Santa Barbara County–owned facilities are being ushered into a more energy-efficient future, as the Board of Supervisors voted 4-1 this week to adopt a plan that would see its buildings produce as much energy as they consume, in line with upcoming state and federal standards. Under the Zero Net Energy Resolution, all new county-owned buildings designed after 2025 would strive to be energy neutral. For existing buildings, half of their square footage would aim to meet that requirement by 2025 and fully so by 2035. According to county staff, buildings eat up a significant amount of energy, thanks to computers, air conditioning, heating, light, hot water, and ventilation. Santa Barbara County spent $4 million on its facilities in fiscal year 2012-13, said Greg Chanis with the General Services Department, and getting buildings to a point where their energy output equals their energy input could mean turning to solar panels and wind turbines.

How these projects would be paid for remains the biggest question. Although no concrete projects were discussed at the meeting, to install solar panels at 15 locations would cost just shy of $1 million, with the panels ​— ​which last at least 25 years ​— paying for themselves in energy savings within about 10 years. Chanis acknowledged the “competing needs” for funding but said energy efficiency is “a compelling argument.”

Whether the planned North County Jail could be more energy efficient was a question asked by several supervisors. Although staff said that the jail’s funding likely has little wiggle room and that solar panels aren’t currently included in the design, planners are working to ensure that the jail meets LEED-certification requirements. Some supervisors also asked that the resolution’s target dates be reexamined in the future and possibly pushed up. Staff also pointed to other environmentally friendly measures recently taken by the county, including the installation of two 5,000-piece solar panel centers and purchasing four electric Nissan Leafs for its motor pool fleet.


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