In crafting Napa County’s Climate Action Plan, the centerpiece of its efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions in the unincorporated area, planners have worked to ensure that it passes the Goldilocks test — that the plan’s regulations suit the county’s natural environment and industries just right.
Officials in the county Planning Department believe they’ve accomplished that, but wine industry groups aren’t convinced, and are pushing back to alter the plan before it goes to the county Board of Supervisors for a vote on Dec. 11.
The plan aims to reduce greenhouse gas emissions to 15 percent below 2005 levels by 2020, and takes a threefold approach to accomplish this.
Seventy percent of the reductions will result from state actions that include new fuel efficiency standards, while the remaining 30 percent would be accomplished through a carrot-and-stick approach from the county government.
Seventeen percent would result from actions from the county government, which includes a list of programs that provide incentives to local businesses to reduce emissions — that’s the carrot. The last 13 percent is a requirement that new development, which in the unincorporated area mostly affects new permits or modified permits for wineries and vineyards, develop plans for reducing project emissions. This would be the stick.
Each project would be required to reduce its projected emissions by 38 percent, but the developers are free to choose how to achieve that reduction. They can work to prevent emissions through:
• Employee carpooling and making projects more energy-efficient;
• Reducing emissions by conserving natural habitat;
• Generating clean energy on-site;
• Installing electric-vehicle charging stations.
Planning Director Hillary Gitelman said she believes this flexibility allows the developers to devise plans that fit their projects, but also covers a wide swath of development that may occur in the unincorporated area. Building permits for the proposed residential development at the Napa Pipe site, for example, would be subject to the 38 percent, just as a winery would for seeking a use-permit modification to expand its marketing and events plan.
Moreover, Gitelman said this requirement rewards environmentally good deeds developers are already doing with their projects, which she called “incredibly forward-thinking and visionary.”
“We require the 38 percent, and then you can get there any way you want to,” Gitelman said. “They could look for the most cost-effective strategy.”
Trial run highlights concerns
When the Napa County Planning Commission meets every month, its discussions are usually devoted to a specific proposal or project. But they provide a glimpse of broader issues the county’s grappling with as it plans for the future.
On Oct. 3, the Odette Winery on Silverado Trail went before the Planning Commission seeking to modify its use permit to construct a new winery production building, modify other buildings, and greatly expand its marketing and events plan. In the process, it offered a trial run of how the Climate Action Plan would be applied to the wine industry.
The winery was first approved in 1980, pre-dating the winery definition ordinance, and has been approved for just under 60,000 gallons in production. New owners, who also own Cade Winery and PlumpJack Winery, purchased the property in February.
The application sought to increase its visitation from 17 to 24 visitors each day to a maximum of 131 visitors each day and 917 per week, according to a county staff report.
It also wanted to expand Odette’s number of events from 19 annually, each with 35 to 70 guests, to 96 events annually that range in size from 50 to 150 guests.
Staff noted in the report that “Given the increasing importance of direct-to-consumer sales for Napa Valley wineries, the 917 maximum weekly visitors proposed here does not strike staff as outlandish or disproportionate.”
The project was designed to Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) Gold standards to use as much recycled material as possible, use natural cooling and heating, maximize energy efficiency, and to ensure that construction would preserve existing natural habitat. Solar energy generation was also under design, and the project would conserve water. Employees would be encouraged to use electric vehicles, bike to work, or carpool.
Napa attorney Brian Russell told the Planning Commission that the new owners wanted to make the project as environmentally friendly as possible.
“Those things are really important to them,” Russell said.
Commissioner Bob Fiddaman praised the project.
“I’m impressed,” he said. “We have responsible new owners. I think this is an impressive application.”
But the project was selected for analysis under the Climate Action Plan, and the increase in events and visitors translated to an increase in vehicle miles traveled — and greenhouse gas emissions.
A consultant analyzed Odette’s proposal for traffic impacts, and determined that it would add 77 to 91 trips every day along Silverado, not enough to significantly impact traffic on the north-south artery.
That traffic drove the project’s emissions up, though.
“Your traffic signature is what’s driving up your Climate Action Plan (reductions),” Deputy Planning Director John McDowell told the commission.
