In the early 2000s, California faced an unprecedented energy crisis as low supply and idle power plants led to record electricity prices. The city of Redondo Beach responded in 2003 by applying for and receiving funds from the California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) to implement a program to incentivize—through instant rebates—the purchase of EnergyStar® appliances.
The Redondo Beach city manager suggested promoting the program throughout the entire South Bay. He asked the South Bay Cities Council of Governments (SBCCOG) to take on its execution. The program was named the South Bay Energy Rewards Program. SBCCOG staff reached out to 10 retailers to participate. Thus, the SBCCOG’s first energy efficiency education and outreach program began.
Building on the program’s success, Southern California Edison (SCE) and SoCalGas approached the SBCCOG to form a local government partnership program for the 2004–2008 portfolio cycle. It would be a marketing, education and outreach program for the entire SBCCOG geographic area, involving cities, utilities, residents and businesses.
The SBCCOG team recognized it would be more beneficial if hard energy savings were included in the program. It began pursuing opportunities to implement programs such as a joint energy efficiency/lighting retrofit contract and discounted purchasing of energy-saving vending machine controller devices for South Bay cities. This effort was branded the South Bay Energy Savings Center, or SBESC.
“The SBCCOG developed a great working relationship with the utilities involved, which continued to provide funding for energy-saving programs in South Bay cities,” said Kim Fuentes, deputy executive director of the SBCCOG, who manages environmental programs. “From there, it continued to gain momentum as the community’s appetite grew for sustainability resources for their health and well-being and to reduce the South Bay’s environmental footprint.
PARTNER IN CONSERVATION EDUCATION AND RESOURCES
In the next CPUC cycle of funding, the SBCCOG successfully became a resource program for hard energy savings, taking on goals for helping South Bay municipalities identify and complete cost-saving energy efficiency projects.
As community energy efficiency outreach efforts continued, there was also an opportunity to speak about other resource-saving measures like water. In 2006, the SBCCOG added West Basin Municipal Water District and the city of Torrance Water Department to the existing partnerships with SCE and SoCalGas. With this expansion, the SBCCOG board changed the name of the program to its current name: South Bay Environmental Services Center, keeping the acronym SBESC.
“Over the past 17 years, SBESC has provided critical outreach and education services to help raise awareness of West Basin’s water efficiency and educational programs to South Bay communities. SBESC’s team of professionals works hard to support and represent many of West Basin’s ongoing programs that serve local communities. With their partnership and dedicated staff, West Basin has been able to reach many more people and make greater strides toward making ‘Conservation a California Way of Life,’ resulting in increased water reliability and resiliency throughout the South Bay,” West Basin said in a statement made on behalf of its board of directors. Programs for Torrance Water mirrored those of West Basin for the residents and businesses in Torrance.
CLIMATE ACTION PLANNING
According to Jacki Bacharach, executive director of the SBCCOG since 1998, in the SBESC’s early years, “cities were not focusing on energy efficiency programs on their own.” However, concern at the state and federal government level of the effects of climate change was growing. It heightened further in 2005 when nine U.S. mayors invited cities to take action to reduce global warming. In 2006, Assembly Bill 32 passed, requiring California to reduce overall greenhouse gas emissions (GHGs) to 1990 levels by 2020 and to slash GHGs to 40% below 1990 levels by 2030.
This momentum served as the impetus for the SBCCOG to work with cities in 2005 and 2007 to complete GHG inventories for each city. To fund this work, the cities agreed to pay a special assessment. It updated results in 2011 and 2012, funded by SCE and SoCalGas. SBCCOG staff collected and inputted data provided by various agencies. It then quantified the figures using the ClearPath tool (icleiusa.org/clearpath) from ICLEI – Local Governments for Sustainability, which converts statistics into emissions data.
Using this baseline carbon footprint, the SBCCOG then worked with cities to develop climate action plans (CAPs) to help them set goals for reducing their GHGs. These plans were adopted by each of the city councils. Since then, the SBCCOG has been able to leverage those CAPs to secure partnerships and funding to implement and promote recommended changes, such as energy equipment upgrades for municipal facilities, residents, businesses and community members. The CAPs have also helped the SBCCOG secure competitive grant fundingand expand energy partnerships to include the Southern California Regional Energy Network (SoCalREN) to promote energy efficiency at public agencies.
“The SBESC has been a tremendous help to community members and local agencies on a wide range of sustainability programs and offerings,” said Douglas Krauss, environmental programs manager for the city of Hermosa Beach, who recently worked with SBESC team members on the city’s GHG inventory. “From education to funding opportunities to good old manual labor through their priceless volunteer and staff hours, the SBESC is tireless in its support of improving the local environment. We hope it continues for many decades to come.”
As the energy program grew, so did requests to add other programs and education on sustainability such as transportation options, waste reduction and more water partners. “To have a comprehensive message, we worked hard to get the Los Angeles County Sanitation Districts to join our efforts,” said Bacharach. Over time, the Water Replenishment District (WRD) and the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power joined West Basin and Torrance Water to work with the SBCCOG to promote water conservation initiatives, such as trainings and workshops on nonfunctional turf replacement, distribution of rain barrels, and replacement of water-wasting faucets and showerheads.
“The SBESC has been a great asset to the WRD,” said Jenn Stewart, senior public affairs representative, WRD. “They have helped amplify WRD’s education programming and have cultivated a large network of engaged citizens who are interested in participating in WRD’s Groundwater Festival, Eco Gardener classes and facility tours.”
PREPARING FOR FUTURE CHALLENGES
With recent record-level drought exacerbating statewide and worldwide concerns about climate change, in 2023 the focus on sustainability is greater than ever. But Fuentes and Bacharach agree that armed with the SBESC, the South Bay is well positioned for a sustainable future.
“What we’re doing now is building off our existing network and audiences to bring even more programs to help our cities and the South Bay,” said Fuentes. Bacharach added, “Because of our many years of working with our cities on sustainability, we can hit the ground running. We are now going to double down to help our cities stay at the forefront of the huge climate challenges ahead of us. And we can face them better together, which is what the SBCCOG and SBESC are all about.”
Read our “Journey to Green” timeline.