News

For carbon-reduction plan, Palo Alto leans on electric vehicles

City Council approves framework for plan to cut carbon emissions by 80 percent by 2030

The goal is clear: an 80 percent reduction in carbon emissions by 2030.

Palo Alto's path to getting there, however, is anything but. And even as the City Council last week reaffirmed its commitment to the "80 by '30" target (with 1990 as the baseline year), members and city staff acknowledged that it will take plenty of brainstorming, investments, incentives and adjustments along the way to succeed.

The uncertainty is reflected in the framework that the council approved on Nov. 28 for the city's new Sustainability and Climate Action Plan, an ambitious document that has been in the works for the past two years and that will serve as the city's road map for achieving the goal. The newly adopted framework doesn't spell out how the city will achieve the reduction. It does, however, spell out the criteria that the city will use to come up with new policies and offers insights into the types of programs residents should expect to see in the coming years.

A key focus area of the new plan is transportation, which accounts for 61 percent of the city's carbon footprint and which also happens to be a top priority of both residents and council members. To cope with transportation-related emissions, the plan leans heavily on promoting electric vehicles, with a target of having 90 percent of vehicles in Palo Alto be "zero emission" by 2030. In addition, it sets as a target getting 50 percent of the vehicles that arrive to Palo Alto from elsewhere to be "zero emission."

The charge toward toward electric vehicles isn't the only major effort in the plan. Other programs call for providing "universal transit passes" to about 75 percent of residents and employees by 2030 and for instituting parking pricing at all of the city's parking facilities and at 50 percent of private parking sites.

But according to the new framework, vehicle electrification offers the most potential, particularly given the city's adoption in 2014 of a "carbon free" electric portfolio. If the city achieves its goals of electrifying both Palo Alto-based and inbound vehicles, it would slash local emissions by 24 percent -- a greater reduction than any other strategy could feasibly achieve, according to the plan.

Other major carbon-slashing initiatives involve switching residential heating systems from natural gas to electricity (10 percent reduction), electrifying water-heating in local businesses (9 percent) and providing more transit options (9 percent).

During its Nov. 30 discussion of the new framework, some council members were incredulous about having 90 percent of Palo Alto-based vehicles be electric by 2030. Council Tom DuBois said the council and the community really need to see the details behind the proposal because otherwise, "it just sounds unbelievable."

Even so, he joined the rest of the council in approving the framework for the plan, which the city plans to adopt next year. Between now and then, the city will be putting together a series of "sustainability implementation plans" that will spell out in greater details the actions that the city will have to take to meet its emission-reduction goals.

In endorsing the framework for the new plan, the council unanimously accepted the plans' broad definition of "sustainability." The term, according to this adopted framework, should be understood in its “broadest dimensions, including quality of life, the natural environment and resilience, and not just climate change and greenhouse gas emissions reduction.” Other guiding principles call for building resiliency, gathering input on new policy from all community stakeholders, focusing on those sustainability programs that are most cost-effective and important to the community.

Another feature of the new document is a set of "design principles" for guiding the effort, which includes a focus on "what's feasible" and a preference toward "flexible platforms" practical near-term steps that “expand rather than restrict capacity for future actions and pivots.”

The adopting the framework, the council also endorsed the idea proposed by Chief Sustainability Officer Gil Friend to progressively amend the plan as circumstances change and to come up with specific "implementation plans" with smaller time frames and more specific actions. These plans would be updated every five years.

The council found plenty to like in the new document, particularly when it comes to transportation. Solving the problem of Palo Alto's traffic congestion will not only help reduce greenhouse-gas emissions but address one of its most significant and persistent "quality of life" complaints.

"If we provide – not a negative 'anti-car' (option) – but a positive option for those who prefer it to walk or bike or take public transit or telecommute, that provides less congestion for those who do choose to drive, provides a good quality of life for them while also achieving greenhouse-gas reduction," Wolbach said. "I think there are opportunities for win-wins here."