The first estimates from the county found that Odette only reached 22 percent of the 38 percent reduction. That initial estimate was incorrect, said Kirsty Shelton, who’s managing the Climate Action Plan for the Planning Department.
After recalculating, Shelton said the project did enough to meet the 38 percent, but Odette’s trial run highlighted a difficulty some wineries will face in the future if the Climate Action Plan is implemented.
They’ll have to be as green as possible, but seeking to expand their marketing and events plans will mean mitigating the resulting emissions from the vehicle trips to and from the wineries. Shelton notes that projects can take credit for the state actions in increasing fuel efficiency in trying to mitigate traffic emissions; in some cases that could reduce the target reduction by 10 percent, from 38 percent to 28 percent. They also get credit for environmentally good deeds done since 2005, which count toward their reductions.
The Planning Commission voted 3-0 to approve Odette’s application; commissioners Terry Scott and Matt Pope were absent. Speaking through Russell, representatives of Odette declined to be interviewed.
Gitelman said this is the point of the Climate Action Plan.
“The projects that walk in the door that are really green. … Those wineries, their cost of business won’t change,” Gitelman said. “This kind of ethic is already here in Napa. This is already part of their business model.”
However, in a Nov. 15 letter to Supervisor Keith Caldwell, the chairman of the Board of Supervisors, the Napa Valley Vintners organization laid out some of its concerns with the plan. The letter stated that the group would withhold its support of the plan until its concerns are met.
“Our industry will continue to be a leader on environmental initiatives,” President Rick Jones wrote in the letter. “However, given the overwhelming burden being placed upon the Napa Valley wine industry and the high threshold (38 percent emissions reduction), the following concerns need to be addressed before we can offer our support.”
Jones listed four criteria that would have to be met before the Vintners could support the plan.
For the industry, Jones wrote that the Climate Action Plan’s greatest benefit is that meeting its requirements would give projects compliance under the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA). The Vintners want to ensure that the emissions reduction measures available through the plan would survive legal scrutiny, to give developers insurance that their projects wouldn’t be exposed to legal challenges under CEQA that are based on emissions.
The second criterion is to allow project developers who are unable to meet their reduction requirements on site to purchase carbon credits on an open market. That would allow the industry to offset emissions in a cost-effective manner, Jones wrote.
County planners have preferred to set up a local offset program, which developers would pay into to fund emissions-reducing projects in the county. But the county’s analysis estimates that the cost for offsetting a metric ton of carbon could be $250 to $275; in established carbon markets, that price can be as low as $20 per metric ton.
“The local program, as proposed, is extremely cost-prohibitive,” Jones wrote. “Current open market rates for the purchase of carbon credits are approximately one-tenth of the cost to purchase a credit through the local program.”
The Vintners asked the county to investigate the local offset program, but to leave open the open-market option.
Gitelman said that because the local program would provide local benefits, staff doesn’t want to abandon the idea.
“The concept is so good,” Gitelman said. “I don’t think any of us want to give up on the local idea.”
On projects opting to purchase credits on an open market, Shelton said the preference is for the developers to try and mitigate their emissions on site — so the benefits of the reductions at least remain in Napa County.
“We’re still going to encourage on-site measures,” Shelton said.
The third criterion, according to Jones’ letter, is to allow businesses that have multiple properties in the county to apply offset measures at one property to another property they own.
Finally, the Vintners asked that the Climate Action Plan have a clause included in it so it expires after two years. Jones’ letter states that this would give an opportunity to review the plan to incorporate new research on greenhouse gas emissions and how they relate to agriculture.
Gitelman said the plan is supposed to be reviewed frequently to allow for new research and developments to be included in it. The first review would occur in 2013, she said.
“People are always dubious in government when you say you’re going to review the program and revisit it,” Gitelman said.
She acknowledged that discussions between staff and industry groups remain ongoing, as does work on the plan.
“We’re still doing a lot of talking,” Gitelman said in mid-November. “There’s still quite a bit of work to do between now and (Dec. 11).”
And as for meeting the Climate Action Plan’s goal of reducing emissions to 15 percent below 2005 levels by 2020, Gitelman said that’s still attainable.
“I think that’s still feasible,” Gitelman said. “We set a goal that we thought was achievable, and it’s still achievable. We’re still interested in talking to anybody who wants to talk to us. Give us a ring.”