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Mendocino CountyCounty commits to Evergreen 100 percent renewable electricity

  • Dec 15, 2021
The Willits News

In lockstep with its August resolution to invest $2 million to help shrink Mendocino County’s carbon footprint, the board of supervisors voted unanimously on Tuesday, Dec. 7, to adopt a second resolution that will put that investment to work.

Among other actions, the Dec. 12 resolution commits the county to pay a premium for Evergreen electricity produced by 100 percent renewable energy from the county’s default, non-profit utility, Sonoma Clean Power (SCP).

The Evergreen electricity is generated from local geothermal and solar resources, with some battery backup to ensure that people who charge their electric cars at night will use renewable energy 24/7.

“We’ve cut our carbon emissions in half just by switching from PG&E to SCP four years ago, and since then they’ve cleaned up their fueling sources even more,” said Supervisor Dan Gjerde. “Tuesday’s vote helped with one of our first steps, which is to upgrade to 100% renewable electricity.”

Evergreen electricity will cost 10.5% more, estimated Geof Syphers, SCP’s chief executive officer (CEO). But in remarks to the board, Janelle Rau, deputy county CEO who oversees county facilities, said the $30,000 premium to purchase Evergreen can be absorbed primarily by the county’s general fund. That fraction of the county’s average annual $1.5 million utility bill is relatively minor, she explained, because the county’s largest buildings—administration and social services—are within the Ukiah city limits and aren’t eligible for Evergreen service. Ukiah maintains its own electric utility, and Gjerde said that Ukiah is expected to announce a program like Evergreen early in 2022.

Once that happens, the County will have the opportunity to purchase electricity from 100 percent renewable energy sources for all its buildings in the city and throughout the county.

“We will have the opportunity to achieve essentially a zero carbon footprint from our electrical grid supplying county buildings,” said Gjerde. “At that point, about four-fifths of the county’s carbon footprint will come from our fleet.”

Rau told the board the county has “close to 400 vehicles just in passenger and SUV, not heavy equipment.” The board’s resolution gave her team the go-ahead to develop a plan to install public electric vehicle charging stations at county facilities and convert the passenger fleet to plug-in and all-electric vehicles.

Energy audit shows big potential energy and cost savings >>

Some county buildings are overdue for upgrades and repairs, Rau reported after her facilities team led consultants from energy engineering and financial consulting firm Willdan on a walk-through energy audit of county buildings. Carolyn Kiesner, Willdan senior program director, presented a list of needed facility upgrades, their cost, and the number of years the energy savings will take to pay back the investment.

The low-hanging fruit was a lighting retrofit to swap fluorescent lights in county buildings with long-lasting LEDs. The switch would provide staff with superior lighting, reduced maintenance cost, and “tremendous savings” in electricity use, said Kiesner, an estimated $60,000 annually.

Adding solar was the next largest contribution to energy and cost savings. The resolution gave Rau’s team the go-ahead to develop solar and backup battery energy systems at the Willits and Fort Bragg libraries that will produce a total 300 kilowatts. The solar-powered libraries will support community “resiliency” and remain open for public use during power outages. The $500,000 earmarked for the project comes from PG&E settlement funds.

The county resolution calls for an additional 700 kilowatts of solar power at nine county carport and rooftop sites. The total one megawatt of electricity generated by the county’s planned solar installations is equivalent to the annual electricity use of 164 homes, according to the Solar Energy Industries Association.

There’s a great deal of effort in long-term planning but we also have critical short-term facility upgrade needs, Rau told the supervisors, noting that half the county’s heating and air conditioning systems are 20 years or older.

“Staff will prioritize those projects that have the ability to reduce our carbon footprint as well,” she said. “We want to get projects done.” Insulated roofing, heating and air conditioning retrofits, and replacement of old single-pane windows were listed.

Gjerde noted after the board meeting that the county is fortunate that PG&E settlement and federal stimulus money will fund the initial $2 million in energy efficiency upgrades that advance the net zero carbon resolution and bring Mendocino County in line with the California state goal of net zero carbon emissions by 2045.

Rau was directed to bring the board shovel-ready retrofit projects with price estimates.


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