Sacramento ranks in top five on clean-technology index

Sacramento ranks high when it comes to clean technology

Finally, Sacramento is getting a little love from the rest of the country. The region earned heaps of scorn earlier this year after high unemployment rates and sliding home prices prompted Forbes to peg California’s capital the fifth most miserable city in America.

But last month, the area’s green economy scored a major high five when Sacramento snagged fourth place in the first ever U.S. Metro Clean Tech Index, a study ranking the nation’s largest metro areas on four different clean-technology measures. The capital edged out Seattle and only trailed San Jose, Calif.; San Francisco; and Portland, Ore., for the top spot.

The kudos came from a Portland research firm called Clean Edge, which ranked the nation’s 50 largest metro areas based on green building, electric vehicles, clean-tech investment and jobs in the green workforce. Because the index focused on metro areas around major cities, Clean Edge included Davis and Roseville when researchers looked at the region.

Perhaps surprisingly, given the recent hand-wringing over local unemployment statistics, this area earned props for having the highest percentage of green jobs in the country—thanks mostly to the high number of state agencies working on clean-tech initiatives in the capital.

The index used data from a recent Brookings Institute survey, which found that 4.5 percent of Sacramento’s jobs are in clean tech. If you add it up, that’s roughly 37,000 people working in the region’s green economy, according to Ron Pernick, Clean Edge’s managing director.

“A good deal of those jobs … are consulting firms, advisory firms and others that are servicing the state for all of its pretty considerable initiatives,” Pernick said.

He also said California’s push to improve energy-efficiency standards on new and existing public buildings helped boost Sacramento higher in the rankings. Earlier this year, Gov. Jerry Brown ordered state agencies to cut carbon emissions and implement strict new building measures. Currently, the city has 83 LEED Silver-or-higher certified buildings, a standard used by the U.S. Green Building Council to measure energy efficiency in new and existing structures.

As more state agencies begin retrofitting their buildings, local officials believe, that number should climb higher.

“Not only do we have private-sector folks who have been investing and making their properties greener, but because we are the state capital, we have the state of California investing and making their projects much greener,” said Julia Burrows, executive director of Greenwise Joint Venture, a regional nonprofit firm that promotes clean-tech initiatives in the region.

Besides green buildings and jobs, electric vehicles also helped the capital earn that fourth-place ranking. Pernick said the Sacramento Valley has the third-highest number of registered electric cars in the country behind the Bay Area and Los Angeles. According to automotive-research firm Polk, the region had 2,752 registered electric vehicles as of April 2012.

Those cars have another advantage, said Joe Loyer, a staff member with the California Energy Commission. He said that compared to the rest of the country, Sacramento’s electric fleet runs on extremely clean power.

“We’re looking at a lot at the efforts from [Sacramento Municipal Utility District],” said Loyer. “Their commitment to solar and wind, I think, is really renowned. I think it’s one of the primary sources of clean power for our area.”

The region didn’t score as well on public transit, clean-tech innovation and attracting venture capital, although Loyer thinks the rankings may have missed a few things.

“I think that public transportation in Sacramento is actually quite good,” he said, pointing to the city’s light-rail and bus system and the American River Parkway bike trail. “I would stack it up against almost any city. I think they didn’t give us enough credit.”

Pernick said the index is still a work in progress, and he’s hoping to add more data categories by May when the next green metro rankings come out. But Sacramento officials were still excited by the city’s high marks and said they’re hoping for even higher scores the next time around.

“It reinforces what we already knew, and that we’re doing well,” said Erik de Kok, senior city planner. “It reinforces our belief that Sacramento is on track to being on the top of the list.”