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February 24, 2011

Seven Ways to Transform California Climate Policy and Empower Local Action

This article originally appeared on ICLEI USA's Local Action Blog.

The Golden State offers great promise for the country when it comes to forward-thinking climate policy. Even Big Oil didn't have the juice to stop California's growing clean energy economy when Prop. 23 went down decisively in November. But if we want to turn this promise into reality we’ll have to navigate the challenge of the state budget crisis and identify the policy levers that will keep the ball rolling. With the eyes of the nation on California, we've got to get this right.

Here's the key: We need to refine state climate and energy policies to empower California’s cities and counties, and improve local-state coordination. ICLEI has been collecting feedback from local governments across the state—on ways to simplify existing regulations, streamline permitting, provide more accurate data for climate action planning, save money, and unleash local innovation to scale energy efficiency and renewables development.

A vision is taking shape. Big cities, small towns, and counties from all corners of the state can come together to present sound policy solutions in Sacramento. Below are some of the specific ideas ICLEI has collected so far. But what’s missing? What ideas can be improved? How can we take this vision to the next level, driving local action in the real world?

Idea #1: Help local governments make climate action planning more efficient and effective. 

The issue: Gaps remain in the data collection process for local climate planning. High-quality, efficient data collection is essential to doing climate action planning right. Getting the relevant data from the right sources allows a jurisdiction to develop the best possible inventory of its emissions and to plan with precision its reduction strategies. But this is often more difficult than it sounds and some simple fixes may require changes at the state or agency level.

The solution: Increase local government’s access to relevant data.

How to do it:

  • California’s Department of Motor Vehicles could provide VMT data annually on the make and mileage of vehicles registered within that municipality. Such data would better reflect the driving habits of businesses and residents within that community and enable cities to directly evaluate the public response to local climate action plan strategies (carpooling, EV infrastructure, etc.).
  • Regional water districts and agencies could improve facilitation of data requests regarding local governments’ electricity consumption, including eliminating cases of charging customers for access to their own data.
  • Local governments could receive data on Direct Access Emissions within their jurisdictions for the purposes of inventories and climate action plans if independent energy service providers were directed to provide it by regulators.

Idea #2: Support the financing of local climate action planning.

The issue: Climate action plans are now a required component of general plan updates and are a central part of sustainability work; yet there is no consistent source of funding for these mandatory planning processes.

The solution: Dedicate revenue from established sources to ensure compliance with state requirements. For example:

  • Dedicate a percentage of cap-and-trade revenue to financing local climate action planning.
  • Dedicate a portion of proceeds from clean air actions taken by the state Attorney General to pay for local climate action planning.

Idea #3: Improve state-local coordination.

The issue: State programs are not always well informed by, or integrated with, local climate action planning.

The solution: Provide mechanisms for cities and counties with climate action plans to help guide state program implementation to ensure state-local integration where possible.

How to do it:

  • Climate action plans that have been passed and/or implemented should be channeled upstream to inform state policymaking, not simply providing proof of local compliance.
  • The California Air Resources Board (CARB), California Public Utilities Commission (PUC) and the California Energy Commission (CEC) could create a clearinghouse for any local climate action plan that is passed and implemented as a way to maintain real-time understanding of the practices on the ground. Relevant state agencies should be required to stay informed of these policies —ensuring two-way learning.
  • The Attorney General’s office could set up a portal for completed local climate action plans as part of providing more clarity in its guidance regarding compliance with CEQA. This could provide more peace of mind for local governments when they fully develop climate action plans—providing a safe harbor for the good actors trying to do the right thing.

Idea #4: Help bring energy efficiency and renewable energy development to scale at the local level.

The issue: The federal shutdown of PACE financing programs has stymied local financing.

The solution: Create other sources of revenue for local financing districts. In February 2010, ICLEI co-founder and California Assemblymember Nancy Skinner introduced one such approach, the “Clean Energy Reserve Program,” which would provide a backstop to existing PACE programs.

The issue: Local governments have limited authority to raise new revenue to finance energy efficiency and renewable goals. 

The solution:

  • Push for state legislation enabling local authority with requisite local accountability to raise revenue and promote energy efficiency and local renewable projects—with narrow scope and clear focus.
  • Ensure additional this local authority demonstrates a clear nexus. For example, authorize local gasoline taxes to fund local renewable (alternative) transportation projects (electric plug-in, rail, bike paths). Local control over the use of these funds could lead to innovative projects and give local voters more say on how we reduce our carbon footprint.

Idea #5: Streamline and make consistent the permitting for local renewable projects.

The issue: Local permitting processes for renewable projects are not uniform or consistent, making this “soft cost” a significant impediment to getting online.

The solution: Streamline permits for renewable projects by having uniform model code language promulgated statewide that can be used as a template by local jurisdictions and bring permitting processes online.

How to do it:

  • Work through the Governor’s office of Planning and Research or the State’s Strategic Growth Council, which promote policies that assist state and local entities in the planning of sustainable communities and meeting AB 32 goals.
  • Regional planning organizations charged with creating sustainable community strategies under SB 375 also could play the role of promoting regional permitting approaches to allow larger, regional-scale development—which is often hindered by inconsistent local permitting.

Idea #6: Close gaps in market development programs.

The issue: Gaps exist in the programs designed to develop the renewables market.

The solution: Ensure all market segments are covered and market development programs are harmonized to ensure that a full range of sizes and approaches are supported.

How to do it:

  • Work with energy providers to implement current feed-in tariff legislation (under the PUC) to fully credit renewable energy generated at a city-owned site for overall municipal energy use (at fair time-of-use electricity billing rates).
  •  Develop “CLEAN” or “FIT” programs for mid-sized projects.  This could involve paying residents and businesses a fixed contract rate for power they generate and feed into the grid.

Idea #7: Ensure cities and counties can benefit from Cap and Trade under AB 32

The issue: Current regulations for California’s cap-and-trade program are largely silent on the role of local governments—creating uncertainty about the ability to benefit from the program as well as the potential for regulation. 

The solution: Formalize the role of local governments under AB 32 to ensure clarity in the regulations (through the CARB and CPUC) regarding any potential opportunities to benefit from cap-and-trade for local governments, as well as clarifying any potential compliance issues. 

How to do it:

  • Draft legislation that provides a mechanism for cities and counties to realize the benefits of the sale of allocations. The mechanism could be similar to last session’s AB 1405 (DeLeon) with community benefits, set at 10% of proceeds, going to the most impacted communities.
  • CARB could adopt regulations creating opportunity for local governments to receive emission reduction credits for “reach” energy code/standards.

-- Michael Schmitz, ICLEI California Director


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