By Sarah (Steve) Mosko
Special to the Surf City Voice
Residents of Huntington Beach can take pride in being the only Orange County city that landed a spot this year on a list of 22 ‘Smarter Cities’ nationwide being recognized by the National Resources Defense Council (NRDC) for setting good examples for the rest of nation in the areas of green power, energy efficiency and conservation.
The announcement came at the end of July, and Long Beach is the only other city in southern California earning this distinction. The NRDC extended initial consideration to all 655 U.S. municipalities with populations of at least 50,000.
Huntington Beach and other Orange County cities made an initial cut because the county’s CO2 emissions from fossil fuels, as measured for 2002 by a North American monitoring program called Project Vulcan, averaged 1.8 tons per capita which met the qualifying per capita cut off of less than 2.5 tons. That Huntington Beach alone made the final list reflects both the city’s record in improving the energy efficiency of its facilities and its community outreach efforts to empower residents to save energy and money.
Although the city’s temperate beach climate might make energy efficiency seem, on the surface, an easier task than for cities in locales with more temperature extremes, its partnership with Southern California Edison (SCE), together with the efforts of its one-man show and Energy Project Manager Aaron Klemm, provided much of the necessary driving force needed to meet the qualifying criteria set up by the NRDC.
For starters, because Huntington Beach purchases all its electricity from SCE which, at 16 percent, delivers the nation’s highest mix of electricity from renewables like geothermal, wind and solar, the city easily meets the greater than 5 percent green power threshold. This is up from a green mix of 10 percent in 2007.
The city’s partnership with SCE has three key components, each of which provides a road map to improved energy efficiency. To address the first component – targeting energy efficiency in city facilities – the city has completed an energy recommissioning of both the Central Library and the Civic Center Complex which includes the Police Department, a five-story tower and underground tunnels connecting them. Klemm describes this as a top-to-bottom optimization of every energy-consuming device on site, including lighting that turns off when rooms are unoccupied and computers that automatically shut off at night.
For the second partnership component, municipal facilities actively participate in a voluntary SCE ‘Demand Response’ program designed to unload the grid on days when the grid is stressed by high demand, like on hot summer days. The city sheds load through email appeals to city employees to take special measures to conserve, such as minimizing air conditioning use for portions of the day.
Community outreach and education comprise the third component of the partnership. The city’s now annual outdoor Green Expo provides a popular forum for residents and businesses to learn about and market strategies to go green. The most recent developments in green tips and technology are showcased through informational booths, hands-on demonstrations, educational seminars, and products samples.
Status within the SCE partnership is tiered according to how much energy a city has saved compared to 2004. Klemm expresses pride that Huntington Beach has already attained ‘silver’ status based on at least 5 percent kWh savings both in city facilities and community-wide, and he expects this figure will reach the 10 percent threshold by year’s end that will merit ‘gold’ status.
The recent Civic Center makeover saved 1,032,594 kWh of energy and earned the city $144,563 in incentives from SCE, according to company spokesperson Jenelle Froisland. When you also factor in the networking software among the city’s computers that SCE helped fund, “Edison has partnered to save the City of Huntington Beach 1.23 million kWh,” says Froisland.
Lest one assume that City Hall is shouldering all the work of making the city greener, Klemm contends that Huntington Beach residents are environmentally savvy and doing their part. He points to the city’s 71 percent recycling rate (waste diversion from landfills) that ties it with Fresno for best in the California. And, according to SunRun – the nation’s leading residential solar financing company – Huntington Beach ranks among the top four solar cities in Orange County for the most new solar homes so far in 2010.
When asked what about the city’s environmental record makes him the most proud, Klemm said it’s that Huntington Beach is “a community that does the right thing and doesn’t make a big to-do about it.”
This year’s Green Expo is being held on Sept. 18th from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. at the Pier Plaza on Pacific Coast Highway. The expo’s motto is “It’s Easy to be Green in Huntington Beach.”