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Cleveland lowers emissions, sets plan in motion for 80% reduction

Marc Lefkowitz  |  03/03/15 @ 3:00pm  |  Posted in Transform

Transparency is being used to describe Cleveland’s efforts to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions (GHG) as it moves to forestall the worst impacts of climate change.

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Cleveland was one of 207 worldwide cities reporting on climate change activities in 2014 to CDP, a London-based organization that tracks how city’s are dealing with sources of emissions by sector and end user. Cleveland’s latest report—a follow up to a community-wide carbon footprint analysis done in 2010—looks only at GHGs from city operations.

The results show the city reduced its carbon emissions by 823 metric tonnes (MTs) from 2010 to 2012. The biggest drop—of 1,207 tonnes—came from emissions in burning fossil fuels on site or from city-owned/leased vehicles. Cleveland attributes the drop to “operational changes and mergers (such as within Public Works) and results of a few energy efficiency upgrades.” Shedding pounds there made up for 1,087 gained from the generation of electricity, heating and cooling, or steam generated off site. The city blames the Department of Public Works and its pumping of water to the entire Northeast Ohio region (the city plans to address water system pumping in its action steps, predicting a 26,000 MT drop by 2030).

Cleveland amped up its energy efficiency efforts when it released its Climate Action Plan (CAP) in 2013 which includes 33 steps to improvement and a timeline. The plan is being shepherded by the city’s Office of Sustainability.

The CAP sets a goal for Cleveland to reduce the 403,780 metric tonnes of carbon it produced in 2010 by 45% by the year 2030. It also has a goal for residents and the business sector to reduce their 12,791,996 metric tonnes of CO2e an impressive 80% by 2050 (with benchmarks of 40% by 2030 and 16% by 2020).

The city decided to measure and, to its credit, publish the results of its carbon footprint noting the threat of climate change to a large population in poverty and on its natural resource economy. 2010 was the first time the city conducted a 360 degree review of how many tons of carbon are produced from transportation, buildings, power generation, waste and water use.

This latest report shows the overwhelming share of its total carbon emission—or 343,206 MTs—comes from operating its own buildings. Breaking that down further: 162,875 MTs come from municipal-owned Cleveland Public Power which purchases or acquires electricity, 65% from burning coal. The city notes how it is counting on new federal environmental regulations of coal-burning power plants to produce a significant share of its carbon reductions. Moving away from coal is particularly important in the global picture because Cleveland factories lead office space 3.2 to 1.8 million MTs.

A close third place—when taking in city and community together—is Transportation. Car trips to and from the city produced 1.06 million MTs of carbon emissions in 2010 (by comparison, public transit accounted for less than 5% of that CO2 output or 50,395 MTs).

The city won’t rely on a silver bullet solution, but lays out a suite of small steps in making itself less fossil fuel dependent. Perhaps reflecting the larger regional share of transportation-related carbon emissions (28% region versus 6% city) Cleveland plans to focus more of its activities at buildings (which puts it in the minority among the 207 cities who report to CDP; 54% plan on transport-related activities).

On the Building side, the city expects to save 13,000 MT from replacing light bulbs with LEDs plus 1,300 MTs from a Sustainable Building Policy requiring new city buildings to be 30% more efficient than code. It wants to install Building Automation Systems (BAS) in the worst energy hogs to reap a 9,500 MT savings. In the category titled “Energy efficiency/retrofit” the city hopes, but doesn’t tie to a specific plan or program, a 14,000 MT offset.

Arguably, that’s low hanging fruit when compared to the work ahead for the city in replacing fossil fuels with renewables as their source of electric power. They estimate 111,000 metric tonnes of carbon would be stopped from entering the atmosphere, contributing to climate change, by seeing through with plans to convert vacant land to solar farms—like the plans for a former landfill next door (and supplying power) to the I-X Center. Also counted in this category is building a wind farm on Lake Erie. Wind accounts for 1% of the city's energy supply today. A lake-based wind farm might seem Quixotic, but it is where the city could help bring along CPP’s Advanced Energy Portfolio Standard which ensures that 15% the utility’s energy comes from advanced or renewable sources by 2015, 20% by 2020, and 25% by 2025. If the city can figure out a strategy to prod CPP into being a more nimble player in the energy sector, it might count on the 1,100,000 metric tonnes of anticipated savings by 2030.

Because of the region’s sprawl problem, the crux of the city’s Transportation-related emissions savings, or 169,800 MTs, will have to come from a community-wide effort to “develop and promote policies and programs to encourage more efficient vehicles, encouraging anti-idling citywide, expanding the use of carpooling and carsharing, and making biking and walking easier in the city.” For its part, the city will offer tele-work policies and promote the use of public transit—presumably, with better incentives. It calculates internal savings of only 4,500 metric tonnes for this effort aimed at getting city workers to choose lower-carbon forms of transportation. If the city shows leadership in shifting modes, it figures the community can do the same. A real vision to “increase the use of public transit through incentives, system improvements, and outreach and education. This includes bus, train, and bus rapid transit” would save 84,000 MTs. The city acknowledges that NOACA, the city and RTA will need to work together in new ways to make this happen.

In fact, the 80% reduction by 2050 goal for the community calls on a number of entities working with the city. For example, the report counts on the suite of home weatherization programs like the state’s HWAP and the city’s Energy$aver program to produce a big 2,400,000 MT savings. To reach that goal, Cleveland will need help in the form of continued state support and reaching into hundreds if not thousands of older homes to make them more air tight.

The city has a great banner for the community to rally behind with its Sustainable Cleveland 2019 program. With new home energy programs like Solarize Cleveland and companies doing more waste-to-energy contracts, the city figures, will contribute an impressive 687,000 MT reduction. Greening the city, or the newly invigorated urban tree planting effort, will boost Cleveland’s tree canopy from an anemic 18% land coverage and “will not only sequester carbon, but also provide an additional buffer against flooding” and a projected 110,000 MT reduction.

Of course, this will take a concerted effort on the part of the city. It’s most important role to date has been cheerleader. Its 2019 initiative has inspired a lot of people and companies to get in on the effort. It’s carbon reporting inspires trust. The city deserves credit for sharing its carbon footprint with the world—by the way, 70 of the 207 cities reported less than Cleveland’s 11,889,595 (2012) tonnes of emissions. Its plan has the type of longer time horizon that is hard to sustain without vision and leadership. So far, so good. Hopefully, it will make Cleveland a much desired place to be, the heart of it all, in the coming century.

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