts of climate change,” she said. “But we also need to be extremely thoughtful about how we reach our climate change goals in the most cost-effective manner that addresses the state’s needs in 2023.”

At the same meeting, the commission approved a Pacific Gas & Electric rate hike that calls for burying 1,200 miles of electricity distribution lines to reduce risks the lines will spark wildfires. That’s less than the 2,000 miles PG&E wanted. — WV

WIENER A WINNER: Congrats to state Sen. Scott Wiener (D-San Francisco) for being named one of Time’s top 100 climate leaders.

He made the list for his passage of SB 253, last session’s law to mandate large companies disclose their greenhouse gas emissions. Next up: “a more sustainable approach to housing & transportation,” he said on X, the social media platform previously called Twitter.

MONEY TREES: Shoutout to the Sacramento City Unified School District, which is getting some $300,000 from the Inflation Reduction Act for at least 30 new trees at two campuses in the Meadowview neighborhood.

It’s just a small part of the $5.5 billion in the IRA and the bipartisan infrastructure law for school-specific grants over the next five years, writes Christian Robles of POLITICO’s E&E News.

The low-income, racially diverse neighborhood has significantly less tree canopy and warmer summertime temperatures than the rest of Sacramento, Chamberlain Segrest, sustainability manager for the school district, told Christian.

“It’s definitely in a neighborhood that not only lacks trees but also has those vulnerable populations that are going to be impacted by climate change,” he said.

THE NEW PLAN: CARB approved a $624 million clean transportation funding plan today, with over $483 million set aside for zero-emission heavy-duty vehicles and $140 million for clean transportation in low-income and disadvantaged communities.

Some key changes: Electric motorcycles will now be eligible for state incentives, and CARB’s Executive Officer Steve Cliff commemorated the end of the Clean Vehicle Rebate Project, which will become the Clean Cars 4 All program, focused now only on low and middle-income car buyers.

The meeting also featured some hand-wringing over the electric vehicle transition’s use of critical minerals, from public commenters and board members. They said the state could do more to encourage environmentally friendly mining practices.

“I do think as a market mover CARB does have the ability to send some signals, both on the sustainable mining, on the back end on recycling and also on the jobs piece,” said board member Gideon Kracov.

IZANT TO CALEPA: Sarah Izant will head to the California Environmental Protection Agency to serve as deputy secretary for climate policy. She joins the agency from her post as San Francisco Mayor London Breed’s manager of state and federal affairs, which she’s held since 2022. She was previously an adviser at the California Public Utilities Commission and an executive fellow at CARB.

— The Bureau of Ocean Energy Management will review decades-old drilling plans for some of California’s last offshore oil platforms as part of a settlement tied to last year’s Huntington Beach oil spill.

— Los Angeles will build out charging networks in underserved neighborhoods and increase its rebates for EV buyers after a joint report from the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power, National Renewable Energy Laboratory and UCLA showed low-income people are being left behind in the energy transition.

— A top regulator said California has no plans to weaken its criteria for handling toxic waste, even as businesses and government agencies send toxics across state lines because of a lack of capacity.

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