So much has changed in 2019. For the RCPA, it seems like the conversation around the climate crisis has changed most of all. At the start of the year, an October 2018 United Nations report sounded the alarm that we must sharply reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 2030; while Greta Thunberg, who was just named Time Magazine’s Person of the Year, was not yet a household name.
Later in 2019, Sonoma County residents were called once again to confront a dangerous wildfire, mandatory evacuations, and Public Safety Power Shutoffs that left thousands without electricity or gas for days at a time. This experience has focused local attention on the threat to our community as well as the need to mobilize solutions within the next decade. As a result, RCPA pursued a range of initiatives designed to address the immediacy and scale of the challenge.
In response to the United Nations report, nearly every member jurisdiction passed, or is working to pass, a Climate Emergency Resolution. RCPA’s Board passed our own resolution in September committing to deepen connections with our partners and each Sonoma County community to collectively develop a 2030 Climate Emergency Mobilization Strategy that will translate these intentions into actions.
This summer, ahead of our first power shutoff, RCPA convened multiple County stakeholders to better understand how Sonoma County can build community resilience to these periods of deenergization while still advancing our efforts to transition our buildings transportation systems away from fossil fuels. Building on these conversations and with support from the Kresge Foundation, the RCPA, City of Santa Rosa, and County of Sonoma have invited the Urban Land Institute (ULI) to assemble a Sonoma County Resilience Advisory Panel to assess land use, development, and local energy grid strategies in relation to community preparedness for power shutoffs and wildfire resilience. The panel of ULI members will convene in March 2020 to interview Sonoma County stakeholders, conduct site visits and provide detailed recommendations to advance local energy grid resilience.
RCPA also supported local government initiatives to pass all-electric construction ordinances, a significant step towards decarbonization of our new buildings. To expand our work to reduce emissions from existing buildings, RCPA teamed with the County of Sonoma Energy and Sustainability Department to expand energy efficiency programs for single family homes and multi-family buildings, and evolve building codes and standards in the years ahead. This work is funded by the Bay Area Regional Energy Network (BayREN), a collaboration of the nine Bay Area counties that provides regional-scale energy efficiency programs, services and resources.
RCPA developed the new regional BayREN Water Bill Savings Program that helps municipal water utility customers install eligible water efficiency equipment with no up-front cost ― using a utility-approved on-bill charge that is significantly lower than the estimated savings., The new program is based on three pilots, including Windsor Efficiency PAYS® and will begin operation region-wide in 2020.
These activities have been guided by our new Strategic Plan that charts a county-wide climate action path for the next five years. To inform the Plan, RCPA staff conducted a robust needs assessment to better understand the key challenges and barriers to climate action that our members continue to experience as they strive to reduce emissions and build resilience. This strategic effort is enabling RCPA to deliver more value to member jurisdictions as they mobilize climate action that also advances critical local priorities.
In support of the Strategic Plan process, select community mobilization tools were tested in collaboration with Daily Acts as part of the Sonoma Climate Challenge to reduce over 500 tons of CO2 in 2019. This collaboration resulted in nearly 500 households taking over 600 actions to reduce energy, save money, and spread the Challenge to new communities. RCPA staff look forward to continuing to engage with and learn from community leaders as we all work to mobilize strategic solutions to the climate crisis.
Climate scientists tell us we will face greater challenges in the years ahead and this year’s wildfires have made it clear we are all in this together. Sonoma County is poised to make great strides toward an economy-wide decarbonization that science says is needed to preserve a world where we can still thrive.