DuBois also emphasized that for many people driving makes sense and that if Palo Alto's policies are perceived as "anti-automobile" as opposed to "anti-internal combustion engine," the city can make poor policy decisions. Vice Mayor Greg Scharff also said that driving isn't necessarily a bad thing, particularly if people are switching to emission-free cars.

Friend agreed. The point of the plan, he said, is not to say that cars are bad but that "greenhouse emissions are bad and that congestion is bad."

"That's what we hear from our citizens all the time," Friend said. "It's one of the primary concerns in this community. So strategies that can both reduce greenhouse-gas emissions and reduce congestion would be strategies that we want to prioritize."

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Comments

4 people like this
Posted by JustMe
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Dec 14, 2016 at 11:41 am

I recently made a trip to China for business, and I saw a lot of electric bicycles and tricycles on the roads. As an example, here is a fully enclosed tricycle that I saw a lot of:
Web Link

What are the laws in PA/CA regarding a vehicle like this? It could be VERY useful and could replace a lot of gas vehicles for around-town errands. It is all well and good to talk about encouraging bicycle use, but for cargo, kids, bad weather, handicapped, this would be FAR preferable. It is smaller than a normal economy car too, less parking footprint.


18 people like this
Posted by If Wishes were Horses
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Dec 14, 2016 at 12:07 pm

We have no more room in our workshop/garage, so our electric car charger is in the garage BUT the cable stretches to the driveway.

During the heavy rains last week, the rainwater caused the charger, connected to the car, to short out the car battery! Fortunately, the car is under warranty, BUT the manufacturer is trying to get out of covering this because, they say, you are not supposed to charge an electric car outdoors in the rain!!!!

This, as well as lack of range and reliability, frequent flats with the thin-walled tires, etc are problems that have yet to be worked out! Tessa's have a decent range, but have other problems in spades--literally three or more times per week I see one on the Tesla tow truck!

Also, we had two electric scooters made in China five years ago. Neither of them would go more than five days without a breakdown! The owner of the company we bought them from ( Greenemotors) told us that they were made for occasional use, and that people in China ( where he was from) did not use them as daily transportation! Less than two years after we bought the e-scooters, the company went out of business. We ended up having to trash both scooters, since no one wanted them even as giveaways once they learned that they were made in China.


Like this comment
Posted by JustMe
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Dec 14, 2016 at 12:49 pm

Don't charge your electric car outdoors in the rain? Gee, I don't know that I have EVER seen a Tesla public charger protected against rain, even at the HQ or factory. Maybe you should point that out to them.

The reason the electric tricycle I posted is of interest to me is because I saw lots of them in China obviously being used daily working, not just for commuting, but actually hauling goods. I would think that those might have had the kinks shaken out by now.

Could you see, if they were legal to use as any electric bicycle is in CA, and someone started importing them and selling them? There are size limits, wheelbase limits, speed limits, and other qualifications to consider, but those things might be VERY useful around here. They have Lithium batteries, much better than the old lead-acid batteries electric vehicles used to have. They do not need to go more than 25mph to be usable around town.


10 people like this
Posted by Bikes-- the true zero emission vehicles
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Dec 14, 2016 at 1:06 pm

Try bicycles, the true "zero emission" vehicles. There are few destinations in town that are more than five flat miles away, and it rarely rains here. I'm almost 60 and I can ride five miles without breaking a sweat. As for groceries and kids--Kids LOVE to bike. Today's bike shops have all kinds of options for carrying cargo.

Encouraging electric vehicles won't address the AUTO CONGESTION problem. Congestion is really what citizens are concerned about.

Try biking. You might discover it works better than driving for you. It does for me!




1 person likes this
Posted by JustMe
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Dec 14, 2016 at 1:21 pm

Bicycles are an obvious solution, but I do not believe in a one-size-fits-all solution. The tricycle I linked to, I hope, would quality as a bicycle under CA law and be legal in the bike lane. I am sure you are in good shape and have no problem pedaling five to ten miles, but not everyone is in such good shape. They still need to be able to get around to care for themselves, and why condemn them to cars? What about people with two or three children to cart around, bicycles? I myself am looking for an economical solution somewhere between cars and bicycles. Electric is good.


