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Amy Bolten is public information officer for the Energy Resources Group of Sonoma County Water Agency. The organization supplies drinking water to more than 600,000 residents in parts of the county and northern Marin as well as treating wastewater, guarding against flooding and promoting resource conservation.

That latter goal brought Ms. Bolten to the water agency (www.scwa.ca.gov) five years ago to help develop programs and projects that would meet an agency goal of delivering "carbon-free water" by 2015. That means all energy used to extract and move water would be offset by generation of energy without emissions deemed environmentally equivalent to carbon dioxide.

One such program is the Sonoma County Energy Independence Program (SCEIP, sonomacountyenergy.org), originally developed by the water agency in March 2009 and now operated by the county of Sonoma. A new endeavor is the Sonoma Clean Power (sonomacleanpower.org), a proposed community-choice aggregation program for renewable energy produced by individual property owners.

Ms. Bolten also is deputy director of Applied Solutions (appliedsolutions.org), a Washington, D.C.-based nonprofit coalition of local governments collaborating on cutting-edge technology and financing for clean energy and water-efficient projects.

Before the water agency, she headed community relations and promoted green-building standards for her parents' company, Christopherson Homes. With a master's degrees in chemistry and business administration from University of San Francisco, she worked as a brewer, wine analyst and chemical company researcher.

Ms. Bolten is set to speak on projects related to the water agency and the proposed Sonoma Clean Power program at Construction Conference 2013, hosted by the Business Journal in Santa Rosa on May 15. She and SCEIP manager Jane Elias, a 14-year veteran of green building and energy, spoke with the Journal about construction activity generated by these agencies and programs.What projects are coming up for the water agency and Sonoma Clean Power?

[caption id="attachment_73075" align="alignleft" width="200"] Amy Bolten[/caption]

Amy Bolten: There are two likely modes of project development for Sonoma Clean Power -- public development through the water agency and private project development.

The water agency is working on a number of solar photovoltaic projects that could supply electricity to Sonoma Clean Power. The furthest along is a 20-megawatt solar project at the Charles M. Schultz--Sonoma County Airport. Three other solar projects are in the planning stages in other areas of the county.

In addition, the water agency is evaluating biomass as a means to utilize agricultural and poultry waste to produce electricity.

For private business, landowners and residents, Sonoma Clean Power would also provide a stable off-taker for renewable electricity produced by local projects which could incentivize project development.What public and private progress is being made toward increasing the supply of local electricity generation and water supply needed for projected population and job increases?

Ms. Bolten: Electricity generation and water supply are two distinct issues with different infrastructure and political drivers. The water agency can only speak to progress in the public sphere, as we do not monitor the activities of private developers.

With respect to increasing the supply of local electricity generation, both energy-efficiency and building generation facilities are means to increase the supply of local electricity capacity. The water agency has facilitated two significant programs to spur reductions in energy use.

Initially, the water agency helped form and launch the Sonoma County Energy Independence Program, which has funded $62 million in energy efficiency projects as well as install 8.5-megawatt solar generation in Sonoma County. The county has been the sole operator of SCEIP since 2009.

A second program is the Sonoma County Efficiency Financing Program, which is aggregating energy- and water-efficiency projects at schools, cities and special districts for joint bond financing and construction. Sonoma Clean Power will also provide a means and revenue stream to reinvest what would-be-profits from ratepayers into broader local energy-efficiency programs.

With respect to increasing local electricity generation, much work is being done on this front. As mentioned previously, the water agency is developing a large solar project at the airport with a number of others in planning stages. We also continue to work on finding a partner to build the biodigester project, Farms to Fuel. Sonoma Clean Power will also provide a stable purchaser of renewable power supply which should stimulate further development both through the private sector as well as the public.

Looking at water supply, there are also two sources of supply: water drawn from the river and aquifer and capacity freed up through efficiency.

The water agency, as well as most of the water retailers in Sonoma County, run a number of water conservation programs. These programs are intended to stretch our water suppliers further while not impacting the productivity of our water resources. In essence, use less water with no reduction in the benefits of water use.

There are a number of projects underway to secure our existing water supply. These include the Dry Creek Restoration Project, which resulted from the federally mandated biological opinion on critical habitat for salmonid fish, as well as studies of groundwater systems and efforts to coordinate groundwater management. At this time, the focus is on securing our existing water supply given environmental and regulatory constraints on the Russian River.What impact has SCEIP had on the construction industry, local energy production, the economy and environmental goals?

[caption id="attachment_73076" align="alignleft" width="200"] Jane Elias[/caption]

Jane Elias: Property assessed clean energy (PACE) financing through the Sonoma County Energy Independence Program through March 31 since the program began totaled $51 million on 1,805 properties, averaging $28,000 each. Commercial PACE financing totaled $10.7 million on 58 properties, or $185,000 on average.

Eighty-six percent of contractors these projects are local.

The bulk of the financing -- 59 percent -- has gone toward energy-efficiency projects, a third of which was for upgraded windows, doors, sealing and insulation. Thirty-nine percent of PACE-funded improvements went toward energy generation, and 2 percent to water conservation.

Through March, PACE financing through SCEIP has funded 1,121 residential electricity-generation systems totaling 6.4 megawatts and reducing the equivalent emissions of 5,567 tons of carbon dioxide. On the nonresidential side, 44 funded systems produce 2.1 megawatts and cut emissions by 1,864 tons.

For local projects undertaken through the statewide Energy Upgrade California program from Augut 2010 through March of this year, 132 home energy-efficiency upgrades were completed, providing average energy savings of 31 percent. The average home upgraded had 1,854 square feet and was built in 1966.What is the outlook for SCEIP and other PACE programs with hesitance from Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac to back loans tied to such programs?

Ms. Elias: The outlook is currently unchanged. The Sonoma Energy Independence Program continues to support and provide services to the community including financing.

In recent weeks, two more states have passed PACE legislation. There are now 30 states with or developing programs. The organization PACENow (pacenow.org) is a resource you may find useful for a national perspective. The local economic stimulation and job creation opportunity for regions with PACE programs is strongly evident here and also with the HERO program in Western Riverside County.

Even though on March 19 the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that the courts have no jurisdiction to review decisions made by FHFA, we do not know if FHFA will abandon the rulemaking proceeding or will choose to continue voluntarily.

With the lawsuit, we have moved the discussion substantially forward by creating a voluminous public record documenting the positive aspects of PACE programs. We can hope that FHFA will seriously review this information and consider modifying its position.