'Green ribbon' report highlights transportation, conservation | December 15, 2006 | Palo Alto Weekly | Palo Alto Online |


Palo Alto Weekly

News - December 15, 2006

'Green ribbon' report highlights transportation, conservation

Council to hear recommendations Monday for addressing global warming

by Sue Dremann

New ideas for green building, energy conservation and transportation are among top recommendations to be presented to the Palo Alto City Council on Monday.

The Mayor's Green Ribbon Task Force on Climate Protection -- composed of local leaders in academia, business, schools and government -- worked for 6 months to develop recommendations for a citywide strategy to combat global warming.

Established by Mayor Judy Kleinberg in March, the group began meeting May 25 to discuss five areas it considered key to effectively addressing global warming. It established a baseline of existing carbon-dioxide emissions within the city, developed energy solutions, discussed transportation issues, green building, and ways to increase public awareness and motivation.

The city's biggest contributor to greenhouse-gas emissions is transportation, task-force members said. More than half of the city's estimated 644,000 metric tons of annual carbon dioxide emissions come from vehicles. Ninety percent of commuter emissions are generated by people traveling alone in a car, according to the task force's summary report. Emissions from electricity and natural gas, comprised the other half, the study noted. The emissions figure excludes rail and marine transport, off-road vehicles and gases from landfill, cement or propane.

To address the problem, the task force will recommend promoting alternative fuels, with the city leading the way by purchasing fuel-efficient vehicles, encouraging working from home, reducing school commuting and parking incentives to encourage less driving.

The savings could be significant, the task force concluded.

Increasing the number of people who carpool to work by 10 percent would reduce carbon-dioxide emissions by six percent or 5,500 metric tons, the task force noted. If 10 percent of people switched to moderately efficient cars and another 10 percent switched to significantly efficient cars, emissions could decline by 18 percent, or 18,200 metric tons.

Regarding energy use, the task force set a goal for the city to become "climate neutral" through its utilities by 2020. That would be accomplished by reducing carbon-dioxide emissions and by using "offsets" -- funds that reduce emissions in other locations, such as schools or developing countries.

If the city were to reduce its electrical load by 20 percent from current projections, carbon-dioxide emissions would drop by 100 percent, the study noted. Conservation was also identified as the fastest way to reduce emissions because it reduces use of natural gas. Residential customers constitute 50 percent of natural-gas use.

A key recommendation involves the city and Stanford University creating a Green Tech Center to develop and commercialize new technologies relevant to global warming.

The group will also recommend incorporating green-building practices into construction reviews and building codes. Building inspectors would be required to be LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) accredited and Build It Green certified. A LEED and Build It Green "point" would be required on any nonresidential plans submitted to the city, with points given for making use of energy-efficient appliances, solar and other alternative energy systems and energy-efficient building materials and design, for example.

Incentives to builders and developers could include expediting reviews or lowering costs for green-energy projects. Specific exemptions could include floor-area ratio allowances in cases where walls are built extra thick for energy efficiency or flexibility in setbacks to allow solar building orientation, the task force noted.

A fund for energy-efficiency consultants to address clients' needs could be established; and a city information package for developers could include information on tax credits for energy-efficient building and green-lending sources, the task force noted.

The building committee will also recommend exploring a residential energy-consumption ordinance similar to one in effect in Berkeley, which requires an energy upgrade when a property changes hands or undergoes significant improvement.

Higher-density housing adjacent to mass-transit hubs and shopping districts could also facilitate travel and reduce car use, the task force noted.

Motivation for expediting greenhouse-gas reduction came from a 243-mayor-strong pledge to meet the terms of the Kyoto Protocol and California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger's Executive Order in June 2005 establishing aggressive goals for the reduction of carbon dioxide emissions in the state, Mayor Judy Kleinberg said.

More recently, the California State Legislature and the Governor enacted AB 32, the California Global Warming Solutions Act of 2006, which declares that global warming poses a serious threat to the economic well-being, public health, natural resources and the environment in California.

Task Force Chairman Walt Hays said although the group has completed its work, an ongoing public/private partnership -- involving business, industry, schools and a city facilitator -- could coordinate efforts within each sector. A resource center could be developed, where individuals and businesses could gain information, he said.

The task force did not identify costs for implementing any part of the plan.

'The group identified the fruit -- now we need to pick the low-hanging fruit. The city needs to study what it would cost," he said.

Presentation of the recommendations will take place at 7 p.m. on Monday in the City Council chambers in city hall.

Staff Writer Sue Dremann can be reached at sdremann@paweekly.com.


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