EVERETT — More than a decade ago, Snohomish County invested more than $1 million to turn canola and other crops into diesel for its heavy equipment.
That biofuel venture sputtered to an end amid low oil prices.
Now the county is taking a different, more ambitious approach to curb its carbon footprint, with the ultimate goal of being on 100 percent “clean, renewable” energy by 2045.
A climate action advisory committee began meeting this month to help the government decide how best to get there. Transportation is still a focal point.
“The transportation sector is our largest source of greenhouse gas emissions in this region,” said Suzy Oversvee, a member of the committee and senior program manager for the Snohomish County Public Utility District. “Trying to tackle that from several different angles is probably a good place to start.”
According to the most recently available data, the county’s vehicle fleet accounted for 44% of its greenhouse gas emissions in 2014, a county study showed.
Updated emissions figures from 2018 are due out this spring, said Lisa Dulude, energy and environmental sustainability manager for Snohomish County Executive Dave Somers’ office.
Employees from a range of county departments have teamed up to develop a policy that will guide the county in building a fleet of vehicles that don’t run on petroleum, Dulude told the County Council’s Operations Committee at a Tuesday meeting.
For starters, the county must determine exactly how much fuel is used by its roughly 1,000 vehicles. Of those, just five are all-electric, and about 20 are hybrid, Dulude said.
“Taking a deeper dive into our data, essentially, is part of it,” she said in an interview. “Part of it is what we look to purchase and replace vehicles with when they come up in the replacement cycle.”
The county has also budgeted $65,000 to hire a consultant to study its options for curtailing carbon emissions. A firm hasn’t yet been picked, but the recommendations are expected to be released in early June.
“We’ll have a plan with recommendations out of that — a budget and a timeline and what to prioritize in terms of really making an impact and reducing our carbon footprint,” Dulude said.
The firm that’s chosen will also assess how the county can overcome what might be the toughest hurdle: its goal of fully electrifying all county buildings that are now served by natural gas, Dulude said.
County facilities are served by the Public Utility District, which uses “carbon-free” sources for 98% of its fuels, said PUD spokesman Aaron Swaney. Hydropower accounts for about 85 percent, Swaney said.
The County Council adopted the 2045 clean energy goal last February. The move was proposed by several local environmental groups, including the Snohomish County chapter of The Climate Reality Project, Sierra Club, 350 Everett and the statewide group Environment Washington.
“We’re a major employer and really present in the county — we have a lot of vehicles, a lot of activities, a lot of facilities,” said Somers, the county executive. “So it just makes total sense to me to move forward into this issue and lead by example and do what we can to moderate.”
The pledge called for other measures, including a construction policy requiring all new county facilities be built using LEED gold standards, a rating system for green buildings. The Operations Committee on Tuesday advanced a measure to require that standard for all new structures greater than 5,000 square feet.
Some environmental advocates still question whether the county is doing enough to curtail carbon emissions.
“I applaud the county for setting goals to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. But I’m very concerned that the goals set fall far short of the rapid and radical transformation of our energy sources needed to meet the crisis of climate change,” said Lynn Lichtenberg, an environmental advocate from Everett. “It’s too gradual. And it’s not enough.”