Greenhouse gas emissions declined in Sonoma County in 2011 for the third straight year, reflecting an expansion of renewable energy sources and a down economy, which lowered demand for power and transportation.

Still, Sonoma County's goal of reducing emissions 25 percent from 1990 levels by 2015 remains elusive, officials said Tuesday.

The annual report card by the Climate Protection Campaign was presented at the Sonoma County Strategies for Sustainability, a conference that drew 160 people from government, industry and the public to discuss better environmental practices.

"We have to try harder," said Michael Kyes, Sebastopol's vice mayor, who was attending the conference.

Setting such a lofty goal is important, even if it might not be met, said Gary Helfrich, executive director of the Sonoma County Bicycle Coalition.

"The goal is high, but not impossible," Helfrich said. "The big kahuna is transportation. . . . We are asking people to change their lives and that is a lot harder than telling people to put insulation in their attic or install solar."

To set the tone, the conference was held in Santa Rosa's new $40 million public utilities building, which includes enough solar to handle almost all of its energy needs, high-efficiency heating and cooling units and water recycling systems.

The bowls holding candy on tables were part of the city's so-called library of donated dishes. Plates were washable and reusable plastic water cups were handed out.

"Everybody with a little bit can make a difference," said Dell Tredinnick, Santa Rosa project development manager. "Individual contributions are important."

In 2011, there were 3.79 million tons of carbon dioxide released in Sonoma County. Most was generated by transportation, which accounted for 60 percent of the emissions, followed by natural gas use, 16 percent; electricity, 12 percent; and livestock waste, 10 percent.

Emissions fell for the third straight year, a descent that began in 2008, when 4.39 million tons of carbon dioxide were released. The target is 2.5 million tons by 2015.

The figures are estimates based by data supplied by more than a dozen different sources, including the Environmental Protection Agency and state Air Resources Board.

Even though the figures are admittedly imprecise, particularly for the transportation sector, they follow a national formula and indicate a trend showing a reduction.

Ann Hancock, the Climate Protection Campaign's executive director, said the use of renewable energy sources, rainy years that increase hydropower generation, and commercial and industrial vacancies caused by the economy were the major factors in a 13.5 percent drop in carbon dioxide emissions from electricity.

Carbon dioxide emissions from transportation, the largest single contributor, were down 3 percent. Sonoma County residents drove fewer miles last year, because of the sluggish economy and the increase in gas prices, officials said.

However, the slow economy also inhibited investments by companies in technology to reduce emissions, Tredinnick said.

"It is difficult to make the capital improvements, for a business to say . . . 'I can make the investment in a bad economy,' " Tredinnick said.

You can reach Staff Writer Bob Norberg at 521-5206 or bob.

A GoFundMe account has been set up to help reunite Carmina Salcido and her daughter, Zophia. To donate, go here

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