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Palo Alto Earth Day Report Shows Steady Progress, Challenges for Future

The City of Palo Alto continued to make steady progress in lowering Greenhouse Gas emissions over the past year with the City Council adopting the goal of an 80 percent reduction (from baseline 1990 levels) by 2030 as part of the Sustainability and Climate Action Plan draft. The state has set the deadline to meet the same target by 2050. As highlighted in the City’s latest Earth Day report, Palo Alto has cut its GHG emissions by an estimated 37 percent from 1990 levels.     

In addition to Council’s adoption of the “80 by 2030” emissions reduction goal, the City also moved forward with the adoption of a green building ordinance and energy reach code; made dramatic reductions in water use; launched the initial “Cool Block” program; and lead a regional consortium awarded a $1 million federal grant to support mobility alternatives. 

The Earth Day Report also outlines some of the challenges the City will need to address to reach its environmental goals, including navigating an uncertain federal policy and funding environment, and adapting the City’s Utilities services to a changing energy landscape. 

Specifics from the Earth Day report include:

• City operations:  The overall performance of City operations is mixed for 2016, with large declines in emissions from power generation facilities, street lights, traffic signals and wastewater facilities.  There was little change in emissions from vehicle fleet and water delivery facilities, and increases in emissions from buildings and other facilities.  
 
• Combined city and community emissions:  Combined City municipal operations and Palo Alto community emissions continue to decline.  In 2016, overall emissions from these sources declined by approximately 37 percent from the 1990 baseline levels and slightly less than 2 percent below last year.  Estimated City and community transportation related emissions declined by an additional 4 percent from 2015 levels.  Approximately two-thirds of Palo Alto’s greenhouse gas emissions come from transportation sources. 

• GHG emissions from City of Palo Alto Utilities:  The City’s electricity supply has been carbon neutral since 2013.  The City’s electric supply portfolio contains a variety of resources that are considered by the state to be “eligible renewable energy resources” and can be counted toward the City’s Renewable Portfolio Standards.  The City also added 150 MW of solar power through various programs. The City is on track to reach a Renewable Portfolio Standard of up to 60 percent in 2017, with about one-third of Palo Alto’s annual electricity needs provided by solar energy. The Council also approved the City’s Carbon Neutral Natural Gas Plan, to be achieved through the purchase of offsets—emphasizing funding local offsets—continued efficiency measures, and electrification where appropriate.

• Water:  Total water consumption has declined 17 percent over the past year and 40 percent since 2007.  Much of the decline has occurred in the last two years, largely as a result of the community’s exceptional response to the drought.  Due to permanent water use changes and landscaping conversion, the City’s water consumption is forecast to remain relatively stable in the near future. But, like the rest of California, Palo Alto will need to prepare for possible long term reduction in rainfall.

In addition, there are more than 150 sustainability programs across City operations including: 

• Green Purchasing:  the City’s award-winning green purchasing program has included reduction of single use-plastics, custodial and office supplies, as well as computers. 

• Community Services reduced potable water use by approximately 25 percent through strategic reductions in irrigation in open space, parks and golf courses. 

• The City has reduced its fleet fuel consumption by more than 17,000 gallons (11%) and its diesel consumption by almost 35,000 gallons (34%) over the past decade.

Palo Alto has also been recognized as a sustainability leader and winner of numerous awards in recognition of the City’s energy efficiency, bike friendly community, tree care, EV readiness and bond rating for water operations. For more information on the City’s Earth Day report, click here.

Last Updated April 9, 2017