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Home > Green News > SOLUTIONS MAGAZINE > Special Reports > Special Reports and Featured Products about Green Best Practices > Vision!

Sebastopol Grows Local Global Warming Strategy

Sebastopol targets reducing its emissions by 42% over a 10-year period

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California solar energy conservation While there is a considerable range of opinions regarding the trajectory and possible outcomes of current energy trends, one thing is becoming clear: the era of abundant cheap fossil fuel-based energy is ending, and we are entering an era of energy uncertainty.

To help the City prepare proactively for these changes, the Sebastopol City Council formed the Citizens Advisory Group on Energy Vulnerability (CAGE) in 2006. The City Council asked CAGE to provide it with analysis and recommendations regarding actions that the City can take in anticipation of significant future price increases and/or shortfalls of energy supplies, in order to enable the City to continue to fulfill its primary mission of providing for the public safety, maintaining public facilities and streets, supplying water and sewer services, and regulating land use.

Sebastopol's Mayor Sam Pierce describes it as a "very aggressive effort, by both the city and the community", to tackle global warming. Mr Pierce - whose Green Party provides majority leadership in Sebastopol - says the pressure for action is definitely bottom-up.

His city council has also set itself a target of reducing its own emissions by 42% over a 10-year period - the most ambitious target in the US and far ahead of those demanded by the Kyoto Protocol.

The 42% target comes from closely audited assessments, says the city manager, David Brennan, and should therefore be achievable

The city is improving energy efficiency in heating and lighting in council buildings, and has bought five hybrid vehicles when replacing its fleet, including three police cars.

Sebastopol has a number of projects in place to reduce energy usage, implement alternative energy sources, and prepare for energy disruptions. CAGE applauds this. Nevertheless, the City (and our culture) still face significant risks from the dynamics described in this report. These are the five key types of vulnerabilities that the City faces:

  • Increased Direct Energy Costs. In FY 05-06, 3.4% of the City’s expenditures went to direct energy costs, to pay for energy for: Water Wells (31% of costs), Ives Pool (17%), Buildings (16%), Street Lighting (16%), Vehicles (14%), and Sewage Lift Stations (7%). At the possible future energy price points that CAGE examined, these expenses could rise to 12% of City expenditures. The tripling of the City’s natural gas costs in FY 05-06, because of Hurricane Katrina, demonstrates the City’s vulnerability to sudden and drastic price increases in fossil fuel prices as a result of external events.
  • Increased Indirect Energy Costs. Fossil fuel energy price increases are expected to ripple through into product and labor prices, risking increased costs and decreased availability for a wide variety of materials needed for the City’s functioning. Other government entities could also be impacted by these changes, and decrease their funding and services to the City, at a time when there is increased demand on City services.
  • Insufficient Energy Supplies and Outages. Energy supply shortages and outages of potentially unexpected and long duration could hinder City operations for extended periods of time, causing public health and safety issues. This could occur at a time of increased need for City services.
  • Global Economic Crises and Disruption. The City is also at risk from possible worldwide economic disruptions from these energy shortfalls and price increases. These secondary impacts could cause notable changes to businesses, employees, and governments, locally and beyond, which would significantly impact the City’s costs, income, operations, and ability to maintain services.
  • Insufficient/Late Transition Away From Fossil Fuels. One of the most notable risks to the City would be if it were to transition too slowly away from a dependency on fossil fuel energy sources. This would leave the City vulnerable to a variety of potentially drastic and sudden impacts, and in a hasty last-minute scramble to try to install alternatives when high demand will likely make them much more expensive and less available.
To serve the City, we have identified key actions that the City can do in this regard. Below is a summary of our recommendations; the body of this report describes our underlying analysis and important specifics about implementation.

First Steps

  • Develop and pass an Energy Transition Resolution (Recommendation A-1).
  • Appoint the City Council Energy and Sustainable Practices Subcommittee to implement this resolution and track the progress of these recommendations through the City Council process (Recommendation A-2).
  • Establish a standing Citizens’ Technical Advisory Committee (CTAC) to assist the City in implementing this resolution and these recommendations (Recommendation A-3).
  • Direct City departments to determine departmental vulnerabilities and propose implementation plans for this resolution, which the City Council Energy Subcommittee will then evaluate and prioritize, with CTAC’s assistance (Recommendation A-4).
  • Explore potential partnerships and alliances with other organizations and government entities to share information and collaborate on accomplishing, and sharing the costs, of these activities

Implementation Steps

  • Develop procedures for easily tracking City energy use and costs, and reporting these annually to the City Council, to observe trends and adjust actions and priorities
  • Seek permission to aggregate the City’s electrical loads, to apply credits from solar panels to other City locations
  • Continue reducing City usage of fossil fuels and electricity, even in situations where costs can be passed through to users
  • Proactively invest in additional energy technologies that transition away from fossil fuels.
  • Prepare for longer-term outages and emergencies. To do this, prepare plans for more drastic energy-limited situations
  • Plan future City revenues in the face of these dynamics.
  • Reduce risks of impacts on employee availability by assessing how sustained and serious fuel shortages or price increases might impact the availability of commuting employees
  • Reduce risks from trash collection cost increases and pickup failures, by encouraging WMI’s use of non-fossil fuel and reducing the City’s total trash amount, with the goal of becoming a Zero Waste city
To support constructive proactive action in the larger community, we advise the City to:
  • Establish a Community Outreach Committee to make recommendations to the greater Sebastopol community about appropriate measures which could be taken to adapt to future uncertainties regarding energy supplies
  • Identify ways that the City can encourage actions at other levels of government to reduce energy use and transition away from fossil fuel energy sources
  • Consider joining with other cities to implement Community Choice Aggregation (CCA), in order to buy and support local green power
  • Expand citizen conservation and adoption of alternatives
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Edited by Carolyn Allen, owner/editor of California Green Solutions
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