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Valley Fire Over 25 percent Contained

 September 10, 2020 at 5:02 AM PDT

We’re at day six for battling the Valley Fire south of Alpine. Fire fighters made more progress in containment yesterday. It’s 27% contained as of late last night. Meteorologists had predicted Santa Ana winds would kick up this week, but yesterday’s winds weren’t as bad as they feared. Evacuation orders are still in effect for a number of areas. Stay with us, we’ll have more on this story just after the headlines. County officials warned San Diegans that we’re very close to moving into the highest - most restrictive - tier on the state’s rating system for COVID-19. That would mean more closures and no indoor activity for gyms and houses of worship, among other restrictions. The warning came on Wednesday. Right now, San Diego County is at 6.9 cases per 100-thousand people. That puts us in the red tier. But if there’s just a point-one percent would start what County Supervisor Nathan Fletcher says we should do everything we can to avoid. "If we saw a significant increase or a slight increase, over 7, we would have to be there for two consecutive weeks before we would officially move into the purple tier with the changes and restrictions that go with that." Outside of that, Fletcher gave some positive news on testing. The county says results are now being turned around in a maximum of 2 days. San Diego State University saw an uptick in the number COVID-19 cases today with the county reporting 44 new cases. This brings the university's total up to 444. San Diego County Public Health Officer Wilma Wooten said it's possible cases from the university could tip the county into the purple tier of the state's monitoring system, which would trigger additional closures. But cases in other parts of the county would also have to spike for that to happen. Certainly, yes that is possible if the cumulative number of daily cases continues to increase to the point that we were seeing in July where we have 300, 400, 500 daily cases. The university also announced its first hospitalization resulting from the spread of COVID-19. SDSU administrators said they're currently investigating about 500 violations of university social distancing policies. I’m Anica Colbert. It’s Thursday, September 10th. This is San Diego News Matters from KPBS News...a daily morning news podcast powered by everyone in the KPBS Newsroom. Stay with me for more of the local news you need to start your day. The valley fire continues to burn just south of Alpine already scorching more than 17-thousand acres since Saturday. About 20 homes have been lost. KPBS reporter Matt Hoffman spoke to one man who stayed behind to save his home-- and is thankful strong Santa Ana winds didn't restart a huge fire. Mark Burkett, lives in Alpine This valley is extremely lucky that we didn't have the Santa Anas because if we had the santa anas I don't think you'd be doing this interview except for rubble Mark Burkett lives on the edge of Alpine off Japatul road. He says the fire ripped through a valley behind his home- Like it's raining fire like cause when all the oak trees they go up and catch everything on fire While Burkett's neighbors evacuated, he and his son stayed behind, determined to protect his property and others- Like what the hell am I doing I don't know you get the adrenaline starts going running around with garden hoses making sure the embers didn't light anything on fire. Burkett's home was spared – but some of his neighbors weren't so lucky. There's probably five that got lost a lot of out buildings back there Some in the area have been without power since Saturday.. There are still road closures near evacuation zones. Matt Hoffman, KPBS News. A black protester who's been in jail for weeks on a 750 thousand dollar bail will now have it lowered so he can be released. The bail is now 150-thousand dollars. KPBS’s Claire Trageser reports. Denzel Draughn, who is a black man, was arrested during a protest in downtown San Diego. Police allege he picked up a can of pepper spray dropped by an officer and sprayed it at the assembled officers. Police charged him with nine felony counts of obstructing an officer and nine felony counts of illegally using pepper spray. Draughn pleaded not guilty at his arraignment today (Wednesday). Draughn's attorney says supporters will be able to bail him out so he can wait at home for his trial. Draughn's original bail was higher than if he'd kidnapped someone and almost as high as for murder. Police requested a judge almost double his bail because they say he's a danger to police and a flight risk. Draughn's attorney argued he was being punished because he's a leader in the Black Lives Matter movement. Claire Trageser, KPBS News Earlier this week, a federal judge in San Jose ruled that census workers can't begin to wind down operations yet. But local organizations, joined by San Diego congressman Juan Vargas, are still sprinting to the original September 30 finish line -- to make sure everyone in San Diego county gets counted. KPBS’ Max Rivlin-Nadler reports. On Wednesday morning, members of the Count Me In 2020 Coalition were joined by congressman Juan Vargas, to try to push immigrant neighborhoods over the finish line -- regardless of how much time they have left to count. Vargas says their participation is crucial to getting their communities the services and representation they need. VARGAS: A lot of young people say, I can't vote, because I'm undocumented, I'm a dreamer. And I say, well you better get counted then, because you getting counted matters. That is a political action, standing up and saying I'm a human being. In August, the Trump Administration, after originally extending census counting until the end of October because of the ongoing pandemic, shortened the count to the end of September. A judge has put that change on hold for now, pending further court hearings next week. Max Rivlin-Nadler, KPBS News California's top public health official is urging thousands of people