Carbon Neutral Portfolio

Palo Alto now has 100% carbon neutral electricity and natural gas!

Since 2013, Palo Alto has provided 100% carbon neutral electricity and as of July 1, 2017 we will also provide 100% carbon neutral natural gas. Carbon neutral means no net emissions of greenhouse gases (GHGs) into the atmosphere. (Note: GHGs are emitted as part of the process of constructing energy generation facilities. When we refer to 100% carbon neutral, we are referring to the energy output from these generation facilities.)

The ways in which we achieve carbon neutrality are different for electricity and natural gas. Carbon neutral electricity comes from clean sources such as solar, wind, landfill gas, and hydroelectricity. Palo Alto's natural gas is carbon neutral because we invest in projects that remove carbon from the atmosphere through the purchase of "carbon offsets." Electricity can be generated from carbon free resources, but natural gas is a fossil fuel and we must purchase offsets to neutralize greenhouse gas emissions from natural gas use.

Efficiency is still our #1 recommendation

Even with clean sources and offsets, using energy still has environmental impacts. Efficiency is our number one recommendation for keeping energy demand and costs low.

Our emphasis on efficiency is backed by recommendations at the State level. In 2003, the California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) adopted California's Energy Action Plan, which established a "loading order" for energy resources, ranking energy efficiency as the first resource to prioritize to minimize the environmental impacts of our energy use.

The City of Palo Alto Utilities (CPAU) offers many programs and services to help residents and businesses improve their energy efficiency.

How we got here

Palo Alto has a long history of leadership for environmental sustainability. In 2007, our City was one of the first municipalities to adopt a Climate Protection Plan. By 2012, Palo Alto had taken multiple steps towards reducing GHG emissions in its electric portfolio through energy efficiency efforts, education and incentives for solar photovoltaic panel installations, offering PaloAltoGreen as a voluntary premium renewable energy option, and adopting an accelerated Renewable Portfolio Standard (RPS).

The plans behind our carbon neutral energy portfolios

Carbon Neutral Electric Resource Plan: In March 2013, Palo Alto's City Council approved a Carbon Neutral Electric Resource Plan, committing Palo Alto to using carbon neutral electric resources. This makes our town one of only a handful of places in the world that is using 100% carbon neutral electricity. The Carbon Neutral Plan is designed to be transparent, credible, sustainable, inspirational, and replicable by other communities.

Carbon Neutral Natural Gas Portfolio Plan: In December 2016, the City Council approved the Carbon Neutral Natural Gas Portfolio Plan, enabling the City to provide 100% carbon neutral natural gas as a default to all customers starting July 2017. Each year we will calculate the amount of GHG emissions associated with natural gas consumption in Palo Alto and purchase offsets to take an equivalent amount of carbon out of the atmosphere.

Big goals

In 2016, the City Council also approved the Sustainability and Climate Action Plan (S/CAP), including its main goal of reducing greenhouse gas emissions to 80% below 1990 levels by 2030, which is 20 years earlier than the State of California's goal. By 2015, Palo Alto had already reduced GHG emissions an estimated 36% below 1990 levels, largely as a result of the City’s commitment to carbon neutral electricity. Moving to carbon neutral natural gas will result in an estimated 17% further reduction in GHG emissions.

Solar electricity soars

The City brought online five large-scale solar projects through power purchase agreements in 2015 and 2016, and now has more than 150 megawatts (MW) of solar power commitments throughout California. Solar energy supplies about one-third of Palo Alto’s total electricity needs on an annual basis. The percentage of Palo Alto's electricity sourced from solar increased significantly from 3% in 2015 to 33% in 2017, and Palo Alto’s RPS is expected to reach 60% in 2017. Some examples of recognition Palo Alto has received for its efforts to support renewable energy are the following:

What's next - our path to sustainability

Together, we've made Palo Alto a world leader in reducing GHG emissions. However, using 100% carbon neutral electricity and natural gas is not where our efforts end. To help Palo Alto meet its sustainability and climate action goals, we encourage people to continue to use energy efficiently and investigate other ways to reduce GHG emissions from transportation sources and home appliances.

Learn how CPAU is supporting this shift:

Last Updated: Nov 8, 2017