MENDOCINO Co, CA 2/26/23 — Changes to make our energy use more environmentally friendly are cropping up all around Mendocino County, from installing solar panels at a county library in need of roof replacement to moving to renewable electricity to power an entire small city.
Several of these green developments are making progress in the new year, together with a consistent refrain: while implementation may be costly, one-time investments can pay dividends. And even as costs may increase into the future, it’s still a small price to pay for a more green Mendocino County.
Here’s an overview of some of the projects currently in the works.
Mendocino County pursues solar panels for Willits Library
Mendocino County is moving forward with plans to give the Willits Branch Library more sustainable energy options, following the California State Library’s award of $247,040 under a Building Forward grant in October. Mendocino County will match this amount in contributions.
The library’s roof was already in need of replacement; now, this standard infrastructure upgrade offers the chance to implement renewable energy.
“I want to give credit to the library administration for their efforts in obtaining this grant,” said Janelle Rau, director of Mendocino County’s General Services Agency, in a presentation to the board.
The project came before the board again in its February meeting because PG&E is restructuring its rebates for solar projects in April 2023, such that projects completed after that time (or that aren’t “shovel-ready” by then) won’t see quite as significant savings, Rau explained. Because of the grant award’s timeline, Mendocino County expects to implement this solar project by 2026, and Rau said her office is pursuing other potential rebate options.
“It doesn’t necessarily negate the benefits that we will be receiving by the carbon footprint reduction in implementing solar,” she said.
She also explained that this will be the county’s first endeavor implementing a “micro-grid” to combine solar and battery-generated power, which makes it a high-priority project for exploring green solutions.
Further, the bouts of winter weather that have shaped the county’s year thus far drove home the message that public areas — including the community gathering space of libraries — need energy solutions when power fails. And as Supervisor Dan Gjerde pointed out, initial estimates for purchasing a diesel generator for the library rivaled the solar project costs.
“I think this proves that we should not even consider going out and buying diesel generators for county buildings,” he said. “We should be looking at solar power with battery backup at every opportunity.”
Point Arena moves to all green energy for city buildings
Mendocino County supervisors opted into Sonoma Clean Power (SCP)’s EverGreen electricity program in December of 2021, providing 100% renewable-sourced electricity to county buildings on its account. Now, the small South Coast city of Point Arena has become the first city in the county to fully commit to the program.
City Manager Paul Andersen told The Mendocino Voice that the city council and staff were first approached by SCP right before the COVID-19 pandemic, but a presentation to the board never materialized in the uncertainty that followed. Mayor Barbara Burkey then asked him to have SCP back in 2023, and the board voted in favor of opting in to the EverGreen program, which utilizes solar energy and also harnesses steam from The Geysers southwest of Cloverdale into geothermal power.
Andersen explained that Point Arena has long been interested in harnessing more solar energy for city buildings (including most significantly, the wastewater treatment plant). But solar panels over the wastewater treatment ponds would be costly, and the city has struggled to find an adequate funding source.
“This way, we can take that first step forward toward being energy-independent in the long term,” he said.
While EverGreen adds a premium to the city’s electricity bill, it’s expected to be an increase of around $6,000, or 10% from last year’s costs. For the average resident who chooses to opt into the program, SCP estimates an increase of $13 per month.
Many area business owners have already chosen to be part of EverGreen, according to SCP’s presentation. A partnership with Steve May, owner of Surf Market in Gualala, was instrumental in paving the way for this renewable energy move.
“A year-long campaign was launched to educate businesses, residents, and municipal entities about SCP’s EverGreen service, with the goal of driving conversions and showcasing the MendoNoma coast as a leader in working toward carbon neutrality,” SCP’s presentation detailed.
Andersen said that in addition to exploring city infrastructure possibilities, the council is looking into policy decisions that could make it easier for homeowners and businesses to conduct their own energy-efficient upgrades, such as adding solar panels.
Fort Bragg purchases chargers in step toward electrifying police fleet
The Fort Bragg Police Department plans to purchase four Ford Lightning F-150 electric police trucks, in a move toward a more energy-efficient police department. But before that can happen, they need charging stations — and according to a City Council presentation from Chantall O’Neal of Public Works, procuring the chargers alone can take up to six months.
Councilmembers unanimously approved ordering the chargers, so that her office can then move on to finding contractors to install them and making the electrified police fleet a reality. According to an article from Grist, trucks (or “medium and heavy-duty vehicles”) account for a whopping 20% of California’s greenhouse gas emissions. Further, Public Works estimates that Fort Bragg’s trucks will save $6,000 per year in fuel alone.
Fort Bragg hopes to complete this project through PG&E’s EV Fleet Incentive Program, which provides rebates on vehicles and chargers to encourage fleets to make the leap to more energy-efficient procedures. The city is committing up to $146,453 for these chargers, but expects to ultimately see that number halved should financial incentives bear out.
“These charging stations are only for the police fleet,” councilmember Tess Albin-Smith clarified, before saying that she’d love to be able to pursue electric vehicle charging stations for Fort Bragg’s municipal buildings in the future.
This lands Fort Bragg on step four of PG&E’s 15-step vehicle conversion process.
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Know of green developments in Mendocino County that didn’t make it into this article? Share them with The Mendocino Voice by emailing [email protected].
Note: Kate Fishman covers the environment & natural resources for The Mendocino Voice in partnership with a Report For America. Her position is funded by the Community Foundation of Mendocino, Report for America, & our readers. You can support Fishman’s work with a tax-deductible donation here or by emailing [email protected]. Contact her at KFishman@mendovoice.com or at (707) 234-7735. The Voice maintains editorial control and independence.