San Jose invests in solar power to reach climate goals
San Jose's solar project in Kern County. Photo courtesy of San Jose Clean Energy.

San Jose plans to spend hundreds of millions of dollars over the next two decades to meet its carbon neutral goals, including utilizing solar power.

On Tuesday, the city council approved four contracts worth an estimated $530 million to build out the city’s battery storage to access and store more solar energy through its San Jose Clean Energy utility. It's the start of a significant series of renewable energy contracts coming before councilmembers in the next few months. This massive investment in renewable energy is expected to keep the city on track to meet its carbon neutral goal by 2030.

“What (San Jose Clean Energy) has already accomplished in terms of being able to provide electricity that is 95% (greenhouse gas) free and now we're going to create a carbon-free grid 15 years ahead of the state goal,” Mayor Sam Liccardo said. “I think that's pretty tremendous.”

Being carbon neutral by 2030 means San Jose intends to offset its carbon dioxide emissions through alternative means, such as producing more electricity from solar panels and encouraging more residents to drive electric vehicles instead of gas-powered vehicles. It's certainly an ambitious goal, with other big cities like New York City aiming to be carbon neutral by 2050. California hopes to do the same by 2045.

Zach Struyk, assistant director of San Jose Clean Energy, said the city is moving closer to the halfway mark. The city currently produces 500 megawatts of renewable energy, and the new contracts add about 100 more megawatts. San Jose needs 1,700 megawatts of renewable resources to be carbon neutral.

“These contracts are incremental, but it gives us access to new sources,” Struyk told Lucescamaray Blog. “And there is a lot more to come really soon.”

Solar power—and the batteries to store it—is the biggest source of renewable energy the city is planning to build out, comprising 41% of predicted energy production. San Jose also plans to invest more in wind, geothermal energy and natural gas. Hydroelectric power is the only renewable source the city is not exploring because the region already struggles with drought.

“Today solar seems like the right combination of price, availability and ease of building,” Struyk said. “Unlike wind because there are very few onshore wind locations that have not already been developed that are economically feasible. If offshore wind really gets going, and we're very hopeful that it does, we could pivot to utilizing wind more than solar.”

Offshore wind production generates electricity through wind farms in bodies of water, usually at sea.

In the past few weeks, San Jose has approved natural gas and geothermal energy contracts. In the coming months, the city is set to approve more solar and wind contracts.

San Jose is also exploring the use of microgrids in the future to produce cleaner energy. In December, the city is set to approve a contract with Google to construct a microgrid, where the tech company will generate its own energy for its San Jose campus. The city will operate the microgrid, which Liccardo said will serve as a pilot program to see if San Jose can expand the use of microgrids throughout the downtown.

Part of the goal to be carbon neutral also means a significant reduction of gas released from vehicles. According to the city’s 2019 communitywide greenhouse gas inventory, San Jose emitted 5.4 million metric tons of carbon dioxide that year. Transportation accounted for 51% of those emissions while release from buildings accounted for 34%.

“This goal is ambitious, but it is not impossible,” Struyk said, noting the city is on track to meet its carbon neutral goal. “If we get to 98% or 95%, that's massive. We will have taken a lot of carbon out of the air, everyone will be healthier.”

Contact Jana Kadah at [email protected] or @Jana_Kadah on Twitter.

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