Southwest Cities Find Ways to Reduce Their Carbon Footprint
Reducing a city’s carbon footprint requires more than switching to energy-saving light bulbs, and leaders across the Southwest are finding more and more creative ways to meet the challenge.
When they signed Seattle Mayor Greg Nickels’ U.S. Mayors’ Climate Protection Agreement initiative at the 2005 U.S. Mayors Conference in Chicago, 850 mayors from across the country agreed to work to reduce their city’s carbon footprint to 7 percent below their 1990 levels by 2012.
One such city leader is Mayor Bob Walkup of Tucson, Ariz. His efforts to curb Tucson’s appetite for energy have resulted in $3.9 million worth of energy efficiency improvements in city of Tucson buildings. That move saved the city $1.4 million on its yearly electric bill in 2007 and officials plan to continue to see increased savings as energy efficient systems begin to pay for themselves, according to the city’s Sustainability Report for 2007.
Phoenix's METRO light rail system is expected to reduce airborne emissions by more than 12 tons each day compared to emissions associated with the same amount of passengers in cars.
Credit: ©Anton Foltin, @iStockphoto.com
In April 2006, Walkup and the city council adopted a resolution requiring that all new city buildings and renovations greater than 5,000 square feet must qualify for a silver rating on the U.S. Green Building Council’s Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) certification system. Considerations of a silver level rating include energy efficiency, water conservation, waste reduction, indoor environment quality, use of recycled materials, and sustainability of the site.
Renovations made to city buildings including seven solar energy systems, five solar water heating systems, and automated light controls among others, have reduced greenhouse gas emissions by more than 7,000 tons in 2007, according to the city’s Sustainability Report. This is the equivalent of offsetting the yearly carbon dioxide emissions of approximately 400 Arizonans.
“We want to promote the solar industry here,” said David Schaller, administrator for Tucson’s Office of Conservation and Sustainable Development. Because so much of the future of these programs depends on the funding of research and development now, the city has dedicated 1 percent of its electric bill annually to solar energy projects. This amounts to approximately $160,000 a year.
Transportation: A Growing Problem
The emissions produced by a growing population of drivers have also increased the amount of carbon in the atmosphere. Phoenix and surrounding townships make up one of the fastest growing metropolitan areas in the U.S., according to the U.S. Census Bureau, and a majority of that growth is moving outward instead of upward. Phoenix residents find themselves commuting long distances as sprawl engulfs the city.
The Brookings Institution, a nonprofit policy organization based in Washington D.C., found that, the average Phoenix resident emits 0.65 metric tons of carbon from residential electricity, but 1.41 tons of carbon from transportation. In comparison, the national average of carbon emission from transportation is only 1.31 tons.
To combat the problem, Phoenix and Valley Metro Rail officials have begun construction on a light rail system that will alleviate the need for so many cars on the road. The initial METRO system will stretch 20 miles and will run above ground in its own lane on the street. The light rail cars can each hold 175 people—approximately four times as many as a bus—and will be powered by overhead electric wires.
The system will open in December 2008 and will be able to carry 15,000 passengers per hour, according to Valley Metro.
Tucson’s Walkup and Mayor Martin Chávez of Albuquerque, N.Mex., have also recognized the need to reduce their cities’ transportation footprint. Each has instituted ordinances to make their city fleets more eco-friendly.
An executive order requires all city of Albuquerque vehicles purchased after March 2006 to run on alternative fuel, said Richard Kennedy, deputy director of Albuquerque’s Environmental Health Department. Walkup’s initiative has done the same for 11.6 percent of Tucson’s fleet. Albuquerque also offers free parking for hybrid and alternatively fueled vehicles.
Transportation emissions dominated Tucson’s previous greenhouse gas inventory, Schaller said. He stressed that when looking for sectors to invest in reduction efforts, transportation must be a priority.
Cities looking to encourage residents to purchase renewable energy have a myriad of options. Whether providing power company fee waivers for residents who install solar panels on their homes, like Tucson does, or following Albuquerque by offering residents the opportunity to purchase “blocks” of kilowatt hours from wind-catching turbines, keeping the public informed of their choices is important to making a successful go of sustainability, Kennedy said.
Currently, Albuquerque buys about 20 percent of its electric power from 136 wind turbines owned by PNM Sky Blue. If a city is looking for a quick payback, however, they may want to try an alternative.
“Setting up windmills may not be the fastest way of getting your money back,” Kennedy said. He recommended starting with LED lights.
Mayors Climate Protection Center | http://www.usmayors.org/climateprotection |
Albuquerquegreen | http://www.cabq.gov/albuquerquegreen |
City of Tucson's Office of Conservation and Sustainable Development (OCSD) | http://www.tucsonaz.gov/ocsd/ |
U.S. Green Building Council | http://www.usgbc.org |