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Government and Private Sector on Sustainability at VerdExchange 2014

January 27-28, 2014, Los Angeles. Last week the Times received a leaked copy of a report being written by the United Nations’ Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change which will not be published until after a final editing session in April. The document calls for immediate political action to fight climate change and predicts that "tackling the ever more catastrophic weather events occurring with increasing frequency will be much more costly than if action had been taken two decades or even two years ago." It also states that "governments of the world are still spending far more money to subsidize fossil fuels than to accelerate the shift to cleaner energy, thus encouraging continued investment in projects like coal-burning power plants that pose a long-term climate risk."

So just how much are government, utilities, research institutions and private companies doing to collaborate in this common goal that affect us all?

For the seventh year running, the VerdeXchange California Conference brought together under one -roof state, national, and global private and public sector leaders, along with environmental stewards, to assess what’s in and about to be in-market, tackling pressing energy and sustainability issues. 600 executive-level, cross-industry/cross-platform audience members attended over two days.

The Conference opened with a morning plenary with the president and CEO of the Los Angeles County Economic Development Group, who states that Los Angeles is the first city in the U.S.A to reach 20% renewables. Supervisor for the 2nd District at Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors, Mark Ridley-Thomas, commented that government has been too slow to respond to the challenges of climate change. "We have seen private businessmen coming up with great ideas to improve the quality of life. LA county wants to be part of the solution, not the problem. We are doing big contracts commissioning county facilities to retrofit our city, investing millions putting tax dollars are used" he continued.

Mayor Garcetti addressed a full ballroom during a luncheon plenary entitled "Building Sustainable and Resilient Cities—Greener by Design" on Tuesday, January 28. He touched on the work of the City of Los Angeles’ Chief Sustainability Officer, Matt Petersen—also a VX2014 speaker—as well as his recent appointment to President Obama’s Climate Change Task Force. President Napolitano focused on the leadership of University of California students in prioritizing sustainability as a goal of the UC system, including students’ decision on seven campuses to charge themselves extra fees intended for green initiatives.

Former California Assembly Speaker Bob Hertzberg moderating a panel, "The Role of Carrots and Sticks as Drivers of Markets" in which Chairman of California Air Resources Board, Mary Nichols, talked about the implementation of Assemble Bill 32 (California Global Warming Solution Act) introduced in 2007, which sets to reducing carbon footprint levels 10% by 2020. "It is not going to be business as usual," she said about global warming, "It is a something that is going to affect everything we do, and there are bid disagreements as to what we should be doing and how much. We need to integrate climate change into everything we do." Nichols said that despite the Governor is dedicating $500 million this year to this issue, we will need to extend the deadline to maybe 2030.

Parliamentary Assistant to the Premier for Transport Electrification, National Assembly of Québec, Daniel Breton, talked about how Quebec, a city with 8 million people has become 98% renewable, which is the highest in the world. "We have over 1000 small business invested in transportation. We will have electric surpluses of 75MW by 2015. We have amazing technology and want to share it with everyone around the world. We are going to win this fight because it is for the sake for our children." he concluded.

Former Senior VP, Southern California Edison, Jim Kelly, moderated a panel that was responding to the question: "Are American Utilities Now in a Death Spiral?" Susan Bitter, from the Arizona Corporate Commission, commented that "the success of solar selling electricity back to utilities has caused a price swift so there is a spiral, but we need to work towards balancing the value of the grid, so utilities have raised electricity prices." President of the California Public Utilities Commission, Michael Peevey recognized that diversifying and pivoting are key. Leading companies have to see the opportunity and get in early. "So are utility companies smart enough? Are they adaptable enough? If companies put costumers first, and adopt a services model, then they succeed." Michael also said, "If utilities had gotten into solar first and put solar panels on their roofs and owning them before anyone else, we wouldn’t be having this conversation."

A lively panel on whether "American Utilities are in a Death Spiral," which included CPUC President Michael Peevey and Jim Avery , Senior VP at San Diego Gas and Electric; a panel asking "To Frack or Not to Frack," which included George Minter of SoCalGas, Donald Paul, the Executive Director of USC's Energy Institute, and President Catherine Reheis-Boyd of the Western State Petroleum Association, who said that California is the 3rd consumer of petroleum products; we consume 43 million gallon of gasoline and 14 million gallons of diesel a day.

Monday, January 27 post-lunch plenary, "Rethinking Utility Regulation to Get from Megawatts to Gigawatts," moderated by Susan Kennedy, former Chief of Staff to Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger and former Deputy Chief of Staff to Gov. Gray Davis. The distinguished panelists—Bob Foster, Mayor of Long Beach and Chair, ISO Board of Governors; Michael Picker, appointed recently by Governor Jerry Brown to the CPUC; current California Public Utilities Commissioner Carla Peterman; Robert Weisenmiller, Chair, California Energy Commission; and Leslie Starck, Senior Vice President, Regulatory Policy and Affairs at Southern California Edison—discussed energy storage and reaching 33 percent renewables by 2020 in a lively session.

Since the first VerdeXchange Conference in 2007, the marketplace for Power Generation, Infrastructure, Grid Management, One Water, Sustainable Development, Mobility Alternatives, Intelligent Grids, National Defense, and Security have been transformed by public policies and entrepreneurial investments. Regulations for reducing greenhouse gases were in their formative stages seven years ago. Today, many nations, sub-regional, and local governments have introduced broad-based regulations to incentivize the adoption of renewable and clean energy technologies. Consumers are being incentivized to some degree to purchase Net Zero homes, and Net Metering is driving growth in distributed energy.

New and higher global estimates of oil and gas reserves promise abundance, hemispheric security, and low energy prices, especially with the increased use of fracking to recover oil and gas from deep shale formations in locations like North Dakota, Montana, and Canada. VerdeXchange 2014 attendees included global, national, and regional industry leaders and procurers of solar, wind, energy efficiency, infrastructure engineering, alternative fueled vehicles, project finance, clean water, carbon auditing, smart grid, and green building. All are, or wish to be, actively investing in and shaping the US, Western States, and global green economy marketplace.

The seventh annual VX2014, in partnership with Urban Land Institute’s FutureBuild again, featured six morning panels involving leading developers, real estate financiers, and public sector planners and environmental regulators from metro Los Angeles and around the world. They shared case studies of FutureBuild opportunities and technologies now driving green build innovation and sustainable development. Will all these efforts be enough or will it be "too little, too late?? Time will tell. For more information please visit www.verdexchange.org