13 people like this
Posted by Stephen
a resident of College Terrace
on Dec 14, 2016 at 1:31 pm

Palo Alto, sadly, has been infected with the global warming alarmism virus. Political science is not science, it is propaganda and about political power. PA gets about half of its electrical power from large scale hydro, which is not a renewable resource and dams our wild streams. Wind turbines industrialize our remaining wild mountain ridges and kills the birds of prey. Solar covers our deserts. Any PA electricity that is purchased from coal or natural gas generation plants simply displaces the emissions to some other place.

Now our CC is talking about additional expenditures to make its misplaced dream come true. Yet we are told that we a current budget deficit pending, not to mention unfunded mandates for retirement benefits. This is crazy!


7 people like this
Posted by R Wray
a resident of Palo Verde
on Dec 14, 2016 at 2:53 pm

How does the CC think the electrical energy for their vehicles is generated?


4 people like this
Posted by parent
a resident of Midtown
on Dec 14, 2016 at 4:03 pm

There is no one-size-fits-all solution, but that doesn't mean we can't try several solutions at the same time. First off, make non-polluting and low-pollution transportation safer and more convenient. This includes walking, bicycling, and public transit (especially electric powered). Expand the city shuttle system so that people can use it without memorizing the routes and schedules. Make transfers to and from Caltrain more efficient (no waiting half an hour for the next bus to come) and let commuters transfer for free between transit systems.

Connect more parts of town with safe bicycle routes and connect Palo Alto to neighboring cities with safe bicycle routes. Have you ever tried bicycling from downtown Palo Alto to downtown Los Altos or downtown Menlo Park or even into Stanford? Why are these routes so complicated?

Yes, even walking can be made safer and more convenient. Make the crosswalks more visible and make the crosswalk buttons more responsive, especially when crossing busy streets like El Camino or Page Mill. Also, install more signal-protected crosswalks on streets that are known reckless-driver hotspots (like Embarcadero and Middlefield).

Thank you.


2 people like this
Posted by JustMe
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Dec 14, 2016 at 4:19 pm

You have it parent, the only thing I would ask is not wait on all parts of oyur solution before implementing any of them. Also, there IS no true zero-emission solution. Even in the case of bicycles, you still breathe, churning out CO2, especially when you are also exercising. The goal is reduction in CO2 emissions, not absolute elimination of it, unless you want to stop breathing, and I don't want to encourage that.

I think the consensus is that mile for mile, gas powered vehicles generate more CO2 than electric vehicles, even if you trace that electric power back to the source. So any encouragement and/or enabling for people to drive cars less and electric more would be a step in the right direction.


8 people like this
Posted by Richard
a resident of Fairmeadow
on Dec 14, 2016 at 4:38 pm

Where, pray tell, do you imagine electricity comes from? It comes from generators burning primarily coal and fuel oil. The "Deadly CO2" is released elsewhere. And even more than if it were used HERE to propel vehicles. There are losses in generation, transforming up and down many times en route, transmission losses, rectification, charging losses in charging batteries more losses in controllers and electric motors. You have been sold a bill of goods, not to mention all the VERY toxic waste in China refining Rare Earths (24 lb per Prius)for magnets. They dump the stuff! Look at their pollution levels. We are contributing by creating a demand for the only real source of rare earths. Please wake up!


Like this comment
Posted by Mr.Recycle
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Dec 14, 2016 at 4:54 pm

@If Wishes were Horses - was it a Tesla? Shorting a 240v/40a connection in the rain sounds dangerous, and should be engineered for.


8 people like this
Posted by Tesla 2013
a resident of Greater Miranda
on Dec 14, 2016 at 5:02 pm

As a Tesla owner, I and prospective EV buyers I know, find it odd that Palo Alto Utilities has a only a flat user electrical rate with no discounts for off peak use (as PG&E does). If Palo Alto wants to encourage more EV's, adopting off lower peak rates and providing the necessary Smart Meters would make a BIG difference in EV use.


