SLO wants to be carbon-neutral 10 years faster than the rest of California

The City Council wants San Luis Obispo to be carbon-neutral by 2035, an ambitious target that’s 10 years earlier than Gov. Jerry Brown’s statewide goal of 2045.

The council last week directed staff to move forward with a climate action plan that could mean new building codes and ramping up citywide electrical vehicle charging stations, among several other initiatives.

Carbon neutrality, or net-zero energy, is the concept of reducing as much carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases from the atmosphere as possible, with the overall goal to achieve a zero carbon footprint. It is achieved largely by replacing fossil fuel energy sources that emit greenhouse gases with renewables like solar and wind.

Greenhouse gases are emitted from cars, homes and businesses, as well as from livestock, among other sources.

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An example of an electric vehicle charging station designed by Recargo, a Los Angeles-area company that’s planning to build four new DC fast-chargers in San Luis Obispo. Recargo

“This is aggressive,” said Councilwoman Andy Pease. “It’s a really big goal. I think we can do it. But I think it should be a goal within our Climate Action Plan development.”

The specifics of the city’s Net Zero 2035 commitment haven’t been formulated yet, pending the Climate Action Plan update next year.

But efforts undertaken by the city already have reduced greenhouse gas emissions in the city by 10 percent since 2005, with a goal of reaching a 15 percent reduction by 2020.

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Ideas to further reduce greenhouse gas emissions, based on California Energy Commission recommendations, include:

Reducing solid waste (including making sure people recycle and reuse items they consume, and compost food scraps), eliminating the need for landfills;

Using carbon-free electricity, while transitioning from fossil-fuel based appliances and technologies (such as phasing out internal combustion-based vehicles in place of electric ones, and ratcheting down natural gas-fired furnaces or water heaters in favor of high-efficiency heat pump models that run on clean electricity, for example);

Creating new laws around building codes to ensure efficient, clean energy uses rather than natural gas ones (pending legal and practical study of that possibility to be reconsidered by the council in 2019);

Finding ways to attain carbon sequestration, meaning strategies to manage city forests that convert carbon dioxide into nutritional benefits for tree growth, and other means;

Encouraging efficient use of water and cars (walking and biking whenever possible, versus driving, for example).

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Despite its commitment, the council will wait until its Climate Action Plan Update next year to formally decide on the 2035 goal, but it’s united in trying to implement policy to set that timeline in motion, which council members acknowledge is ambitious.

The council was divided on whether to adopt a formal resolution to set the 2035 Net Zero target — immediately creating a formal policy directive to work from, rather than waiting to formalize that goal after more research on how it would affect city residents, builders, existing policy, land use and other considerations.

Mayor Heidi Harmon argued in favor of adopting a resolution, saying that a formal, “bold” statement targeting a 2035 Net Zero goal could make it harder for a potentially new council, after this November’s election, to roll back that policy.

“I think this is so important, and I know how tough culture shift is,” Harmon said. “But this is one of the main reasons I got elected was to be a champion on climate and have real, actionable things that we’re doing.”

An aerial view of San Luis Obispo. Joe Johnston jjohnston@thetribunenews.com

But Councilwoman Carlyn Christianson said that an “action plan” will better inform the council before it signs off on a 2035 policy.

“There are large numbers of people who emotionally react one way or another on these issues,” Christianson said. “We need to know exactly what we’re talking about, and we kind of don’t (without further staff research).”

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Community Choice Energy

In a separate decision last week, the council also voted unanimously to form a Community Choice Energy program in partnership with the city of Morro Bay.

The program, which is envisioned to begin in 2020, will provide more opportunity for local control over purchasing renewable energies, such as wind and solar, rather than carbon sources.

Upon anticipated program launch in 2020, customers will received their energy through the same PG&E lines, even if it’s from renewable sources, and continue to receive a single PG&E bill that includes the Community Choice Energy generation rates.

Community Choice Energy rates still needs to be evaluated and a Joint Powers Authority formed between the cities that would set up the administration of the program, including $1.1 million in start up funds, likely to be obtained through a bank loan.

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Since it is a new entity, credit guarantees are needed from the cities, and San Luis Obispo would be responsible for 80 percent and Morro Bay for 20 percent of the backing the credit of that loan, said Chris Read, the city’s sustainability manager.

The goal is for customer energy rates to be similar to or lower than rates for existing services, city officials said.

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