San Diego, California - America's Cleanest City

Sustainable cities have eco-city designs that prioritize consideration of social, economic, and environmental impacts of climate mitigation policies, and implementation of sustainability policies; as well as prioritizing resilient, thriving ecological and urban habitats for existing populations. Among the top of any list of these clean, green eco-cities is San Diego, California. The city of San Diego has a citywide 100% renewable energy program, is implementing a zero-waste plan, and changing policy to have a majority of the city's public transit fleet be electric vehicles.


San Diego's Sustainability Initiatives


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San Diego, California


San Diego is famous for its year-round mild climate, its bays and harbors, popular beaches, and the city's US military ports and bases (especially for the Navy in downtown SD & the Marines in Camp Pendleton, North San Diego County - but for bases of other military branches as well). San Diego has become increasingly internationally recognized for its emergence as a global center for healthcare, biotechnology, and clean energy technological development; and now, as a leader of sustainability in the United States. An organization that represents the city's substantial contribution to sustainability was launched by Cleantech San Diego in 2011; Smart Cities San Diego. Smart Cities San Diego is a public-private organization that advances sustainable, energy efficient technological development in the city, renewable energy technologies, water efficiency, and initiatives to support greenhouse gas reduction and lowering the carbon footprint of San Diego.

The higher-than-average amount of sunshine in the area, along with the consensus among city leaders to pursue sustainability as a top priority, and [former] Governor Brown’s push for 100% renewable energy (100RE) throughout California, has allowed San Diego to attempt to develop a city that runs entirely on renewable energy. To this end, San Diego has pushed ahead with its Climate Action Plan.  

The push for 100RE is a major part of the San Diego Climate Action Plan (CAP); adopted citywide in December 2015. San Diego’s CAP is billed as a continuing push to make San Diego, “America’s cleanest city”, now also its most sustainable city. San Diego plans to eliminate half of all greenhouse gas emissions (GHGs) from the city, and run entirely on renewable energy, by 2035 (compared to 2010 levels); and the city had an interim goal of 15% reduction by 2020 - in fact they got well above that mark - to 24% GHG reduction citywide. San Diego was the first major city in the United States to commit to 100RE, and San Diego County has the highest number of cities countywide that have made 100RE pledges for any county in the nation.

The utility that is the lone energy provider to San Diego, San Diego Gas and Electric (SDG&E), is one of only several utilities nationwide to offer a 100RE option. San Diego’s sole utility (de-facto monopoly), SD&E, offers an option for 50% or 100% solar energy as part of their “EcoChoice” option. The EcoChoice plan offered straight from SDG&E, not a company providing the renewable energy service as an option for residents and businesses to the utility, an "aggregator” energy service. An alternative energy service to the utility is an aggregator energy company; for example the San Diego and statewide “Community Choice” program. Community Choice operates throughout California, including San Diego, and also offers 50% and 100% options to supply residents/ businesses with power from renewable energy, but SDG&E still provides the actual energy maintenance service.

Community Choice is similar to SDG&E’s “EcoChoice”, but the customer pays the private energy aggregator to generate renewable energy, while SDG&E still maintains the actual energy service. Under Community Choice, for example, SDG&E still maintains the grid infrastructure, but instead of paying SDG&E for solar from exclusively large utility-scale solar farms, the customers pay Community Solar and support solar from a variety of local and state-wide renewable energy projects. Paying SDG&E directly through EcoChoice, residents and businesses are paying the utility directly to generate renewable energy. Both services help support renewable energy. 

Read this PDF>>> for the full 74-page San Diego Climate Action Plan that was adopted in December, 2015. Here are a couple of excerpts from San Diego's Climate Action Plan:

"The plan identifies steps the City of San Diego can take to achieve the 2035 [climate] targets. That list includes creating a renewable energy program, implementing a zero-waste plan, and changing policy to have a majority of the City’s [public transit] fleet be electric vehicles...the city has committed to slashing its greenhouse gases 15% below 2010 levels by 2020 and 50% below that benchmark by 2035. The goals are intended to mirror the state targets of reducing emissions to 40% below 1990 levels by 2030.”

