Levin: Low Carbon Fuel Standard Puts Orange County in the Driver’s Seat

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On long California road trips, it is not uncommon to spot herds of cows from afar, perched on rolling hills. While you may see cattle and think nothing of it, I see a future opportunity to fuel our vehicles and power our homes and businesses.

My employer, FuelCell Energy, manufactures clean fuel cell power plants that produce electricity, heat, and hydrogen, which can be used for fuel cell electric vehicles. A few years ago, we helped to bring one of the nation’s first hydrogen fueling stations to Orange County, using an innovative technology that turns municipal sewage into electricity, heat, and clean-burning fuel for cars. In the future, we expect many of our projects will use biogas sourced from California dairies.

As one of the top dairy states in the country, California boasts an impressive population of nearly two million dairy cows. Much of the methane these bovines generate enters the atmosphere, contributing to the California’s air pollution troubles.

Enter California’s Low Carbon Fuel Standard (LCFS). Initiated by Gov. Schwarzenegger nine years ago and re-adopted by the California Air Resources Board last year, the LCFS is reducing greenhouse gas emissions from transportation fuels by at least 10 percent by 2020. Working in tandem with California’s landmark climate change law, AB 32, the LCFS represents a model other states and jurisdictions are emulating. For clean tech companies like mine, the commitment to clean fuels encourages us to innovate, helping consumers save money and helping California curb air pollution.

Where do the cows fit in? The LCFS is helping to accelerate the infrastructure to capture, clean, and aggregate dairy biogas into a useful fuel for transportation and power generation. This will dramatically reduce California’s emissions of methane, a potent greenhouse gas and climate menace.

I co-founded and serve on the Board of a local organization called CleanTech OC. In this capacity, I have seen clean tech jobs flourish here. A wide variety of nearly 300 local clean tech companies are thriving. The same is true throughout our state. Last year, the Delphi Group found that clean economy jobs in California grew at a rate of almost 24 percent between 2010 and 2014, reaching 368,200 jobs in 2014. We need policies like the LCFS to maintain California’s dominance in the national clean fuels industry. The good news is that we already have enough fuel alternatives to meet the LCFS’s goals by 2020.

California families are on track to save an average of more than $800 annually on transportation fuels by 2020, growing to over $2,000 per year by 2030, thanks to state policies that are bringing more efficient cars, diverse fuel choices, and more pedestrian-friendly communities with better transit service. LCFS creates an opportunity for oil companies to evolve and innovate, establishing a level playing field with businesses like mine that are creating cutting-edge fuels. As always, competition means consumers get a better deal.

Successful businesses think long-term, and the same can be said for smart policymakers. Beyond immediate gains in terms of innovation and clean air, the LCFS also drives long-range investments in the next generation of clean fuels and accelerates the development of infrastructure like EV charging and hydrogen fueling stations. California’s commitment to clean fuels assures businesses of a reliable demand for low-carbon fuels no matter how the price of oil fluctuates. For motorists, this translates into a future where we are less vulnerable to unpredictable price swings at the pump.

Transportation represents about 40 percent of greenhouse gas emissions in California. We know we can’t continue to depend on petroleum alone for our transportation needs. The LCFS has illuminated a path and is bringing jobs, new industries, cleaner air and better choices for consumers. The road ahead for Orange County and beyond looks brighter still. Any detours now would be a mistake.

 Mike Levin, a resident of San Juan Capistrano, is Director of Government Affairs for FuelCell Energy, Inc., and a director of CleanTech OC and the Center for Sustainable Energy

Voice of OC is interested in hearing different perspectives and voices. If you want to weigh in on this issue please contact Voice of OC Involvement Editor Theresa Sears at TSears@voiceofoc.org