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Sustainability Summit Looks at Future of Regional Renewable Energy

Experts discuss alternative sources and self-reliance for the Central Coast at the third annual event hosted by UCSB

How to get Central Coast communities past the starting line in the race to achieve energy self-reliance was the focus of a conference hosted Wednesday at UC Santa Barbara.

The third annual 2013 Central Coast Sustainability Summit served as a springboard for a discussion that brought out local government representatives, nonprofit organizations, business leaders and more for the all-day event at the Corwin Pavilion that imagined a region not dependent on fossil fuels.

The day kicked off with a keynote address from Jamie Tuckey, communications director of the Marin Energy Authority — a nonprofit public entity that recently developed an alternative energy model that locals hope to emulate.

In Marin County near the Bay Area, residents are able to secure alternative energy sources instead of using electricity, more commonly referred to as Community Choice Aggregation (CCA).

A panel of environmentally savvy experts used Tuckey’s presentation to launch into a discussion of how similar joint renewable energy projects could be used in Santa Barbara, San Luis Obispo and Ventura counties.

Community Environmental Council CEO Dave Davis served as moderator of the dialogue, titled “Community Choice Aggregation — A Silver Bullet to a Clean Energy Future on the Central Coast?”

Cities could overcome the financial barrier associated with renewable energy projects by opting for a CCA, which would control generation and rates, said Tam Hunt, owner Community Renewable Solutions LLC.

“Essentially, it’s a way to take control over your power and choices,” Hunt said. “We haven’t done a whole lot. This is a way to do a lot.”

Eric Veium, founding partner and engineer with Stockman's Energy, presents a San Luis Obispo County perspective during Wednesday's 2013 Central Coast Sustainability Summit at UCSB. (Gina Potthoff / Noozhawk)

Hunt and fellow panelist Eric Veium, founding partner and lead engineer of Stockman’s Energy, suggested local governments try to piggyback efforts onto what Marin County has already done to cut years off what was nearly a 10-year battle.

At least two or three communities need to pass a resolution to start the CCA conversation, create committees, commission feasibility studies, and continue education outreach, Veium said.

“The prices of fossil fuels are moving in this direction,” Veium said, lifting his hand high above the podium. “We’re committed to saying, let’s have conversation and make this choice together.”

Jim Dewey, the Santa Barbara city facilities and energy manager, acknowledged that the CCA model would be a dream to work with, but said risk-management and costs have gotten in the way of such a change.

“I think that the problems we’re facing as far as moving along with CCA are the same things we encountered when we first looked at it,” Dewey said. “I’m not saying it’s not doable. These are things that we would capture in a feasibility plan.”

He suggested a ballot measure would be better than eventually putting the energy measure to a City Council vote.

Tuckey noted that the Marin model might be difficult to use locally because the company worked with Pacific Gas & Electric and not Southern California Edison, which serves the South Coast area.

She tried offering further encouragement before the discussion opened up to questions from an intrigued audience.

Noozhawk staff writer Gina Potthoff can be reached at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address). Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk, @NoozhawkNews and @NoozhawkBiz. Connect with Noozhawk on Facebook.

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