Napa County planners will take more than one meeting wrestling with a proposed greenhouse gas slashing plan affecting residents, farmers and business owners in areas outside of cities.
The Planning Commission began its hearing this week on the climate action plan for unincorporated areas. It quickly decided to take public comments and then continue the proceeding until Sept. 20.
“This is a challenging task before us,” Commissioner Terry Scott said.
The proposed plan contains 48 steps for cutting carbon dioxide and other emissions that scientists say contribute to global warming. Examples include having rural gas water heaters switched to electric or alternative fuels upon replacement and increasing recycling.
But Chris Benz of Napa Climate Now! said that only seven of the 48 proposed steps are mandatory, feasible and quantified. She called this criteria “the trifecta.”
One “trifecta” idea is having the county buy only renewable energy for its buildings. This is mandatory and feasible, given the county recently decided to do it, and is quantified because it will slash an estimated 382 metric tons of greenhouse gas emissions annually.
But the idea of supporting alternatives to private vehicle travel for visitors doesn’t meet the “trifecta” standard. It isn’t mandatory that visitors use alternatives and the draft climate action plan doesn’t say how much greenhouse gas emission reductions would result.
Benz suggested the county approve part one of a climate action plan by adopting only the mandatory, feasible and quantified carbon-cutting steps. The Board of Supervisors could appoint a stakeholders group to refine the other proposals.
Commissioners Joelle Gallagher and Michael Basayne liked this idea of segregating proposals that meet the “trifecta” standard.
“I would like to see more measures that are ‘The Three,’” Gallagher said. “I have a concern we use the words ‘support,’ ‘encourage’ and ‘promote’ and that so much of this is not quantifiable. I think that makes it very difficult to ascertain what the impacts are going to be.”
Napa Valley Grapegrowers said the plan is unclear whether such ideas as converting gas and diesel-powered irrigation pumps on farms to electric would be mandatory or voluntary.
The latest version of the climate action plan labels the pump conversions as voluntary. But a footnote suggests electric pumps would be mandatory for new vineyards and perhaps for existing vineyards in certain cases.
The farming community has expressed concern whether the proposal is feasible in the short-term, given that PG&E power lines don’t run near all irrigation pump locations. It is concerned farmers will face high standby costs for infrequently used electricity service.
Given the voluntary-versus-mandatory confusion, Napa Valley Grapegrowers in a letter asked the Planning Commission to continue the hearing.
Also, Garrett Buckland of Napa Valley Grapegrowers cited analysis from the Farmland Information Center stating an acre of farmland on average produces 58 times fewer greenhouse gas emissions than an acre of city. Given that, he urged the county to craft measures that prevent, rather than promote, the conversion of farmland.
Planning, Building and Environmental Services Director David Morrison started out the meeting by putting the county’s carbon-cutting efforts in perspective.
Twenty states have greenhouse gas targets and 30 do not, he said. In California, 18 counties have climate action plans and 40 do not. Of the state’s 470 cities, only 25 percent have climate action plans.
Unincorporated Napa County is doing a climate action plan even though it is responsible for nine-millionth of a percent of global greenhouse gas emissions, he said.
“Does that mean that we shouldn’t, that because we’re such a small problem, we shouldn’t even bother?” Morrison said. “Of course not.”
But he wanted people to appreciate that this is still a relatively rare occurrence among cities, counties and states across the nation and in the world.
Scott sees Napa County as having a role to play with its evolving climate action plan.
“We need to set an example for our fellow counties and allow the state to set an example for the rest of the country and the country to set an example for the rest of the world,” Scott said.
Only three planning commissioners attended Wednesday’s greenhouse gas hearing. Commissioner Anne Cottrell was absent. Commissioner Jeri Gill recused herself for potential conflict-of-interest reasons, given her work with Sustainable Napa County.
Napa County’s proposed climate action plan states that the unincorporated county in 2014 had 484,283 metric tons of carbon dioxide and carbon-equivalent emissions. It seeks to reduce this 2 percent by 2020, 40 percent by 2030 and 77 percent by 2050.
The county tried once before to create a climate action plan, but the effort stalled in 2012. The Board of Supervisors decided that proposed plan placed a disproportionate burden on new development—which in rural areas is mostly wineries and vineyards—compared to transportation.