Cities forge ‘green’ alliance

First it was Burning Man, then the Mavericks Surf Contest. Now two-dozen Silicon Valley cities and counties, including 19 on the Peninsula, have set their sites on becoming carbon neutral while spurring the growth of the area’s burgeoning “green” industry.

From Daly City to Palo Alto and beyond, public agencies including San Mateo and Santa Clara counties have united with the nonprofit Joint Venture: Silicon Valley Network to measure the region’s carbon polluting footprint and come up with a plan to reduce it to zero, according to Joint Venture CEO Russell Hancock.

The strategy is simple: Leverage their combined purchasing power to buy everything from hybrid vehicles and solar panels to funding technology trials for new products, said Assistant San Carlos City Manager Brian Moura, a member of Joint Venture’s climate protection task force.

“Instead of purchasing a single solar panel or enough to cover one building, we’re going to be purchasing enough to cover 500 buildings,” Hancock said.

Buying green technology will not only cut into the amount of greenhouse gas produced from lighting acres of public buildings and fueling thousands of municipal vehicles, but also drive the development of better and cheaper technology, Hancock said.

“It’s moving a market along in a way it probably wouldn’t if left to its own devices,” Hancock said. Similar strategies were used in the early 1990s to spur Internet development by wiring schools, and more recently to encourage the development of wireless outdoor networks on the Peninsula and in San Francisco, Hancock said.

While various events such as Burning Man, with its Cooling Man campaign, and the Mavericks Surf Contest, along with a growing number of Northern California cities, have pledged to work to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, Joint Venture’s consortium may be one of the largest coalitions of its kind in California, if not the country, officials said.

By becoming carbon neutral in 2006, the Bay Area Air Quality Management District — which employs about 350 people — eliminated 1,645 metric tons of greenhouse gas pollution from the air, spokeswoman Karen Schkolnick said. “That’s the equivalent of taking 320 Bay Area vehicles off the road.”

Reducing public agencies’ carbon footprint to zero won’t happen overnight, but the participating agencies are “aggressive, ambitious and persistent,” said San Mateo County Manager John Maltbie, an advocate of the project.

While Joint Venture’s program, only in its infancy, is primarily aimed at cities and counties, officials hope success will mean wider participation by local businesses and homeowners, Moura said.

“Over time, the idea is to work with businesses and residents to promote practices that would also reduce their carbon footprint,” Moura said.

Silicon Valley cities taking action

» 45% have or plan to conduct an inventory of CO2 emissions by city/county operations

» 23% have already set CO2 emission-reduction goals

» 36% already have resident-based organizations advising the cities and counties

» 82% already have building retrofit programs to reduce energy use

» 86% have installed low-energy, light-emitting-diode traffic signals

» 62% have already purchased hybrid vehicles

» 45% have already installed solar panels to generate electricity; another 30% have firm plans to invest in solar

Note: Based on a survey of Silicon Valley Cities from Daly City to Sunnyvale, with 22 responding

– Source: Joint Venture: Silicon Valley Network

ecarpenter@examiner.com

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