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Commentary: Rebuilding with resilience after disasters -- How do we recover and learn, moving forward?

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Last year, California experienced what were at the time the most devastating firestorms in the state’s history. Now, the state has experienced even greater catastrophic losses.

As we move forward into what Gov. Brown calls “the new abnormal,” we are all in a state of shock, wondering how we can best move forward in the face of this increasing danger. It is painfully obvious that we need to adapt our built environment and energy sector in ways that will not re-create the vulnerabilities of our current systems.

Advanced Energy Rebuild programs

Fortunately, that’s beginning to happen. For residents who lost their homes in the North Bay fires, there’s help available to build back in a more resilient way. As part of their customer outreach and efficiency efforts, Sonoma Clean Power (SCP) and Marin Clean Energy (MCE) are offering cash incentives for rebuilding with resilience as part of their Advanced Energy Rebuild programs,

The programs are geared toward electrification, energy efficiency, and renewable energy for homes rebuilt after the fires in Sonoma, Mendocino, and Napa counties. They also aim to use energy assets like solar, energy storage, and responsive electric vehicle charging to help manage the utility grid.

In the past, gas was more efficient and cost-effective for heating, cooling, and getting around than electricity. But new building codes, advances in renewable energy, and increases in the efficiency of heat pump and electric transportation technologies have changed the playing field. Eliminating natural gas and gasoline also eliminates sources of greenhouse gases from our homes — and potentially from entire communities. This creates a safer, more resilient, and healthier community overall. Cost-effective carbon-neutral living and transportation systems provide a viable new way of moving forward and rebuilding.

As area residents plan for rebuilding, some are already using the Advanced Energy Rebuild programs to simplify and update their new homes. The first resilient, zero net energy (ZNE) home to use the full SCP incentive package was recently rebuilt. Fully powered by 21 solar panels, the home even generates excess energy for charging two electric vehicles in the garage. An energy storage system connected to the solar panels ensures that the home’s power will continue operating in the event of a grid outage.

Program details

SCP is offering incentives of up to $17,500 per home for using a suite of technologies that not only increase efficiency but also increase the value of the rebuilt home, while decreasing long-term operating costs. These include all-electric, high-efficiency, internet-connected appliances, solar PV panels, and energy storage systems. If the home is not a good candidate for onsite solar, customers can choose to pre-purchase a 20-year commitment to EverGreen, the 100 percent renewable and local power source from SCP.

The MCE Advanced Energy Rebuild Napa program offers rebates of up to $12,540 for energy efficiency above the current energy efficiency codes, for updated all-electric appliances, and for solar+storage systems.

Additional programs like SCP’s GridSavvy Community and Drive Electric Vehicle Program also help residents purchase electric vehicles and install smart devices like electric vehicle charging stations, heat pump water heaters, and smart thermostats in their homes. MCE is also offering incentives for purchasing electric vehicles, including a rebate of up to $3,500 for qualifying low-income households.

The Advanced Energy Rebuild programs are being offered in conjunction with Pacific Gas and Electric and the Bay Area Air Quality Management District. In MCE territory, BayREN, Napa County, and PG&E are also participating. The Clean Coalition, a California nonprofit, is helping with these programs and efforts by working to align the various agencies and rebuilding efforts through the North Bay Community Resilience Initiative. For details about the programs, see SCP Advanced Energy Rebuild at and MCE Advanced Energy Rebuild at

Beyond rebates and incentives

SCP and MCE offer much more than these new rebates and incentives. SCP provides guidance on ways to save energy and money, with offerings like their DIY Toolkit and an opportunity to borrow an induction cooktop for free. MCE offers energy upgrade tools for energy savings, including a free energy audit to identify ways to make your home more comfortable and to save money. And MCE is participating in the innovative Bay Area SunShares program, which offers group discounts on solar and electric vehicles.

In addition, both SCP and MCE pay a premium price to their customers who generate more energy than they use, through their NetGreen and Net Energy Metering programs.

There has never been a better time to electrify your life, save money, and be part of the solution to climate change — all at once. We hope to see similar programs emerging in all affected areas of our state. Moving forward, we need to be proactive in our actions, rather than finding ourselves continually reacting to crisis after crisis.

John Sarter is Program Manager of the North Bay Community Resilience Initiative for the Clean Coalition.

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