Sacramento Shade Program

(Sacramento, CA)- The Sacramento Tree Foundation (STF), in partnership with Sacramento Municipal Utility District (SMUD), the local utility company, operates a free Shade Tree Program which delivers education and quality trees to residents with the goal of shading buildings and reducing energy consumption. Since 1990 more than 400,000 free energy-saving shade trees have been planted through the program, which has become a model utility nonprofit partnership nationwide.

Category: Partnerships with utilities
A major goal of the Shade Tree Program is to provide $1 million in “present value benefits” to SMUD each year. Present value benefits refers to the monetary benefits of direct shading (KWh and KW saved), indirect shading and air quality improvement provided by the trees. The present value benefit of a tree depends on its size and where it is planted. Typically between 14,000 and 17,000 trees need to be planted at homes and near buildings each year to reach this goal.
SMUD calculates that the trees planted since 1990 by the program have generated a cumulative total of 4.9 MW and 12 million kWh per year in direct cooling load savings. In addition, SMUD estimates that these trees will sequester more than 6 million pounds of carbon in their lifetimes.
The Sacramento Tree Foundation has another partnership with SMUD, Community Shade, through which it has planted 20,000 trees in public areas such as parks, playgrounds and schools since the program’s inception in 1998.
In addition to providing substantial energy savings, these programs help mitigate the summer urban heat island effect, improve the region’s air quality, increase public awareness of tree care and its benefits, and significantly enhance both organizations’ public relations and community outreach efforts.
Since its inception in 1982, the Sacramento Tree Foundation has been dedicated to building the best urban forest for the Sacramento region. Over time, its focus has shifted from the care and maintenance of individual trees to the importance of improving the regional urban forest – the complex ecosystem of trees and other vegetation that serves and supports the urban area.
Partnership with SMUD
When the Rancho Seco nuclear power plant was closed by public referendum in 1989, SMUD’s board of directors decided to develop an aggressive energy conservation strategy rather than build another new power plant. During this same period, STF established a goal of planting one million trees in Sacramento County by the millennium.
In 1990, the two organizations formed a partnership that would help them both achieve their goals. The Shade Tree Program was formed to carry out large-scale tree plantings that would shade homes and reduce energy demand and cooling costs during Sacramento’s hot summer months. Between 1990 and 1996, the Sacramento Tree Foundation delivered nearly 215,000 trees through this effort.
In 1996, the State of California enacted a law requiring all utilities to spend a portion of their revenues on Public Goods, which includes programs related to energy research and development, programs for low-income populations, renewable energy development, and energy efficiency. The Shade Tree Program became one of those funded under this new legislation.
The same year SMUD funded an audit of the program to determine how the program affected its energy efficiency goals.
SMUD contracted with Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory and the Center for Urban Forestry Research at the University of California, Davis to calculate energy savings based on where trees and shrubs are planted. This study showed that cooling costs could be reduced by 30-40 percent if trees were planted strategically.
Based on these results, SMUD developed guidelines for planting trees strategically for maximum energy savings and established a method to calculate and verify those savings.
With this new information, SMUD restructured the Shade Tree Program so that Community Foresters from STF visit each participating property to determine where trees should be planted to take full advantage of energy savings. In addition, a system for calculating these savings was added to the program. The guidelines for tree sitings and energy savings calculations are based on the tree species, tree orientation and distance to the building.
Shade Tree Program
The Shade Tree Program, which is open to all SMUD customers, provides trees from four-to-seven feet tall, along with stakes, ties and tree delivery, at no cost to residents. STF’s Community Foresters educate residents on proper selection, planting and care and then determine where the trees should be planted to meet the program guidelines and to capitalize on potential energy savings.
The residents plant and care for the trees. STF provides substantial technical assistance to program participants, including an on-site visit from a Community Forester, educational materials on tree planting and care, and access to a comprehensive website ( and a customer hotline for questions.
The Sacramento Shade Tree Program offers more than 25 trees of varying sizes. All of the available trees are deciduous, so they shed their leaves in the fall to allow the warm winter sun into homes, which minimizes any heating penalty.
A technical advisory committee that includes city arborists, private arborists, representatives from the Center for Urban Forest Research, local nurseries, Master Gardeners, and STF meet quarterly to determine what tree species are selected each year for the program. Factors include longevity, adaptability to local soils, strong structure, and a minimum of insect disease, amount of litter, surface root and mistletoe problems.
How does it operate?
Interested residents call SMUD or the STF to schedule a visit from a STF Community Forester, who comes to the property to determine the best location to plant trees and helps in tree selection. The Community Forester also provides information on planting, care and follow-up stewardship. Participants receive a video/DVD on tree planting and care. This SMUD-produced video is also available online at and Participants can receive up to 10 free trees per residence.
Residents sign a tree care agreement stating that they agree to plant the trees where sited and to care for the trees according to the given guidelines. The agreement also gives SMUD permission for tree-monitoring and quality-assurance inspections.
Trees, stakes and ties are delivered within 10 days after the site visit to the home. Trees are distributed all 12 months of the year.
SMUD conducts quality assurance inspections of a random sample of trees at one, five and 10 years to determine survivability rates of trees in the program and to assure that trees were planted according to the signed tree care agreements.
