By Chad Lawhorn
In the battle against global warming, Lawrence can proclaim it is a good soldier, thus far.
A new report from City Hall shows city government is on pace to meet an ambitious goal to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions by 50 percent by 2030.
Figures from the city’s Sustainability Advisory Board show the various departments within Lawrence city government have decreased their greenhouse gas emissions by nearly 8 percent from 2008 to 2010. If the city keeps that pace, it will meet its 50 percent goal.
“We think we’re off to a really good start and, thus far, it hasn’t been painful to the city,” said Sarah Hill-Nelson, a member of the city’s Sustainability Advisory Board and an executive with Lawrence’s Bowersock Mills & Power Co.
Maintaining that pace — and pain level — may be tricky. Eileen Horn, the city-county sustainability coordinator, said the city has done a good job of taking advantage of “low-hanging fruit,” such as replacing burnt-out light bulbs with energy-efficient LEDs, reprogramming air-conditioning systems and creating more energy awareness among city employees.
In the future, producing greenhouse gas reductions may require bigger decisions that involve more up-front costs.
“I think looking at the transportation sector is really going to be our next big opportunity,” Horn said.
Specifically, she said, city leaders are watching technological advancements to see whether compressed natural gas vehicles or electric hybrids become major players in vehicle fleets, such as with trash trucks, construction vehicles and transit buses.
“I think we’ll know more in the next two years,” Horn said. “Personally, I’ve been hesitant to jump onto either one yet because we don’t really know which technology is going to become dominant. Whichever way it goes, it will require significant changes in fueling infrastructure.”
City officials will have a decision to make before then. Funding for Horn’s position will be up for renewal this summer. The city and county created the position in 2009. The city provided the first $100,000 for the program with federal stimulus dollars it was awarded. Douglas County agreed to provide another $100,000 in funding after the stimulus funds were completed. That arrangement funds the position through 2012, but city and county commissioners will need to sign off on an agreement for 2013 and beyond.
City Manager David Corliss said a proposal has been discussed that would call for the county to pay for 60 percent of the position and for the city to pay the remaining 40 percent. The position, with salary, benefits and office expenses, is expected to require about $90,000 in annual funding.
City and county commissioners likely will discuss the issue during their normal budget hearings in the summer. But already the lobbying by the city’s Sustainability Advisory Board has begun. The group presented a report to the City Commission listing continued funding of the position as the No. 1 strategy in continuing to reduce greenhouse gas emissions in the city.
“That position really is important in helping the City Commission maintain its focus on the issue,” Hill-Nelson said.
Other numbers compiled on the city’s energy saving efforts include:
• The city has reduced its electricity usage by 6 percent since 2007, mainly through energy audits of city buildings, replacing aging incandescent bulbs — everything from sports field lights to traffic signals — with LED bulbs.
• Energy savings are totaling about $55,000 a year for a new $178,000 heating and cooling system that was installed at the county’s Judicial and Law Enforcement Center.
• City departments have reduced their greenhouse gas emissions from about 34,000 tons in 2008 to 31,340 tons in 2010. The 2,660-ton reduction is equivalent to taking 462 cars off the road or taking 294 homes off the power grid for a year. The city estimates its carbon footprint through a computer program that takes data such as the amount of electricity, natural gas, water and fuel used by city departments and then calculates the amount of greenhouse gases that energy produces.
The city hopes to have a report in the next two months that shows what the carbon footprint is for the entire community, rather than just the carbon footprint being produced by city departments. The city’s Climate Protection Task Force in 2009 adopted a goal to reduce the entire community’s carbon footprint by 50 percent by 2030.