Q&A on Green Life, Green Brea

Meeting the Challenge

Pressures have increased to comply with mandates from federal and state authorities for sustainable environmental practices. The public expects government leadership in doing this. But a reality check for many cities in recent years has been the struggling economy. Resources have to be applied creatively to keep up with these new expectations and city managers are in a position as stewards of good initiatives.

What Does Sustainability Mean to You?

I define sustainability as an all encompassing term for many environmental-related activities that make sense for near-term solutions to problems we face, but that also have lasting lifestyle benefits over a very long-term.

For the City of Brea in the short term, I define sustainability as making a positive impact on our bottom line today as related to budget and compliance with all sorts of mandates. In the longer term it could easily become the difference between a community that thrives and remains attractive for residents and businesses and another that is scrambling just to survive and compete.

How Did You Manage to Create Innovation Out of Adversity?

The City of Brea has always done long-range projections and has budgeted very conservatively. In 2004, we saw storm clouds gathering over the economy as we looked across our five-year projections. We started down-sizing at that point and departmental directors were charged with bringing new savings strategies forward.

At that point we were already voluntarily involved with a group of other cities under what is known as the Community Energy Partnership, a group that was moving along the learning curve together in sharing locally scaled conservation programs. These had been worthy and successful efforts. The more we learned, the more some of our executives began thinking bigger and considering this area as a potential path to additional savings.

Jumping ahead a few years, magazine photos of solar paneled carports inspired a major internal capital investment for the Brea Energy Efficiency and Solar Power Project. This resulted in immediate, major savings.

How Did That Evolve?

First, we did an extensive energy audit so we knew exactly where we stood. Along the way we brought in expert advisors (The Energy Coalition) to evaluate all our planning process and ultimately we selected a highly qualified contractor, Chevron Energy Solutions, to execute a comprehensive design-build project. There certainly was much questioning along the way. Primarily, doubt was cast as to the economic sense of spending big money for an environmental initiative even as the overall City organization was again undergoing reductions. This was a $17 million commitment during a recessionary time.

What Exactly Did You Buy?

The energy project was comprised of three integral components

  • Civic facilities retrofits and equipment upgrades
  • Replacement of all exterior street lighting
  • Installation of solar production capacity at three locations

Are You Getting Any Returns On Your Investment?

Immediately, we began realizing good value on our investment. Results speak. We are almost at the one-year mark of full operation. Our savings have exceeded initial projections. On a year-to-date basis, only counting the first 10 months of full operation for which the bills are in, our solar systems have produced a total of 17.5% more energy than predicted, which has led to excess savings. The guaranteed savings to date was supposed to be $477,069. Instead it was $543,602. Now, this is real money that would have otherwise been spent to purchase electricity for our many operations. Instead, it stays in the budget for use on programs and services within the Brea community.

What Are Lessons Learned You Might Share?

  • There is naturally going to be resistance to spending money, even with an objective to save money. People may accept the premise that there is value to being environmentally sensitive, but it is very scary to commit big money under tight budgets. So, it is legitimate for questions to arise. In seeking the answers you may end up adjusting and improving your project concept. Accept that it can be a bumpy process as you get underway.
  • There is always value in doing small / incremental projects rather than just waiting for high profile programs like solar power. Brea had already done a series of smaller activities such as CFL light bulb giveaways, halogen lamp exchanges, residential and business energy audits, and building lighting replacements in the years prior to our showpiece Energy Project. Through that process we began to save and learned and our community also was learning about the importance of this issue, so we all started to feel a little more empowered to keep moving ahead on something more.
  • Remember to keep informing and educating about what you are doing and why. While it may not be so glamorous, energy efficiency achieved through retrofitted lights in various civic facilities, plus the new HVAC at our community center, were very strong foundations to controlling costs. These are things others can also do in their homes and offices. I always will encourage participation on the private side. It’s the stuff upon which you build large communitywide programs.

How Does Your Project Boost the Local Economy?

During the actual year under construction our energy project created 125 direct, documented local jobs. Since then, with its resulting savings, it helps me keep people employed and important city programs on track. Such programs might include things like low-income housing support or business retention activity. Some of those things were put at risk with the recent demise of Redevelopment Agencies in California. Project savings mean economic options.

How Do You Measure Ongoing Impact?

Savings, of course, positively impact the city’s bottom line for operations. But there’s much more to consider about the overall quality of this community. The private sector has recently been putting increased money and jobs back into Brea, as well. With environmental leadership we are perceived as a progressive city where people and businesses want to locate.

Private commercial investment continues and we have about 2,000 new households either recently completed or in the construction pipeline. These projects are also incorporating newer, more efficient building standards. Plus, there’s renewed leasing and modernization activity in our industrial sector. All these projects are adding to a green momentum. The community at large is enjoying our new city-owned sports park that sits adjacent to a brand new elementary school and just opened this year. A science and technology wing was added to the high school two years ago. Each of these recent public amenities were designed to maximize green principles. People really like what they are seeing.

What Does Green Life, Green Brea Mean to Your Community?

As we were launching the Brea Energy Efficiency and Solar Power Project, the concept of Green Life, Green Brea evolved organically. How appropriate! Realizing that, as impressive and far-reaching that one big project might be, particularly at that moment in time, there was still going to be more to be accomplished later. So we created our own brand to umbrella what we intend to be ongoing promotion of local sustainability initiatives.

Just as other investments piggyback on our city’s investment in itself, the notion of environmental stewardship keeps growing within our community. Our website added the Green Life, Green Brea section to collect all our environmental news over time. It features a link to see a live feed of actual solar production at our three sites. Our mayor in 2012, chose as his theme, "Make a Difference - Green Brea" to help continue public engagement now that the project has been dedicated. We continue to host a One Ton Challenge to encourage what can be done with simple little daily changes of personal habits.

Going forward, I expect we will see additional efforts emerging in the areas of water conservation, recycling, watershed protection, and open space preservation. The City of Brea will always nurture the private sector to step up and participate with us in these areas, too.