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01.07.09

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The Time Is Now

Climate protection: Sonoma County's bold action plan

By Pat Kilkenny, Mike Senneff and Iver Skavdal

Three years ago, the people of Sonoma County established the most ambitious goals in the United States for doing its part to put the brakes on climate change.

Elected officials from the county's nine cities and the Board of Supervisors set the target for reducing greenhouse gas emissions to 25 percent of 1990 levels by the year 2015.

It's a goal way ahead of what's been proposed in Sacramento or anywhere else in the country.

Now, the Climate Protection Campaign, a Sonoma-based organization that works in partnership with local governments and businesses, is releasing an action plan for meeting these objectives.

Curbing global warming calls for monumental action, nothing short of transforming our energy, transportation and land-use systems. That means making a serious investment. The action plan shows that reducing our global-warming footprint pays back many ways by stimulating and strengthening our economy, creating business-innovation opportunities and improving our energy security and our health.

The plan's solutions will not drain our city and county budgets. Rather, they pay their own way using a variety of financing methods. Unlike the factors that led to the current economic turmoil, the proposed solutions invest in brick-and-mortar infrastructure and build new industries that will contribute in tangible ways to our region. Implementing the plan has the potential to stimulate economic growth and create green-collar jobs and more investment in the local economy.

The Scoping Plan for California's Global Warming Solutions Act, released in October, predicts a number of benefits to reducing greenhouse gas emissions statewide. These include projections of $33 billion in increased economic production, an increase in overall personal income of $16 billion and more than 100,000 new jobs. Some experts suggest that these are conservative estimates.

In recent weeks, it's been suggested we should delay climate-protection programs until teetering financial systems are stabilized. We disagree. Global warming is not on hold and, in fact, addressing it may provide some remedies for financial crisis. In many ways, the battle is already being waged by the growing green movement, and the green economy is already putting people to work. Infrastructure investment and jobs creation is a proven economic stimulus strategy. We're at a historic fork in the road, and the Climate Protection Campaign plan is pointing us in the right direction.

Details of the plan are online at www.coolplan.org. Here are some highlights.

Solutions Voluntary energy-efficiency retrofit of 80 percent of Sonoma County homes and businesses. Replace fossil-fuel-generated electricity and produce 67 percent of our current energy needs with "clean" local power from solar, biofuel, wind, geothermal and other renewable sources. Increase water efficiency. Establish green building ordinances. Develop commuter trains and other public transit. Create a rental fleet of electric cars. Reduce travel by curbing urban sprawl. Encourage businesses to implement telecommuting programs. Protect and increase land devoted to agriculture and forests.

Financing Set up a loan fund that helps property owners overcome the upfront cost of retrofitting their home or business by paying the loan back on their annual property tax bill. Use low-interest municipal bonds to fund electricity-generation systems using renewable energy sources. Provide optional "pay as you save" financing for purchase of energy-efficient appliances that get paid back at rates lower than the utility bill savings.

The action plan estimates an energy infrastructure makeover costing $3.5 billion to $4 billion over 10 years. Too much? Here's some perspective.

Sonoma County already spends huge sums on activities that contribute to global warming. The budget for widening Highway 101 from the Novato Narrows to Windsor is more than $1 billion. Annual new construction costs in the county approach $1 billion. Our collective gasoline bill is $750 million a year.

Future The Climate Protection Campaign has shown us a way to shift this money from fossil fuels to renewables, a way that will keep our dollars circulating here in our local economy.

The action plan deserves careful consideration by the community, political leadership and business. History has presented us with this monumental challenge and opportunity. We've already made the commitment to reduce our contribution to global warming. The next step is to actually do it. It is time to act.

  at Kilkenny is principal of Kilkenny Advisors and a Sonoma County business leader. Mike Senneff is a Santa Rosa attorney and key supporter of the Sonoma County Open Space District. Iver Skavdal is president of Winzler & Kelly, an engineering and environmental planning firm.

Open Mic is now a weekly feature in the Bohemian. We welcome your contribution. To have your topical essay of 700 words considered for publication, write [ mailto:openmic@bohemian.com ]openmic@bohemian.com.

 

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