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Sonoma goes greener with new ‘EverGreen’ utility plan

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Taking a small step into the energy future, the City of Sonoma voted last week to become the first jurisdiction in Sonoma County, and perhaps the North Bay, to adopt the zero-emissions EverGreen plan from Sonoma Clean Power.

The optional premium plan, which uses 100 percent local renewable power sources for providing kilowatts to the city’s 42 electrical accounts, will cost the city more money than the standard CleanStart program – which uses 36 percent renewable energy – but supporters believe that it may help the city meet one of its current term goals of advancing Climate Action 2020, a countywide plan to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. And perhaps provide a boost in bragging rights.

“I’m not fond of paying more money for things, but I figure we’ll get between a quarter and half million dollars in free advertising because of this,” said Councilmember Gary Edwards, who sided with his four colleagues to produce a unanimous vote for the plan at the Oct. 3 council meeting.

Sonoma Clean Power (SCP), the regional alternative utility formed in 2014 under the state’s Community Choice Aggregation law, declares that the EverGreen plan is comprised of 100 percent local renewable resources, entirely geothermal energy from the Calpine's The Geysers facility in northern Sonoma County, east of Geyserville. SCP plans to add the delivery of locally-generated solar power to the mix next year.

“The conversion to EverGreen is a wonderful beginning and I am so proud of the Council for their leadership,” said City Manager Carol Giovanatto. But the plan will cost Sonoma $19,200 more than sticking with CleanStart, according to Giovanatto, who presented the proposal to the City Council. Of that, $6,500 will come from the general fund, $8,500 from the gas tax fund and $4,200 from the water fund.

Giovanatto said that the EverGreen plan had been considered earlier, but the City was in the midst of the LED conversion project for its streetlights. That upgrade, which will lead to $70,000 in energy savings from the old sodium lights, had to be completed before comparative budgeting could provide a realistic cost for converting from CleanStart to EverGreen plans.

In presenting the plan, the city suggested that implementing it would put Sonoma in the vanguard of commitment to renewable power. Certainly it’s the first jurisdiction in SCP’s coverage area – which includes Mendocino County but does not include the City of Healdsburg, which has its own power utility (also based on geothermal energy from The Geysers).

Kate Kelly, of Sonoma Clean Power, said the utility is also planning to bring on-line locally generated solar power in 2017 that will be added to the “100 percent local renewable” mix of the EverGreen plan. EverGreen is an option for all residential and businesses; it is currently only used by a little over one half of one percent of all SCP accounts.

Tom Conlon, of Transition Sonoma Valley, was enthusiastic but guarded about the move, and applauded the city’s leadership. “The Council’s unanimous vote is a drop in the bucket compared to all we need to do to fight climate change. But it shows they realize we need their leadership on this issue,” he said.

Conlon was one of a handful of speakers during public comment at the Oct. 4 City Council meeting – all of whom spoke in favor of the conversion. He even suggested at the time that this might make Sonoma the first city in the state to use 100 percent renewable power in its civic energy usage, though he later amended that to 100 percent locally-generated as other cities, such as Santa Monica, Atherton and Menlo Park, may have beaten Sonoma to the proverbial punch by committing to 100 percent renewable power, but their Community Choice utilities include small amounts of non-local energy sources.

Councilmember David Cook gave some degree of credit to Fred Allebach, a member of the Community Services and Environment Commission, for suggesting to City that they look into the Evergreen plan. Allebach confirmed he wrote Giovanatto “about four months ago, after I went to a Sonoma Clean Power board meeting.”

“This is going to put us first in the county, to make us a leader whereas in climate 2020 we were the last,” said Allebach. He was referring to the county’s Climate Action Plan 2020, which noted that the City of Sonoma’s per capita emissions were second highest in the county, and local commitment to climate action was dead last.

Sonoma has not been able to meet its own Climate Action 2020 goals – though working toward those goals is high on the City Council’s official “goals” for the current term, 2016-2017, which calls for the City to “lead by example with the Sonoma community” to reach CA 2020 greenhouse gas targets.

According to figures from Conlon, in 2005 the City of Sonoma set a goal of 25 percent reduction in GHG by 2015 over the 1990 baseline, but City emissions in 2015 actually increased by 21 percent, meaning that the City missed its goal by 62 percent. Sonoma’s per capita emissions are second highest in County, according to Sonoma County’s Climate Action 2020.

Even nationally, according to Conlon, Sonoma can claim significant bragging rights. Greenberg, Kansas, supplies 100 percent of its city power from a local wind farm, but it has a population of only 1,400. Likewise Burlington, Vermont and Aspen, Colorado also claim 100 percent renewable power but the local provenance of their energy is in doubt.

City Manager Giovanatto said she signed the plan conversion contract with SCP on Oct. 5, the day after the City Council’s 5-0 vote. Each of the city’s accounts will be converted as of the meter reading date, and it will take about 30 days for all accounts to be fully transitioned.

Despite the nominal increase in the city’s utility bills, Giovanatto said there would be no direct impact on city residents’ rates, though there may have “an ultimate impact on an overhead charge for City services but it would be insignificant.”

“There’s not a lot of things that Sonoma can lead in,” said Councilmember Rachel Hundley, “but I think our small size helps us be a little more thoughtful in how we can operate, and this is a perfect example.”

At the conclusion of the Council’s vote, Mayor Laurie Gallian remarked, “A 5-0 vote for making history here in Sonoma.” When applause broke out from the audience, breaking the council’s no-clapping rule, she added: “Maybe that’s one clap I’ll allow.”

Contact Christian at christian.kallen@sonomanews.com.