By David Liebler on May 21st, 2013

This blog posting and video are part of a series being produced by CSAC to highlight county best practices through our annual Challenge Awards. These awards recognize the innovative and creative spirit of California county governments as they find new and effective ways of providing programs and services to their citizens. The Challenge Awards provide California’s 58 counties an opportunity to share their best practices with counties around the state and nation. The programs being highlighted are recipients of the 2012 awards. The Call for Entries for the 2013 CSAC Challenge Awards has been distributed; the entry deadline is June 28, 2013. 

To review a video about Sonoma County’s Comprehensive Energy Project, click here


When Sam Ruark starts talking about saving energy, his eyes light up. Sam serves as the energy and sustainability coordinator for Sonoma County, which has been recognized nationally for its Comprehensive Energy Project.  And Sam has every reason to get excited over what Sonoma County has been accomplishing.

When the County adopted its Climate Protection Action Plan in 2006, staff was directed to develop a Comprehensive Energy Project to meet three objectives: 1) reduce greenhouse gas emissions, 2) save the county money, and 3) replace worn out and energy inefficient equipment. An exhaustive inventory of county facility energy usage resulted in 101 energy efficiency measures being recommended. Out of those, county staff selected 38 at 24 county buildings that presented the greatest energy savings and financial return.

Going live in 2010, a 1.4 megawatt fuel cell cogeneration power plant is the centerpiece of the energy project’s success. The fuel cell uses natural gas as a fuel source to produce electricity at one-fifth the cost; utility bills have dropped by $1.7 million annually. The cell also provides heat to the county campus through a waste heat recovery system. Despite the fuel cell costing $10 million, the loan repayment plus maintenance costs and utilities have no net impact on the county budget the first few years. By year 10, the County will start seeing saving as the cost of energy and water increases. And by year 17, the debt will be paid off. Over the course of the estimated 25-year life of the equipment, the County expects to save $38 million!

As a result of its Comprehensive Energy Project, Sonoma County has been able to reduce its energy use by one-third, significantly cut greenhouse gas emissions and modernize equipment.

But the County is not going to sit back on its energy-saving laurels. Sam Ruark is quick to run off a list of other projects in the works to further reduce usage: additional lighting projects, solar installations, new air handlers, retrofitting boilers…

“Our team is dedicated to cutting our costs and reducing our energy use through every means possible. We plan to continue to be leaders in sustainability, to continue to do energy efficiency and reduce our carbon footprint, to look at how all our departments as a whole can incorporate sustainability into their operations,” Sam concluded. “And we want to take the experience we have learned inside the county and use it to help the others in the community do the same work.”

About: David Liebler:
David Liebler is the Director of Public Affairs and Member Services for the California State Association of Counties. He can be reached at