Opinion: Santa Clara County leads locally on climate change


It’s been said that the best time to act on climate change was yesterday, and the next best time is today. I agree.

My work on climate change began in earnest in the California State Legislature. As a member of the state Assembly, I coauthored (with then-State Sen. Byron Sher) the landmark 2002 Renewables Portfolio Standards bill, which required California electricity providers to acquire at least one-fifth of their power from clean, renewable sources like wind, solar, and geothermal by 2017.

Some years later, as a state senator, I chaired the Senate Committee on Environmental Quality; in that role I coauthored and helped guide the passage of the California Global Warming Solutions Act (also known as AB 32, coauthored by Assemblymembers Fabian Nunez and Fran Pavley). The law established the state’s most aggressive effort to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

To make sure we’d actually achieve those goals, I wrote legislation moving the deadline for 20% renewable energy use up to 2010, while also strengthening the program’s monitoring and economic efficiency.

I soon went even further, authoring legislation to increase clean renewables to fully one-third (33%) of the state’s electricity. In 2011, while I was serving as chair of the Senate Environmental Quality Committee, my “33% Renewable Energy by 2020” bill was approved and signed into law. U.S. Energy Secretary Steven Chu called it a “groundbreaking piece of legislation.”

Today, California is demonstrating impressive outcomes from the implementation of those climate policies. Our economy is growing while carbon pollution is declining. And with innovative advancements in clean energy and energy efficiency, the state is poised to meet even more ambitious renewable energy goals. As we should.

People said it couldn’t be done, but we did it. Today, California has a deep climate and energy portfolio to draw from and expand upon. We’ve been able to make that happen because we made the progress I was sure we could on renewable energy.

When I returned to the Santa Clara County Board of Supervisors in 2013, I was determined that we take steps at the county level to do our part. Fortunately, our entire board was committed to the cause. Some of these efforts include:

  • The creation of Silicon Valley Clean Energy (SVCE): SVCE provides clean energy (at a lower price than PG&E) and is now the local energy provider for Santa Clara County and most cities within the county. The energy is sourced from renewables such as wind, solar and geothermal, and other clean sources like large hydro. I proposed the participation of our county and was a founding board member, as the county was a founding participant in the program. SVCE is among the most significant initiatives we’ve undertaken locally to curb climate change.
  • Solar and renewable energy: Since 2019, 100% of electrical power for county facilities is sourced from renewable sources, making our county one of the top 10 local governments in the country in terms of renewable energy usage and among the top 20 of all public and private organizations for energy generation in the nation. The enhancement to the county’s current solar PV through additional on-site renewable power generation will result in nearly $38.9 million in net energy savings, reduce greenhouse gas emissions and increase resiliency in case of power loss. A winner all around!
  • ·Roadmap to carbon neutrality by 2030: Five years after our county committed to a goal of achieving carbon neutrality by 2045, it has now doubled down on the promise with a renewed vow and achievable pathway to get there sooner, by 2030. To make progress sooner rather than later, we need to reduce natural gas use; cut commute emissions and more aggressively electrify the county fleet; and divert organic waste. If we do all that, we’ll reduce carbon emissions from county operations by 81%. At the same time, we’ll be exploring the carbon sequestration potential of 52,000 acres of county parklands to offset any remaining emissions and provide other community and ecosystem benefits like flood protection, water conservation and improved air and water quality.
  • All-electric buildings: Our county now requires new buildings in unincorporated areas to use electricity instead of natural gas, and to include infrastructure for solar and battery storage installation and charging electric vehicles. These requirements ensure that no new emissions from natural gas use in new buildings are added to the atmosphere.
  • Agriculture Resilience Incentive (ARI) grants: Our ARI grant program is an integral part of the Santa Clara Valley Agricultural Plan. The program, which is the first of its kind, provides grant funding to farmers for compost and mulch application and 25 other preapproved agricultural practices that improve soil health and help to hit the brakes on climate change by pulling carbon out of the air.
  • Urban forestry and stewardship: Our board approved a goal of planting and maintaining 1,000 trees each year in Santa Clara County. So far 2,810 trees have been planted in priority areas, resulting in 283,992 lbs. of CO2 avoided per year. And we’ve established a partnership with the Santa Clara County Office of Education to plant 1,000 trees on school campuses to bring in some green space for the next generation of environmental stewards.

To achieve a comprehensive urban forest and 20% to 40% urban canopy coverage in our county (the minimum required to reap the societal and environmental benefits provided by trees, mitigate climate change impacts and adapt regional ecology for the next generation), the county secured a grant from the CalFIRE Urban and Community Forestry program to help fund the effort.

Addressing the impacts of climate change is a job that requires a range of solutions and “all hands on deck.” The need for urgency is increasingly apparent, and the clock is ticking.

We have to do more, and we have to do it faster. Let’s go!

Santa Clara County Supervisor Joe Simitian represents the Fifth District, which includes Cupertino, Los Altos, Los Altos Hills, Los Gatos, Monte Sereno, Mountain View, Palo Alto, Saratoga, Stanford, portions of San Jose and unincorporated communities in the Santa Cruz Mountains. Sign up for Simitian’s monthly newsletter at district5.sccgov.org/newsletter.



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