Sonoma, Marin Napa officials fashion plans on commutes, buildings

NORTH BAY – Working under state, regional and local deadlines to reverse human-caused climate change, leaders in the battle from Sonoma, Marin and Napa counties are readying weapons against warming.

All California counties are under the Legislative mandate to cut greenhouse-gas emissions by 25 percent by 2035 under Assembly Bill 32 of 2006, and Sonoma County governments have given themselves until 2015 to do that.

Commuting in much of the suburban and rural North Bay is making the local fight more about the tailpipe. Emissions from cars, trucks and other forms of transportation account for 55 percent of the total in Napa County, 63 percent in Marin County and 60 percent in Sonoma County, according to recent inventories.

[caption id="attachment_15606" align="alignright" width="324" caption="Dave Brennan | Eliot Hurwitz | Richard Schorske"][/caption]

While Yountville's carbon-dioxide-equivalent emissions based on vehicle miles traveled, or VMTs, put the town at No. 10 most efficient among the 101 Bay Area cities and towns in a recent study, some Sonoma County localities were in the bottom third, with Cotati at No. 92; Petaluma, No. 99; and Windsor, No. 101.

The Bay Area Simplified Simulation of Travel, Energy and Greenhouse Gases, or BASSTEGG, household-based model by the Association of Bay Area Governments, or ABAG, is quite revealing about where local priorities need to be focused, according to David Brennan, regional climate protection coordinator for the Sonoma County Transportation Authority.

"People live where they want to," he said. "If you want to get serious about reducing greenhouse-gas emissions, you need to look at transportation."

Reduction of emissions from transportation factor heavily into plans and programs under way not only in Sonoma County but also in Marin and Napa counties. Discussing these efforts at the Business Journal's Going Green 2009 conference in Rohnert Park on Oct. 8 will be Mr. Brennan; Richard Schorske, climate action director for the Marin Climate & Energy Partnership; and Eliot Hurwitz, program manager for the Napa County Transportation and Planning Agency.

Sonoma County

Key efforts in Sonoma County aimed at controlling climate change are the 6-month-old Sonoma County Energy Independence Program, or SCEIP, an energy-efficiency retrofit campaign for existing buildings set to start next year; the 1,000-electric-vehicle pilot program with Nissan Motor Co. in fall 2010; and the planned start of commuter rail service in 2014.

Based on the voluntary energy-efficiency assessment districts allowed under Assembly Bill 811 of last year, SCEIP started in April to provide long-term financing for energy-efficiency retrofits to residential and commercial properties tied to the property.

Building on that program and fueled by the phase-in of nonresidential-property energy-efficiency reporting next year per Assembly Bill 1103, the transportation authority last week launched into design of a countywide building-retrofit program along with Berkeley-based Build It Green and the counties of Alameda and Los Angeles.

Part of the planning will be getting input from stakeholders such as property owners, standardizing energy audits and working with Santa Rosa Junior College and the Workforce Investment Board on training retrofitters.

"What we're trying to do is bring qualifications to certain levels for building retrofits and the scope of work based on standard practice for identifying and creating a 'building order' to show if certain improvements get done then you will get return on investment in a short period and if you do others you will get a longer return," Mr. Brennan said. "Hopefully, we will create a building-retrofit plan that pays for itself."

Legislation is pending the governor's signature to create the Sonoma County Regional Climate Protection Authority. It is designed to take effect Jan. 1 and would have the same board and staff as the transportation authority. All local governments in the county except Cloverdale have completed climate action plans.

"The image of Sonoma County as a leader in coordinated climate protection programs will be the next step," Mr. Brennan said. "It will open doors for other sources of funding."

Showing regional focus and coordination on meeting the climate-control mandates can help with securing funding for these initiatives as well as with complying with Senate Bill 375 of 2008, which calls for limiting VMTs via regional housing and transportation planning in conjunction with community climate action plans, according to Mr. Brennan.

In early October, all the local governments in Sonoma County, perhaps in collaboration with other counties in the North Bay and the nine-county ABAG, will be vying for some of the $96 million the California Energy Commission is offering statewide. The money would be used to expand SCEIP, the building-retrofit program and an effort with PG&E to replace lighting and heating controls on commercial and municipal buildings.

The larger governments in the county – Santa Rosa, Rohnert Park, Petaluma and the county itself – are applying for U.S. Energy Department energy-efficiency entitlement grants. The six smaller locales in the county are applying for energy commission grants based on a formula of population, unemployment and planned electricity or natural-gas reduction per $1,000 of funds.

Marin County

Marin has two organizations leading the effort against climate change on three fronts. Mr. Schorske's group is spearheading the Green BERST (Building Energy Retrofit and Solar Transformation) Task Force to coordinate local green-building ordinances and extend them to existing buildings.