to quarantine after attending a religious concert at the state capitol in Sacramento. CapRadio's Nicole Nixon reports. An estimated three-thousand people attended the event on Sunday, including Republican state Sen. Shannon Grove. GROVE Amen, welcome to Sacramento! Video shows hundreds of people packed tightly together near the front of the stage. Most were not wearing masks. In a statement to CapRadio, California's State Health Officer Dr. Erica Pan said those behaviors were concerning. But she said the group singing was especially troubling because it can spread the coronavirus faster. Pan encouraged attendees to self-quarantine for 14 days and get tested if they experience symptoms. The event also raised questions about how the California Highway Patrol enforces public health guidelines at the Capitol. Governor Gavin Newsom said he's asked CHP to work with the state public health department on new permitting protocols that balance public health guidelines with First Amendment rights. SOC Charles Dickens' "The Personal History of David Copperfield," published in 1850, has a lively new film adaptation currently playing in theaters. KPBS film critic Beth Accomando has this review. Armando Iannucci is best known for his razor sharp satires like In the Loop and Death of Stalin. But with The Personal History of David Copperfield he tries his hand at adapting Charles Dickens and reveals a flair for a much warmer and endearing storytelling style. CLIP Whether I turn out to be the hero of my own story or whether that station will be held by anyone else these moments must show. Dev Patel delivers an energetic performance as the title character, a fallible yet ultimately good-hearted man who overcomes his impoverished roots. Iannucci engages in some wonderful color blind casting that fills Dickens' London with a racially diverse group. He sees the inequities of the world but chooses to emphasize the humanity of his characters. Beth Accomando, KPBS News. Coming up on the podcast... A recent report shows that California and Hawaii have the largest number of buildings with rooftop solar installation in the US … and San Diego ranks second in the nation for its share of solar viable buildings. "San Diego because of our weather and honestly because of our high cost of electricity have always been a good market for solar." Now the threat of power blackouts has increased the interest in not just solar panels, but also batteries that store the energy they produce. That’s up next, just after this. More than 70 thousand SDG&E customers experienced power blackouts in the past week. This was Largely due to grid overloads from the record-breaking heat. With the threat of more blackouts, interest in solar panels has grown. Many people now have questions about whether it's worth getting storage batteries too. Benjamin Airth is the Senior Policy Manager at the Center for Sustainable Energy. It’s a San Diego-based non profit with a vision for a future with sustainable, equitable energy. He spoke with KPBS Midday Edition host Alison St. John about how the energy marketplace is changing. Here’s that interview. So now having solar panels on your roof, won't help you if there's a blackout Willy, that is correct. They will not and explain what else you would need to have in order to not be blacked out when the power goes down. Speaker 2: 00:44 So, uh, when, when solar was first getting installed batteries, weren't really an option. We typically looked at the grid as the battery to, you know, use those solar credits that we produced during the day, um, and use them, you know, and then when the sun's not shining, but now with the need for backup and with the, you know, innovation around energy storage or batteries, uh, that is now a viable option for homeowners to pair with their solar so they can offset their utility bill, but also have power in that battery if, and when the power goes off. Speaker 1: 01:15 Okay. Now a recent report shows that California and Hawaii not surprisingly have the largest share of buildings with rooftop solar in San Diego ranks. Second is the city with the largest share of solar viable buildings. So we in San Diego are ahead of the game with solar panels, right? But where do we stand in terms of, in investing in battery storage? Speaker 2: 01:35 That is correct San Diego because of our weather. And honestly, because of the high cost of electricity have always been a good market for solar. Now, the penetration of energy storage is not quite where we want it to be where we have about, um, 7,000 installations so far. So otherwise we're looking at over a hundred thousand, uh, solar installations. So we got quiet quite a bit of ways to go. Speaker 1: 02:01 Well, obviously the price is the biggest hurdle to going independent with energy has the price of solar panels and domestic energy storage come down at all. Speaker 2: 02:09 It has, but not, not, not where we would like to have seen it so far. And you know, right now you can get an energy storage system for anywhere between, let's say 8,000 and $14,000. And yeah, we really want that number to come down. And the more this market grows, the more we're going to see that, that number cut down, just like we did with solar since, um, solar really took off and let's say 2004, 2005, uh, the cost has gone down by over 70%. And that's what we're hoping to see with energy storage as well. Speaker 1: 02:40 How about the marketplace companies competing to offer batteries? Is there a healthy competition in the marketplace? Speaker 2: 02:47 Yeah, absolutely. And what has happened is with the cost of electricity and really with the move to time of use rates, all solar companies now are including energy storage or batteries in their package. Now you don't have to install a battery, but with, with the blackouts that we've seen and the need for a backup generation, it is definitely becoming a viable. Speaker 1: 03:10 All right, you can still get solar panels, I guess, but you're saying that most people are being encouraged to get both. Speaker 2: 03:16 