Paul's Note - August 21st, 2020

One of the things that has been most frustrating during our community conversation about COVID-19 has been that there are some people who refuse to believe that there is a real disease out there that is affecting thousands of their fellow Tucsonans. It’s almost as though they think that if they have a certain set of beliefs, that will protect them from being sick. We’ve seen plenty of tragic cases over these past few months that you’d think would show this isn’t the case, but people want to believe what they want, I guess.

We have something similar going on with climate change. We have a strong contingent of people who continue to think, despite all evidence to the contrary, that absolutely nothing is happening with our climate. I’m sure that that sentence alone will generate more than a few emails to me.

We saw a piece of evidence this week that merely not believing in climate change won’t make you immune to it.

Every day so far this August has had above normal temperatures, according to the National Weather Service. July was out hottest month on record. Every day since last Thursday has been at least 10 degrees above normal. Wednesday was 13 degrees above normal. Only one day has had a high of less than 105, a marker recognized by the Union of Concerned Scientists as particularly dangerous for people, since July 27th.

Our fire department has seen the result of this. In a typical year, they will respond to between 80 and 90 heat related calls. This year, they have already responded to 101.

Excessive heat also causes more power use. Tucson Electric Power and a handful of other Arizona utilities issued a warning earlier this week asking for people to save power. Suggestions included shutting down non-essential appliances, keeping the thermostat no lower than 78 and drawing the shades to keep the sun from heating up the house. All of these are good suggestions in general, but the trouble here is a bit deeper.

If this were a normal year, we could shut down our air conditioning and lights while we are gone. This not a normal year. An unprecedented number of us are either working from home or home because we don’t have work. However, that isn’t creating the trouble we are having as much as it is exposing greater problems.

Keep in mind that the bundle of electrons that keep a light in your house on is not necessarily coming from TEP’s plant on South Alvernon. Those bits of power could be coming from any number of plants in Arizona and New Mexico TEP operates, and may even be coming from plants across the West that are part of the Western power grid. When customers in Tucson start using a lot of power, TEP taps into that Western power grid to keep things humming.

That grid is under strain right now, particularly due to issues in California. California power providers are having trouble both due to wildfires interrupting their delivery system and higher use. Both of these can be traced back to climate change.

This year has been one of the driest on record for California. In March, Governor Newson had to declare a state of emergency due to the potential of wildfire due to a mass die off of trees. The state is still feeling those effects. As of this week, there are 367 separate wildfires recorded in California. The risky conditions have meant that power companies are having to turn off power to certain areas to reduce the chance that a line or plant will cause a fire.

On Wednesday, Death Valley recorded a record temperature of 130 degrees. Even for a place called Death Valley, that’s excessive. It’s a record world-wide. Mercifully, most cities or towns won’t reach those temperatures, but that doesn’t mean that they don’t have anything to worry about. As I write this, there are excessive heat warnings, meaning temperatures of 105 degrees for at least two hours, in Bakersfield, San Diego, Los Angeles, Santa Barbara and dozens of other cities. When it’s that hot, people are running the air conditioning full blast.

This week, some of California’s largest utilities have threatened “rolling black outs” to solve the load on the grid. It’s a cruel thing to do when it is 108 degrees outside, and a poor substitute for managing the power grid.

There are two huge issues here. One, is that we need to move more quickly to renewables before this climate problem goes beyond repair. Unfortunately, our state has been moving in the opposite direction. State regulators, at the behest of TEP, Arizona Public Service and the Salt River Project, have been tinkering with the rules to discourage solar, which is not only bad for our climate but makes no sense in a state where solar power is a natural choice. Now, we have new rules that prevent solar installation if TEP feels there is too much in a certain area.

Second, we know that extreme temperatures create extreme demand. TEP and other utilities in our part of the country need invest in a more reliable grid so that when there is excessive load they don’t have to turn to rolling blackouts or beg their customers to turn out their lights. It would seem a better use of the money they get from their customers than spending electing friendly members of the Arizona Corporation Commission.  

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The Goodwill REC Youth Center, United Youth Leadership Council, local Youth Leaders, and the Tucson Police Department will be hosting a Virtual Youth Chat! Youth ages 14-24 are encouraged to participate virtually to exchange ideas, listen, educate, and increase awareness and understanding between Tucson youth and Tucson Police Department.

The Chat will be on August 22 between 1 and 2:30 pm. You can register at https://bit.ly/2Cl20QA.