"Unless you tackle the existing building stock you are not going to get efficiencies on an aggregate basis," Mr. Schorske said. "We need to look at trigger mechanisms for new efficiencies requirements on remodel."

Building and planning officials from Marin's 12 local governments as well as architects, contractor and real estate trade groups have been part of the initial phase of Green BERST, which is set to conclude in October after four months of work, according to Mr. Schorske.

About two dozen participants at the weekly meetings have been reviewing existing building ordinances and green-building ratings such as Build It Green's and the U.S. Green Building Council's Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design, or LEED. Green BERST's model ordinance to be considered by local governing bodies would be more rigorous than existing ordinances in San Rafael and other Marin cities and also cover remodeling or renovation. The Marin Building Association and Marin Association of Realtors have backed this effort.

To encourage retrofits, the Marin Energy Authority has been talking to Mr. Brennan and representatives from Palm Desert, another early adopter of AB 811 financing, to create a program similar to SCEIP called the Solar and Energy Efficiency District, or SEED, according to Dawn Weisz, interim authority director and a principal county planner.

As part of the second climate effort, transitioning to zero-emission vehicles, Marin Climate & Energy Partnership is working to encourage more use of electric vehicles, potentially in conjunction with Sonoma County's program with Nissan.

Included in the electric-vehicle effort and the third focus, "greening" the energy grid, the partnership is working with Marin Energy Authority to tie those vehicle batteries into a "smart" grid that manages solar- and wind-generated electricity day and night.

The energy authority is a joint-powers authority started in 2004 to set up a community choice aggregate, or CCA, program called Marin Clean Energy with the goal of providing electricity to nearly 80,000 residential and commercial customers in the county at competitive rates and from more renewable Northern California sources than those of the current utility, Pacific Gas & Electric Co.

Marin Energy Authority doesn't include Novato, Corte Madera and Larkspur, which chose not to join the because of disagreements over initial details of the CCA.

The energy authority at its Oct. 1 meeting was to pick from bids by Constellation Commodities Group, Shell Energy North America and Macquarie-Cook Power. A dozen bids were received in July. If adopted by authority member jurisdictions by early January as planned, the power contract could start in May and run through 2015.

Napa County

Napa County has been guarding its world-renowned environment for decades with agricultural-land protections and, more recently, with the Napa Valley Vintners' Napa Green Winery version of the Bay Area Green Business program and Gasser Foundation's Sustainable Napa County efforts to increase energy efficiency and use of alternative energy among nonprofit organizations, noted Mr. Hurwitz of the Napa County Transportation Planning Agency.

Sustainable Napa County also is working with the local Workforce Investment Board and Napa Valley College to train the hospitality industry, which makes up a large part of the local economy, to be more environmentally minded in use of energy and water.

On climate issues, Napa Valley governments have been cooperating on solutions, starting with an effort last year to inventory greenhouse-gas emissions and culminating in changes to the mission of the transportation planning agency, of which they're all a part, to tackle interrelated issues such as housing, jobs and transportation in the rubric of SB 375, according to Mr. Hurwitz.

A draft climate action plan with countywide solutions and cost-benefit analyses is due to be completed Oct. 14, followed at some point by local solutions. The first climate action plan is set to be completed by year-end.

Napa County's short-term, most cost-effective answer to lowering greenhouse-gas emissions will be energy efficiency via better weather-stripping and insulation of residential and commercial buildings, Mr. Hurwitz said.

"VMTs are the holy grail in climate protection," he said, referring to a key metric in SB 375 implementation. "With so many of our road miles in rural areas, reducing VMTs is a longer cycle with building and developing differently and looking at various kinds of transit services."

Methods discussed on a Bay Area level for reducing VMTs include higher parking and toll-lane pricing during commute hours.

The trouble with SB 375 implementation in Napa County is that the incentives and the population and transit densities envisioned currently are too large for even the valley's largest city, Napa, with a population of 50,000, according to Mr. Hurwitz.

It's tough for developed areas in downtown Napa and around Napa County Airport to qualify for long-range planning funding under ABAG's Transportation for Livable Communities program, the budget for which is increasing to $60 million a year, according to Mr. Hurwitz. Funding largely goes to priority development areas, or PDAs.

Solano, Marin and Sonoma counties have several PDAs each, but Napa doesn't. Napa does have a number of priority conservation areas designated.

Napa Valley officials in early October will be petitioning ABAG to allow smaller developed areas, such as Boyes Hot Springs in Sonoma County, qualify as PDAs.

"Typical transit-oriented development is high-rises around BART stations, but you're not going to see that in Napa," Mr. Hurwitz said. "But the question is what does work in Napa."