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Riverside (CA) Pacesetter for US Cities “Going Green”

July 28, 2008


Long known as the place to find an affordable home in Southern California, the Inland Empire region of Riverside and San Bernardino counties is remaking itself with a focus on “going green.” Government and business leaders are working together on a two-county Green Valley Initiative, which seeks to make the Inland area a center for green technology.

One of the area’s oldest cities is leading the charge. Riverside, once a hub of the region’s bustling citrus industry, has moved out front again, this time with its Green Action Plan. The 38-point strategy aims to make the city more environmentally friendly through more responsive energy policies, greater use of renewable energy sources, new green building standards and a renewed effort to reduce greenhouse gases.

Riverside Mayor Ron Loveridge has spearheaded the effort for more than a year, marshalling community leaders and building consensus within the city’s boundaries.

“We’re now moving from talk to action in the Inland area,” Loveridge said.

Many of the plan’s strongest efforts, including a push to make Riverside a model solar city, revolve around work being done by Riverside Public Utilities, the municipal utility that is one of the strongest proponents of the green movement in the Inland area.

For example, Riverside Public Utilities obtains more than 12 percent of the power it delivers to its customers from renewable sources, such as wind, solar and biomass gasses. The city’s plan calls for implementing a policy to increase the use of renewable energy to meet 20 percent of the city’s peak electric load by 2010 and 33 percent by 2020.

That will ensure that Riverside does its part to lessen Southern California’s dependence on electricity from coal-fired plants in Utah and Nevada, Loveridge noted.

“There has been a long-term commitment to renewable sources,” Loveridge said. “The numbers now have really increased.”

Loveridge is especially proud of Riverside’s effort to become a “model solar city,” which would reduce the city utility’s peak energy load and reduce dependence on non-renewable resources. It also would allow the city, which annually endures some of the highest summer temperatures in the region, to harness the power of the sun.

Riverside Public Utilities already is off to a strong start, having seen the installation of facilities that produce 593 kilowatts of solar power, or 2.324 watts per capita, through 2006. Among Southern California municipal utilities, only the massive Los Angeles Department of Water and Power has produced more.

Since 2007, Riverside’s production has jumped to almost 762 kilowatts, or 2.730 watts per capita, compared to 2.801 watts per capita in Los Angeles. Riverside Public Utilities is closing in on the landmark of producing a megawatt of solar power, which translates into 3.920 watts of solar power per capita.

The city also has mandated a green building rating system standard for all new municipal buildings larger than 5,000 square feet and implemented programs to encourage green building in the private sector. Since 2000, more than 67,000 trees have been planted within the city, virtually ensuring the success of the “100,000 Trees by 2010 Initiative.” The city already has exceeded its 2010 goal for converting its non-emergency fleet to clean vehicles. The 2010 goal is 60 percent, and the current percentage is 65 percent.

The city has been recognized by the Solar Electric Power Association for its efforts at community outreach and public awareness. It also has drawn acclaim for its “grease to gas” program from the American Public Power Association, the League of California Cities and the California Municipal Utilities Association, among others.

“We’ve moved from being a city in the pack to one of the cities in the lead among the 18,000 cities and towns in the United States,” Loveridge said.

The push for increased sustainability in Riverside began with a small group of residents who met as part of a Clean and Green Task Force. As interest in the proposed programs grew, city resources devoted to the programs grew accordingly. The city now has staff devoted to the issues of renewable energy and sustainability, which has made a difference in how much the city has been able to accomplish in a fairly short amount of time.

“The opposition is inertia. The tendency is to repeat what you’ve been doing because it is the easiest thing to do,” Loveridge said. “The question is how you encourage change.”

In order to ensure the program remains at the forefront of the city’s efforts, Riverside Public Utilities has designated a staff person to oversee and promote all of its green programs. The city also created a Green Accountability Performance Committee, which is charged with keeping the city council updated on how the city is doing in terms of meetings its green goals.

The committee, comprising more than 30 people with an interest in keeping Riverside headed in a green direction, meets four times a year to check on the city’s progress and make certain that accountability remains a key component of the plan. That system of checks and balances is one of the keys to the city’s effort.

“It’s like a General Plan,” Loveridge said. “If you’re not careful, you can spend all your time on the formulation, then once it’s adopted, you just declare victory.”

Riverside residents have reacted positively to the proposals. The environment is increasingly a local issue, not a national or international concern. More and more, residents want to see local commitments to solving global problems such as climate change, dependence on foreign oil and the need to be a better steward of the world.

“There’s a recognition now that times are different,” Loveridge said. “What’s here now and on everybody’s minds is the green movement.”

Additional information about Riverside’s Green Action Plan can be found on the web at www.greenriverside.com or by contacting Mike Bacich, Customer Relations/Marketing Manager for Riverside Public Utilities at (951) 826-5422 or by email at mbacich@riversideca.gov.