Saturday, May 20, 2006

Report on the Energy Vulnerability Summit

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.


Jeff said...

Liz, I'm glad to visit your blog, and thanks for your presence at the three events. I agree that the budding postcarbon facilitators can and should support one another -- I assume that there will be plenty of opportunities for all of us.

Anonymous said...

Hello Liz,

Could Energy Bulletin re-post your report on the Vulnerability Summit?

Send reply to

Thank you!

Nathan said...

By "commandeer a house every half a mile", you mean buy a house every half a mile. Right? ;)

sal said...

thanks for the rreport, but be careful about usinng "first in history". portland oregon has also adopted a resolutioin at city council regarding PO, as have other communities in the US and even more around the world. fyi.

Liz Logan said...

Oh, absolutely Nathan! Wouldn't want anyone to think that it was possible to abuse the eminent domain rules! ;)

Liz Logan said...

Oh yes, Portland is a leader in preparadness. This was a group of local officals and appointees from five different counties. We think this was the first gathering of this kind.

Anna in Calif said...

I'm curious - what were some of the other actionable ideas?

Liz Logan said...

Anna, I was asked to not take notes during that part of the session to preserve the participants' confidentiality, so I don't have a list of what they said and my memory has faded. That's a great question, though.