Thursday, November 19, 2009

Greening the County's future

Greening the County's future

Solano County has demonstrated its leadership in "green" energy, long before the term was popularized in the media. In 1989, Solano County constructed its first major electrical generation project when it built a 1,500 kilowatt combined heat and power (cogeneration) plant to serve the new County jail facility. Since that first installation Solano County has embarked on numerous energy conservation, generation and renewable energy efforts.

The latest project of a 746 kilowatt solar array on a parking shelter earned Solano County the distinction as the largest producer of solar energy in the county. Solano County produces and contracts 57% of the electricity it consumes from alternative energy sources (cogeneration 49% and solar 8%). Projects are being explored that will increase that percentage to over 70% by 2011. As a whole, Solano County has invested more than $30 million in energy projects and has recognized tens of millions of dollars worth of energy cost savings. The County’s efforts have garnered several awards, including the 2003 Environmental Protection Agency’s Green Power Partnership Award.

As a result of the series of Economic Summits that the County has conducted over the last two years to facilitate a collaborative approach to addressing shared economic opportunities and challenges, a study of the energy industry cluster in Solano County is currently being conducted. An expectation of the report is to determine the existing scope and the potential growth in the energy industry, especially among renewable energy sources. The findings will be presented by the Solano Economic Development Corporation in September 2009.

The expansion of green energy production is also reflected in the recently updated County General Plan, which was cited by the California Attorney General Office as a leader in addressing the state’s mandated Climate Warming/Greenhouse Gas Emission requirements. The implementation efforts of the General Plan includes the development and adoption of a climate action plan that will reduce by 2020 the total greenhouse gas emissions in the county by 20% below the State mandated 1990 level. The plan will also create adaptation strategies to address the impacts of climate change on the county, such as sea level rise, increased risk of flooding, diminished water supplies, public health, and local agricultural-based economy.

The County’s 504-vehicle light equipment fleet includes four low-speed neighborhood all-electric vehicles, 15 hybrid vehicles and 91 flex-fuel vehicles capable of running on the alternative fuel E85, which is comprised of 85% alcohol and 15% unleaded gasoline. The installation of an above-ground tank for E85 is in progress at the corporation yard in Fairfield. Bio-diesel is used in most of the heavy equipment fleet, which includes construction equipment such as road graders, backhoes, and wheel loaders, and to fuel diesel-powered light pickup trucks and medium-duty trucks. Additionally, propane is in use to fuel some medium duty trucks for road construction activities.

To assist Solano County with promoting the public health, safety, welfare and sustainability of the community, the County established a voluntary Green Building Program in June 2008, which provided incentives for property owners and building professionals wishing to build green to voluntarily participate in the program. A Mandatory Green Building Program is expected to be proposed later this year. The County has also participated in the Bay Area Green Business Program since July 2007. The program is a team approach, among local and regional agencies, to help businesses comply with environmental regulations, conserve resources, prevent pollution, and minimize waste in their operations. To date, three Solano County businesses have been green certified, eight are nearing certification and 19 are working toward their certification.

Other aspects of greening Solano County’s future are the efforts to reduce, reuse or recycle. The County’s Integrated Waste Management Division has developed a Recycling Guide, a resource document printed annually and is distributed annually the community as part of the AT&T Yellow Pages. Its website equivalent,, includes time sensitive event and program information.

County employees incorporate the concept of reduce, reuse or recycle into their daily activities. For example, the Public Works Traffic Division strips, cleans and reuses old aluminum road signs, Public Works Operations uses erosion control devices made from recycled tires, General Services Facilities Operations uses recycled landscape materials and recycles green waste. The Public Works Operations staff also cleans up litter and illegal dumping sites along County roads, which in turn is either recycled or properly disposed.

Their efforts were augmented in September 2008 when the Board approved the creation of an Illegal Dumping program that has enabled the Sherriff’s Office to assist in the investigation of items illegally dumped along the roads in the unincorporated areas of Solano County. The County’s Waste Tire Enforcement Program ensures businesses that generate or haul waste tires properly dispose or recycle this material. A Waste Tire Amnesty Day in September 2008 collected more than 15,000 tires for recycling.

Environmental protection measures are also ensuring responsible environmental stewardship in Solano County. For example, the County oversees one of the most comprehensive policies for land application of biosolids. The local ordinance requires that generators of biosolids search for other methods to utilize the material and encourages conversion to energy to meet this requirement. The Bay Area Clean Water Agencies is an active participant in the department’s biosolids stakeholder group meetings and is currently pursuing a biosolids to energy project as one method to comply with local requirements.

The District Attorney has one of the most active Consumer and Environmental Crimes Units in California, demonstrating the department’s commitment to both protecting and improving the environment through appropriate enforcement measures as well as by promoting self-help, education and responsible environmental practices.

The District Attorney also hosts educational presentations and seminars at various public venues, such as senior citizen centers and at public service organization meetings. Along with information about how to be a more environmentally responsible citizen, the District Attorney encourages the public to scrutinize environmental claims in both the news and advertising media so they better understand the meaning of terms such as “recycling,” “biodegradable,” and “enviro-friendly.”