St. Paul, MN sets plan to make buildings carbon neutral by 2030, https://www.twincities.com/2018/07/08/st-paul-aims-to-make-public-buildings-carbon-neutral-by-2030-private-buildings-by-2050/
By Jason Plautz on Utility Dive, July 10, 2018,
- St. Paul, MN has set a goal to make all public buildings carbon neutral by 2030 and all private buildings carbon neutral by 2050, reports the Twin Cities Pioneer Press.
- A big part of the emissions cuts will come from local utility’s plan to produce 85% carbon-free power by the year 2030, through an expansion of wind and solar and existing nuclear power plants. The city will also promote energy efficiency measures in city-owned residential buildings and large commercial buildings, reducing the amount of power it needs.
- St. Paul has created a competition for private building owners called “Race to Reduce,” which monitors and compares energy use across comparable structures around the city. Dive Insight:
Cities around the country have set ambitious emissions reductions and clean energy goals, helping to fill the gap after the Trump administration announced the U.S. would withdraw from the Paris climate accord. Bostonand Seattle, for example, have vowed to become carbon neutral by 2050, while Pittsburgh plans to cut energy and water use by 50% by 2030. The We Are Still In coalition has some 200 mayors vowing to keep up the goals of the Paris climate accord.
St. Paul’s plan specifically targets buildings, an area where governments may have more power. A two-year study of carbon emissions within city limits found that physical buildings accounted for 52% of the city’s carbon footprint, outpacing transportation (which accounted for 37%). As part of the plan, large municipal buildings will be urged to take steps like reducing air conditioning use or drawing from alternative sources, like solar power.
That could be easier than pushing carbon-neutral transportation, which depends largely on what cars residents buy and choose to drive. Cities can also push for more renewable energy through their relationships with utilities; Boston has spearheaded a coalition of cities looking to bulk purchase clean energy, driving down costs for everyone in the group.
The energy plan will also have the benefit of aiming to reduce energy costs for residents. Russ Stark, the city’s chief resilience officer, told the Pioneer Press that he wants to ensure that low-income residents pay no more than 4% of their income on energy costs.
A recent study from the University of East Anglia in Norwich, England, found that the city level would be most effective for emissions cuts, with study authors encouraging city-by-city emissions plans rather than country-driven ones. Expect more cities to look at what action they can take, especially in the absence of federal leadership.
- Twin Cities Pioneer Press St. Paul aims to make public buildings ‘carbon neutral’ by 2030, private buildings by 2050
- City of St. Paul Saint Paul’s Path to Carbon Neutrality – Buildings Sector
At St. Paul City Hall, the goal is to get the city’s “carbon footprint” to nil by the year 2050. And the path toward carbon neutrality, according to city officials, revolves heavily around buildings.
“The high-level goal is we want city buildings operating as carbon neutral by 2030, and all buildings by 2050,” said Russ Stark, the city’s chief resilience officer and a former president of the St. Paul City Council.
In other words, city officials hope to reduce and offset carbon dioxide emissions so that the amount released into the atmosphere by residential, commercial and government buildings balances out with the amount of energy derived from sources other than fossil fuels.
Why buildings? After studying carbon emissions within the city limits for two years, St. Paul officials found that 52 percent were related to physical structures — the energy needed to power, heat and cool buildings. Transportation-related emissions accounted for another 37 percent of carbon emissions, Stark said.
XCEL ENERGY AS A PARTNER
Carbon neutrality may sound ambitious, but Stark points out that the city will get 40 percent of the way there as Xcel Energy — the primary provider of electricity and natural gas in St. Paul — relies less and less on fossil fuels.
“The changes that Xcel are making by expanding wind and solar are going to help us a lot,” Stark said.
That effort, however, is not without controversy.
Xcel Energy has set a goal of operating 85 percent carbon-free by the year 2030, but that doesn’t necessarily mean switching entirely to renewable energy sources such as wind and solar. About 20 to 25 percent of St. Paul’s energy comes from Xcel’s nuclear power plants in Prairie Island and Monticello, which are under contract for at least the next 12 years.