"...in 2016 the city had already cut its emissions by 19%, a 2% improvement from the previous year. The report largely attributed that progress to the state’s strict vehicle-emissions standards and renewable energy requirements (for the city's utility, SDG&E)...”  - San Diego Climate Action Plan PDF



San Diego’s HERO (Home Energy Renovation Opportunity) program

With the implementation of San Diego’s HERO (Home Energy Renovation Opportunity) program, homeowners throughout the San Diego and Southern California area are making changes in order to have the opportunity to rely on solar energy as their main energy source in the coming months and years. Solar energy systems are expensive to implement, thus potentially preventing homeowners from pursuing this more efficient clean energy system. It’s for this reason that many cities and states across the U.S. follow the concept of Property Assessed Clean Energy, or PACE.

In San Diego, PACE takes the form of the HERO program, or Home Energy Renovation Opportunity. HERO and similar programs have the potential to cover most of the cost of solar energy system implementation, from the solar panels and green windows, to artificial turf and water saving upgrades. This financial assistance makes access to clean energy and a renovated energy akin society that much more feasible. The PACE and HERO programs, like Community Choice, are statewide programs in California.

This clean energy upgrade financing is a low-interest option that is repaid through property taxes. With a simple application process and options for even those with unfavorable credit scores, the HERO program provides homeowners dedicated to making the transition to clean energy with manageable rates and fees.

Since 2011, a clean energy focused organization called Renovate America utilized this HERO program to fund $1.2 billion in home improvements on approximately 55,000 homes in just the first 6 years. Starting in Riverside, California, this program was implemented in order to allow homeowners to bring their clean energy desires to reality. In Riverside County alone, approximately 18,700 homes have utilized the program in order to make clean energy modifications to their homes. Since expanding to San Diego County, the same program has provided financial assistance across over 8,000 local projects.

In San Diego county alone, the benefits of access to the HERO program through Renovate America is obvious when taking a closer look at the statistics involved. Thus far for San Diego county, this program has facilitated a substantial increase in jobs, provided millions of dollars in funding for sustainable options, conserved nearly 1,000 million kilowatts of energy, and saved more than 700 million gallons of water.

These benefits go hand in hand with what the HERO program is doing for homeowners as well. The amount saved on energy bills and reduction in their personal carbon footprint are other advantages to consider when making the decision to apply for this clean energy financing. Overall, though, when taking a look at the positive reception from homeowners and the effectiveness of the program, it is easy to see that individuals are ready and willing to take advantage of a program such as this in order to go above and beyond to make a change for the better. Moving in the right direction in regards to clean energy changes is made that much more possible with the help of the HERO program and others like it.



Additionally, please see: Cleantech San Diego: Smart City



Here is more detailed information on San Diego, and more sustainability initiatives in San Diego (some text of this is in the above segment of this article):

San Diego bills itself as “America’s cleanest city”,  and a sustainability powerhouse. The higher-than-average amount of sunshine in the area, along with the consensus among city leaders to pursue sustainability as a top priority, and California's push for 100% renewable energy (100% RE) throughout California, has allowed San Diego to attempt to develop a city that runs entirely on renewable energy. To this end, San Diego has pushed ahead with its San Diego Climate Action Plan (CAP).

Public transportation options in San Diego include the MTS bus system, commuter rail (The Coaster), and light rail (The San Diego Trolley). Public transit in San Diego accounts for only 3.5% of county residents for all transportation in, and to & from, the city, for people living within 90 minutes of the city. The majority of people drive alone to work in the city, with a modest amount (<10%) choosing to carpool. Far fewer people can walk or bike to work in San Diego city, generally people that already live in the area. By focusing on developing, and increasing the use of, public transportation in San Diego, the city can most effectively reduce its carbon footprint. This is especially true of light rail in the city, which runs entirely on electricity. Electricity in the city is sourced from renewable energy and natural gas. San Diego’s utility, SDG&E, also offers a 100% renewable energy option for its customers. 

The San Diego Convention Center, and hotels in Coronado, host many national and international conferences including; many medical conferences, Politifest, the Global Investment Forum, the Food Waste Solution Summit, and many smart tech, and sustainability, conferences put on by CleanTech San Diego. CleanTech San Diego is a non-profit trade organization and thinktank that promotes San Diego as a global leader in clean and sustainable technologies.  

