By BRETT WILKISON
THE PRESS DEMOCRAT
A four-year effort to reduce the greenhouse gases produced by Sonoma County government, including emissions from buildings and vehicles, has met its overall goal, county staff told supervisors Tuesday.
The 2006 initiative was intended to cut emissions 20 percent below 2000 levels by 2010. The county ended up trimming annual emissions by 9,125 tons, a nearly 30 percent cut from the 2000 total, staff reported.
The gains came mostly from the $22.3 million the county poured recently into renewable power projects and building upgrades.
The investments are projected to cut the county’s yearly energy use by 13 million kilowatt hours — slashing the annual $5 million power bill by a third — and lower annual emissions by more than 6,000 tons.
“We pushed and pushed and pushed,” Supervisor Valerie Brown said of the multi-year effort. “This is the gift that keeps on giving.”
The report did not include the county Water Agency, which also has made multimillion dollar investments in clean energy and has its own emissions goals.
Officials said the report served as a waypoint for climate protection efforts that began in the late 1990s. Those efforts now will be evaluated each year with an eye on 2015, when a more ambitious set of regional emissions goals come due.
Those regional targets call for cutting emissions to 25 percent below 1990 levels. In the county’s case, that is the equivalent of a 25 percent reduction from 2010 levels.
Among participating local governments, including the county’s nine cities, county government appears the closest to achieving those 2015 targets, officials said.
The high water mark came last year. Completed projects included the $9.8 million, 1.4 megawatt fuel cell that now powers the county administrative center, the $4.6 million solar panel installation for the juvenile justice campus off Highway 12, and lighting, heating, cooling and water-system upgrades on more than 20 buildings.
“This is definitely something the board has been proud of,” Chairman Efren Carrillo said. But Tuesday’s report showed efforts lagging in other areas.
Since 2006, the county managed to lower emissions from its vehicle fleet by just 6 percent below 2000 levels. The main reason, officials said, was the county could not afford to overhaul a 900-vehicle fleet in the four-year time span.
Already the county’s 233 hybrid cars and SUVs make it one of the greenest fleets in the nation, according to a 2010 magazine survey.
Tuesday’s addition of a new electric-powered Nissan Leaf, the first of 21 to be purchased by the county this year, along with two electric Ford minivans, all paid for through a $508,000 federal grant, will boost the transition, officials said.
“It’s really hard to get that impact in big bites,” said Dave Head, Sonoma County fleet manager.
Emissions from employee commutes comprise the other area for improvement.
The county met its 2010 target in that category, cutting baseline levels by 23 percent. But because commuters make up the single largest source of county emissions, about 50 percent of the total, much larger cuts will be needed to meet the 2015 regionwide targets, officials said.
Expanded bike and bus use, increased telecommuting and compressed work weeks are planned, officials said.
“It’s a huge challenge,” said Liz Yager, the county’s energy and sustainability manager. “It’s the one that’s dependent on changing behavior.”