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Environmental News for a Healthier Planet and Life
Sheriff officials work the scene at Villa Calimesa Mobile Home Park in Calimesa on Oct. 13. Jennifer Cappuccio Maher / MediaNews Group / Inland Valley Daily Bulletin / Getty Images

Three people have died in incidents related to two major wildfires in Southern California, The Los Angeles Times Reported Sunday.

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Three years after a massive leak at the Aliso Canyon underground gas storage facility in Southern California, residents of nearby Porter Ranch, shown here, continue to experience severe health conditions. Edward Clynes / Earthjustice

By Byron Chan

Almost 15,000 residents of Los Angeles' Porter Ranch neighborhood evacuated their homes in the fall of 2015, many of them suffering from headaches, breathing problems and nosebleeds. The culprit: a massive leak of carcinogenic chemicals at SoCalGas's nearby Aliso Canyon underground gas storage facility. From October 2015 until February 2016, the facility expelled more than 100,000 metric tons of methane into the atmosphere.

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EcoWatch Daily Newsletter

Oil Well Worker Escape

Residents, lawmakers and environmentalists from a seaside community in Los Angeles County are questioning why it took a whole week for government officials to inform them of a well blowout that sprayed natural gas and other fluids nearly 60 feet into the air for several minutes.

On Jan. 11, hotel construction workers in a populated area in Marina del Rey dug into an abandoned, 1930s-era oil well, causing an eruption of mainly methane, heavy abandonment mud and water. Video footage shows the fluids shooting high into the sky, and a worker rappelling away to avoid injury. The oil well was last sealed in 1959 and was in the process of being re-sealed before the release.

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Southern California Gas Company's Aliso Canyon facility. Scott L / CC BY-SA 2.0

A major California utility has agreed to pay nearly $120 million in a civil settlement over a huge methane leak that forced thousands to flee their homes in 2015.

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Shale gas drilling site, in Lycoming County, Pennsylvania. Nicholas A. Tonelli, CC BY

By Kate Konschnik and Sarah Marie Jordaan

U.S. natural gas production has boomed in the past decade, driving gas prices sharply downward. Natural gas has become a competitive choice for electricity generation, edging out coal. Because gas contains less carbon than coal, greenhouse gas emissions from power plants have dropped, and the U.S. grid has become cleaner, more efficient and more flexible. More natural gas is also entering the power sectors in Mexico and Canada.

But the low-carbon profile of natural gas doesn't tell the whole story. Methane, its primary component, is a powerful greenhouse gas. It leaks to the atmosphere from wells and pipelines, contributing to climate change and reducing the climate benefit of using natural gas.

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California Valley Solar Ranch. Bechtel

California took a major step in ditching fossil fuels after the state Senate passed a bill Wednesday that aims for 100 percent renewable energy by 2045. The legislation, Senate Bill 100, was approved with a 25-13 vote.

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By Ryan Schleeter

Donald Trump wants to slash the EPA's budget and defund public health programs—which could cost people like Heather Von St. James their lives. This is her story.

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The We Are Seneca Lake civil disobedience campaign kicked off on Oct. 25, 2014. Colleen Boland

The news broke Wednesday in the most banal of venues: the biweekly environmental compliance report submitted by Arlington Storage Company to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC).

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In an effort to reduce the reliance on fossil fuels, Tesla and Southern California Edison have unveiled a massive battery storage facility at the utility's Mira Loma substation in Ontario, California.

The project—which is being described as the largest lithium-ion battery storage project in the world—consists of 396 stacks of Tesla Powerpack units spread across 1.5 acres. The batteries can store up to 80 megawatt hours, or enough energy to power 15,000 homes for four hours.

"This project is part of our vision at Southern California Edison to take advantage of the wind and the sun, and operate a flexible grid that delivers clean energy to power our homes, our businesses and our vehicles," Kevin Payne, CEO of Southern California Edison, said at a ribbon-cutting event Monday.

"Standing here today among these Tesla Powerpacks is a great reminder of how fast technology is changing the electric power industry and the opportunities that will come with it."

