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December 30, 2009 > Santa Clara County working on two renewable energy programs

Santa Clara County working on two renewable energy programs

By Dustin Findley

The Santa Clara County Board of Supervisors is working on two related but different renewable energy programs.

Approved unanimously at a public hearing on December 15 with little discussion, was to join CalFIRST. A second program aims to financially assist individual home owners become energy-efficient. Although the target audience is statewide, it is not a state of California program.

Supervisors approved the resolution to join CaliforniaFIRST (CalFIRST) subject to certain stipulations. District 3 Supervisor Dave Cortese summarized the notes and amendments:

CalFIRST and the County must reach agreement on how to cover the County's ongoing costs to protect the Santa Clara County General Fund.

CalFIRST also needs to commit to County local workforce-standards to keep jobs local and "green" (environmentally conscious). The standards aim to ensure contractors, who bid on work funded with public monies, are screened and meet pre-qualification criteria. This is especially important as homeowners will be the recipients of the services.

Supervisor Liz Kniss described CalFIRST as a far more passive program of which the County is applying to be a part and which is primarily directed by Sacramento County.

Santa Clara County aims to develop its own program and "financing district" but is wary of committing money from the General Contingency Reserve Fund to initiate it. An option is for the County to use General Fund money now and recover funds through the State Energy Program (SEP) grant program from the California Energy Commission.

Supervisor Don Gage questioned the need for the County's effort when the County is already applying to participate in CalFIRST. According to Gage, it appears irresponsible to develop this program and create associated staff positions with the prospect of County layoffs next year.

"The statewide program (CalFIRST) may not be perfect by any means but maybe we should try giving it a chance before we start spending money and set up our own program," said Gage.

According to staff, two approaches are necessary because CalFIRST and the county program are both in development. CalFIRST has not vetted its ability or desire to reach out to the entire community and the County wants to see an energy-efficiency program reach out to low-income neighborhoods.

Cortese recounted how the Board of Supervisors agreed not to use general contingency funds to subsidize individual homeowners. He acknowledged the General Fund would incur costs associated with the launch and management of the County program which will create jobs and assist homeowners to become energy-efficient.

County Executive Jeffrey Smith stated that for the County to establish a leadership role in sustainability and energy policy, it will need more resources than are currently available, so they should make the difficult decision to spend money now.

The County needs to act now to acquire staff resources to apply for grants funding to move the program forward.

The Board of Supervisors voted to apply for SEP funding and put out a request for proposals to seek qualified firms to develop a renewable energy and energy-efficiency financing district. Supervisors also appropriated funding so staff can work with consultants and hire a program manager to develop an energy-efficient financing program.

Staff recommended what is believed is necessary to successfully launch the County program - $250,000 and three full-time equivalent (FTE) positions. Supervisors voted to allocate $100,000 and approved one FTE position. The $100,000 is expected to last until March when they will know if grant funding will be available to move forward.

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