5 people like this
Posted by Dan
a resident of Midtown
on Dec 14, 2016 at 5:25 pm

When electric vehicles cost similar to gas-powered vehicles for equivalent performance, have the same range on a single recharge (350-500 mi) , can be recharged in < 10 minutes like filling up a gas tank, have charging stations as widely distributed as gas stations, including in the mountains, desert, middle-of-nowhere flyover country, and have the same cargo capacity and towing capacity as internal combustion engine vehicles, come back and we'll talk. Until then, 90% electric vehicles is just a dream.


5 people like this
Posted by Resident
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Dec 14, 2016 at 5:41 pm

EV vehicles are becoming extremely common but charging them is timely and not being helped by our utilities that could easily have off peak rates. This is particularly warranted when more than one EV charges overnight at the same address.


4 people like this
Posted by JustMe
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Dec 14, 2016 at 6:10 pm

Okay Richard, what is YOUR solution? Someone who states the problem so passionately must have a solution in mind, right? I am all ears/eyes.


11 people like this
Posted by Engineer
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Dec 14, 2016 at 7:45 pm

"How does the CC think the electrical energy for their vehicles is generated?"

Maybe they think it magically happens at their wall outlets, pure and pristine as new fallen snow.

Seriously, their actual illusion is that our electric power is "clean" because they pay money to "clean" suppliers for it. However, that "clean" power is delivered to Palo Alto over the Grid mixed with power from every kind of generator, including coal and nuclear. The power which comes out of the wall in Palo Alto is physically just as "dirty" as the power our neighboring cities use. Only an infinitesimally small fraction of it is the "clean" power the City thinks we're getting.

Therefore EVs are not zero-emission vehicles, they are remote-emission vehicles. Also, no other type of car is powered by coal and nuclear.


2 people like this
Posted by Alex
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Dec 14, 2016 at 8:49 pm

Wow, for what's supposed to be an educated community...

To the people bickering over power sources and "long tailpipe" nonsense, you realize there are huge efficiency gains (and subsequent reduction in power needed, whatever the source) from electric engines? They invented these things a while back, called hybrids, and amazingly they got much better gas mileage than other cars, despite having to lug along their own generators!


6 people like this
Posted by Engineer
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Dec 14, 2016 at 9:50 pm

"To the people bickering over power sources and "long tailpipe" nonsense, you realize there are huge efficiency gains (and subsequent reduction in power needed, whatever the source) from electric engines?"

Totally wrong. Hybrids like the Prius achieve their spectacular gas economy through a combination of ruthless weight reduction, aggressive aerodynamic shaping to minimize their CdA product, and recycling a fraction of the kinetic energy that conventional gas guzzlers waste in braking. Conservation of energy holds; there are no magical efficiency gains or reductions in power requirements from using electric motors.

Plugin hybrids and EVs all sport long tailpipes. They are called wires. You can see them hanging from wooden poles and steel towers almost everywhere.


2 people like this
Posted by JustMe
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Dec 14, 2016 at 9:57 pm

Hahaha Alex, "Wow, for what's supposed to be an educated community...". Well, many are educated, many are not. And many presumably educated people have absurd beliefs, just look at Trump's cabinet choices.

But I am with you on the fact that EVs have a significantly lower carbon footprint than the hummers of the climate change deniers, or even my Corolla. I would like to see a further shift to EVs enabled, and then it can take its logical course. Legislation should not force people away from commute alternatives and into gas-powered vehicles that churn out CO2 while stopped in gridlock.


6 people like this
Posted by Engineer
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Dec 14, 2016 at 10:16 pm

"...EVs have a significantly lower carbon footprint than the hummers of the climate change deniers, or even my Corolla."

It depends on the fuel used to generate their electric power. Our grid mix in California is about 61% carbon-based (mostly natural gas, which is relatively low carbon) Web Link, but in Coal Country the situation can be quite different.

EVs are much favored for short in-town trips, where the wear on and pollution from internal combustion engines are at their maximum.




2 people like this
Posted by Alex
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Dec 14, 2016 at 11:31 pm

I suppose in the bizzaro world where you're an "engineer" Priuses also get their efficiency because they're so light...


