Monterey Bay is powering up for clean energy

California’s Central Coast is known for its rocky shorelines, fresh seafood and superb seaside golf. Now, it’s poised to become one of the state’s leaders in renewable energy.

Monterey Bay Community Power will source more energy from clean sources like solar. “Renewable Energy Development in the California Desert” by Bureau of Land Management is licensed under CC BY 2.0.

San Benito, Santa Cruz and Monterey counties recently came together to establish a new power authority that gives local communities greater control over the sources of their electricity. The project, called Monterey Bay Community Power, allows communities in the Monterey Bay region to accelerate progress toward reducing greenhouse gas emissions—the primary driver of climate change and ocean acidification—and serve as a model for development and use of renewable energy development.

Monterey Bay Community Power enables participating communities to become clean power capitals. The authority intends to purchase almost 60 percent of its energy from renewable sources such as solar, wind and geothermal power. That’s more than double the percentage of clean power currently offered by the area’s private utilities. Profits from energy sales to customers in the tri-county region will stay in the community to help fund renewable energy projects, create jobs and stimulate the local economy.

Climate change is an ocean issue

A more acidic ocean is bad news for shell-making animals. “Victim of Acidification” by NOAA’s National Ocean Service is licensed under CC BY 2.0.

Clean energy is a priority for Monterey Bay Aquarium because climate change and ocean acidification affect ocean health—and our own survival—in profound ways. Greenhouse gas emissions generated by burning fossil fuels causes Earth’s atmosphere to thicken, trapping more heat on our planet. The ocean absorbs at least 80 percent of this extra heat, warming surface waters and triggering a cascade of impacts including sea-level rise, stronger storms, shrinking sea ice, coral bleaching and shifting the geographic ranges in which marine life can survive.

Carbon emissions also trigger a chemical reaction called ocean acidification. More acidic seawater makes survival more challenging for shell-making marine animals. The impacts ripple through ocean ecosystems, which produce the oxygen and food that sustain life on Earth.

Monterey Bay takes the lead

Reducing greenhouse gas emissions is a critical step toward combating climate change and its harmful effects on the ocean.

An aerial view of Monterey Bay.

Because Monterey Bay Community Power will help curb these emissions, Aquarium Executive Director Julie Packard wrote a letter of support, encouraging local public officials to continue their work to establish the Central Coast region as a model of innovation and sustainability in California and beyond.

Officials agreed. After over a year of negotiations, the Monterey Bay Community Power project was adopted in April 2017 by 19 of the 21 cities in the tri-county area.

“This is a concrete way for local jurisdictions to act on climate change and develop renewables,” says Barbara Meister, Monterey Bay Aquarium’s public affairs director. “It’s a model that’s been proven in several other cities in California, so it makes sense for the Central Coast to do it, too.”

Starting this summer, Monterey Bay Community Power’s 245,000 customers will be automatically enrolled in the program. They will pay the same or less than private providers charge, and will receive cleaner power in return.

Facilities Systems Supervisor Wayne Sperduto oversees the seawater life support system for our living collection. Pumping seawater through our exhibits accounts for much of the Aquarium’s power use.

Walking our talk

The Aquarium itself is a significant energy user. It takes a lot of electricity to power the pumps that circulate 18,000 gallons of seawater through our pipes each minute, to keep thousands of animals and plants in our living collection alive and healthy.

“It’s important to be able to walk our talk and have a local renewable power option,” Barbara says.

By supporting the development and use of renewable energy in the Monterey Bay region, the Aquarium is committed to tackling the global issue of climate change—and creating a healthier future ocean.

-Erin Eastwood

Learn more about how climate change is affecting the ocean, and what you can do to help.


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