Small Towns Take Big Chunk Out of Carbon Footprint
Sustainability is not a Rolls-Royce; it is not a delicacy reserved only for the wealthy. Smaller towns with tighter budgets and limited resources have also found ways to reduce their carbon footprint.
Solar panel bank.
Credit: ©Dan Cardiff, iStockphoto.com
Twenty-two southwestern cities have signed on to the U.S. Mayors’ Climate Protection Agreement, which calls for cities to reduce their carbon emissions to 7 percent below their 1990 levels by 2012. Only four of these cities have a population larger than 200,000.
“It does require an investment, however the results of that investment are numerous,” said Nicole Woodman, the sustainability manager for Flagstaff, Arizona.
Mayor Joseph Donaldson signed Flagstaff on to the agreement in August 2006, and the city is currently working on wrapping up its greenhouse gas emission inventory. Woodman has found that a large portion of Flagstaff’s emissions generated by municipal operations come from the electric energy that is used in their buildings. In response, the city has invested $3.8 million in an effort to reduce this figure.
City workers upgraded lighting fixtures and traffic lights, took measures to conserve water and installed efficient systems in everything from heating, ventilation, and air conditioning to vending machines. Their reward: an annual 42 percent energy savings of gas and electric consumption in city facilities, according to their February 2008 Municipal Sustainability Inventory.
Named the fastest growing metropolitan area from April of 2000 to July 2006 by the U.S. Census Bureau, St. George, Utah has also found ways to reduce its energy consumption. Although Mayor Daniel McArthur has not yet signed his city on to the U.S. Mayors’ Climate Protection Agreement, he has already taken strides to reduce its emissions.
Under St. George House Bill 201, the city will be able to build a photovoltaic power station just south of St. George in Bloomington. The solar farm will start small, powering a few hundred homes, but the plan is to make it capable of expanding with demand. Residents will be able to buy into the system, purchasing a portion of the power it produces, said René Fleming, Conservation Coordinator for the city. They will then receive a credit to their energy accounts depending on how much of the farm they own.
“We’re working on increasing the amount of renewable (energy) in our portfolio,” Fleming said.
Drivers sitting in idling cars on South San Francisco Street waiting for the train to pass through downtown Flagstaff may have noticed another kind of perpetrator. So did the city. Flagstaff’s anti-idling campaign encourages those cars to turn off their engines and conserve gas.
The city has also initiated a community trip reduction program that promotes car-pooling and public transportation, and has expanded its urban trail system, which gives residents a network of convenient and aesthetically pleasing pedestrian and bicycle pathways, Woodman said.
Santa Fe, NM is also looking to reduce the portion of its carbon foot print caused by transportation. The city has instituted an energy policy with a minimum fuel mileage, said Nick Schiavo, Energy Specialist for the city of Santa Fe. They are currently working on phasing out vehicles partially fueled by ethanol for the more efficient hybrids from Ford and Honda.
Flagstaff began purchasing hybrids in 2003 and currently has 21 in their fleet. They also operate two propane-powered and two flex-fuel vehicles that can operate on different forms fuel as well and three Global Electric Motorcars (
The fact of the matter is that small towns simply do not have the resources of bigger cities. Schiavo makes up a third of Santa Fe’s Sustainability Commission and has a daunting task especially considering the city’s constant growth. So, he has enlisted the help of outside firms. Santa Fe is opting for a 20 year term power purchase agreement in which an energy company will install, maintain and withhold the ownership of efficient systems in city buildings for an affordable fee, Schiavo said.
By bringing in consultants and inspectors to do energy audits and recommend more efficient methods, Schiavo has managed to keep pushing his city towards the goals set by the U.S. Mayors’ Climate Protection Agreement.
The Northern Arizona Renewable Energy Purchasing Group (
Banding together with other groups allows smaller cities to swing a comparatively larger stick when trying to persuade a corporation like APS to listen to their needs.
The fact is, however, that a city can be its own worst enemy when trying to meet predetermined goals. A common problem among many Southwestern cities, big and small, is that mayors and officials are unaware of the size of the task they are undertaking.
“The mayor didn’t realize what it meant when he signed on,” Schiavo said. In fact, Santa Fe wasn’t entirely sure of where its carbon footprint stood until recently. To meet the requirements, Santa Fe will need a 20 percent reduction in their current carbon levels.
Flagstaff has been battling with a similar problem. Since APS doesn’t keep records as far back as the agreement requires, their group has looked up 1999 levels and has had to estimate for 1990.
Although Schiavo doesn’t doubt that Santa Fe will be able to get close to its goal, he does offer some words of advice:
“Know what you’re getting into before your mayor signs,” he said. Specifically, “Know how much it is going to cost.”
Woodman, Schiavo, and Fleming all agree that education is the key to making it happen. Informing the public of what they can do at home is a big first step. Fleming explained that many residents have an innate “feat of change”. It is up to the city leaders to show them that they will not have to turn their lives upside-down to help out.
“The effort doesn’t have to be a burden,” she said, “We are saving a lot of money.”
City of Flagstaff | http://flagstaff.az.gov/ |
City of Flagstaff's Sustainability and Environmental Management Division
| http://flagstaff.az.gov/index.asp?nid=921 |
City of Flagstaff Municipal Sustainability Inventory February 2008
| http://www.flagstaff.az.gov/DocumentView.asp?DID=7247 |
City of Santa Fe | http://www.santafenm.gov/ |