In 2008, then-Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger signed into law a mandate for California utilities to draw at least 33 percent of their energy portfolios from renewable sources.
The impulse of many state utilities was to balk. After all, they were just getting used to a standard of 20 percent that had been enacted only five years before.
But, as San Diego Gas and Electric Chairman and Chief Executive Officer Jessie Knight recounted Jan. 17, his utility embraced the stricter mandate. The difference, he said, was thanks to an earlier interaction with scientists from Scripps Institution of Oceanography, UC San Diego.
Knight was among several executives of SDG&E’s parent company, Sempra Energy, who had taken part in intensive sessions with Scripps researchers to learn the fundamentals of climate science in 2007. The perspective has remained with them to this day.
“It had an incredible impact on where we went as a company,” said Knight.
Knight was one of three representatives of the Southern California business community honored with Scripps Scientists’ Recognition Awards. For the past five years, Scripps researchers have nominated business executives, donors, and community leaders for the award, which recognizes the help of corporate partners who have furthered the cause of research.
The two other recipients were SDG&E President and Chief Operating Officer Mike Niggli and Southern California Edison (SCE)Project Manager of Seismic Programs and Research George Murray, who recently retired from the utility company.
Knight and Niggli were recognized in large part for the support the Sempra Energy Foundation has given to an exhibit at Birch Aquarium at Scripps that showcases a variety of renewable energy sources, as well as for their support for postdoctoral researchers, and engaging their energy sector partners, including Southern California Edison, on behalf of Scripps. Boundless Energy opened at the aquarium in 2011.
“The Boundless Energy exhibit has been one of the ways Sempra has really positioned itself at the forefront of change in terms of sustainable energy education as well as generation,” said Birch Executive Director Nigella Hillgarth. “We are so fortunate to be the place where the public can come and see that very positive steps are being taken on behalf of this generation and future generations.”
Murray was the linchpin of an upcoming seismic survey of the seafloor adjacent to the San Onofre Nuclear Generating Station (SONGS). The survey will help Southern California Edison and SONGS minority partner SDG&E understand the risks earthquakes could pose to safe operations at the power plant, but science and public as a whole benefit as well, said Scripps geologist and survey lead scientist Neal Driscoll.
“Ten to 15 percent of the seismic deformation of North America is offshore and no one can see it,” said Driscoll. “George Murray appreciated this huge gap of knowledge about offshore deformation and is helping us fill it.”
When it launches, possibly later this year, the survey will involve ship-based sonar mapping of the subseafloor near the power plant. Driscoll credited Murray for drawing support for the project from agencies ranging from the National Science Foundation to the California Coastal Commission and the U.S. Marine Corps and steering the project through a complex permitting process.
Murray, whose background is in power plant management, said that before coming onto the survey project, he had no expertise in geology. He approached Scripps, an academic entity that he acknowledges “speaks a different language” than that of a utility, in search of a honest broker of information.
“SCE has no science division so we decided we’re going to rely on a non-biased partner,” he said, adding that Scripps scientists will review all plans of action that spring from the results of the seismic survey. “We’re looking at a partnership that’s going to take us well into the future.”
– Robert Monroe
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