San Luis Obispo County grapples with climate change

Posted by Christine, November 25, 2011

David Sneed reports:

A wide variety of opinions about climate change and how the county should respond — ranging from a belief that the county is not doing nearly enough to fight global warming to fears that the plan would be a step in turning the sovereignty of our country over to the United Nations — were aired before the Board of Supervisors this week.

By a 3 to 2 vote, the supervisors approved a plan Tuesday that will map out how the county will reduce its greenhouse gas emissions by 15 percent by 2020.

The item elicited two hours of discussion, including local wine grape growers saying the plan could lead to burdensome new regulations.

County planning staff stressed that the plan is just a flexible roadmap for how the county will move forward with improving energy efficiency in transportation, housing and industry. Any new regulations or requirements would need separate votes and hearings by supervisors.

The EnergyWise Plan focuses on reducing greenhouse gas emissions and ways to prepare for the anticipated effects of climate change. Greenhouse gases are emissions such as carbon dioxide that tend to trap the heat from the sun near the Earth’s surface.

In San Luis Obispo County, the bulk of these emissions comes from vehicles, industry and homes. The plan calls for emissions in the county to be cut to 15 percent below the level of those emissions in 2006.

Much of the reductions in this area will come from new statewide requirements that mandate greater fuel efficiency and cleaner burning fuels in cars, senior county planner James Caruso said.

The county’s efforts will concentrate on improving the energy efficiency of businesses and the 100,000 homes in the county, many of which were built before 1990 when energy efficiency standards started going into effect. Grants or other incentives for homeowners to do energy audits and retrofits are one possible tool.

Troy Spindler, a San Luis Obispo building contractor, said the cost of an energy audit ranges from $400 to $600 per home. Energy retrofits can range from $800 to $20,000 but can increase efficiency by 40 percent.

John Crossland of Paso Robles and other vintners said the plan could result in onerous new requirements on wine growers without recognizing the industry’s efforts to use best-management practices.

“This has the appearance of being rushed,” he said, “and we don’t know why.”

County planners said the plan has been in the works for two years and has included many opportunities for public participation. Most of the wine industry’s concerns were incorporated into the plan, Caruso said.

Environmentalists said the county should be doing more to fight global warming. The plan’s emphasis on easy solutions is inadequate, said Andrew Christie, director of the local chapter of the Sierra Club.

“The time is over for half measures and plucking low-hanging fruit,” he said.

Utility feed-in tariffs and community choice aggregation were repeatedly cited as methods for boosting alternative energy use. Feed-in tariffs are requirements that utilities purchase excess power produced by rooftop solar installations. Community choice aggregation is a law that allows cities and counties to pool their energy purchases to make renewable energy companies more competitive.

On the other extreme were speakers who said the county plan will be a step toward socialism and reduced individual liberties. John Texeira of Paso Robles said the plan would reduce American sovereignty because it is part of the United Nation’s Agenda 21, a sustainable development action plan.