05 March 2013

Palo Alto Going Carbon Neutral To Address Global Warming

Palo Alto Online reports Palo Alto is going carbon neutral to address global warming. I'm impressed that cities are taking on this challenge head-on and not waiting for our federal government to act. 

An excerpt from the Article is below and the full article is here:

"Local actions are critical to achieving state goals to address a global problem," the task force report stated. "Local government actions taken to reduce greenhouse-gas emissions and increase energy efficiency can provide multiple local benefits by decreasing air pollution, creating jobs, reducing energy expenditures, and saving money for the local government, its businesses and its residents. The challenge is to take tangible steps and lead the way in encouraging businesses and residents to do the same."

Since the report came out, Palo Alto has been not only diligent but aggressive in pursuing its recommendations. The city has strengthened its green-building code, installed electric-vehicle charging stations in public garages, began requiring downtown developers to offer Caltrain passes to building tenants; and explored ways to bring smart-meter technology to electricity customers. The city's renewable-energy program, PaloAltoGreen, continues to be the gold standard of the green movement, with a participation rate of about 21 percent -- the highest in the nation.

This year, Palo Alto's battle against global warming will hit one of its most significant milestones yet when the city adopts a plan for making its entire electricity operation "carbon neutral." The term has varying definitions, depending on which body is doing the defining, but it generally means that the city's electricity portfolio would have net zero emissions of greenhouse gases by purchasing from clean power sources and buying offsets for standard "brown" electricity. In November, the City Council approved an official definition of "carbon neutral" and in December, the Utilities Advisory Commission signed off on a staff plan to reach this rare and prestigious plateau this year.

If the council approves the plan (it is scheduled to discuss it in March), Palo Alto would join an elite cadre of cities leading the fight against climate change through emission-free electricity. Seattle City Light, which gets most of its energy from hydroelectric sources, reached the goal in 2005, becoming the first major utility in the nation to do so. Last year, Austin achieved its goal of powering all city facilities with renewable energy and is working to make transportation carbon neutral as well by 2020. Aspen, Colo., like Palo Alto, is pursuing carbon neutrality exclusively for its electric operation and is slated to get there by 2015.

In the process of getting to carbon neutrality, Palo Alto has upended some deeply held assumptions about what it takes for a city to go completely green with its electricity -- namely, that it takes many years to achieve and that it saddles customers with significantly higher bills. Palo Alto customers currently pay far less for electricity than those in areas served by PG&E (as of November, the median residential electric bill in Palo Alto was $48.49 per month, compared to $59.98 for PG&E customers). If things go as planned, the Utilities Department estimates that the city's leap to carbon neutrality will cost the average ratepayer between $2.60 and $4.20 more a year ("year" is not a misprint.).

Given the low financial impact and the high prestige of being carbon neutral, the city's Utilities Advisory Commission had few reservations about signing off on the staff proposal. James Cook, who chairs the group, said at a Dec. 5 meeting that the staff plan would not only reduce carbon emissions by more than 100,000 metric tons per year but would also "provide leadership in our area and in the state and, hopefully, move others to do the same."

"In some ways, you can say it's a small step for this city but a big step for our state and for our country and for our planet," Cook said.