Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Blog #47-Marin Climate and Energy Partnership

The following article appeared in the July 2010 issue of the Institute for Local Government on-line magazine:

Climate Protection Staffing: Marin’s Collaborative Approach
County: Marin
Population: 256,500


Most local governments in the Bay Area have realized that climate protection is an important new aspect of their work to develop more livable, sustainable communities. There is, however, limited staff time and other resources, especially in small jurisdictions, to launch climate protection efforts on a scale commensurate with the challenge of climate change. The cities and County of Marin have overcome some of these challenges by forming the Marin Climate and Energy Partnership (MCEP) to share resources and expertise, and jointly hire a dedicated staff person to work with jurisdictions on building their in-house climate protection capabilities.
Program Highlights

* MCEP is a public sector partnership among the 11 Marin cities, Marin County, the Transportation Authority of Marin, and the Marin Municipal Water District.
* By working collaboratively MCEP participants have been able to leverage public resources as well as attract additional private funding from the Air District and the Marin Community Foundation.
* The Marin General Services Authority, a joint powers authority, acts as the fiscal agent for the MCEP.
* To date, the MCEP has worked on construction and demolition waste recycling ordinances, green building ordinances, an electric vehicle transition plan, and energy efficiency retrofits in government buildings.

Lessons Learned

* Be patient with GHG inventory and climate action plan development, these often progress slowly, but are none-the-less important tools in keeping the momentum behind local climate protection efforts.
* Striking a balance between fast payback measures such as energy efficiency in municipal operations, and larger scale, longer payback, community wide measures is important to move climate protection efforts forward.
* Elected level leadership is essential to drive more politically challenging efforts, like PACE programs and community choice aggregation.

Resources To Learn More

* Marin GSA page (includes MCEP progress reports)
* The City of San Rafael’s Green Initiatives Page (includes green building resources)

The Rest of the Story…

With two medium-sized cities and nine small towns, Marin jurisdictions had been struggling for several years to find adequate resources to complete GHG inventories and begin writing climate action plans. The idea of establishing a collaborative network of local governments to help move local climate protection forward in Marin was first conceived in discussions between representatives of the Marin Municipal Water District, the Marin Community Foundation and a private energy/climate consultant.

In 2007 the option of joining the MCEP was presented to Marin jurisdictions and resulted in all 11 Marin cities, Marin County, the Transportation Authority of Marin, and the Marin Municipal Water District participating in the partnership. Securing the participation of the Transportation Authority was particularly significant for the group since 62% of countywide GHG emissions in Marin come from the transportation sector, and many of the big options for reducing transportation-related emissions are best served by a regional approach.

In 2008, with the help of a $75,000 grant from the Bay Area Air Quality Management District, MCEP took an important step forward by establishing a new dedicated Climate Protection Director position to help assess project priorities and work with partners on an as-needed basis. During the first year of the effort, MCEP participants worked with ICLEI to conduct GHG inventories and came together to develop a set of realistic priorities.

In addition to municipal energy efficiency work, the partnership decided to pursue some countywide initiatives like developing an aggressive model green building ordinance to be adopted in each Marin Community, and establishing the development of electric vehicle (EV) infrastructure as a component of Marin’s transportation planning. The group has also turned its attention to PACE financing, support of Marin Clean Energy, environmentally preferable purchasing, and construction and demolition ordinances.

The City of San Rafael led the development of the model green building ordinance for the group, and key to that work was the establishment of a high level task force, called Marin Green Building Energy Retrofit and Solar Transformation (Marin Green BERST), made up of elected and appointed officials from each of the MCEP jurisdictions. Currently three of the 11 governments have adopted the green building ordinance and the majority of the remaining jurisdictions are in the process of adopting it. The model green building ordinance is one of the most aggressive ordinances of its kind in the country, and it is significantly more comprehensive than the new statewide CALGreen building standards. Both the green building work and the EV work have led to additional funding for the MCEP from the Marin Community Foundation.

Some of the ideas that were initially discussed by the partnership, such as the electric vehicle transition plan, may have been out of reach for individual small local governments, had they not been part of a collaborative effort. Two years later however, with the multi-jurisdictional approach in place, even Marin’s small towns like Belvedere are working to install electric vehicle charging stations.

As a participant in MCEP partners agree to pay dues of $2,000 a year, and on a rotating basis provide a staff person to serve as chair of the group. The MCEP Chairperson is a 1-year position, tasked with handling logistics for the monthly meetings and other administrative tasks. Felicia Wheaton, a planner from the City of Belvedere who served as the first MCEP Chairperson, estimated that she spent on average 4-8 hours a month on these tasks in addition to her regular job duties. Ms. Wheaton further reported that participating in the partnership has helped local government staff with no previous climate protection experience gain confidence with some of the technical aspects of climate protection, like GHG accounting, making it easier to report back to council.

Currently, MCEP participants are working to complete Climate Action Plans and the group has transitioned its staff position from Climate Protection Director to Sustainability Coordinator, a part time position, with more managerial responsibilities than the previous position. MCEP continues to evolve but ultimately having this collaborative approach in place will make it easier for Marin to fast track big regional efforts that will be necessary to adequately progress in addressing climate change.

Case Story provided by BAAQMD, July 2010