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Ashland climate policy has 2030 vision

Photo courtesy of Ashland Parks and Recreation | Maintenance Supervisor Bill Miller uses electric mower Wednesday at Lithia Park. Electric equipment is one area where the city is moving toward its climate policy goals.
Recommendations look to attain carbon neutrality goals

ASHLAND — Climate Policy Commission Chair Richard Barth brought forward policy recommendations at the Ashland City Council study session Monday intended to catch the city up on its Climate and Energy Action Plan goals.

The Climate Policy Commission was directed to bring “specific actionable policy proposals forward” after its 2021 annual report to the council, and subsequently developed proposals prioritized in collaboration with Mayor Julie Akins, according to Barth.

Recommendations included home-energy scoring, a “climate note” for evaluating project emissions and implementing CEAP goals, city facility emissions reduction, and charting a path off natural gas.

Barth underscored Monday city facility emissions reductions and establishing the climate note as an element of staff communication akin to the existing fiscal impacts note in council documents.

“Rather than dollars, climate impacts measure greenhouse gas emissions and community resiliency,” Barth said.

Policy recommendations were conceptualized within top CEAP targets for city operations: carbon neutrality by 2030 and eliminating fossil fuel consumption by 2050, and leading the community in a collective 8% annual reduction in greenhouse gas emissions.

A CEAP progress update last spring showed Ashland “falling behind” on its goals, and an increase in natural gas connections and consumption since 2015, Barth said.

“Although municipal operations account for a small percentage of Ashland’s greenhouse gas emissions, it’s important for the city to lead the way with investment choices that reduce emissions and increase resilience to likely climate impacts,” Barth said.

As far as progress, the city has internalized CEAP goals, acquired electric equipment, set the vehicle fleet on track toward electric, and adopted an administrative policy restricting the future installation of infrastructure using carbon-emitting fuels within city-owned and -operated facilities.

The administrative policy falls short, Barth said, because exceptions should rise to the City Council level to allow for community weigh-in, policy exceptions lack specificity, no requirement exists for advance planning that affects what is considered “viable,” and the policy lacks recognition of the 2030 carbon neutrality code requirement.

A 2017 graph from the CEAP showed natural gas as the dominant source of residential and commercial energy — nearly one-quarter of Ashland’s estimated emissions in 2015.

Upstream natural gas leakage has worsened since then, Barth said, and “some estimates indicate that rather than ‘natural’ gas being a bridge fuel to a clean future, ‘natural’ gas is producing as much global warming impact as coal.”

Per the adopted CEAP, the “city must find some way to be neutral,” Barth said, and the alternative is buying offsets.

Current emissions peak around 12,000 megatons of carbon dioxide equivalents, while a “fully electrified” graph peaks around 600 megatons.

“This indicates a 20-to-1 reduction in emissions,” according to Barth’s presentation. “So eliminating diesel, gasoline and ‘natural’ gas usage will reduce the offsets the city must buy by 95%.”

For city operations to attain carbon neutrality and eliminate fossil fuel consumption on schedule and “in a cost-effective manner,” CPC recommended immediate planning.

“Buildings have life cycles over 100 years, and ‘natural’ gas equipment life cycles are over 20 years,” Barth said. “Eight years already appears difficult when considering averages.”

Barth called for a “methodical examination” of the city facilities responsible for the bulk of emissions, then creation of a plan to achieve stated goals using the compiled data.

“City government is one of Ashland’s major organizations,” Barth said. “Modeling best practices by creating and executing a specific plan will provide valuable learnings to be shared with Ashland’s other major organizations.”

CPC recommended that City Council direct staff to bring back within three months a resolution or ordinance that generally prohibits installation of natural gas equipment in new construction or significant remodel of city facilities.

Another recommendation directs staff within six months to develop a facilities management plan to phase out existing natural gas equipment in city facilities by 2030 or estimate the offset costs for non-electrified equipment.

“I would like CPC to have more time to bring forward policies that lead in a methodical fashion, that don’t impose unreasonable costs on the community, and that recognize the role of Avista and its employees — there’s a number of stakeholders that all have to be coordinated in order for this to happen in a reasonable fashion,” Barth said. “We’re not talking about a community-wide ban here, this is just the city deciding what it’s going to do with its own facilities.”

With the departure of administrative, analytical and management staff over the past year, “CPC’s effectiveness is seriously impaired without stable, adequate staff,” Barth said. “In addition, staffing shortages in various departments have made it difficult to collaborate.”

CPC liaison Councilor Tonya Graham said she stands “fully behind” the commission’s recommendations, and proposed soliciting an “interim response” regarding staff’s ability to meet the proposed timeline, for discussion at an upcoming meeting.

Acknowledging the staff capacity factor, Barth said the three- and six-month time frames were based on the urgency of the issues at hand.

City Manager Joe Lessard said he could not estimate when the vacant staff position supporting CPC would be filled, as the vacant human resource director and finance director positions take focus. Lessard said he hoped to finalize those job descriptions this week while continually processing police and fire applications.

“That has been our focus over the last two weeks,” Lessard said. “It’ll probably take us to the end of this week to get those all cleared up, and then we’ll move onto the other positions.”