Locals lay out path to reducing emissions
Cities are taking an increasingly active role in reducing the nation’s greenhouse gas emissions by creating climate action plans (CAPs) that define emission reduction goals and how to meet them. CAPs are helping communities identify specific measures they can take to help achieve statewide and regional emission reduction goals.
Each CAP is as different as the community that writes it, says Suzanne Rynne, manager of the Green Communities Research Center at the Chicago-based American Planning Association, which, by the fall, plans to launch a database of municipalities working on climate change and their best practices to reduce emissions at www.planning.org/energy. “[CAPs] target reductions in greenhouse gas emissions, but they get there with different strategies,” says Rynne. “There is definitely a lot of action on [CAPs] in California and on both coasts. Thirty states have plans or plans in the works.”
California’s AB32 legislation, passed in 2006, mandates an 11 percent statewide reduction in greenhouse gas emissions over today’s levels by 2020. Enforcement of the goal is expected to include a mix of incentives and cap-and-trade plans that will allow emitters to buy offsets to pay for their overages.
More than 50 cities and counties in California are using CAPs to achieve AB32’s goals, Rynne says. In 2006, Albany, Calif., committed to working with the Alameda County Waste Management Authority & Recycling Board and the Alameda County Conference of Mayors to create a CAP.
This month, city officials and residents will hold their first public meeting to discuss how to build on the city’s successes in waste reduction and green building, and reduce greenhouse gas emissions to 25 percent below 2004 levels by 2020. “Our CAP will contain a cost/benefit analysis and details of how each measure can be implemented,” says Nicole Almaguer, environmental specialist for the city.
Boulder, Colo., adopted a goal of reducing greenhouse gas emissions in 2002, and wrote a formal, but voluntary, CAP in 2006. The city seeks to reduce emissions to 7 percent below 1990 levels by 2012 by reducing energy use through conservation and efficiency, reducing the number of vehicle miles traveled, and shifting government, residences and businesses to renewable energy sources.
At the municipal level, Boulder added 27 hybrid or alternative fuel vehicles to the city fleet in 2007; spent $90,000 to install energy-efficient windows, insulation, and improved HVAC systems in city buildings; and will finish installing a one-megawatt solar array that will power one of the city’s wastewater treatment facilities by the end of this year.
While Boulder’s emissions dropped each of the first three years of the program, they rose again — to the highest levels since 1990 — in 2006. Electricity consumption grew 5.5 percent in 2006, and natural gas use grew 9 percent. While the exact causes of the increase are not known, city leaders speculate that new construction, and increased air conditioning use may be factors. However, use of alternative energies has continued to increase each year. “We are learning as we go,” says Beth Powell, outreach coordinator for Boulder’s Climate Smart program. “But we have high hopes for what will be accomplished.”
To pay for the initiatives identified in its CAP, the city established a climate change tax in 2007. The tax — dubbed the “carbon tax” — is expected to generate between $860,000 and $1.3 million annually through 2013 by charging electricity users a fee based on the amount of energy they use. The tax is included on electric bills and adds, on average, $2 a month to a residential bill, and between $5 and $35 a month to business accounts, Powell says.
Currently, Climate Smart officials are working to pass legislation (HB 1350) that would create a clean energy development authority, which would be able to float bonds and loan money to homeowners to convert to solar power. The loans would follow the house, not the homeowner, much like a sewer assessment or property lien. “It has not passed yet, but we are pursuing it,” Powell says.
Liz Boardman is a Wakefield, RI.-based freelance writer.