Climate change provokes wildfires, elicits shifts in energy demand

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Climate change has increased the frequency of Californian wildfires and caused a shift in energy consumption.

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Climate change has resulted in a shift in energy consumption, production and access; it also contributes to the frequency of severe wildfires across the state each year.

According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, climate change may increase energy demand due to warmer weather. California Public Utilities Commission president Marybel Batjer noted the importance of coordinating efforts between different state agencies during an oversight hearing with the State Assembly Committee on Utilities and Energy on June 16.

“We must, and are, responding to these changing conditions by increasing coordination with our sister agencies, local jurisdictions, utilities, generators, project developers, demand-response providers and large industrial customers, and we are aggressively monitoring weather conditions,” Batjer said at the meeting.  

The potential for wildfires to spread in Berkeley has prompted concerns about community preparedness and the impact of climate change, according to Berkeley City Councilmember Susan Wengraf.

Wengraf noted that the city’s Climate Action Plan sets goals to combat climate change and reduce greenhouse gas emissions by electrifying homes and switching to renewable energy sources, among other ways.

“Climate change has made the threat of wildfires much greater in the city of Berkeley,” Wengraf said. “It has increased pollution and made air quality worse.”

In case of a wildfire, Wengraf recommended being aware of evacuation routes and having a go-bag.

Berkeley’s proposed budget for fiscal year 2022 will incorporate Measure FF, a tax measure that would generate about $8.5 million annually to support wildfire prevention and emergency responses.

The city has previously suffered from the disastrous effects of wildfires, such as the 1991 Oakland firestorm in southeast Berkeley, according to Berkeley Mayor Jesse Arreguín.

“Climate change is impacting Berkeley on multiple fronts. Warmer weather and drought conditions are becoming more common and extreme, which can lead to increased chances of water shortages and wildfires,” Arreguín said in an email. “Rising sea levels also threaten our marina and coastline.”

Despite the concerns over climate change, Lindsay Buckley, spokesperson for the California Energy Commission, emphasized that an increase in energy consumption in the future is not necessarily a “bad thing.”

Instead, she stated that greater electrification will play a role in expanding energy demand. 

“Our policies are intentionally increasing energy consumption,” Buckley said. “We’re going to have to procure energy and keep an eye on rates to make sure that there are no negative impacts.”

The California Energy Commission is tasked with projecting energy demand, Buckley added, depending on population growth and changes in economic activity. 

According to the commission’s website, the state is mandated by law to achieve 100% clean electricity by 2045 under California SB 100.

“There are a lot of glimmers of hope and progress in the environmental energy fields,” Buckley said. “There are good people on the job, and there’s a committed administration here in California doing everything we can to address big, scary challenges.”

Lauren Huang also contributed to this article.

Contact Zachary Khouri at [email protected], and follow him on Twitter at @zachakhouri.