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By 2035, the City of Evanston hopes to achieve carbon neutrality, or net-zero carbon dioxide emissions, for municipal operations, including City buildings, streetlights and vehicles.
The City presented its newly developed strategy for achieving net-zero emissions at an Aug. 10 Zoom meeting, titled Planning for Zero: Evanston’s Municipal Zero Emissions Strategy.
Carbon neutrality is achieved by either balancing carbon emissions with carbon removal, or by cutting carbon emissions entirely. Evanston’s strategy seeks to reduce carbon emissions through the use of renewable energy and the elimination of fossil fuels.
The strategy includes initiatives to electrify City buildings and cars, add rooftop solar panels to City buildings, create more efficient streetlights, seek cleaner fuel for City vehicles and more.
City operations make up only 1% of the community’s greenhouse gas emissions, but it is critical that the City demonstrates leadership by striving towards carbon neutrality, said Kumar Jensen, who stepped down as the City’s Chief Sustainability & Resiliency Officer that day.
“It is very important for us and for our City staff and stakeholders that we are walking-the-walk, and we’re demonstrating that we as a municipality can do what we would be asking private sectors and community organizations to do,” Jensen said.
The City of Evanston developed the strategy, along with help from Elevate, a Chicago-based nonprofit working to ensure everyone has clean and affordable heat, power and water; and the Center for Neighborhood Technology, a nonprofit that provides research and tools to create resilient and sustainable communities.
Greenhouse gas emissions in Evanston
In 2017, the City of Evanston began developing a Climate Action and Resilience Plan (CARP).
The plan outlines a path towards carbon neutrality for both the community and for municipal operations by 2050. A large portion of CARP centers on reducing greenhouse gas emissions.
Evanston buildings are responsible for 80% of the community greenhouse gas emissions (GHG), according to the 2018 greenhouse gas emissions inventory. This is primarily due to electricity and natural gas consumption, said Jensen. Transportation makes up an additional 27% and waste makes up 2%. Evanston’s excellent public transportation keeps the emissions from transportation low, said Jensen.
Looking only at City operations, Evanston buildings make up 80% of greenhouse gas emissions, while the City’s fleet, including all City vehicles, and streetlights make up the remaining 12% and 8%, respectively.
The nine strategies to achieve carbon neutrality
Due to factors like fuel efficiencies and changes in heating and cooling systems, municipal operations are projected to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions by 2035 – but not enough to reach Evanston’s climate goals, said Lindy Wordlaw from Elevate, who led the presentation on the City’s strategies.
The City’s Carbon Neutrality Roadmap includes nine total strategies, six for its buildings and streetlights and three for its fleet. The City presents three scenarios, ranging from most to least aggressive, in implementing the nine strategies. Even the least aggressive scenario represents a significant operational change, said Wordlaw.
Building and streetlight strategies
- The first strategy involves rightsizing, or reducing municipal square footage that isn’t needed. This technique immediately reduces energy consumption. Even a small reduction makes a significant difference, said Wordlaw, who led the presentation on building and streetlight strategies. Rightsizing is also an opportunity to discuss adaptive reuse, and how this space can be used to support the community, he said.
- The City is also looking to reduce its reliance on natural gas in a fuel-switching strategy called electrification, which replaces technologies that use fossil fuel with technologies that use electricity.
- Another strategy involves making municipal buildings more energy efficient. This is a crucial part of the neutrality plan, said Wordlaw, and may include lighting upgrades, creating more efficient heating and cooling systems, and better air sealing and insulation.
- Evanston wants to maximize rooftop space on municipal buildings for on-site renewable energy. The City could support up to 4.6 million kilowatt hours with rooftop solar, and because the cost of on-site solar is decreasing, this strategy becomes an important part of the Carbon Neutrality plan, said Wordlaw.
- The City is also looking into options for additional community solar access outside of Evanston for off-site renewable energy. This will also help support the local green economy.
- Evanston has about 6,000 streetlights, and is looking to increase streetlight efficiency by replacing older models, of which there are 1,800, with more efficient lighting fixtures.
- Jen McGraw from the Center for Neighborhood Technology presented the proposal for fleet strategies. There are more than 400 vehicles in Evanston’s municipal fleet, and the City hopes to electrify a number of them in order to move the City towards clean fuel technologies, said McGraw. In order to do this, the City will need new infrastructure for charging and more information about maintenance and usage, but the payback will be great, said McGraw. A portion of the vehicles in the City’s fleet are larger diesel vehicles, including fire trucks and construction equipment, for which there aren’t electric options. For these vehicles, the City is looking into cleaner fuel options, such as biofuel or renewable diesel.
- Another strategy involves the management and rightsizing of the fleet. Many City vehicles don’t have a lot of mileage, and there may be better uses for those cars. McGraw also said that thanks to the pandemic, many people have realized they don’t need to travel as often, and reducing travel will also help move the City towards carbon neutrality. Improved maintenance, increased carpooling and tracking a vehicle’s usage will also increase fleet efficiency.
- The final strategy aims to reduce the miles traveled by the City fleet by reducing the number of trips, improving the efficiency of the route and promoting other modes of travel.
Constraints to the strategy
Combining all these strategies will have a substantial impact on the reduction of municipal greenhouse gas emissions. However, there will still be residual emissions in 2035, said Wordlaw.
A large part of that is due to the City’s Water Treatment Plant, which represents 40% of municipal emissions. The Water Treatment Plant is already quite efficient and there aren’t many opportunities to improve emissions, said Wordlaw. The City will also remain reliant on natural gas as the plant’s backup generator until there are new technologies. Hopefully, the plant’s consumption will be offset by renewable energy in the future, said Wordlaw.
In addition to the plant, the electrification of cars and buildings will create a temporary increase in electricity consumption, but this will eventually decrease as the electric grid gets cleaner.
Another aspect of this strategy is understanding the costs of achieving carbon neutrality. Specifically, the strategy evaluates two types of costs: one-time investments and operation costs.
One-time investments include building new infrastructure, electrifying buildings, replacing technology and more. The overall estimated cost for one-time investments ranges from $35 million for the least aggressive scenario to $75 million for the most aggressive scenario.
The operation costs, which are continuous annual costs, are net positive, due to savings from efficiencies and improvements. The net savings range from $1.4 million a year for the least aggressive scenario to $3.7 million a year for the most aggressive scenario.
The Aug. 10 meeting ended with a Q&A session. It is available for viewing on the City of Evanston’s YouTube channel.