"Cleantech San Diego is uniquely suited to support industry by fostering collaborations across the private-public-academic landscape, leading advocacy efforts to promote cleantech priorities, and encouraging investment in the San Diego region.” - CleanTech San Diego. Launched by Cleantech San Diego in 2011, Smart Cities San Diego is a private-public organization that advances sustainable, energy efficient technological development in the city, renewable energy technologies, water efficiency, and initiatives to support greenhouse gas reduction and lowering the carbon footprint of the San Diego.

California mandates that every city in the state is to run on 100% clean energy by 2045This is part of an effort by a group of bipartisan lawmakers within the state to have California make good on the state’s pledge to reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions by 50% by 2045. The opposition and legal challenges to this effort are from fossil fuel companies, lawmakers who side with the fossil fuel companies, and California counties and cities that want to continue to keep natural gas in the energy mix for their municipalities beyond 2045. San Diego is already committed to achieving 100% renewable energy, and California’s 50GHG reduction goal, but shaves 10 years off that target. 

The push for 100% renewable energy in San Diego is a major part of the San Diego Climate Action Plan, San Diego’s CAP is billed as a continuing push to make San Diego, “America’s cleanest city”, now also its most sustainable city. San Diego plans to eliminate half of all greenhouse gas emissions from the city, and run entirely on renewable energy by 2035. 

San Diego was the first major city in the country to commit to 100% RE, and San Diego County has a total of cities that have made 100% RE pledges, the highest number of 100% RE pledges for any county in the nation. In the county of San Diego, the city of Del Mar is one of 5 cities that have also pledged to go 100% renewable.

The utility that services San Diego, San Diego Gas and Electric (SDG&E), is one of only 5 utilities nationwide to offer a 100% renewable energy option. San Diego’s sole utility (de-facto monopoly), SD&E, offers an option for 50% or 100% solar energy as part of their “EcoChoice” option. This is offered straight from SDG&E, not a company providing the renewable energy service as an option for residents and businesses to the utility, or an “an aggregator” energy service, an alternative energy service to the utility (for example the “Community Choice” program, which operates throughout California, including San Diego, and also offers 50% and 100% options to supply residents/ businesses with power from renewable energy, but SDG&E still provides the actual energy maintenance service).

Community Choice is similar to SDG&E’s “EcoChoice”, but the customer pays the private energy aggregator to generate renewable energy, while SDG&E still maintains the actual energy service. Under Community Choice, for example, SDG&E still maintains the grid infrastructure, but instead of paying SDG&E for solar from exclusively large utility-scale solar farms, the customers pay Community Solar and help support solar from a variety of local and state-wide renewable energy projects. Paying SDG&E directly through EcoChoice, residents and businesses are paying the utility directly to generate renewable energy. Both services help support renewable energy. 


From the San Diego Climate Action Plan-

The Climate Action Plan is a package of policies that will benefit San Diego’s environment and economy. It will help create new jobs in the renewable energy industry, improve public health and air quality, conserve water, more efficiently use existing resources, increase clean energy production, improve quality of life and save taxpayer money. The plan identifies steps the City of San Diego can take to achieve the 2035 targets. That list includes creating a renewable energy program; implementing a zero-waste plan, and changing policy to have a majority of the City’s (public transit) fleet be electric vehicles...the city has committed to slashing its greenhouse gases 15 percent below 2010 levels by 2020 and 50 percent below that benchmark by 2035. The goals are intended to mirror the state targets of reducing emissions to 1990 levels by 2020 and 40 percent below that by 2030.”

"...in 2016 the city had already cut its emissions by 19%, a 2% improvement from the previous year. The report largely attributed that progress to the state’s strict vehicle-emissions standards and renewable energy requirements on (the utility, SDG&E)...

Here’s the PDF for the full 74-page San Diego Climate Action Plan that was adopted in December, 2015 (the San Diego CAP has been updated since passage, and some of those updates are reflected in this article and the PDF of the plan Green City Times links to here): sandiego.gov/final_july_2016_cap.pdf