Xcel Energy program manager Tami Gunderzik said the utility is working closely with St. Paul and other cities and institutions on two-year energy efficiency plans.
COULD ST. PAUL MOVE FASTER?
Other cities are moving quickly on energy savings. Minneapolis, for example, has increased its franchise fees to fund investments in renewable energy sources.
Brandon Long, a former state chair of the Green Party, noted that St. Paul has set lofty goals before and fallen short. The city once talked about the year 2020 as a benchmark.
“The 2030 goals should be accomplished by 2020,” Long said, before adding the goal for “2050 is just far too late. It’s always a little too little, a little too late.”
Nevertheless, St. Paul has been widely recognized as a leader among American municipalities trying to go greener, and the city has made recent strides. Last year, the city agreed to buy about a fourth of the energy it needs to power municipal buildings from GreenMark Solar, which operates community solar gardens.
St. Paul Mayor Melvin Carter’s administration is still working on finalizing a larger Climate Action Plan, but the city council recently approved an 86-page resolution related specifically to buildings.
The five-year strategy outlines five primary goals:
- Inspiring a culture of energy stewardship throughout the city.
- Lowering energy burdens on low-income households so that no household has to spend more than 4 percent of its income on energy costs.
- Working with major institutions such as colleges and hospitals to set energy goals that align with those of the city.
- Promoting efficiency in large buildings, whether they be commercial or multi-family residences.
- Leading by example as city government.
“Rather than just setting targets, this plan outlines how to achieve those targets,” Stark said, “and how over the next five years the city is going to get on the right pace.”
BUILDING OWNERS’ BUY-IN
To encourage private building owners, the city has created the “Race to Reduce,” a “Biggest Loser”-style competition. The program encourages building managers to monitor and compare their buildings’ energy use to comparable structures across the country. The city is providing additional support through networking events, tip sheets and meetings with an energy adviser.
Ensuring no households pay more than 4 percent on energy costs will also mean making everyday homes much more energy efficient.
“We know that households across St. Paul spend anywhere from a fraction of a percent to as much as about 15 percent of their income on energy needs,” Stark said. The average is about 2 percent, he noted.
Stark expects the city to work with Xcel Energy to make attractive financing available for energy efficiency projects to owners of affordable housing.
LEADING BY EXAMPLE
There are two primary strategies toward reducing emissions related to city-owned buildings, Stark said.
The city can use less energy to begin with, such as turning off air conditioning overnight when buildings are not in use. The city can also switch to renewable sources, such as buying energy from community solar gardens.
“There’s a fair amount of work to be done,” said Stark, who said an internal team of city staff will “go step by step” through different approaches
- The City of Philadelphia has laid out a plan to reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions 80% by 2050 and get 100% of its electricity from renewable sources by mid-century. The plan released this week builds on a draft released in November.
- Among the other steps Philadelphia plans to take are a citywide initiative to install more rooftop solar on commercial and residential buildings, and incentivizing more efficient thermal systems for buildings. Buildings contribute 79% of the city’s emissions, and the plan calls for an 80% reduction in building-related emissions.
- A municipal action plan targets emissions from 600 city-owned buildings, including an energy efficiency retrofit of the Philadelphia Museum of Art and installation of solar panels at a Philadelphia Water Department treatment plant.
Because they have control over issues like waste, transportation and especially building policy, cities are in a powerful position to drive a bottom-up approach to clean energy. St. Paul, MN, for example, is targeting building policy in its climate goals, promoting energy efficiency and promising to transition the grid to clean energy to make all private buildings carbon neutral by 2050. Purchasing power on the electric grid is a major lever cities have, one Philadelphia clearly intends to use.
Notably, Philadelphia’s roadmap also includes a section on advocacy, instructing citizens to “let your elected officials know a clean electricity grid is a priority.” Mayors have condemned the Trump administration’s rollback of the Clean Power Plan this week, and have tried to push for collective efforts on climate change. Individual efforts like Philadelphia’s can be effective, but federal policy will be necessary to ensure that the whole country is moving ahead on fighting climate change. Recommended Reading: City of Philadelphia Office of Sustainability Powering Our Future: A Clean Energy Vision For Philadelphia