Can Santa Barbara really hit 100% renewable energy by 2030?

The city of Santa Barbara made an ambitious commitment last week. By 2030, the city wants to run entirely on clean, renewable energy.

Santa Barbara is the 30th city in the United States to commit to this goal, along with places like San Francisco, Calif., Boulder, Colo. and and Portland, Ore. It comes in the face of President Trump’s call to remove the U.S. from the Paris Climate Accord.

“It’s a reach goal, but it’s an exciting industry to be in,” said Matt Fore, the Senior Assistant to the Santa Barbara City Administrator. He spoke with KCRW about what it will take.

Where is the city at right now?

About 30 percent of the electricity currently powering city facilities and 28 percent of the electricity powering the community is renewable.

The energy resources Southern California Edison uses to generate electricity. (SCE)

The city generates its renewable energy through solar voltaic panels on top of city facilities, co-generation at the wastewater treatment plant and a hydro-electric plant at the Lauro Reservoir.

The rest of the city gets its electricity through Southern California Edison (SCE), which uses a mixture of renewable energy, natural gas, hydroelectric and nuclear.

“By being an Edison customer, our percentage is going to increase,” said Fore, since existing state legislation demands that SCE boosts its renewable energy generation in order to reach a statewide goal of 50 percent renewable by 2030. “As they bring on more renewables, so will we.”

What will it take to get to reach the goal?

For Fore, energy conservation and efficiency is the most important step. “That’s the bedrock of how we’re going to get there. Efficiency outstrips anything we can do to generate our own renewables.”

For example, the city is in the process of converting almost all its streetlights to LED bulbs. Its also taking inventory of its largest energy users.

Then, Fore thinks the city and its residents should focus on solar and hydroelectric power generation.

The Community Environmental Council is pushing for a Community Choice Energy Program, which would let customers choose the specific energy sources they want their electricity to come from.

Most of the streetlights in the city of Santa Barbara will be replaced with LED bulbs by the end of this year. (City of Santa Barbara)

What about the new, energy-guzzling desalination plant?

The desal plant will likely consume more energy than any other city facility.

“Through our own analysis, we have seen a road map to get to 60 percent renewable by 2030, even inclusive of the desal energy load,” said Fore. “The other 40 percent is going to be tough.”

What if the city doesn’t hit its goal?

There are no penalties. It’s simply a goal.