Progress in other big cities: the City of South San Francisco and its Sustainability Efforts

by  Alessia Vecchiet

April 30, 2013

Outside EU there are interesting developments about EE.

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South San Francisco, California “The Industrial City” is strategically located on 9.63 square miles facing the San Francisco Bay and eight miles south of downtown San Francisco. Also known as the “Birth Place of Biotechnology”, South San Francisco was incorporated on September 19, 1908, and prides itself on its cultural, social, and economic diversity.

In the early 1900’s South San Francisco became an industrial center; steel mills, metal foundries, meatpacking factories and other heavy industrial uses covered the City’s eastern edge. In the 1970’s and 1980’s, heavy industry was replaced by light industrial and warehousing uses, hotels serving the San Francisco International Airport and biotechnology companies. At the center of this shift were Herb Boyer and Bob Swanson who founded Genentech in 1976 and helped spawn the City’s biotechnology cluster and transform the City’s economic base.

With a population of 64,000 that grows to 100,000 during the day, South San Francisco is focusing on sustainability. The City has created a Sustainability Division to pursue grants, help our residents and businesses use “green” technology to reduce energy and save on utility costs, and work to reduce our carbon footprint. The City received a significant State-funded grant to prepare a Climate Action Plan and Pedestrian Master Plan, which will help the City achieve its goal of reducing our carbon footprint by 2020. Additional projects include: completing an energy-efficient Downtown public parking garage with electric vehicle charging stations, focusing new development along transit corridors and transforming underutilized land into productive, livable space, linking the City with a pedestrian/bicycle path, installing solar panels on City buildings, utilizing a 400-kW cogeneration systems at our Water Quality Control Plant, and incorporating hybrid vehicles into its fleet.

Our environmental stewardship and smart growth land-use policies has produced positive results. The electric vehicle charging stations at our new parking garage have helped eliminate approximately 8,000 kilograms of Green House Gas Emissions in just the first seven months of 2012, solar panels on the City Hall Annex are helping the City save $12,000 in annual energy costs. Changes to light fixtures and other energy-efficiency projects resulted in an $80,000 rebate from PG&E and the City is preparing to launch a second round of energy-saving measures.

The City’s Water Quality Control Plant (WQCP) has a 400-kW cogeneration system that utilizes methane gas produced by the anaerobic digesters. Since 1992, this co-generation system has produced up to one-third of the Plant’s electrical needs, lowering the City’s energy use and costs. In spite of this success, the City continues to explore the potential for new technologies to further reduce energy use and lower the cost to operate the Plant.

Our business community is embracing sustainability as well. The South San Francisco Scavenger Company is expanding their services and offsetting their fuel needs. Plans are underway to offer food waste composting to residential customers, generating bio-methane to fuel their compressed natural gas trucks. This process, called Anaerobic Digestion, will initially produce enough fuel for 5-6 trucks per day. Scavengers has also installed solar panels on their materials recovery facility, purchased two of the first available hybrid garbage trucks, and uses Biodiesel 20 in their fleet. Since 2006, they have realized an 18% reduction in greenhouse gas emissions.

Blue Ribbon Supply has installed solar panels and an electric vehicle charging station on site, while Alexandria Real Estate built the first green biotech building. Onyx Pharmaceuticals is installing solar panels as part of their expansion to meet 45% of their energy requirements each year. We are proud to be home to LS9 and Solazyme, both leading the way in the emerging field of biofuels. LS9 received the 2012 Sustainable Biofuels Technology Award at the World Biofuels Markets Congress and Exhibition in the Netherlands and Solazyme has been recognized by Breathe California for their efforts to eliminate emissions. The South San Francisco Conference Center received their Green Business Certification from San Mateo County and is now working towards LEEDS certification.

To encourage even more businesses to take advantage of new “green” technology, the City established a commercial  Property Assessed Clean Energy (PACE) program to finance the purchase  and installation of solar panels, energy-efficient lighting and HVAC systems, and other energy-efficient upgrades designed to lower energy costs and reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

Starting in 2010, the South San Francisco Unified School District partnered with Chevron Energy Solutions to develop a robust, comprehensive energy-savings program for the District’s 15 schools. Using Measure J bond dollars, the District installed solar PV canopies and ground-mounted systems designed to reduce electrical usage by 60%. The District is also taking advantage of a $2 million incentive payment from the California Solar Initiative.  Along with new solar power, the District’s upgrades to lighting, water/irrigation controls, and HVAC systems, will generate $20 million in general fund dollars over the next 20 years; these dollars provide budget relief for the District and go back into the classroom to serve students. These energy efficiency improvements and solar power generation will offset 1,500 tons annually in greenhouse gas emissions while creating teaching opportunities for South San Francisco’s students to learn about energy conservation, sustainability and clean-tech technology.

The City is also participating in San Mateo County’s ordinance process to ban single-use bags, leading to a consistent regional approach to the elimination of single use bags.  This is one more important step in our ongoing efforts to reduce litter and debris on our streets, waterways and waste stream and compliments the Green Food Packaging Ordinance passed by the Council in 2008.

The Industrial City continues to find new and innovative ways to keep moving forward in our quest for a more sustainable future.