One line I hate to use on my kids is "Do as you're told." As a parent, I want to teach my children the rational basis for right and wrong, but sometimes you just have to get to the point.
As adults, we accept such directives for our peers because we recognize their expertise in matters foreign to us. Such as: "Diversify your retirement savings." ("Thank you Mr. Buffett.") And "Floss." ("Every chance I get.")
But: "Reduce your carbon footprint." ("Do I really have to?")
For some reason, we are unwilling to accept the conclusions of scientific experts that manmade production of greenhouse gases (GHG) is contributing to the severe weather conditions the planet is experiencing. Perhaps we ignore the climatologists because most reading this won't be affected by the climatic changes predicted for the end of this century. Our country is in serious denial about the need to address global warming.
Fortunately, California is not. Thanks to state law AB32, California has set a target of reducing state GHG emissions by 30 percent by 2020. The law requires that municipalities implement Climate Action Plans (CAP), and city staff recently provided an update on Piedmont's CAP. The CAP was adopted by the City Council in 2010 and consists of a list of mandatory and voluntary policies that if all adopted could lead to a 15 percent reduction in the city's GHG emissions by 2020.
The recent report breaks up Piedmont's GHG emissions into three sectors -- residential, transportation and nonresidential facilities (municipal, Piedmont Unified School District, houses of worship and commercial) -- and compares reductions that have occurred since 2005. There's a lot of modeling and assumptions that go into these GHG reduction estimates, so it's good policy to check the numbers.
The largest GHG source in Piedmont is the private sector -- our large homes and commute miles provide 52 percent and 42 percent, respectively, of the total GHG for the city. Since 2005, there's been an 8 percent reduction in transportation GHG, largely due to a reduction in vehicle miles traveled. The same period saw a 4 percent reduction in residential GHG emissions. Piedmonters did take action to reduce energy consumption by undertaking home energy audits (23 homes) and installing solar panels (171 homes), but these numbers are small, and reduction in residential GHG is likely due to simple energy conservation. Keep it up, Piedmont.
Only municipal data are available for the nonresidential sector, and from 2005 to 2010 GHG emissions by local government actually increased by 3 percent. This gain was attributed to increased commute miles for staff and Corporation Yard operations. Since 2010, the city has implemented programs such as installation of high-efficiency LED streetlights, energy-efficient HVAC systems in City Hall and covers at the city pool. Municipal operations are only 3 percent of total Piedmont emissions though, so gains here produce modest GHG reduction. Streetlight efficiency and pool electrical use do provide the most bang for the city buck.
So going forward, it's up to the private sector -- Piedmont homeowners and drivers -- to reduce GHG emissions for the city. Fortunately, there are several communitywide options to address our GHG and city staff will be reporting to the council on these options later this year. A mandatory program that requires homeowners to implement energy upgrades -- attic insulation, duct sealing and insulation, insulation of the water heater and hot water pipes, and water conservation measures such as low-flow fixtures -- at point of sale could be adopted. The city currently does this with its private sewer lateral ordinance.
A Property Accessed Clean Energy (PACE) program provides property-assessed loans to homeowners that voluntarily choose to participate in the program so that they can make energy-efficiency upgrades on their homes, typically solar-panel installation. The loan is paid back over the term on the property tax bill and transfers with sale of the property. This may be a viable option for Piedmont seniors.
Finally, Community Choice Aggregation (CCA) enables California cities to supply electricity to the customers within their borders. With that authority, cities can seek out renewable energy (no GHG emitted) such as solar and hydroelectric which is then provided to the city through the existing PG&E grid. PACE and CCA offer two different approaches and returns for Piedmonters.
For example, former Mayor John Chiang and Vice Mayor Jeff Wieler are considering solar installation on their homes, no doubt competing to see who can get the best price. But if they joined together and enlisted others, could they install more panels elsewhere, say on top of Ace, and achieve a greater GHG reduction for the community? PACE may have a better return on investment, but CCA has a better return on the future in that is facilitates all of the community taking action now.
Garrett Keating is a former member of the Piedmont City Council.
For more information, go to http://www.ci.piedmont.ca.us/html/govern /staffreports/2014-05-05/climateaction.pdf to read the report about Piedmont's CAP and GHG reduction progress and stay tuned for the upcoming staff report on PACE and CCA.