NAPA COUNTY – Founded five years ago with a start up grant from the Gasser Foundation and support from other partners, Sustainable Napa County (SNC) helps local nonprofits conserve energy and water. But this is just the beginning.

“Our mission is to integrate the three elements of sustainability by improving economic vitality, environmental health and community engagement across the entire county,” said Jeri Gill, CEO of SNC.

[caption id="attachment_73057" align="alignright" width="179"] Jeri Gill[/caption]

Ms. Gill and her team -- including Project Manager Sally Seymour, and Project Engineer Bill Bennett -- see themselves as collaborators and advocates for relevant ways to reduce greenhouse gases, increase energy efficiency, generate local renewable energy and enrich the county’s competitive economic advantage. 

They work with local businesses, government, community groups and non-profits to translate broad policies into programs scaled to work locally, while aligning them with countywide plans and opportunities.

For example, through the Napa County Energy Watch partnership with PG&E, SNC brought in $1.2 million in on-site technical assistance, education, rebates and incentives to 200 non-profits, schools and businesses over three years from Calistoga to American Canyon.

Post rebate costs for nonprofits are covered by the Gasser Foundation granted reserve fund, so the expense to each nonprofit is zero, and the organizations begin to see returns immediately.

As a result of the Energy Watch program, county PG&E customers are saving $650,000 annually and eliminating 1,000 tons of greenhouse gas emissions, while reducing electricity consumption by more than 4 million kwh.

 SNC worked with the Napa Valley Unified School District to reduce the District’s operating expenses by $280,000 saving 1.8 million kwh per year.

 SNC also brings relevant workshops to Napa County homeowners and small to medium-sized businesses and supports companies seeking green certification, in cooperation with the Napa County Green Business program.

 Workshops cover solar energy, green valuation of homes and energy efficiency retrofits. These sessions reach diverse audiences -- such as property owners, real estate professionals, and contractors.

During 2013, this outreach will also encompass wineries, hotels, restaurants and other businesses and address topics from retro commissioning of commercial buildings to LED lighting.

In addition to offering information resources, SNC works to help put the information into practice.

By collaborating with the St. Helena Climate Protection Task Force, SNC was able to reach 50 St. Helena businesses in 2012 with more information about rebates and incentive

Twelve of these firms have already taken steps to participate in energy surveys and receive rebates. This program is being extended throughout the county this year.

 SNC is also teaming with local jurisdictions and community leaders to develop the Napa County Climate Action Plan (CAP). It is also identifying action items and priorities in the approved Sustainability Plan for the City of Napa and American Canyon’s Energy Efficiency Climate Action Plan.

A complement to the energy action and planning process is SNC’s support of Napa County in creating a local Property Assessed Clean Energy (PACE) program, to be launched for commercial property owners in the fall.

This voluntary program will offer financing for energy efficiency, renewable energy and water conservation measures on property tax bills at a low interest rate payable over up to 20 years – increasing property values and helping to put local contractors and trade personnel to work.

At the same time, SNC is in the early stages of initiating a local carbon-credit reserve, offering a path to increased flexibility for large-scale projects guided by climate-related regulations, while striving to maintain an economic and environmental balance.

“We’re also exploring a voluntary carbon-credit program for non-regulated Napa county businesses, events and activities,” Ms. Gill said.

Funds from these credits would be used for public benefit projects such as waste-to-energy technology, and energy efficiency programs for non-profits, habitat restoration, electric vehicle infrastructure and other applications.

“A local carbon-credit reserve plan ensures that benefits stay in our community, and that funded projects are visible, processes are transparent as we help accelerate GHG reduction,” she said.

According to Ms. Gill, when this program is implemented, “it could be a game changer for how we, and other communities, approach climate action and energy.”

Believing that one man’s trash is another’s energy, SNC collaborates with Napa Recycling and Waste, as well as Upper Valley Waste Management, to establish programs that build awareness of waste diversion and food scrap composting processes.

Currently under development is a plastic bag ban, plans for an anaerobic digester project and community waste-to-energy options.

Home-growing the county’s future commercial enterprises through the local Napa Valley Business Incubator, known as Trellis, is yet another synergy, and SNC is a board member. Three key areas of opportunity have been identified, including food, wine and technology.

“Trellis will contribute to the economic vitality of Napa County by creating new businesses and jobs that are relevant to our economy and a good fit for our community. This will help to diversify the job base and provide a range of wages,” Ms. Gill said.

“In addition, commuter traffic can be reduced and local tax revenue increased with more firms and jobs inside the county.”

Plans to implement Trellis will continue in 2013 as project programming and location planning activities fall into place.

Sustainable Napa County (sustainablenapacounty.org) is part of the Napa-Lake Workforce Investment Board. A key SNC goal is to work with the WIB and others to establish a local traveling “energy manager” that would help non-profits in need of energy management support and education.

“SNC continues to work with stakeholders to encourage local involvement and to put helpful tools and resources into the hands of the public and community leaders,” Ms. Gill said.