Introduction to Energy in California Book Review

Ali Ong Lee

With California’s floating offshore wind process underway—off the coasts of Humboldt Bay and Morro Bay—Peter Asmus’ Introduction to Energy in California might prove a useful overview providing the public context as it transitions to this renewable energy and engages with a Community Benefits Agreement process with the Redwood Regional Climate and Community Resilience Hub (, a Humboldt Area Foundation Initiative.

Introduction to Energy and other energy books are available to borrow from the Northcoast Environmental Center’s (NEC) updated library, although donations of more current energy books would be welcome additions to better address floating offshore wind energy.

Published in 2009 by the University of California Press, Introduction to Energy is Number 97 in a series of California Natural History Guides. These science-based, densely packed, approximately 400-page, reference guides, are presented in modular form.

Introduction to Energy was written by Peter Asmus, an energy journalist—who spent time covering Sacramento energy politics—and is logically presented in seven parts with photographs, charts, maps, tables, lists, glossary, and references.

  1. Overview: From Indigenous Stewardship to Millennial Crisis
  2. Mainstays: Electricity and Fossil Fuels
  3. Alternatives: The Growth of Renewable Energy
  4. Challenges: The Risks of the Status Quo and Systems Overhaul
  5. Innovation: The Search for Solutions
  6. Progress: Seven Ongoing Experiments
  7. Conclusion

In section one, “Overview,” Asmus mentions Humboldt, although—in this edition—the north coast does not figure prominently: “By 1900, some 25 hydroelectric plants had been constructed in California, stretching from Eureka in the north down to the previously mentioned Mill Creek facility in the south” and “In 1854, the first oil well was drilled manually way up in Humboldt County, but these efforts came up dry”.

In section two, “Mainstays,” when providing a geologic history of California, Asmus notes, “Petroleum seepages can be found as far north as Humboldt County.”.  This chapter dryly focuses on electricity and fossil fuels and includes pros and cons lists for both, as are also provided for all forms of energy throughout the book.

In section four, on “Challenges,” Asmus introduces Jan Harming who was pivotal to California’s rapid development of solar energy. “With a degree in Home Economics, she never dreamed she would spend her entire career promoting renewable energy and energy efficiency in California and the rest of the world.”  After Harming returned to the university to become a biological ecologist, she specialized in environmental policy and partnered with a wind farm entrepreneur.  Hamrin said:

“Unfortunately…’there are no widgets that can simply solve the climate crisis.  We have to transform the entire system, the technology as well as the infrastructure.’”

In “Innovation,” section five, Asmus explains the development of California’s Community Choice Aggregate Assembly Bill 117,  passed in 2002, led to Humboldt’s Redwood Coast Energy Authority  and Mendocino’s Willits Economic Localization program, “tying together energy, transportation, housing, and food supply concerns with an overall goal of generating as many of the services as possible from within the local community…” 

Speaking of local, when Introduction to Energy was published in 2009, Andy Cooper’s Footprint Recycling was both in operation in Humboldt and mentioned (from page 343 to 345), as an example from “a place where lofty ideals about each of our relationships to community are the norm.”

Regardless of how lofty ideals might be, Asmus concludes Introduction to Energy by paraphrasing Art Rosenfeld, who wrote the forward: “there is no cleaner and greener energy source than the energy we do not have to produce in the first place”, calling upon Californians:

  • to get informed;
  • to make renewable and passive energy choices;
  • to reduce energy consumption;
  • to engage in smart growth land use planning;
  • to creating “A New Power Road”, decentralizing energy production and transmission;
  • to risk energy innovation.

A second edition for Introduction to Energy would be timely, since it has been 13 years since the first edition.  In a subsequent edition, besides updating data, Asmus could cover geothermal energy and carbon sink strategies more in-depth and address floating offshore wind processes and development, unfolding in California, which will necessitate more coverage of Humboldt and Morro Bay.  Perhaps, he might highlight current innovators (other than Elon Musk) on the new power road and show how Pacific Gas & Electric Company has charged the public with environmental, health, and financial consequences of deferred infrastructure maintenance while simultaneously working to remove rooftop solar incentives.  Until a next edition is published, this first Introduction to Energy serves well as one of the available primers in the NEC library. To check out this and other titles, visit


  • California Natural History Guide: Fire in California (Second Edition) (August 2021)
  • Reaping the Wind: How Mechanical Wizards, Visionaries, and Profiteers Helped Shape Our Energy Future by Pete Asmus (Island Press, 2001)