More than 800 solar photovoltaic (PV) systems (yellow dots) have been installed in Berkeley since 2000. The number of solar hot water systems (red dots) have also increased significantly. See the full map here. Source: City of Berkeley

Berkeley is making progress but still has a long way to go to meet its goals for reducing greenhouse gas emissions in the coming decades, according to a report set to be presented Tuesday night at 5:30 to the City Council. (A live stream of the meeting will be available here.)

In June 2009, the council adopted the Climate Action Plan as a guide for policy decisions to help the community significantly reduce greenhouse gas emissions over the next 40 years. The goal is to reach 33% below normal levels by 2020, and 80% below normal levels by 2050.

The plan sets out strategies to reduce emissions, improve public health, drive the creation of green jobs and, not least of all, save money due to reduced energy use.

It won’t be easy. According to the staff report, Berkeley must decrease its community-wide emissions by more than 200,000 metrics tons. That’s the equivalent of removing 35,000 passenger vehicles from the road. (Berkeley’s current vehicle population is about 56,000.)

But progress has been made, say staff.

As of 2011, “Berkeley’s community-wide greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, including emissions from transportation, building energy use, and solid waste disposal, are approximately 5% below year 2000 baseline levels. This represents a 13% reduction below Berkeley’s forecasted ‘business-as- usual’ scenario, meaning a modeled scenario in which the community is not taking action to reduce local emissions and emissions grow annually by a growth factor based on population.”

Still, the city is not currently on pace to meet its 2020 goals without major changes.

Fortunately for Berkeley, the city is not waging this battle alone. State-level decisions, particularly in the form of the Global Warming Solutions Act (AB 32), could achieve the majority, 63%, of the reductions needed for Berkeley to meet its 2020 goals, estimates staff.

Berkeley needs to remove the equivalent of 35,000 passenger vehicles from the road to reach 2020 goals. Photo: Walter Parenteau/CC

The remaining 37%, however, “will need to be achieved through local-level action,” according to the report. That’s a reduction of 93,000 metric tons of greenhouse gas emissions.

The goal of Tuesday night’s work session, notes the staff report, “is to illustrate policy scenarios, or ‘wedges,’ that could fill the gap between business-as-usual and targeted GHG emissions levels. Filling this gap will require a combination of state and local government-level policies, as well as action by businesses and households.”

In March, the council received the second annual report on Climate Action Plan progress. (See the 2011 report here.)

Staff summarized the gist of the March report as follows: “while the community is making significant gains at reducing global warming emissions and has reduced emissions well below forecasted trends, we have substantially more work to do in order to achieve the community-wide emission reduction target…”

Which changes could make a difference?

Tuesday night’s work session will give Berkeley officials a chance to discuss scenarios for closing the gap in the city’s projected vs. intended emission levels.

Reductions will result from a combination of increased efficiency and cleaner electricity measures, say staff. There are numerous scenarios for moving forward, but several components likely would feature in any of them:

  • Convert streetlights to more energy-efficient LED fixtures
  • “Green” the energy consumed in buildings beyond what’s required by the state via an increase in solar photovoltaic installations, an increase in solar hot water installations, and other clean energy measures
  • Update standards for existing residential and commercial buildings to achieve deeper energy use and cost reductions
  • Reduce municipal building energy use through a combination of solar panels, solar hot water installations and increased energy efficiency
Increasing the number of solar photovoltaic installations is a way to help close the gap in Berkeley’s projected vs. intended emission levels. Photo: Rob/CC

The city also will have to find ways to reduce vehicle miles traveled. That could result from developing mixed-use housing in transit-oriented locations; improving parking management strategies to reduce car trips or miles spent searching for parking spots; improving bike and pedestrian infrastructure; and increasing car share availability.

Berkeley also would need to continue its efforts related to solid waste disposal; since 2000, waste-related emissions have dropped by 60%. The adopted goal by 2020 is zero waste.

“Each of these sets of strategies comes with a cost as well as cost benefits,” according to the report. “Staff’s goal is to present an analysis that illustrates the trade-offs of potential policy options to achieve Berkeley’s 2020 goal.”

Staff suggests the creation of a formal working group to focus on speeding up implementation of Climate Action Plan goals and other sustainability efforts. The deputy city manager would run the group, which would meet quarterly and include members of various city departments and divisions.

According to the report, current climate action priorities are paid for by existing grants and General Fund allocations: “Staff continues to seek additional grant funding to maintain and scale-up existing efforts. The fiscal impacts of accelerating CAP implementation are currently unknown, but in any event are dependent on policy choices.”

Bayer unveils Berkeley’s largest solar installation [05.30.12]
More homes in Berkeley but energy use is down [12.16.11]

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Emilie Raguso (former senior editor, news) joined Berkeleyside in 2012 and covered politics, public safety and development until her departure in 2022. In 2017, Emilie was named Journalist...