Sonoma Mountain Village, the first green community development project in the U.S., is hosting a gathering of green technology and energy luminaries alongside local and state government officials working together to develop a new Clean Counties Grant Program.

Hosted by AFIS, America's Fund for integrated Solutions, the goal of the summit is to iron out the details of a competitive federal grant program administered at the county level for integrative projects in transit, energy, water, agriculture and building sectors which address environmental and climate issues. AFIS is a partnership of local governments, spearheaded by Sonoma & Alameda counties in California, and private partners that have joined forces to secure federal funds for local green initiatives.

Looking around the room today, filled with leading experts in energy research and local government, I realized that in some sense the Bush era really galvanized local government to take the environment in their own hands. The anti-environmental stance of the last eight years backed by a derelict EPA, succeeded in bringing together the Conference of Mayors in a united climate action plan (to date 780 cities have signed onto the Kyoto Protocol) and NACo, the National Association of Counties (a powerful government group which represents the 3000 U.S. counties) will be spearheading the new Clean Counties Grant Program, announced tonight by NACA President-elect, Valerie Brown.

This is a very good thing. As has been pointed out at even the loftiest international conferences on climate change, without local governments, no solution will ever be implemented, and local governments more than ever are eager to roll up their sleeves and organized to get working. 

Grant Davis of the Sonoma County Water Agency, has worked tirelessly with other local leaders in D.C. to put together two different competitive funding programs — one in the House (a $20 million appropriation) and one in the Senate ($50 million). The program will be used to create a case study to reward cities and counties who submit the most creative and integrative solutions for building clean energy capabilities, while addressing long-term environmental issues for the county. And its just the very beginning, as billions in green energy funding will soon become available through Obama's Recovery Plan

Tonight, three cities presented prospective projects that will be eligible for the grant — Santa Fe, N.M.; Sonoma, Calif.;  and Asheville, N.C. Asheville presented a stand-out concept for focusing on the 54 schools in the county. Called "Reading, Riding and Retrofitting" the idea is to use the schools, which are the touchstone for the entire community, as a way to demonstrate the many positive impacts of energy efficiency retrofits, transportation via greenbelts and bussing, and a solid eco-literacy curriculum. The desire is to overcome the false perception that environmental programs are somehow bad for the economy. In addition to creating new jobs, the schools will dramatically cut operational costs and be able to apply those additional funds to further improving educational services. ,

This was one of many, many cool projects discussed today. Tonight we hear from two pioneers (both tapped as advisors by the Obama administration) — Dan Kammen of Berkeley's Renewable & Appropriate Energy Lab and Mary Nichols, Chairman of the California Air Resources Board. 

I was fortunate to be invited to cover the event, and will be blogging throughout the event. You can also catch updates on my twitter feed.

Energy leaders gather in Sonoma for green economy think tank
Invite-only summit brings together energy leaders, local government and research institutions to develop bold green strategies.