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News / Politics / Clark County Politics

Vancouver council’s plans for carbon neutrality receiving mixed reviews

By Lauren Ellenbecker, Columbian staff writer
Published: August 9, 2022, 12:31pm

Split public opinion on Vancouver’s aggressive pursuit of electrification over fossil fuels indicate that not everyone is onboard with its swift approach to carbon neutrality by 2040.

Aaron Lande, policy and program manager, and Rebecca Small, senior policy analyst, asked the Vancouver City Council during a workshop Monday how they should approach energy supply in new buildings. The request came after a period of robust public engagement where residents urged city officials to consider supporting a diversified energy system in its set of climate actions rather than 100 percent clean energy.

Energy use in buildings and transportation are the largest contributors of greenhouse gas emissions, totaling 90 percent of the city’s carbon inventory.

City officials said existing federal and state policies will only bring Vancouver halfway to its carbon neutrality goal, so they recommend exceeding these standards. Vancouver’s framework on buildings and energy outlines actions to transition to 100 percent clean energy by 2045 and per capita energy use.

Washington’s Clean Buildings Act requires newer commercial buildings larger than 50,000 square feet to comply with clean building standards to reduce energy consumption. Vancouver is encouraging all commercial buildings to exceed the state’s energy performance standards by at least 10 percent by 2030.

Vancouver’s approach emphasizes incentives to transition to clean energy, including reducing the demand for natural gas — leading some residents to be skeptical of the goal.

Numerous emails to city officials cautioned what the absence of natural gas would mean for Vancouver, with concerns about rising costs, discomfort and minimized energy reliability. There were others who wished the city would accelerate its efforts to quicken climate goal results.

Council members acknowledged that following preexisting mandates without imposing additional electrification actions would minimize a disruption in people’s livelihoods. But this would also result in Vancouver losing up to 20 percent of its greenhouse gas reductions.

“How should we approach the energy supply and the existing buildings? We have an addiction to fossil fuels,” Councilor Kim Harless said. “We can’t say we’ve quit until we’ve stopped using it. So, we need to transition to electric.”

Yet the consensus still didn’t favor accelerating past electrification goals already outlined in the climate action framework.

“I don’t want to make assumptions about what the future is going to be like 20 years from now when it comes to all things energy supply,” Councilor Erik Paulsen said, adding that the city shouldn’t focus on making the framework overly prescriptive.

“We just we want to ensure that we have time set aside to really focus on some of the finer and finer details,” Councilor Sarah Fox said.

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Councilor Bart Hansen recused himself because he is employed by Clark Public Utilities, Vancouver’s key partner in building its energy strategy.

City officials are anticipated to return before the council on Sept. 19 to discuss the climate framework draft further, postponing its original public hearing and adoption vote.

The city of Vancouver officially adopted its climate goals in June to achieve carbon neutrality by both municipal operations and the general community by 2040. The ambitious goal puts Vancouver ahead of cities that are currently viewed as bastions of environmental progress, including Seattle whose mission is to reach carbon neutrality by 2050.

To meet the target, 80 percent of carbon emissions originating from municipal operations would have to be lowered by 2025, and the Vancouver community would have to lower its emissions by 80 percent by 2030. Its road map contains more than 90 actions between focus areas on buildings and energy, transportation and land use, natural systems and water resources, waste systems, green economy and city governance.

In Vancouver’s green transition, the largest expenses will come from moving to a sustainable transportation system. Significant investment will also be funneled into home electrification and the necessary training that come with it. Individual departments already have the climate actions in mind when considering biennium budgets.

Columbian staff writer