Carbon trade program goes before planners in Napa

NAPA COUNTY -- As planners in Napa County continue development of a strategy to address state-mandated reductions to greenhouse gas emissions, industry groups have expressed concern that a proposed local market for carbon credits will increase costs for developers and suppress new vineyard and agricultural projects in the region.

[caption id="attachment_64219" align="alignright" width="360"] Napa County seeks to reduce its overall carbon emissions to 15 percent below 2005 levels by 2020 (Image credit: County of Napa)[/caption]

That proposed market, where developers purchase credits that offset emissions from construction by funding local tree planting and other carbon mitigation efforts, is a cornerstone of Napa's Climate Action Plan and will be the subject of a report to the Napa County Planning Commission on Nov. 7. Unlike other carbon trading markets, which allow the purchase of credits from a broader geography, the Napa proposal seeks to create a co-benefit for residents by requiring that land preservation and other efforts occur in Napa County.

Those credits could cost an average of $275, the price to locally mitigate an equivalent metric ton of carbon dioxide, according to a memo by county staff to the planning commission.

Proponents say that developing a county-wide carbon credit "bank" to fund local mitigation carries several benefits. Carbon-offset assets, like new tree plantings and renewable energy projects, will enhance the local environment for residents and visitors, they say. Greater oversight will also be possible and could provide tangible examples of mitigation efforts.

Yet groups like the Napa County Farm Bureau and the Napa Valley Vintners, who have lent their voice to the planning process since it began two years ago, have expressed concern that the increased cost of local mitigation will restrict new vineyards and other development. The groups also question the evolving science of measuring carbon stored in plant matter, including the  impact and benefit of vineyards.

"It's our understanding that carbon credits cost $20 per metric ton on the open market," said Sandy Elles, executive director of the Napa County Farm Bureau. "While there may be some very real benefits to keeping mitigation local, global warming is a global issue."

Expected to go before the Napa County Board of Supervisors for final consideration in December, the plan will require new developments in the county's unincorporated areas to purchase carbon credits for emissions exceeding a certain threshold -- 38 percent less than levels expected by 2020 if no action were taken. In addition to purchasing credits, developers can set aside habitat, use energy-efficient construction and employ other on-site approaches to lower the measured impact.

The program was spurred in part by California's Assembly Bill 32, a 2006 measure requiring an overall reduction of statewide emissions by 2020 to below levels seen in 2005. Local jurisdictions are allowed to determine their own approach to the standard while receiving direction from regional policymakers, in this case the Bay Area Air Quality Management District.

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