Adopt the Renewable Energy PolicyFebruary 22, 2018
Temperatures in Portsmouth went from seventy-five degrees Fahrenheit to a snowsquall within twenty-four hours this week. While it is difficult to link isolated temperature fluctuations to long-term trends, climate change models predicted our seemingly contradictory drier world with regularly occurring extreme precipitation events. Basic science dictates that increased Greenhouse Gas Emission levels are warming the atmosphere, increasing both our water supply's rate of evaporation and the atmosphere's ability to hold moisture, causing today's erratic temperatures, massive droughts, & biblical deluges. Atmospheric Greenhouse Gas Emission levels had been 280 parts per million (ppm) for at least the 10,000 years prior to the advent of the internal combustion engine, compared to today's 400 ppm which would have to fall below 350 ppm by the end of the 21st Century to substantially slow the planets warming, yet are increasing 2 ppm annually.
Thankfully, the City Council is considering doing our part to reduce Greenhouse Gas Emissions by adopting the Renewable Energy Committee's local energy policy that was envisioned by our 2025 Master Plan to move Portsmouth towards Net Zero. Since the City of Portsmouth's energy usage is small compared to that of the broader Community consisting of residences, businesses, and other non-municipal energy users such as the Pease Development Authority (PDA), the Committee determined early on that the Policy should strive to include the entire Community and not just the City's municipal government operations. The Committee's decision was based on the City of Portsmouth generating only 16,997 tons of Greenhouse Gas Emissions, or roughly one percent of the total 1,571,947 tons of emissions the Community generated in the most recent 2012 inventory. Then based off the Master Plan's Net Zero goal, the Committee crafted an obtainable Policy with a definition of a 'Net Zero Energy' Community similar to the Department of Energy's definition, where in ours, the Community's total energy consumed would be less than or equal to locally produced renewable energy. Seeking Net Zero Energy was a compromise over pursuing trending policies that seek 100% renewable energy for electricity by 2030 and then 100% renewable energy for heat & transportation by 2050. Unfortunately, these 100% policies are likely unobtainable in New Hampshire because as a retail choice state, residents cannot be required to purchase energy from specific energy sources like in traditionally regulated states like Vermont, where Burlington already achieved their 100% renewable energy goals by purchasing the 7.4 MW Winooski River hydropower facility which provides 50% of their portfolio.
In response to the Committee's charge, the Policy sets up a phased framework that concurrently focuses on the City's municipal government operations, the broader Portsmouth Community, and vehicular traffic each eventually achieving the Net Zero Energy goal. Meanwhile, the Committee's Final Report and Recommendations includes many strategies the City can pursue to achieve these goals. For example, the first suggestion is adopting a version of the National Renewable Energy Laboratory's (NREL) energy source preference hierarchy to first strive for renewables sited on the built environment within the Community and then seek renewable energy from within the region. In the short term, the City's municipal government can pursue Net Zero Energy by procuring the City's electricity with renewable resources within the region. Becoming a Net Zero Energy Community will take far more time, but progress can be made by encouraging additional energy efficiency measures combined with increasing renewable production on the residential, commercial, and utility scale. For example, NREL believes the Gulf of Maine's wind power potential is in excess of 50 GWs that the previous City Council urged the Governor to formally request the federal Bureau of Ocean Energy Management form a Task Force to explore. Further, as an acknowledgment of the amount of time required to change our car-dependent lifestyles whose transportation network contributes 72% of our Greenhouse Gas Emissions, the Policy made vehicular traffic a distinct phase. Many Portsmouth policies are similarly aspirational in nature and the Committee made numerous recommendations to encourage electrification, like Portsmouth partnering with businesses to sponsor public charging stations to compliment home charging.
Budgetary concerns over adopting a Net Zero Energy Policy are understandable given the City budget's annual growth, individual tax burdens, and Portsmouth's high cost of living. Accordingly, the Policy affords both the current and future City Councils and City Mangers a significant degree of flexibility on timing and implementation. While the Committee's Final Report and Recommendations provide 75 suggestions for guidance, the City Manager can pursue other methods with City Boards, Committees, and Departments to help Portsmouth become a Net Zero Energy Community. For example, it is totally permissible under the Policy for the City Manager to recommend delaying a renewable energy project like the anaerobic digester at Pease while pursuing his own initiatives like the 2017 replacement of all of Portsmouth's traditional streetlights with Light Emitting Diodes (LEDs), a transition that saved taxpayers $120,000 and reduced the City's Greenhouse Gas Emissions. Further, many of the committee's recommendations cost the city nothing beyond labor hours, with six recommendations solely focusing on resources that could be highlighted for residents on the city's website. Speaking of the Final Report and Recommendations, I would like to thank all the members of the Renewable Energy Committee which included the PDA's Manager of Engineering, the Deputy City Manager, the Environmental Planner / Sustainability Coordinator, a fellow City Councilor, the now Chair of the School Board, and especially the three resident experts whose insights were an indispensable resource throughout the process. The Final Report and Recommendations along with the Policy before the City Council can be found at https://www.cityofportsmouth.com/sustainability/renewable-energy-committee.