9 people like this
Posted by I own volts
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Dec 15, 2016 at 12:44 am

I own 2 plugin electric cars, they are always in the rain charging. No issues.
I drive them to LA and go up the grapevine as fast as any ICE.
I get 60+ miles on electric only.
I get about 400 miles of range when I combine the eletric range with the gas range.
The gas engine gets 40+ MPG
They are much cheaper to operate than the gas cars they replaced.
They save me time because I seldom buy gas, they just charge overnight while I sleep.
If you typically drive less than 60 miles per day these cars will save you a lot on maintenance and gas.
I actually find this car much more convenient than a gas only car.


12 people like this
Posted by If Wishes were Horses
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Dec 15, 2016 at 10:31 am

@Mr Recycle: our electric car is a Nissan Leaf. The charger itself was in the garage, and the garage door closed. The car and the business end of the charger were in the rain.

Between Chinese scooters that failed repeatedly, Chinese solar panels that failed repeatedly, high end Korean appliances that failed repeatedly and Japanese
and Korean cars that fail repeatedly, I am going back to American products! My experience is that Asian companies build junk, their companies don't honor warranties, nor do they stand behind their products.

My next car will be a Volt! It will cost more than the value of the car to fix this burned-out heap! It has been a reliability nightmare, and only goes 18-20 miles on a charge!


5 people like this
Posted by resident
a resident of College Terrace
on Dec 15, 2016 at 12:29 pm

Unless PA requires solar on new construction there is no clean in these EVs.


2 people like this
Posted by Bicycling is More FUN
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Dec 15, 2016 at 1:01 pm

Cars are useful for longer trips and for folks who cannot walk or bike. But really, our community is so nice to bike and walk. Driving for short trips here is a terrible waste of fossil fuel--when bicycling is such great exercise, and our flat, lovely, shaded streets and beautiful climate are so well-suited to walking and biking.

We live in one of the most beautiful places in the world. Take advantage of the opportunity to bike if you can. If you can't, I am sorry. You are missing something very special!


9 people like this
Posted by The Problem
a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Dec 15, 2016 at 1:10 pm

Think about it: electric cars with a decent range are unaffordable for most people. Ones that are affordable are junky, and have a range too low to be much more than a grocery-getter; going to work--and home again-- is out of their range. Most employers don't have charging stations. The ones that do have so few that fights break out!


1 person likes this
Posted by Dan
a resident of Midtown
on Dec 15, 2016 at 2:01 pm

The Chevy Volt is a gas-electric hybrid and contains an internal combustion engine. Gas-electric hybrids are much more practical than the current all-electric toy vehicles. I drive a gas-electric hybrid myself. Have never driven a Volt ... not enough cargo capacity for my own needs.


10 people like this
Posted by Berserkley
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Dec 15, 2016 at 2:16 pm

Even Berkeley, which has a city-owned utility company similar to Palo Alto, gives large discounts for nighttime power usage--which is when most electric cars are charged. Public charging stations in Berkeley also dispense electricity at a reduced rate.

Berkeley is far more populous but less wealthy than Palo Alto!

Palo Alto needs to get up to speed on this before requiring people to buy electric cars and solar panels!


2 people like this
Posted by Bruce Karney
a resident of Mountain View
on Dec 15, 2016 at 4:19 pm

To have 90% of Palo Alto's cars be zero emission (ZEV) by 2030 the city would essentially need to ensure that every car sold from TODAY onward was a ZEV. This would have to include both new and used cars purchased by Palo Altans. I believe that the national figure for average automobile age is 11 years, and it's certainly less than that in Palo Alto. Even so, a substantial fraction -- more than 10% -- of Palo Alto's car population in 2030 will consist of internal combustion cars that are already on the road unless ICE cars are virtually banned in 2030. This is theoretically possible, and there may even be some countries that have said they will do it, but it will be politically impossible UNLESS the ravages of climate change are obvious and frightening by then. I think highly efficient electric heat pump water heating can do more, do it faster, at lower cost and with less political resistance, than the 90% EV goal.


