Thursday, June 18, 2009
Tom Rosewall is an unlikely climate champion. He wears impeccable Italian leather shoes, slicks back his Bill Maher hair and has a propensity to talk about himself in the third person. In 2006, after building a career in international business management, he returned to his hometown of Watsonville to take over the family’s building construction firm. On the side, he advises a major nanotechnology company.
“I’m Tom the businessman,” he says with a wide salesman smile. “I’m not Tom the greenhouse gas emissions man.”
But when he accepted an appointment to Santa Cruz County’s Commission on the Environment in late 2007, he found himself at the table with climate-savvy people stumped by the challenge of greenhouse gas emission modeling. He foresaw the same hangups in California’s other 57 counties, which together produce an estimated half billion metric tons of greenhouse gases.
“I’m an impatient guy,” he says. “I’ll be 150 years old before this is all done. This is insanity.”
Within a few months, he came up with an emissions profile model for the city of Santa Cruz, using units like therms of natural gas and gallons of gasoline. “Greenhouse gas emissions are elusive. You can’t fit them in the back of your car,” he says. “So I related it to things we can manage.”
That was the seed for California Energy Initiatives, Rosewall’s 4-month-old company. In hazy terms – the patent is pending – CEI offers a platform for estimating past, current and future emission levels, evaluating CO2 reduction options, translating those into dollar figures, and measuring progress.
“We try to be the objective source,” he says. “I can show you, without a lot of work, where you are and how far you gotta go.”
It could be a smart business move. Several state laws will require California municipalities to ratchet down their greenhouse gas emissions, and the feds are poised to follow.
“Counting your carbon emissions is comin’,” says Laura Strohm, founder of the Monterey-based Sustainability Academy. “Smart companies are starting to count their carbon now. As cap and trade becomes more real at the national level, people are going to want to measure their carbon footprint in serious ways. But it’s tricky, because it’s very hard to measure carbon dioxide emissions. This is nitty-gritty number crunching.”
Strohm says her nonprofit has already consulted for several local entities looking to track and reduce their carbon emissions, including Clinica de Salud in Salinas, Unity Church of Monterey and Portola Plaza Hotel.
John Regan of Carbon Credit Management, a Santa Cruz-based subsidiary of LED Green Power, is banking on the profitability of new cap-and-trade regulations. His company does energy retrofits of commercial buildings, then helps businesses to bank their saved emissions as carbon credits with entities such as the Chicago Climate Exchange.
Once carbon caps are in effect, he says, those credits can be sold to businesses that emit above their limits. He estimates the price of carbon will rise from about $1.30 per ton today to up to $20 per ton under a mandatory cap-and-trade program.
“The anticipated growth of the market is enormous,” he says. “Given the fact that carbon prices are now low, there’s not a lot of trading activity happening. Our clients bank these credits on the basis that the potential value is gonna be there.”
The highest-profile climate law in effect is AB 32, which aims to reduce statewide greenhouse gas emissions to 1990 levels by 2020 and 80 percent below 1990 levels by 2050.
Another landmark law, 2008’s anti-sprawl SB 375, directs regional planning organizations (locally, the Association of Monterey Bay Area Governments) to adopt policies to meet those targets.
Alana Knaster, deputy director of the county Resource Management Agency, estimates the county has spent at least $500,000 on its emission calculations, which were completed with the help of private consultants. But there’s money to be made in reducing carbon output, she adds, both in terms of new green jobs in the private sector, and in shrinking energy costs.
“It’s not a small dollar savings and it’s not a small energy savings for all 5,000 county employees to turn off their computers over the weekends,” she says.
Chris Sentieri, a Panetta Institute grad student who interned with the county, made reducing local emissions the focus of his capstone project. He says Monterey County is already ahead of the curve in meeting state requirements.
“AB32 is basically an unfunded mandate that tells counties to go forth and reduce carbon,” he says. “All the municipalities throughout the state are scrambling to do this work, whatever lack of money they have.”
The city of Monterey will unveil its emission reduction blueprint July 22, according to city Sustainability Coordinator Lacey Raak. But it wasn’t easy: “It’s difficult to get accurate, reliable data from all these different sources, from waste management to public works, planning and traffic engineering.”
Despite the bumps in California’s CO2-reduction road, the feds aren’t far behind. An aggressive energy and environmental bill, the American Clean Energy and Security Act of 2009, aims to reduce greenhouse gas emissions 20 percent from 2005 levels by 2020, 42 percent by 2030 and 83 percent by 2050.