Recent developments in the Middle East remind us that California is the only state that still relies on foreign energy sources. While the rest of America is self-sufficient, we still import the majority of our energy — that is, oil — from mostly dictatorships in the Middle East and South America. We in Santa Barbara County are famously proud of kick-starting America’s environmental movement, but we are in reality guilty of being among the ugliest of America’s carbon polluters as we import and consume foreign oil.
I want to make Santa Barbara County the world’s leader in the transition to renewable energy. But it will take a change of leadership to make that happen.
Self-described environmentalists on the county Board of Supervisors have focused on flowery resolutions, proclamations and edicts. But they have not walked the talk. Emissions of greenhouse gases in Santa Barbara County have actually increased over the last several years, more foreign oil tankers than ever are traversing the Santa Barbara Channel, and there has been only a single utility-scale renewable energy project built in our county, ever.
Our county has vast potential to harness solar, wind and ocean wave resources to provide almost unlimited energy for residents and industry. But county rules and regulations make it almost impossible to implement alternative energy solutions. Utility-scale alternative energy projects are currently allowed only in the Cuyama Valley, and the county is only now taking baby steps to address self-imposed and self-defeating regulatory impediments.
We must effectively manage the transition from legacy energy to renewable energy.
We will have some need for fossil fuels for several decades to come, and even longer for uses such as pharmaceuticals and paving. We need to shape fossil fuel sources, refining,and usage to make them as safe and clean as possible. Currently we mostly rely on the most dangerous and destructive oil — that which is produced in foreign dictatorships; shipped across thousands of miles of ocean through the Santa Barbara Channel on its way to Long Beach, spewing noxious nitrous oxides into our air (the largest source of air pollution in the county), killing and disrupting whales in their migratory paths; and finally loaded onto trucks in Long Beach and trucked across the length of Santa Barbara County to a refinery to the north. We can cut the greenhouse gas footprint of that process in half, and ensure a cleaner environment, by using locally sourced, locally regulated, “farm-to-table” petroleum.
We should immediately begin to “pre-zone” every existing energy facility to facilitate the transition from legacy to renewable energy. Our county’s famously bureaucratic and expensive permitting process cannot be allowed to needlessly hinder and stunt the transition. For example, eventually the owners of an existing oil field will want to transition to solar arrays; a gas station operator will want to transition to electric charging stations. We need to implement county processes that responsibly encourage the transitions, not punish the transitions through a county permitting process that takes years and costs a prohibitively large amount of money.
A portfolio of locally sourced renewable energy and locally sourced petroleum — combined with a thoughtful, reasonable set of regulations and programs — will allow us, as a county, to manage our own transition efficiently and in the best interests of the health and safety of our residents and environment.