Mira Loma Battery Storage Project ribbon cutting. From L-R, State Sen. Henry Stern , CPUC President Michael Picker, Tom Doughty of CAISO, SCE CEO Kevin Payne and JB Straubel, Tesla chief technical officer. Southern California Edison

While the project officially switched online on Monday it began operating in December.

"We are very excited to bring this site online," said Tesla's chief technical officer JB Straubel. "Storage is quite a new thing … and this is a different breed of battery. This is the tip of the iceberg of how much storage we'll see on the grid."

The batteries charge up when there is more renewable energy than demand, ultimately allowing customers to use clean energy during peak hours.

As the New York Times explained, California has a need for batteries to store surplus renewable energy:

"California is on track to have an overabundance of energy during the day, when its many solar panels are producing energy, but that supply drops sharply as the sun sets, precisely when demand rises, with residents heading home to use appliances and, increasingly, to charge cars.

"The state's aging nuclear plants have been closed or are being phased out, putting even more pressure on utilities to find other ways to feed the grid. Storage is a natural solution, utility executives say, helping to smooth variations in the power flow from rooftop customers and when solar falls off and conventional plants have not yet filled the gap."

Tesla CEO Elon Musk was not at the ribbon-cutting ceremony but he retweeted a company tweet in support of the project. In the clip below, Tesla touts that its new facility, which only took 94 days to install, reduces the reliance on gas speaker plants, prevents electricity shortages, provides energy secure and reduces greenhouse gases:

Tesla and Southern California Edison agreed on the project in September following orders from the California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC). The regulators sought to expedite the use of energy storage connected to the grid to mitigate the disastrous Aliso Canyon natural gas leak, which thrust an estimated 96,000 metric tons of potent methane into the atmosphere for four months beginning in October 2015. The leak also forced thousands of residents in the nearby Porter Ranch community from their homes.

"This was unprecedented fast action on the part of the CPUC," said Michael Picker, the commission's president. "And we are once again stunned by the battery industry to meet our needs. This is another example of progress."

It is unclear how much the Tesla-Edison installation cost, as lithium batteries can be pricey. However, as Fortune pointed out, "until recently, battery storage has been a far more expensive means of meeting demand surges than natural gas 'peaker' plants. However a rapid fall in lithium ion battery prices over the past two years—driven by the proliferation of electric cars—has made the technology far more viable."

Tesla and Southern California Edison are not the only energy storage facilities being rolled out. According to the Los Angeles Times, San Diego Gas & Electric and AES Energy Storage as well as Greensmith Energy Partners and AltaGas are installing other large battery installations.

"In all, the projects are adding 77.5 megawatts of energy storage to the state's electricity grid," the Los Angeles Times reported.

California is vigorously pursuing clean energy projects to combat climate change. The state has a target of producing 50 percent of its electricity from renewable energy sources by 2030 and aims to reduce greenhouse gas emissions to 80 percent below 1990 levels by 2050.

"Energy storage projects like this one play a role in California's clean energy future," Payne said. "They are also part of our mission to safely deliver reliable, affordable and clean energy to our customers."

Tesla has plans to revolutionize the energy grid. One reason it combined with sister company SolarCity was to create a one-stop shop for electric vehicles, rooftop solar and energy storage.

Musk said in a May 2015 interview that he wants to "fundamentally change the way the world uses energy" and "the goal is complete transformation of the entire energy infrastructure of the world."

Earthworks

The Aliso Canyon natural gas well blowout, which lasted for months and sickened scores of nearby residents, has been confirmed as the largest methane leak in history.

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Environmental News for a Healthier Planet and Life

"We are ALL Seneca Lake" was the message delivered this morning by prominent environmental leaders Wes Gillingham, program director of Catskill Mountainkeeper, David Braun, co-founder of Americans Against Fracking, and Rachel Marco-Havens, youth engagement director of Earth Guardians during a protest at Stagecoach (formerly Crestwood) gas storage complex along Route 14 in the Town of Reading.

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