County looks to reduce greenhouse gases | August 17, 2011 | Almanac | Almanac Online |


News - August 17, 2011

County looks to reduce greenhouse gases

by Barbara Wood

Desalinization plants, bike paths, electric vehicle recharging stations, native meadows instead of front lawns, local agriculture and walkable communities were all part of a vision for a more energy-efficient San Mateo County contributed by participants in a workshop in Redwood City last week.

The workshop, held Aug. 9 at the Fair Oaks Community Center in Redwood City, was the first of three planned to help the county try to figure out how to reduce greenhouse gas emissions in unincorporated areas to 1990 levels. The reduction, mandated by a state law passed in 2006, must take place by 2020.

The effort is being helped along by a federal Department of Energy grant of $350,000, which is being used to develop what the county is calling an Energy Efficiency Climate Action Plan.

The information gathered in the process will be used to update parts of the county's general plan and zoning code with policies and programs that will reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

Matthew Seubert, the county planner who is heading the program, called ReCharge San Mateo County, said the county has already found some ways of reducing greenhouse gas emissions. The county has adopted "green" building ordinances that encourage practices that cut energy use, and any new public buildings must conserve energy.

Some public buildings now have solar panels and the county has banned polystyrene food containers in unincorporated areas. County employees are encouraged not to drive to work alone and there is a county-wide recycling program.

Nora De Cuir of PMC, the consultants who have been hired to help with the ReCharge project, promised that the result of the study will not just sit on a shelf. "In day-to-day activities in the county, it will be used," she said.

The ReCharge program concerns only unincorporated areas of the county. Incorporated cities and towns must come up with their own plans to meet the state's requirements.

PMC has already determined the amount of greenhouse gases that existed in the county's unincorporated areas in 2005, the base year for the project. They measured carbon dioxide, methane, nitrous oxide and fluorinated gases (such as hydrofluorocarbons) and came up with just under a million metric tons of the gases.

They also determined where those gases come from. The biggest sources were transportation (52 percent), commercial energy (17 percent) the landfill (13 percent) and residential energy (10 percent).

That leaves the county with the goal of trying to figure out how to make its transportation, building, water, waste, and energy systems more efficient. Completion of the ReCharge project is scheduled for October 2012.

Ms. De Cuir, the PMC consultant, said that decisions about which methods will be used to reduce greenhouse gases will include looking at how much each action will reduce gases, how much it will cost, other benefits it will provide, and what funding sources will be available.

How to get involved

• Go to to get on the mailing list to be informed about the two future public workshops on the Recharge San Mateo County study. The next meeting will probably be held in November in one of the county's coastal communities.

• G to to give input on the topic by taking a survey.

• County planner Matt Seubert, who is heading the project, can be reached at (650) 363-1829.


Like this comment
Posted by Reality Check
a resident of another community
on Aug 18, 2011 at 5:33 pm

I don't see how desalination plants are "green" or contribute to cutting GHGs. Desalination <Web Link; "typically uses extremely large amounts of energy as well as specialized, expensive infrastructure, making it very costly compared to the use of fresh water from rivers or groundwater."

What's worse, the fresh water produced is typically to justify or support more GHG-generating development.