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Sonoma County Water Agency hits clean energy goal

To pump, treat and transport the drinking water for 660,000 North Bay residents, the Sonoma County Water Agency uses enough electricity every day to power the equivalent of about 6,500 local homes.

Going forward, all that electricity will be from renewable and carbon-free sources, meaning it will come from the expanding network of solar installations popping up around the county, as well as from The Geysers geothermal fields on the Sonoma-Lake county line and other established green energy projects.

The Water Agency has been moving steadily toward the clean energy goal since 2006 and this year expects to hit its target, a benchmark that officials celebrated on Monday.

“This is a big deal,” said Rep. Jared Huffman, D-San Rafael, who gathered with local and state lawmakers at the headquarters of Santa Rosa Water, the city’s utilities department. “If we’re going to tackle this huge problem of climate change, we’re going to have to address that embedded footprint in how we manage water.”

The two largest local renewable energy sources for the Water Agency include hydroelectric power generated by Warm Springs Dam at Lake Sonoma, which supplies more than a quarter of the agency’s needs, and a power plant that generates electricity from methane gas at the Central Landfill, accounting for about 55 percent of the agency’s needs.

The remainder of the Water Agency’s supply comes from a combination of local solar installations - the water wholesaler has installed three systems totaling more than 3,000 solar panels on county-owned property - and from sources linked to Sonoma Clean Power, the public provider, or other hydroelectric projects.

Officials on Monday said that transitioning to clean energy sources for water management will be an increasingly important part of reducing emissions that are fueling climate change.

A report released Monday by the Union of Concerned Scientists that found an estimated ?20 percent of the energy California consumes is used to pump, treat, transport and heat water. ?In Sonoma County, the Water Agency - the largest power user countywide - accounts for about 5 percent of overall electricity use.

Juliet Christian-Smith, co-author of the Union of Concerned Scientists’ report, said Sonoma County is on the forefront of developing initiatives aimed at reducing carbon emissions.

“What Sonoma County is doing is really a model for a lot of other areas,” Christian-Smith said.

“It takes a lot more than snow and rainfall to keep California’s taps flowing. It takes energy, and a lot ?of it, particularly during this record-setting drought.”

As California’s population grows and reserves dwindle, fresh water is expected to become increasingly more expensive, Christian-Smith said.

But local governments and water suppliers that invest in renewable energy, such as solar, wind and hydroelectric power, will have greater control over that cost, Christian-Smith said.

The Water Agency provides drinking water to customers in Santa Rosa, Sonoma, Rohnert Park, Cotati, Petaluma, Windsor, Valley of the Moon and parts of Marin.

Sonoma County has won accolades for other climate change initiates. Last year, it was one of 16 communities nationwide recognized by the White House as a leader for its efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

The county has set a goal of reducing emissions to ?25 percent below 1990 levels by this year. Less aggressive targets set in 2006 legislation call for California as a whole to reach 1990 emissions levels by 2020.

The Water Agency’s zero-carbon footprint is expected to be certified by mid-2016 by the Climate Registry, the nonprofit program used to track and manage measures and standards for greenhouse gas reduction measures across North America.

Supervisors said the county would continue working on policies aimed at reducing human causes of climate change.

“We want to set an example nationwide,” said Board of Supervisors Chairwoman Susan Gorin.

You can reach Staff Writer Angela Hart at 526-8503 or angela.hart@pressdemocrat.com.

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