Participants can use a web-based estimator which calculates the amount of energy savings and pollution removed when mature trees are planted. In order to convert the annual KWh savings estimates into monetary values, SMUD residential customers can multiply the KWh savings estimates by 10 cents, which approximates SMUD’s summer average KWh price. The calculator is available at
Community Shade
In 1998, SMUD expanded its partnership with the STF to include the Community Shade Program. Under this program, free container trees are available for planting in public areas such as parks, playgrounds and schools. The goal of this program is to mitigate the urban heat island effect.
Interested schools or park districts contact SMUD or the STF, and the STF then sends a Community Forester to the school or park site to determine where to plant trees for maximum benefits. Community members are expected to organize other residents to assist with the tree planting and must sign a tree care agreement which promises long-term care for the trees. Typical projects involve 20 to 200 trees.
Role of Sacramento Tree Foundation and Role of Utility
SMUD funds 100 percent of both of these programs, providing monies for purchasing trees and other supplies, program delivery, marketing and evaluation.
SMUD’s 2007 budget for the Shade Tree Program is $1,349,000. STF received $839,000 of these funds for program delivery. The remaining $510,000 is used by SMUD for purchasing trees, ties and stakes, marketing expenses and SMUD staff. The total annual budget for the Community Shade Program for 2007 is $197,000.
The Shade Tree Program is funded through the utility’s Public Goods monies, whereas the Community Shade Program, which does not provide direct shading benefits to reduce energy and capacity demand, is supported through SMUD’S general operating budget.
In addition to this funding, SMUD provides marketing for the program and technical support, including housing the program’s customer database.
One of the major marketing techniques SMUD employs is to include inserts describing the program in its customer bills two or three times a year. Other methods include print ads, articles and radio and television spots. STF also advertises the program, but the great majority of participants come through SMUD referrals.
STF has 15 staff members who work primarily on this program. This includes seven Community Foresters, three nursery assistants who take care of and deliver the trees, two schedulers, a stewardship director who tracks the tree survivability rates and provides technical assistance to callers, a data base administrator and a program director. In addition, other STF staff members provide assistance as needed.
Why does the partnership work so well?
STF and SMUD agree that the partnership works well because it maximizes each partner’s strengths and resources while providing key benefits to both. Although SMUD’s primary goal is to reduce energy and capacity demands, and STF’s main objective is education, they share a common goal of wanting more trees planted in the Sacramento area.
Misha Sarkovich, SMUD program manager, says contracting with STF for program delivery is a significantly more cost-effective strategy than providing the program delivery in-house. Moreover, he says that STF brings a passion and technical arboricultural expertise in tree planting and care, education and working with community groups that help to make the program successful.
Over the last 17 years, the benefits of the Shade Tree and Community Shade programs have been enormous. Since 1990 more than 400,000 trees have been planted in residential yards and 20,000 trees have been planted in public spaces through these programs.
Sarkovich says that these programs have been extremely beneficial to SMUD. First and foremost, it is a cost-effective strategy for energy savings and an excellent use of SMUD’s Public Goods dollars. In addition, it has allowed SMUD to contribute to improving the region’s air quality, enhancing the aesthetics and quality of life in the region, and promoting a sense of community spirit and cooperation.
Sarkovich says that the Shade Tree program is one of the most highly recognized and valued programs of SMUD customers.
Jacobe Caditz, STF shade program director, says the program is just one way to connect residents to the bigger, regional needs of the urban forest and has allowed the Tree Foundation to educate approximately 6,000 residents every year on tree planting and care.
1. Education and stewardship are critical to the long-term survival rates of the trees planted. STF puts considerable effort into making sure that the trees are planted correctly and that recipients understand how to care for the trees over time.
2. Remember the importance of planting the right tree in the right place. Do your research ahead of time to determine which trees are most appropriate in your environment and where they will provide the greatest benefits. This will change over time, so keep current with what is working and what is not. For example, the installation of solar panels changes where a tree should be sited to best capture energy savings.
3. Quantify the results and benefits of your planting efforts. Remember the science! Trees provide substantial environmental and economic benefits to a community. Track your results and publicize them. This is not just a “feel good” program.
4. Keep evaluating and refining your program based on program results. For example, SMUD monitors the program and changes certain aspects of tree delivery and planting based on tree siting and mortality data they collect during the quality assurance inspections.
5. This program requires a long-term commitment to be most effective.
6. In order for a partnership to be successful and to grow over time, it is important to communicate not only at the program level but at all levels throughout the organizations.
7. Remember the importance of the community building component of tree planting programs. Nurture the relationships and friendships that develop when you are working towards a common goal – the growth of the urban forest.
Contact information:
Jacobe Caditz, Sacramento Shade Director
Sacramento Tree Foundation
201 Lathrop Way, Suite F
Sacramento, California 95815
Phone: (916) 924-8733 ext. 105
Fax: (916) 924-3803
Misha Sarkovich, Program Manager
Residential Services Department
Sacramento Municipal Utility District
6301 S Street
Sacramento, CA 05852
Phone: (916) 732-6484
Fax: (916) 732-5695