Pacific Gas and Electric Co. (PG&E) Tuesday went on an environmental and climate change shopping spree by launching a wildlife protection program in its ongoing utility operations and purchasing more than $2 million in greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions credits for forest conservation in two separate areas of Northern California. PG&E touted the effort as a potential model for other utilities.

Through its ClimateSmart program, the utility announced what it characterized as the “largest investments in verifiable GHG emission reduction” under California’s stringent forest carbon sequestration project protocols. PG&E called the purchases “landmark.” Under its announced move, the utility will buy 214,000 metric tons of GHG reductions: 200,000 metric tons from the Conservation Fund’s Garcia River Forest along California’s North Coast, and 14,000 metric tons from Sempervirens Fund’s Lompico Headwaters Forest in Santa Cruz County about 50 miles south of San Francisco.

PG&E plans to acquire the reductions, without taking any financial benefits from them.

Separately as part of a five-day World Wildlife Fund Climate Camp for conservation practitioners, resource managers and others wrestling with climate change issues, PG&E announced the start of what it is calling its Operations & Maintenance Habitat Conservation Plan (O&M HCP). It allows for a regional, activity-based approach to comply with the Endangered Species Act throughout the utility’s territory covering most of the northern half of the state.

“PG&E’s regional mitigation plan is a creative and responsible corporate approach to protecting imperiled species,” according to Susan Moore, a field supervisor in the state’s fish and wildlife office in Sacramento. PG&E Vice President Steve Kline said the utility’s network of natural gas and electric infrastructure spans some 74,000 square miles and “is home to wildlife and other important natural resources.”

PG&E’s ClimateSmart program is a voluntary GHG emission reduction program that allows customers to balance out the GHG emissions that are produced by the energy they use, making their energy use “climate neutral,” according to PG&E. The utility said so far 17,500 customers have enrolled in the ClimateSmart program among almost 5 million customers.

“These investments — in voluntary storage projects like Garcia River and Lompico Headwaters — mark a major milestone in the use of high-quality forest sequestration offsets as an effective mechanism to address climate change,”said Nancy McFadden, PG&E senior vice president, who noted that the purchases are being made on behalf of the ClimateSmart customers. “Through their commitment to the environment, we’ve been able to sequester a significant amount of GHG emissions and protect some of California’s most precious resources.”

Gary Gero, interim president of the California Climate Action Registry, said, “Protecting our forests is one of many solutions required to reduce GHG emissions. We commend PG&E for its ongoing environmental leadership and for taking on the challenge to fund real, transparent carbon emission reduction projects.”

Through a competitive process, the ClimateSmart program selected the Conservation Fund and Sempervirens to participate in the program. Garcia River Forest captures more than 77,000 tons of carbon emissions annually, or the equivalent of taking more than 14,000 vehicles off the road every year, PG&E said. Sempervirens Fund is the oldest land conservancy in California and its executive director said he was impressed with PG&E’s commitment to attacking climate change impacts.

PG&E enrolled as the first participant in ClimateSmart when it committed more than $1.5 million of shareholder funding over a three-year period to render the energy use collectively in the company’s offices, service centers and other facilities “completely climate neutral.”

When one of its customers enrolls in ClimateSmart, the utility calculates the amount of GHG emissions produced by the customers’s electricity and natural gas use. For the average customer, PG&E said the cost will be less than $5/month.

In the wildlife protection program, PG&E said it will provide long-term protection of sensitive species through a process that allows the utility to access and maintain its facilities in a timely manner. “Unlike most HCPs that govern habitat protection for future land development, PG&E’s O&M HCP is the first to be activity-based, addressing protection for existing land uses,” the utility said.

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