Sunday, November 25, 2007

Regional energy blueprint goes green


Santa Barbara city leaders took another step forward in the arena of renewable energy use and sustainability after expressing largely unchecked optimism for a regional energy blueprint at Tuesday’s City Council meeting.
In a big-picture sense, the blueprint offers a set of “achievable concrete actions” that will “incrementally move our community toward a renewable energy future,” said Dave Davis, executive director of the Community Environmental Council, which developed the plan.

“We believe future generations will look back with gratitude for the leaders who had the vision and the heart to move beyond mere discussion to tangible action that will shape their world,” Davis told the Council.
From improvements in building practices to next-generation vehicles, Davis and Tam Hunt, energy programs director for the CEC, laid out an extensive report on how Santa Barbara County can become carbon-neutral by 2030.
Currently, about 50 percent of energy is lost in transmission and through low-efficiency uses, Davis said. After significantly lowering petroleum and natural gas usage — fully eliminating them is not feasible — Davis said lost energy drops to 24 percent.
“We are rich in renewables here in Santa Barbara County,” he said.
Painting an image of a global oil production that has peaked and is on a steep, downward slide, Hunt highlighted rapidly rising gasoline, natural gas, oil and uranium prices as he launched into the meat of the renewable energy plan.
Transportation improvements make up 35.2 percent of the blueprint, including 2.3 percent of energy provided by ethanol and 7.7 percent from biodiesel, which Hunt said will be derived from locally grown biofuels.
Close to 20 percent of local energy demand will be supplied by wind power under the CEC’s plan. Hunt said wind energy is now economically competitive with natural gas and even coal, at times. Solar power takes a 15.8 percent slice and ocean power provides 8.3 percent, with wave power-harnessing technology that is still in the pilot stages.
“There is a lot of attention being paid to wave power because there is so much potential,” Hunt said.
In addition to leveling out environmental impacts, CEC representatives said the regional blueprint makes economic sense.
“By 2030, our plan will save our region $1.5 billion each year,” Hunt said. “These are not pie-in-the-sky numbers. These are good, conservative numbers.”
Councilmember Brian Barnwell enthusiastically endorsed that selling point as key to getting the public on board with the renewable energy plan.
“I fully believe that the reason that we should be able to convince the community to embrace such a project as this is that it’s simply going to save us money,” Barnwell said.
Davis and Hunt included four recommendations in their presentation for the City Council to consider, with participation in a countywide energy task force serving as the first suggestion.
The CEC also asked the city to incorporate greenhouse gas reductions into the General Plan Update process, set a goal of carbon neutrality within its own operations by 2020, and submit a letter of interest for a feasibility study of Community Choice Aggregation.
The latter refers to a program that, in part, gives a local municipality the opportunity to buy or build its own energy facilities, something that had several Councilmembers slightly on edge.
“I am not anywhere near convinced the CCA is something we want to do,” Councilmember Iya Falcone said. “…I remain squirrelly, to say the least, about the actual practicalities of doing it.”
Councilmember Grant House, although echoing that concern, said he is definitely on board with a feasibility study, especially if other regional municipalities continue to sign on as Hunt indicated.
As a whole, the Council appeared wholly in support of moving forward, voting to send the CEC’s recommendations along to the Council’s Sustainability Subcommittee for analysis before it returns to the Council for action.
“These goals may be difficult to achieve, but it’s all about having the will as an institution to achieve those goals,” Councilmember Das Williams said.
“I have no doubt that if this nation prioritized energy and global warming the way that it does a war, for example, we would have energy dependence licked in five years,” he added. “I think we need to treat it with that kind of seriousness.”

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