Transformative change to renewable energy

This "Looking Forward" op-ed piece by Jeanne Sparks was published in the Santa Maria Times on Oct. 10, 2014:

Energy from fossil fuels powered economic growth in the U.S. for decades, radically changing our society.

Today, we face different challenges, especially from human-created climate change.

According to the 700-page “Stern Review on the Economics of Climate Change,” a 2006 United Kingdom Treasury report, if action is not taken, the overall costs of climate change on water resources, food production, health and the environment will be equivalent to losing at least 5 percent of gross domestic product on the world economy each year, indefinitely. Including a wider range of risks and impacts could increase this to 20 percent of GDP or more each year.

On the other hand, mitigating the worst impacts could be only 1-2 percent of annual GDP — if action is taken early.

We must conserve and move quickly to renewable sources of energy such as solar, wind, wave and biomass.

The Community Environmental Council published a study in 2007 showing how Santa Barbara County could dramatically reduce its dependence on fossil fuels by 2033.

Conservation, energy efficiency, land-use planning, green building, alternative transportation and development of renewable energy are key components that not only reduce the demand for fossil fuel, but also save residents $1.5 billion by 2030, according to the report: “A New Energy Direction: A Blueprint for Santa Barbara County.” Find it at Click on Resources then Blueprint.

The county could be a net exporter of renewable energy by that time, offsetting emissions from the fossil fuels that will still be needed for transportation.

Clean energy also creates jobs. According to the 2014 Green Innovation Index, “California’s Core Clean Economy grew faster than the economy as a whole in the last decade, up 20 percent between January 2002 and January 2012, while the total economy increased only 2 percent.”

California has legislation that mandates reduced greenhouse gases statewide. Santa Barbara County has a reduction target of 15 percent below 2007 emission levels by 2020. It was expected to approve its Energy and Climate Action Plan on Oct. 7. Visit for updated information.

The county’s strategy includes community choice aggregation, sustainable communities, land-use design, transportation, built environment, renewable energy, industrial energy efficiency, waste reduction, agriculture and water efficiency.

Sustainable communities inspire compact growth, taking less land away from farming, locating people closer to work, school and services, and encouraging safer walking and biking routes. This reduces the amount people need to drive, thereby reducing emissions.

Community Choice Aggregation (CCA) turns control of the purchase of power supplies to local residents. Communities in California that have formed CCAs have seen lower prices and more renewable energy. CCAs can even pay individuals for their surplus rooftop power, something each residence and business should install when possible. We noticed Kohl’s, Macy’s and Larrabee Recycling have rooftop solar in Santa Maria, as probably many others do.

The city of Lompoc achieved the lowest electricity rates in the county and more renewable energy in its mix by participating in the Northern California Power Agency formed in 1968.

SLO Clean Energy is looking at forming a CCA that would include Santa Maria. Visit for more information.

We should educate ourselves on the issues, then take action at home, at work and with our elected officials. Urge them to conserve, switch to renewable energy and implement policies that reduce greenhouse gases and promote renewable energy.

We should all be involved in making this transformational change to clean, renewable energy.

Jeanne Sparks is communications manager for Santa Barbara County Action Network (SB CAN). She can be reached at [email protected]. Looking Forward runs every Friday in the Santa Maria Times, providing a progressive viewpoint on local issues.