By Nadin Abbott
August 6, 2014 (San Diego)--The County of San Diego has recognized the reality of climactic change since the County Board of Supervisors adopted the Climate Action Plan in 2012, This is a comprehensive plan that partly complies with the state mandate imposed by AB 32. AB 32, which is the Global Warming Solutions Act of 2006, signed into law by then Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger.
The Act’s intent is to create a low carbon emission future. It mandates that the state reduce carbon emissions to 1990 levels by 2020. This is a reduction of 15% compared to business as usual. Regulations include construction standards, energy standards and, emission standards. These regulations have led to changes from the State level, all the way to local jurisdictions. The County of San Diego has led the way in these efforts.
In 2012 the County of San Diego issued its first comprehensive Climate Action Plan, which is meant to be a living document. It establishes overall goals to reduce green house gases (GHG) with measures that go to 2050 using currently known technology. It is also takes into account that the technology will change. So none of the recommendations of 2012 are written in stone. The plan changes with the Strategic Energy Plan issued every three years. These strategic plans should be considered an update to the state of the art knowledge on the subject matter.
The County’s After Action Report from the 2007 wild fires already acknowledged climate change as a serious concern. The 2012 Climate Action Plan (CAP) was a step forwards at the policy level. Individual actions such as the building of County Facilities, or the update of them were part of this ever-increasing policy quilt. For example, the Ramona Library is a state of the art green building. But the CAP solidified it.
Early measures in the County were meant to lower the cost of the electric bill to taxpayers. This the County already does very well, paying less than consumers do, since their electricity is not coming from San Diego Gas and Electric. The Strategic Energy Plan of 2009-12 “included both County operations and County community initiatives. “It was the first time that more purposeful initiatives were taken.
As of 2012 the triennial strategic plan incorporated the mandates of the Climate Action Plan, which has a long-term vision. These documents are a vision at the county level that deals with climate change as a present scientific reality.
Why does climactic change matters to San Diegans?
There is no longer any debate among the scientific community as to the reality of climate change. The county is following both international research and national standards. As far as the international information, the International Climate Change Partnership said in 2007 (The 2014 report has not been finalized):
Warming in western mountains is projected to cause decreased snowpack, more winter flooding, and reduced summer flows, exacerbating competition for over-allocated water resources. Disturbances from pests, diseases and fire are projected to have increasing impacts on forests, with an extended period of high fire risk and large increases in area burned.
Living in San Diego none of us can deny that we have had longer and more intense fire seasons. One effect that is not so obvious is the arrival of invasive species. For example the Mountain Pine Beetle is putting extreme pressure on the trees at the Cleveland National Forest. This is killing the trees, and also increasing dry fuel when fires do happen. This is making fuel management more complex as well.
Because of the risk of wildfires and other issues, the County includes the citizens in its action plan. It also includes things that the environmental community has mentioned in the past and they would like to see implemented.
Some of the policies included in the plan are distributive energy networks. What are distributive energy networks? Traditional energy distribution relies on just a central point of production and distribution to final points. Think of your power generation plant and transmission lines. The County of San Diego is encouraging the use of different means of local energy production. Chiefly, they are encouraging the use of photovoltaic cells, otherwise known as solar; in this case the installation of rooftop solar at both businesses and homes.
The program is a public-private partnership of the County of San Diego and the commercial banking industry to offer loans to qualified property owners at attractive rates and terms to help access financing for making energy efficient and/or solar energy improvements to homes or businesses, such as installing solar systems. The details of individual loan programs available will vary based on the participating bank and the property owner’s qualifications, but are generally offered in support of making energy efficient improvements and/or installing solar systems in an effort to promote regional energy independence.
As of July 9 the program expanded to homes: “PACE loans are available starting this week in the cities of San Diego, El Cajon and Escondido, along with the region’s unincorporated areas.”
The Property Assessed Clean Energy (PACE) program, allows business, and now homeowners, to finance clean energy through future assessments in their tax bill. It makes it very convenient and affordable. This expansion is part of the strategic plan to increase green energy use in the County, with cities, such as Carlsbad and San Diego already taking similar steps.
You can apply with the County or get information at: (855) 437-6411.
San Diego County is also encouraging the development of a robust grid to fuel alternative energy vehicles countywide; this includes the better known electric vehicles. County officials know that transportation is one of the largest sectors generating green house gases.
The County itself is very active in the development of a smart grid, when they upgrade county facilities, or build new facilities. They are modern, they are energy efficient, and they all have smart meters. This is in an effort to both save energy and use it more efficiently. This is the barebones of a smart grid, since it does not include the whole system, but it is a good starting point.
San Diego County also supports the development of locally owned utilities, otherwise known as Community Choice Aggregation. The large energy conglomerates oppose these, and have tried to deal with the threat with statewide initiatives and now legislation. .
Right now AB 2145 is seen as a direct attack on this by the major utilities, since it would change the rules of the road. It would mandate that people opt in, before being able to join one.
The City of San Diego, joined by many other municipalities, including Counties, have asked the State Senate not to act on this Bill, since it will short circuit the formation of these organizations that benefit the consumer.
Among the municipalities asking the State Senate not to pass this Bill include Chula Vista, Santa Cruz, Berkeley, and Menlo Park, as well as the counties of Monterey, Marin, Los Angeles and San Benito Counties. This is part of the fight on who controls electricity distribution in the future,
Why are the utilities worried? According to Giles Parkingson at Cleantechnica:
“How worried should they be? A lot…. The ability of rooftop solar, battery storage and energy efficiency programs to reduce demand from the grid would likely translate into lower prices for wholesale power and reduced profits. Worse still, customers were just as likely to “leave the system entirely” if a more cost-competitive alternative is available.”
Energy Policy for the East County
We know this is a political hot potato. But the energy system built in the backcountry, encompasses two California counties and a foreign country, though the Sierra Juarez wind development in Mexico. This is part of the County plan to meet goals. Renewable energy is a very strong component of the San Diego Strategic Energy Plan that expires in 2015, and there is no reason to believe this will substantially change in the one to be enacted for the 2015-18 period.
Backcountry residents are opposed to industrial-scale energy projects due to impacts on the environment, communities, and health concerns though most support renewable energy options such as rooftop solar. This opposition started as early as the Campo Wind Project was announced close to 20 years ago; the federal government, the Bureau of Indian Affairs and state and local agencies expected this opposition. However, these plants are part of the new energy system. This policy took shape many years ago.
At this point, mitigation of the effects on local residents should be a key goal. As of 2015 the wind turbines are expected to be installed in the first phase of Sierra Juarez, and by 2020 the Renewable Portfolio Standard for San Diego County is projected to top 20% for renewable energy.