Green Team tracking city efforts to reduce greenhouse emissions

MORGANTOWN — In the wake of the White House’s decision to pull the United States out of the 2015 Paris Climate Agreement, Morgantown became one of hundreds of cities that resolved to uphold the spirit of the worldwide pact aimed at lowering greenhouse gas emissions.

To that end, council adopted a resolution joining the National Mayors Climate Agenda in August of 2017,

As part of the Morgantown Green Team’s 2018 Annual Report, James Kotcon, Morgantown Green Team energy chair, offered some direction in how Morgantown City Council can live up to its promise to reduce greenhouse gas emissions in the city by 26-28 percent by 2025, based on the city’s emissions baseline, which was last established in 2005.

“The bottom line is the city should be able to, fairly cost-effectively,  reduce its greenhouse gas emissions further, but to meet the 28% reduction goal will require some investments over the next several years,” Kotcon said. “Some of those may not be immediately cost effective. However, it’s worth noting that greenhouse gas emissions by themselves have a cost.”

Kotcon put that cost at somewhere between $30 and $50 per ton according to the Social Cost of Carbon, an estimate put forward under a previous administration by the EPA.

“So we’d be looking at roughly $100,000 in savings as a society as a whole by achieving the city’s greenhouse gas emissions reductions,” he said.

Greenhouse gases are defined as gases that absorb radiant heat, contributing to the “greenhouse effect,” by trapping heat in the atmosphere. Aside from water vapor, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) lists carbon dioxide — which enters the atmosphere through burning fossil fuels, solid waste and wood — as the most abundant greenhouse gas. Environmental impacts are measured by estimating the amount of carbon dioxide being released.

In 2014, the city partnered with environmental consulting firm Downstream Strategies to produce a greenhouse gas inventory for the city using the 2005 data as a starting point. Based on those estimates, and factoring in reductions already realized by the city, a further reduction of just under 1,338 tons of greenhouse gas emissions per year is needed to achieve the city’s goal.

The Green Team offered a number of suggestions, including:

— The implementation of recommendations from WVU’s Industrial Assessment Center (IAC). The IAC conducted assessments of several building in 2017, including city hall and the public safety building, among others.

The report indicates an investment of $110,533 could eliminate just over 300 tons of carbon dioxide annually. It further states the city would recoup that investment in about three years. The city allocated $12,500 to the effort in the current fiscal year. The Green Team recommends the city up that to at least $50,000.

— Negotiate a new tariff for street lights with Mon Power and convert the city’s 1,700 street lights away from sodium vapor lamps to LED, or light emitting diode, lamps.

It was explained this options may not result in cost savings for the city, but could potentially reduce just over a ton of carbon dioxide from city emissions annually.

Any renegotiated tariff would need the approval of the West Virginia Public Service Commission.

— Investing $1.8 million to outfit city buildings with solar panels. Kotcon said the city could achieve its emissions goals with this one step, but noted its not remotely cost effective without passage of legislation authorizing power purchase agreements.

Without such agreements, it is estimated the city would need 40 years to recoup the investment. With purchase agreements, that could potentially be cut in half. Solar panels are guaranteed for 25 years.

Senate Bill 409, currently making the rounds in Charleston, would address this issue. Kotcon asked council to adopt a resolution supporting its passage.

— Purchase renewable energy credits. The city could reduce its greenhouse gas footprint by paying an amount beyond its normal fuel and/or power bills in order to help subsidize renewable energy generation methods like wind and solar. The cost of such credits varies based on market. An estimated cost was not provided.

— Convert the city fleet to more fuel efficient vehicles. Kotcon said the Green Team is interested in receiving a fleet inventory from the city to get an updated look at how much potential emissions savings could be achieved through city vehicles. He noted transportation fuel is second only to electricity as far as the city’s emissions breakdown.

While Kotcon said electric or hybrid vehicles may not be appropriate in all applications — fire, police, public works — there are some departments, including code enforcement and parking, where more efficient vehicles could be rotated in.

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