Santa Cruz City Officials and Environmentalists Call for Climate Change Action

Sep 13 - McClatchy-Tribune Regional News - Kara Guzman Santa Cruz Sentinel, Calif.

Environmentalists and city representatives spoke about local efforts to reduce carbon emissions Thursday at the city hall parking lot.

A crowd of 20 supporters held signs reading "cap carbon pollution," with the 17-foot tall municipal solar panels and bike lockers as a backdrop.

City Councilman Micah Posner said that Santa Cruz leads the way with its local climate action plan. The plan outlines how the city can meet its greenhouse reduction goals by 2020 and 2050.

At a June budget hearing, the city allocated more money toward hiring climate action staff. The hires included a transportation planner dedicated to reducing transportation-related carbon pollution and serving as a liaison between the public works and climate action departments, Posner said.

"The problem doesn't end at our city limits," said Posner. "We appreciate the federal government beginning to take steps to address climate change."

The event, organized by the advocacy nonprofit Environment California, was timed to precede the Environmental Protection Agency's expected Sept. 20 proposal to impose the first-ever limits on carbon emissions from existing power plants.

Mac Farrell, organizer for the event, presented an Environment California report released Tuesday about America's dirtiest power plants.

The 50 highest-polluting U.S. power plants emit more carbon pollution than every country worldwide except China, the U.S., India, Russia, Japan and Germany, according to the report.

"America's dirtiest power plants are the elephant in the room," said Farrell. He called for California leaders to fully implement AB32, a bill requiring the state to reach 1990 levels of greenhouse gas emissions by 2020.

California is No. 16 on the list of states with the highest amount of carbon emissions from power plants, and No. 2 for highest total energy-related emissions, due to its population, said Farrell.

The speakers agreed that Santa Cruz is committed to greenhouse gas reduction.

The city has seven municipal solar systems which compensate for 25 percent of municipal consumption and nearly 600 residential solar installations, according to Tiffany Wise-West, a consultant for the city's planning department.

"I hate to say it, but there's still so much to be done," Wise-West said.

She said that Santa Cruz has its work cut out for itself with the 12 goals and policies for greenhouse gas reduction outlined in its climate action plan, but said she is confident that the plan will get Santa Cruz to not only meet, but go beyond the pollution levels dictated by AB32.

Marc Adato, project team member for Monterey Bay Community Power, presented plans to implement a local community choice aggregation (CCA) power system that would allow the city to build or buy power facilities for its residents.

Utility prices would stay the same for residents, he said, but an advantage of the model is that the profit margin would go to the city instead of the owners of the utility company, which could go toward renewable energy projects.

He said the city is in the beginning stages of the project, and is undergoing a cost-benefit analysis and feasibility study expected to complete in June 2014.

"CCA offers a platform to model a new energy paradigm where local money is staying local," said Adato.

Follow Sentinel reporter Kara Guzman at Twitter.com/Karambutan

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