Shrinking while growing

Around energy use, a paradox afoot in Folsom
By: Roger Phelps The Telegraph
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Folsom strives to constrict its carbon footprint to 1990 levels by no later than 2020 -- even while developing 3,600 acres it seeks to annex, by 2010. An early step will be simply to figure out a percentage cut in current carbon emissions to fill that bill. "That's the question," said David Miller, city community development director. "That's why (staff) people are collecting data, to establish a baseline." New development can achieve energy efficiency through use of a variety of materials and techniques. This practice can cost more than conventional construction. Carbon emissions from production and consumption of electricity are blamed for global warming. In a proposed southern annex, Folsom must achieve a 35-percent lower carbon-emission rate than would come from a community of 26,000 people built with no particular attention to carbon footprint, according to Miller. The mandate was imposed as a condition of annexation approval for Folsom by the Local Agency Formation Commission of Sacramento County. In other areas of the county, new development must meet a 15-percent carbon reduction over conventional construction. Outside of new development, Folsom's options for shrinking its carbon footprint include retrofitting existing buildings for less energy use, and joining in efforts that would require cooperation of utilities, government entities, corporations, businesses, schools and private citizens. "Retrofit is a tough nut to crack," Miller said. "We are changing out the lights in buildings and parks, looking to a complete changeout in the next fiscal year." When that's done, an approximately 37-percent reduction in carbon emissions will be traceable to the improved lighting of city-owned structures, Miller said. Retrofits of other aspects of buildings that add to the carbon footprint will be more difficult, because that would require an update of the Folsom General Plan, an expensive proposition, Miller said. "We don't have the funds to do it," he said. "It's $2 million for a general-plan update." Cross-community cooperative efforts aren't easy to mount, but evidence exists that they are effective. The city of Corvallis, Ore. has resolved officially to assist residents in achieving a zero carbon footprint by 2020. Corvallis resident Jim Phelps said the non-profit Corvallis Sustainability Coalition, of which he is an official, has galvanized some hope for the future, because local progressives suspect they are onto something that will prove both effective and copyable. The group established a Web site and organized town meetings. "The Corvallis Sustainability Coalition has launched a series of three town hall meetings and other activities that will lead to the creation of a community sustainability action plan in 2008," the organization announced over its Web site. "The first town hall meeting was held on March 31, 2008. Following that first meeting, 12 work groups were formed to develop measurable goals and action strategies. Over 100 organizations have joined as partners, including groups as diverse as the Corvallis-Benton Chamber of Commerce Coalition, OSU Student Sustainability Initiative, and the League of Women Voters of Corvallis." Oregon legislation mandates a 3-percent "public-purpose charge" on customers' utility bills. With the money, an agency called Energy Trust of Oregon assists carbon-reduction projects. "The public-purpose charge allows a steady stream of money toward renewable-energy projects," said Jan Schaeffer, communications director of the energy trust. The energy trust is assisting the coalition in Corvallis. "We wanted somewhere to test tapping into community resources, to tap social pressure to produce more energy saving," Schaeffer said. She said the state's energy trust, operating since 2002, is a success, partly because energy conservation is a mainstream idea, cutting across social and economic sectors, with utilities, banks, corporations and agriculture cooperating. "Terrific results," she said. "Oregon is like that." Miller said the Folsom community probably couldn't immediately copy an effort such as Corvallis', but that theoretically, most of it could become copyable. He said Folsom is a town with notable similarities to Corvallis, such as in population, bike-friendliness and overall social progressivism. "The whole state of Oregon has embraced conservation," Miller said. "And you almost need a university environment." Prop. 87, a California ballot initiative that, if passed, would have provided for a California renewable-energy project fund, was defeated after oil companies said the extraction tax to be imposed on them would raise gas-pump prices. They didn't mention in ads that the extraction tax would have been deductible from either corporate income tax or the personal income tax of a company executive.