5 people like this
Posted by Resident
a resident of St. Claire Gardens
on Dec 16, 2016 at 5:49 am

What I find particularly offensive is allowing EV's into HOV lanes to "incentivize" people to buy EVs.


7 people like this
Posted by Resident
a resident of St. Claire Gardens
on Dec 16, 2016 at 5:52 am

You know what I do? I WALK. And I am willing to walk long distances.

Don't go overboard with encouraging cyclista.
Too many leisurely cyclists without a care in the world riding slowly in front of commuters trying to get to work.


2 people like this
Posted by Ummmm. What about congestion?
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Dec 16, 2016 at 10:46 am

Ummmm. What about congestion? is a registered user.

Electric vehicles will not solve the congestion problem--which is the key thing people are kvetching about. Congestion management requires us to make smarter choices than driving solo. For that, alternatives to driving need to be safe and efficient.


Like this comment
Posted by I own volts
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Dec 16, 2016 at 1:35 pm

Resident, you should be able to make your point without using pejoratives.


Like this comment
Posted by pestocat
a resident of University South
on Dec 16, 2016 at 2:13 pm

pestocat is a registered user.

One element of the city’s Sustainability and Climate Action Plan that was not emphasized as much as the transportation issue is the desire to move businesses and residents to give up their natural gas appliances for ones fueled by electricity.

Heat pumps are a way to use electricity to replace natural gas water heaters and gas furnaces. It must be emphasized that heat pumps were never meant to replace gas water heaters or gas furnaces where natural gas was available. They were designed to replace electric resistant water heaters and electric baseboard heating in areas where natural gas was not available. In that case they can save a lot of money for the home owner or business. But in Palo Alto, we have natural gas and with heat pumps the monthly heating bill would double. It should be noted that on an energy basis, Palo Alto electricity costs 5 to 6 times more than natural gas. In addition, heat pump equipment is much more costly than the natural gas equivalents. This desire to move to heat pumps makes no sense.

Home owners and restaurant chefs love their gas stoves and ranges. A new home or remodeled home will most likely include a gas range. Besides cooking, this becomes a focal point to show to show visitors. Even people that don’t cook like to have a fancy gas range to show their friends.

There are no examples in the United States where cities are encouraging or forcing residents and businesses to convert their gas appliances to electrical equivalents. This program is perhaps 15 to 20 years ahead of it’s time.

Natural gas fueled power plants play a key role in California’s electrical grid. They power the state with electricity when the sun goes down and also an often overlooked task is that they keep electrical grid locked to 60 Hz. In 2015, Palo Alto received 50% of it’s electricity from power plants fueled by natural gas. Hydro supplied ¼ and renewables also supplied ¼. The solution to using less natural gas is energy storage. Energy storage facilities need to be sized similar to a natural gas power plant. California already has some of these, they are pumped storage facilities. Water is pumped up to a high level reservoir during the day and at night water flows through turbines to generate electricity. A company in Nevada is working on a plan where heavy loaded train cars powered from the grid are pushed up a hill during the day and then come down the hill at night thereby generating electricity to the grid.

My website www.paloaltoenergy.org has lots of valuable information on heat pump appliances and natural gas appliances, the monthly cost of natural gas and heat pump appliances and information on the present California electrical grid. Note that the web site uses electric and gas pricing from early 2016, pricing changed slightly on July 2016, but still heat pump appliances will double the monthly heating bill.
Gary Lindgren


Like this comment
Posted by Resident
a resident of St. Claire Gardens
on Dec 16, 2016 at 2:49 pm

@i own volts

You're right. I will avoid pejoratives because it sounds melodramatic. I'll work on that


1 person likes this
Posted by Ed
a resident of Downtown North
on Dec 16, 2016 at 7:56 pm

I'm all for clean energy and its benefits, and the goals proposed here certainly are ambitious. However, reading the article suggests that practically no thought has gone into the real cost, most likely bore by local tax payers, of implementing any of these goals. How, for example, does the city plan to pay the incentives to electrify 90% of the cars in the city? Bottom line concern, how much will these lofty goals cost local tax payers so city council members can stroke their egos?


Sorry, but further commenting on this topic has been closed.

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