How Local Governments Can Create a Clean Economy:
Learning from Innovators

Carolyn Glanton
Membership and Programs Director
Applied Solutions

Cities and counties have long been recognized as the frontline in managing economic and human impacts. Managing these issues is increasingly difficult. Rising energy costs, shrinking water supplies, and rapidly aging infrastructure demand creative planning and a proactive response, all in an environment of tight budgets and slow economies.

And yet the possibilities for a clean energy economy through innovation and stability are plentiful. You can see how local governments are shaping their futures with renewable energy in places like Sonoma County, California. The communities within Sonoma County have demonstrated a strong and ongoing commitment to implement renewable and efficient

energy projects including projects such as Carbon Free Water by 2015 and Sonoma Clean Power.

In 2006, the Sonoma County Water Agency committed to the goal of operating a Carbon Free Water System by 2015, an idea to procure 100% of electricity needs through renewable and carbon free sources. They knew the pumping and distribution of potable water to more than 600,000 regional residents requires large amounts of electrical power, as does treatment processes in the Water Agency’s sanitation facilities. Recognizing that the more the Water Agency can do to mitigate the impact of the climate change, the more secure the source of water will be for the future, the Water Agency has established itself as a leader in climate mitigation activities and developing sources of renewable energy that balances its responsibilities to its customers and to the environment.To achieve this goal, the Water Agency has actively worked to

diversify its energy portfolio and reduce its energy needs through efficiency and renewable energy production.

To achieve Carbon Free Water by 2015, the first step was water use efficiency including water conservation to decrease demand and efficiency within the system itself. With the combined efforts electricity use has been reduced by 24%. The second step to achieve Carbon Free Water was to procure electricity from renewable energy and carbon-free sources. The Water Agency hassecured contracts for landfill gas electricity, large hydropower and geothermal, and owns and operates 3 solar PV projects, several geothermal heat pumps, a small hydroelectric facility and a small wind turbine. The goal of operating a carbon neutral electricity supply was met in 2014, saving the Water Agency 15% on electricity costs and from producing roughly 22,000 MTCO2e annually.

By reducing demand and developing and securing renewable energy sources for Sonoma County’s water supply, the Water Agency provides more reliable sources of electricity for the region, and makes the local water supply less dependent on outside energy sources subject to market fluctuations.

To our knowledge, no other water agency in California has made such a bold commitment to the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions. The Sonoma County Water Agency has been a leader and innovator in reducing carbon emissions associated with water as part of the Carbon Free Water by 2015 program, which can be used as a framework for other water utilities to reduce emissions associated with water treatment, transport, delivery, and reuse. Their approaches to water conservation, system efficiency, and developing renewable energy sources to achieve Carbon Free Water can be used as lessons learned to other water utilities across the globe.

Sonoma Clean Power further illustrates successful clean economy efforts in Sonoma County. Sonoma Clean Power (SCP) is the second Community Choice Aggregation program in California, a state policy that allows local governments to procure energy, often offering more renewable energy than the incumbent utility, on behalf of their residents and businesses. SCP has barely been in operation one year but has already advanced the local clean economy through providing choice and competition, more renewables, local control, local reinvestment, new markets for renewable energy, and local energy efficiency programs.SCP has signed contracts leading to 50 MW of geothermal power and 70 MW of solar power,

as part of a 70% carbon free portfolio with rates that are 6-9% lower than the incumbent utility’s. SCP has saved customers approximately $6 million dollars in the first year, creating an immediate economic benefit for the community.

The movement towards a clean energy economy offers opportunities for local governments to make better decisions about air and water quality, lower costs, and expand their local economy. While the traditional energy markets tend to rely on outside ownership of the assets, the clean economy focuses on investing in local resources such as solar panels, wind turbines, and energy efficiency.Through strategic investment, cities, towns and regions can provide their residents and businesses more access to renewable energy therefore reducing pollution and creating jobs. Increasing energy efficiency in public and private buildings lowers the cost for citizens and business owners and reduces government expenditures.

Local governments around the world continue to dedicate themselves to the clean energy economy by implementing renewable and efficient energy projects in order to advance energy self-reliance, economic stability and prosperity, job creation, and resilient infrastructure systems. With a peer network through Applied Solutions, local governments are able to work together, sharing expertise and technical tools and building clean economies through local actions.

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