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Anna Rath, left, a vice president of the biofuels energy company Ceres, outlines a point to Rep. Lois Capps, D-Santa Barbara, during a roundtable discussion on alternative energy. (Sonia Fernandez photo)

Local leaders in green business, conservation and renewable energy got their chance to sound off to Rep. Lois Capps, D- Santa Barbara, at a roundtable discussion at UCSB’s Bren School of Environmental Science & Management.

The topic? What the federal government can do to help renewable energy and green practices spread across the country.

Participants at Thursday’s roundtable discussion included representatives from renewable energy companies Clipper Windpower, REC Solar and Ceres. Also present were representatives from the construction and manufacturing sectors, such as Deckers Outdoors Corp., Dennis Allen Associates and The Towbes Group. Green consultants like the Santa Barbara County Association of Governments’ Traffic Solutions, the U.S. Green Building Council and Green Business Santa Barbara County completed the assembly.

The West Coast, and California in particular, sets the bar on green buildings, said Paul Poirer of the Central Coast Chapter of the U.S. Green Building Council, an organization that, among other things, is trying to help achieve the Architecture 2030 challenge.

“The focus is on the West Coast,” said Poirer, noting that California leads all the states in LEED projects.

It’s not easy being green, however. At the end of this year the Renewable Energy Production Tax Credit, a tax incentive for companies that produce energy from renewable sources, is to expire unless it is renewed by Congress, something Capps said she was “committed” to working toward.

An extension of the credit would allow renewable energy companies to keep their footing as they try to become a bigger source for energy in the United States.

“If you increase electricity generation from wind,you decrease generation of it from natural gas, and the natural gas can go into the transportation sector, which would offset the outflow of U.S. currency to buy oil,” said Bob Gates of Clipper Windpower.

It’s not enough, though, that the tax credit should be extended, said the participants. It should also encompass renewable sources like biofuels, an energy industry that also needs a little help building confidence in growers thinking about investing time and energy in a new crop that needs a market.

“It’s a chicken-and-egg problem,” said Anna Rath of Ceres.

The farmers won’t grow unless they know for sure there’s a market for their crop and the biorefineries won’t build until they know they have an energy source, she said.

Meanwhile, members of the manufacturing and construction sectors discussed how smarter design could cut back on energy use.

“The key in building is conservation,” said Dennis Allen of Allen Associates. Buildings, he pointed out, use about 40 percent of the energy consumed in the United States. They are also responsible for nearly half of greenhouse gas emissions.

“We’re not going to solve the energy issue in this country unless we solve the building issue,” he said.

The solutions proposed at the table, although deemed environmentally beneficial, may be hard to take for some locals. Increased density — smaller, well-designed homes built closer to people’s work and other services, increased building height limits — would use less material and land than spreading out and cause fewer cars on the road, said Craig Zimmerman of The Towbes Group.

“People say that they don’t want Santa Barbara to look like L.A., but in a way, if we don’t plan for the kind of growth we’re having, we’re already starting to look like L.A,” Zimmerman told Noozhawk.

Policies that deal with older, less energy-efficient homes, could also conserve on energy, the roundtable attendees said. And they recommended increased recycling and updating of old manufacturing facilities.

If there’s one thing that increased fuel prices are doing, it’s increasing ridership on buses, said Kent Epperson of Traffic Solutions.

“This is probably the best thing that our industry has seen for ages, because people are rethinking the way they get around,” said Epperson, whose request was for continued and increased funding for alternative transportation, as more people switch to public transit and bicycling.

“When you think about ‘green,’ there’s no simple answer to it,” said Capps. Increased fuel prices may be good from a conservation standpoint, she said, “but I also know the pain and suffering it’s causing. There are certainly a multitude of steps the federal government can take.”

Last week’s meeting was to be the first in a series of meetings Capps and local green businesses plan to have.

“It’s ongoing, it’s just beginning, in my opinion,” she said.

Noozhawk staff writer Sonia Fernandez can be reached at