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Close to Home: Progress with local greenhouse gas goal

The Center for Climate Protection just released its report on Sonoma County’s 2014 greenhouse gas emissions. We assessed emissions in four sectors - transportation, electricity, natural gas and solid waste - and found that Sonoma County produced about 3.6 million tons of greenhouse gas in 2014. The overall trend shows decreasing emissions in Sonoma County. Following a high of about 4.3 million tons in 2007, emissions dropped by about 14 percent during the past seven years.

Powerful forces influence the amount of emissions a community produces, particularly population and consumption in an economy largely based on fossil fuels. Also, weather temperature affects how much energy we use for heating and cooling and therefore impacts emissions. The amount of rain impacts hydropower, a non-emitting source of electricity.

In response to the enormity of the climate crisis, Sonoma County’s major players from government, business and the broader community have demonstrated laudable commitments and action for finding measures to reduce emissions. As a result, Sonoma County was recognized by the White House in December as a “climate champion” and has been called the California of California when it comes to climate leadership.

The Center for Climate Protection’s quest for solutions led us in 2005 to identify community choice energy as the most powerful, cost-effective measure under local control to significantly reduce emissions. As a result, we invested in a major effort to educate and mobilize this community and make community choice happen. Finally in May, Sonoma Clean Power, our community choice energy program, started serving customers with electricity from sources that produce fewer emissions. Emissions from electricity fell about 9 percent in 2014. We expect that emissions from electricity will fall even more in 2015 because Sonoma Clean Power now serves more customers. An unexpected bonus from Sonoma Clean Power is the estimated $13.6 million that Sonoma County customers have already saved on their bills.

Another bonus is the positive impact on other communities, fueled in part by the Center for Climate Protection’s work for the past two years to spread community choice to other areas in California. Interest is increasing exponentially. Last year, about 12 California cities and counties were in varying stages of investigating community choice energy. This year, more than 70 communities in the state are considering it.

Sonoma County cannot rest on its laurels. Our greenhouse gas report for 2014 shows that we are far from the goal that Sonoma County and all nine of its cities set in 2005. This goal corresponds to what is known scientifically as atmospheric carbon stabilization, the imperative for a life-sustaining climate. Sonoma County’s goal for 2015 is to emit no more than 2.8 million tons of greenhouse gas. To achieve this we would need to decrease emissions by 26 percent this year.

The county’s climate leadership necessitates making headway in transportation, the source of about 65 percent of our emissions. According to another report our organization will soon release, the biggest transportation solution under local control is shifting from gas and diesel-powered vehicles to those powered by electricity. As with Sonoma Clean Power, this shift to electric vehicles will require a major, community-scale effort to make a significant difference.

The urgency of climate change requires that we do more than incubate and implement solutions. We must continue supporting the extraordinary climate action happening at the state level. And more than any other solution, we must push for an economy-wide price on carbon that pays everyone a climate dividend.

Ann Hancock is co-founder and executive director of the Center for Climate Protection, which began tracking local greenhouse gas emissions in 2003. The greenhouse gas report is available at www.climateprotection.org.

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