Yolo County, California, USA
Located about 90 miles NE of San Francisco, Yolo County (Co.) is home to 213,016 (2015) residents, the University of California-Davis and the US Bicycling Hall of Fame. The city of Davis, Yolo’s largest, was the first city in the USA to formally legislate the creation of bicycle lanes throughout city streets. Yolo was also ahead of the curve when it came to a 1982 Energy Plan, decades ahead of most county governments. One result of the 1982 Energy Plan was the construction of a gas-to-energy facility in 1985. Located at the Yolo Co. landfill, the plant generates 20,000 kWh/year of electricity while capturing 90% of methane emissions.
Continuing to set trends in sustainable development and planning, Yolo Co. became one of the 12 charter members of the 2007 Cool Counties Initiative (CCI), a nation-wide pledge to an 80% reduction in greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions by 2050. CCI membership was reinforced by the 2009 adoption of a county wide ‘2030 General Plan’, containing more than 350 specific policies benchmarking exactly how Yolo Co. residents and businesses can reduce GHG emissions and energy usage. The combined impact of these sustainability programs have gone a long way towards helping Yolo Co. establish a reputation as a progressive and business smart American county and Yolo Co. continues to be a trendsetter in how counties can influence sustainable development goals.
Yolo County is now America’s first grid-positive PV solar producing county.
Beginning in the early 2000s, Terry Vernon, Yolo Co.’s deputy director of General Services started an ambitious plan to bolster the financial security in Yolo Co. Utilizing a combination of state/federal subsidies and other innovative financing tools, Yolo Co. was able to procure $23 million in financing and constructed three utility scale photovoltaic (PV) sites with no upfront capital expenditure. Yolo Co. now produces 152% of its electricity needs via 6.8 MW of PV electrical production, creating a long-term revenue stream for Yolo Co.’s once shrinking county budget. Mr. Vernon explains, “Using green power helps our county become more sustainable, while also sending a message to others across the U.S. (and world) that supporting clean sources of electricity is a sound business decision and an important choice in reducing climate change risks.” These ‘sound business decisions’ have resulted in substantial economic, social and environmental gains in Yolo Co.
Starting with a $1.4 million per year electric bill, Yolo Co. is now estimated to generate an annual income of over $500,000 from the sale of electricity to Pacific Gas & Electric, CA’s largest electrical generator. Over the next 35 years, Yolo Co.’s projected revenue for the three PV sites is over $60 million. The environmental benefits are just as impressive; 225,000 tons of avoided CO² emissions, carbon sequestration equivalent to the planting of 6.4 million tree seedlings and energy savings of approximately 50,000 passenger cars or 20,000 single family homes.
Yolo Co. Office of Education has also established a sustainability academy, Project SOLAR or Sustaining Our Local Alternative Energy Resources. This program helps to educate K-12 students on the impacts of sustainability on the individual and the community. Project SOLAR offers several sustainability based educational programs; operating a summer energy academy for high school students at a local community college, integrating courses about energy and sustainability into existing educational curriculums and training courses for educators to help spread sustainability based curriculums throughout California. Deborah Bruns, Coordinator of Curriculum & Instruction for the Yolo Co. Office of Education, is on the leadership team for Project SOLAR. She describes the project’s positive local impacts, “Project SOLAR is about college and careers but it’s also about life. Students are going to be making choices about things like energy use and recycling as voters and consumers.”