Group considers goals to reduce carbon

In a move that could put the county at the forefront of an issue the federal government has steered away from, officials today will weigh whether to endorse strict new controls on greenhouse gases.

The proposal to reduce greenhouse gases to year 2000 levels over the next three years by putting new limits on local homes and businesses would put the county squarely ahead of most, and on track to meet Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger’s goal for the state — cutting greenhouse gas emissions by 25 percent to 1990 levels by 2020, according to officials.

With energy costs rapidly escalating and concerns over global warming on the rise, action is needed in the short-term, officials said Wednesday. Countywide, carbon emissions from homes and businesses far exceed the national average, having jumped 14.9 percent between 2001 and 2004, compared with 1.7 percent nationally, according to the county Utilities and Sustainability Task Force. The startling disparity is due primarily to local dependence on natural gas and coal, which pollute more than other energy sources, according to Gina Blus, a strategic planner for the task force.

“The more we looked, the more clear it was that reduced energy consumption is linked to reduced greenhouse gases,” said Blus, who is working with the task force to develop a comprehensive energy strategy for the Peninsula.

In 2005, electricity and natural gas use produced half, or 2.5 million metric tons, of all carbon pollution in the county, with about the same amount coming from vehicles, according to experts.

If approved by task force members at their meeting Thursday, the proposal to cut greenhouse gases would need the endorsement of City/County Association of Governments of San Mateo County and individual cities and the county before implementation. Each agency would take on the responsibility of reducing greenhouses gasses by the state goal, as part of a countywide effort.

“There really seems to be no downside to it,” said Deborah Gordon, a Woodside town councilwoman and utilities task force member. Woodside — among the county’s top four cities for per capita residential energy consumption, according to the utilities task force — can be a leader, Gordon said. “There are strategies cities and residents can use to save money, reduce the country’s dependence on foreign oil and clean up the air,” Gordon said.

Reduced energy consumption can be accomplished while maintaining residents’ current standard of living,Gordon said.

Green buildings, more efficient lighting and incentives to install solar panel are just some of the ways that energy consumption — and therefore carbon consumption — can be reduced, said Jerry Hill, president of the Board of Supervisors and a task force member.

“The first thing is to be aware and know what the current usage is,” Hill said. “Then we have to set a policy to conserve more and be responsible.”

Conserving energy

In coming weeks, the county Utilities and Sustainability Task Force will develop strategies that cities may be able to use to cut their carbon emissions. Among the ideas being considered are strategic energy pricing, cash incentives and the elimination of fees for solar panels and other alternative energy sources. The strategies will focus first on publicly owned facilities that agencies, cities and the county have regulatory power over, and cooperative efforts with businesses and residents.

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