Humboldt County Investigates Climate Bond Measure

Tom Wheeler


In March, the Humboldt County Board of Supervisors voted to investigate whether a municipal bond could help fund renewable energy development and other efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. A “climate bond” could take a variety of forms, from creating new solar-backed microgrid systems to support critical infrastructure, to funding low-interest loans for businesses and individuals to invest in renewable development or energy efficiency upgrades. Humboldt’s climate bond would differ from a climate bond considered by the state. The state bond would fund climate “adaptation” measures, including fire hardening of communities and improving water infrastructure.


Responding to the climate crisis is going to require a retooling of the economy, rapidly decarbonizing our infrastructure by dismantling the sources of greenhouse gas emissions and, in their place, rebuilding new low-to-no carbon alternatives. Foundational to this shift is the development of a clean, renewable energy system. This clean green electric system must be in place to facilitate the other shifts necessary. Moving to electric cars and trucks and transitioning from home fossil fuel use is all going to require increased total energy generation. Municipal bond funding could provide some of the capital necessary for this endeavor.


Many folks are familiar with municipal bonds. Think of a typical school bond: a school district wants to raise money for some large capital project, like the construction of new buildings. The school board doesn’t have the funds, so it needs to borrow money from lenders, who are then repaid with interest. The same mechanism can help fund our fight against climate change. The county would borrow money, secured against its assets and paid off through a special parcel tax, and use that money to invest in projects.


Because we would need to levy a special tax, the bond would need to be approved by two-thirds of voters come November. That is a tall order, requiring a project that can draw broad public support. For that reason, the Board of Supervisors has directed staff to conduct some initial polling to see what voters may support. This polling information, together with financial data, will help determine what direction the project takes.


Further details of the bond are to be worked out through a special ad hoc committee headed by Supervisors Bohn and Wilson. The political makeup of this committee is significant and bodes well for the bond. Representing opposite ends of the political spectrum, both Bohn and Wilson have voted to support the measure and will help represent the myriad of views and interests necessary to marshal support of the bond. Redwood Coast Energy Authority’s Matthew Marshal and Treasurer John Bartholomew have likewise pledged to lend their support and expertise to the committee. The deadline to get this on the November ballot is August 7, so the board will need to make a decision on or before its July 28 meeting. As more details become available, the EcoNews will help to keep you abreast.

Want to support locally-owned renewable energy development? We need you! Write a quick letter to the editor or an op-ed. Come out to the Board (when the call is made for people) and support the climate bond. Tell your friends. Tell your enemies. Just let it be known that we need action now.