Yeah. Again, because you know, the high cost of electricity is at four o'clock from four to nine. And as we all know, the sun isn't necessarily shining that entire time. And so what you need is batteries to take those kilowatt hours from the sun that you just produced and put them in there and then discharge them either to the home or to the grid at 40. Speaker 1: 03:35 So what you're saying is that the new kind of billing that we're all just getting used to at STG and E this time of use billing, where there are peak periods of between four and nine, that makes it more attractive to get battery added, Speaker 2: 03:48 More attractive for solar and storage and less attractive for solar only that's correct. Right. Speaker 1: 03:53 Are the incentives, the tax breaks to get solar and batteries changing much? Speaker 2: 03:58 Yeah. In fact, this is the first year that it has stepped down from 30% to 26%, but that is still a really good number. And that is on top of the state's incentive through the self generation incentive program, which is offering a pretty decent, uh, incentive, especially if you are a low income customer. And if you live in some of these, uh, high fire threat, uh, regions. Speaker 1: 04:23 Yeah. I was going to ask you about that because this is a purchase that is way out of reach for many families. Is there any talk of, of making energy storage, more affordable, more accessible to people who really need it Speaker 2: 04:35 Well affordable? Yes. And that is through upwards of 85 to a hundred percent of the costs paid for through the, uh, SGIP or the self generation incentive program accessible, uh, is a different story because not everybody owns their own home or their own roof. If you live in an apartment, you know, you don't always have the ability to, uh, install solar, even though many apartments in San Diego and in California have. But what the industry is trying to figure out is how can apartments become more resilient and offering access to clean solar energy, as well as the backup that is, is needed these days, Speaker 1: 05:13 What would you have to do to qualify for the a hundred percent subsidy? Speaker 2: 05:18 You have to number one of BA low income customers. And, um, the, the program has those requirements, uh, you know, set out, but you also have to be in a high fire threat, uh, district, uh, tiers three and two, you know, really speaks to some of these areas that are bordering, you know, the wild land out there that we have seen, uh, you know, catch on fire and that's throughout California as well. Um, or you have to have, uh, evidence of two or more power shutoffs through the, uh, public safety power shut up notices that, uh, the utilities have given. So if you fall within those two regions, then you are eligible for that a hundred percent incentive. Well, that could become Speaker 1: 05:58 More common. Speaker 2: 05:59 No, I, I agree. Um, and small nuance though, the PSPS events are from when the utility is notifying customers of when there is going to be a power shutoff because of high winds and the threat of fires. But now the nuance as we saw this weekend is what about the threat of actual fires, right? That has, is shutting customers off. And so, um, those two things are different in the eyes of the public utilities commission. And there's talk of perhaps merging that, which would allow for many more customers to, um, become eligible because you're right fires and other, um, you know, heat waves and other factors are playing into, um, why we're having more and more blackouts, which essentially means that there should be more and more customers who are eligible. Speaker 1: 06:45 Interesting. So what kind of legislations in the work in Sacramento that could make a difference to whether investing in solar and batteries is worth it to the consumer? Speaker 2: 06:55 Um, that's a really good question. And to be completely Frank, not much, um, at least this year, uh, there's been a lot of, uh, bills early on that looked promising for, let's say micro grids, um, and even legislation for solar and storage for schools. But a lot of that has just taken a back seat just because, you know, everything is so up in the air in Sacramento right now, Speaker 1: 07:19 Finally, you know, the state is moving to more sustainable energy sources, but the reason blackouts have raised questions about whether sustainable energy like solar is reliable, but would more people investing in solar and batteries help the state to deal with these peak energy use events. Speaker 2: 07:36 Yeah, that's the million dollar question really. And, um, and it's, it's not just through solar and storage. It's also through demand response programs that allows for homeowners or businesses to actually receive value or reductions in their utility bills. If they dial back their power, you pair that and solar and energy storage, there can be a huge benefit for, for the grid. Cause you you'll have, you know, thousands to millions of these distributed systems in places where that power is needed through micro grids, as an example, it can help power, not only a home, but let's say a block or maybe a downtown area. So there's so many options it's just California really needs to, you know, put a plan in place that allows for this to happen. That was Benjamin Airth, Senior Policy Manager at the Center for Sustainable Energy, speaking with KPBS Midday Edition Host Alison St John. That’s it for the podcast today, thanks for listening.

The Valley fire has burned 17,665 acres, so far destroyed 26 "habitable structures" and 25 "minor structures" and resulted in two injuries. It was not clear if the injury victims were firefighters or civilians. Also, County Officials are warning that San Diego is close to being placed in the highest tier of restrictions via the state’s COVID-19 tiered ranking system. Plus, local organizations were joined by San Diego congressman Juan Vargas in their sprint to the census finish line — to make sure everyone in San Diego county gets counted. But many barriers still stand in their way.