global warming

The Climate Action Fellow Program Model

California local governments will play an important role in the implementation of California’s Global Warming Solutions Act (AB32). The initial scoping plan of AB32 called for local governments to set municipal and communitywide greenhouse gas (GHG) reduction targets of 15 percent below current levels by 2020. To plan and implement these savings, local governments have developed local Climate Action Plans. These plans are comprehensive roadmaps that outline specific activities a local government will undertake to reduce GHG emissions.

Having a plan is a great first step. However, implementing the plan can be a challenge for many local governments. Smaller to medium-sized municipalities generally suffer from limited staff and capacity to implement stated goals or address new mandates. To overcome this barrier, the California Sustainability Alliance has developed a utility-funded program model to assist local governments: The Climate Action Fellows Program Model.

The objective of the program model is to provide a blueprint to use local university students (as Climate Action Fellows) to add capacity to local governments to address climate protection mandates, voluntary goals and commitments. Employing university students to serve as dedicated climate protection professionals provides these youth with unparalleled experience and place-based application of classroom theory, while providing the local municipality with cost conscious staffing to meet the goals set out in their Climate Action Plans. The model could be funded and implemented regionally by energy utilities. The model outlines the key steps to implementing the program including engaging and selecting partner local governments, recruiting and training fellows, supporting the fellows during implementation, and concluding fellow’s work by transitioning work back to local government staff.

The Alliance developed the Climate Action Fellows Model and pilot tested the approach with the City of Covina throughout the second half of 2014. Two fellows supported the City to address the most challenging aspect of its Energy Action Plan: reducing commercial sector energy consumption. The long-term objective of the City was to create a Green Business Certification program. The fellows supported the first steps of this process by outlining a business energy efficiency pilot program and recruiting pilot participants.

The Covina pilot culminated in a presentation by the fellows to the Covina City Council outlining the pilot program, the deliverables compiled by the fellows, and the status of Covina’s Green Business Pilot. The fellows’ support made inroads to addressing the City’s commercial sector climate and energy goals; city staff now are able to carry commercial sector efforts forward in 2015.

Read the full report outlining the program model and detailing the work done for the City of Covina. Expanding this program across California could provide much needed support to Local Governments and advance progress towards meeting the state’s aggressive climate goals.

New Concept for Local Governments to Partner with Utilities and Participate in the Cap-and-Trade Market

The Cap-and-Trade market has added a new dynamic to California’s greenhouse gas regulations. Utilities are faced with finding cost-effective ways to comply with their emissions reductions requirements. Energy efficiency at the local government level presents a large opportunity for saving energy that is currently not incentivized by the Cap-and-Trade system.

The coalescence of these three related factors presents an interesting nexus for solutions. The emissions reductions resulting from saved energy can be valued against the cost of compliance to utilities, which is projected to increase over time.

In response to this nexus of opportunity, the Alliance has released Exploring Utility and Local Government Partnerships to Fund Energy Efficiency Projects for Compliance with AB 32, a whitepaper that outlines a new concept that would enable local governments to participate in the Cap-and-Trade market. Under the presented framework, local governments could partner with their load-serving utilities to move cost-effective energy efficiency projects forward. The concept presented follows this basic framework:

  • Local governments receive upfront capital from their load-serving utility.
  • These local governments undertake projects with measureable energy savings.
  • These energy savings result in reduced greenhouse gas emissions for the utility, helping them meet their compliance obligation under AB 32.

This possible fit between the utilities’ needs for compliance and local government opportunities for energy efficiency needs to be explored for cost-effectiveness. Local governments require additional funding mechanisms for expansive energy efficiency projects. Utilities are some of the largest entities covered under Cap-and-Trade regulations, leading to large compliance obligations. Energy efficiency is also known to be the most cost-effective way to balance supply and demand for electricity. The key to this new concept is that the funding comes from the utility’s compliance budget. Therefore, it is in addition to existing energy efficiency incentive programming. There are challenges to the framework. Thus, the Alliance addresses each of them individually in the whitepaper. The paper also includes recommendations for implementing this new framework for harnessing potential greenhouse gas emissions reductions.

Key study conclusions include:

  • There is an anticipated shortfall of compliance instruments (allowances and offset credits) occurring as early as 2016.
  • Alternate cost-effective means of compliance will be needed, and this mechanism could greatly benefit both utilities and local governments.
  • Working locally to permanently reduce emissions is a win-win opportunity for local governments and utilities.
  • There is widespread support among key stakeholders and industry subject matter experts to test this concept.

The study also summarizes key stakeholder feedback gathered as a part of concept exploration. Download the full report for more details.

New Retrocommissioning Program Toolkit for Local Governments

As part of its efforts to help local governments comply with federal and state retrocommissioning codes and policies, the California Sustainability Alliance (Alliance) has developed a Retrocommissioning Program Toolkit specifically for municipal facility use.

Retrocommissioning (RCx) is a method of systematically examining the operation and maintenance of an existing building’s systems in order to identify ways to improve overall building performance. It offers a relatively quick and low-cost way to help building owners ensure that energy efficiency features and equipment specified in the building design are installed and operating as intended - and as required to meet occupants’ needs. 

The Alliance created its RCx Program Toolkit to help local government staff develop and implement a municipal facility retrocommissioning program.  The RCx Toolkit complements existing portfolio management tools and utility management systems, helping the user take the “next step” once a decision has been made to incorporate retrocommissioning into municipal facility standard operating procedures.  Although focused on the performance testing and documentation components, the Toolkit also provides resources, such as model commissioning specifications, to facilitate the entire commissioning process.

In addition to a detailed step-by-step description of the RCx program development processes of planning and preparation, creating data infrastructure, and collecting baseline data, the Toolkit includes necessary tools and resources to implement the program such as:

  • Sample RCx Action Plan;
  • References to common RCx resources and procedures;
  • Model Request for Proposals (RFP) language;
  • The RCx Dashboard, a spreadsheet tool that allows the user to enter basic building information to identify potential RCx candidates and track RCx program accomplishments.

The RCx Toolkit is designed to be flexible enough to be a complementary resource for an energy manager in a large local government or to be the sole RCx Program management tool for facility and public works staff in smaller jurisdictions.  It may be used to facilitate RCx for an entire portfolio of buildings, or for a defined sub-group, such as all fire stations or libraries.  Alternatively, a subset of the Toolkit’s procedures can serve to guide local government staff through retrocommissioning those measures for which that team is responsible, or to provide to its maintenance contractor. 

Depending on a government’s specific situation, the RCx Dashboard can aid in prioritizing buildings and identifying RCx candidates.  Data or analyses from other tools such as the EPA’s Portfolio Manager or a utility management system also function to prioritize the buildings, in which case, the Toolkit can work as a complementary resource library and tracking tool.  For example, for planning a heating, ventilation, and air conditioning (HVAC) system replacement, the Toolkit includes sample retrocommissioning RFP language to ensure the HVAC contractor performs functional tests and provides the required documentation to the project team.  For projects completed by internal staff, such as lighting replacements, the Toolkit’s RCx functional tests can be used to document proper installation and operation of the newly installed lighting system. 

From Toronto to Copenhagen: A Precautionary Tale

Copenhagen, December 13, 2009 - I am writing this early Sunday morning as my flight arches across the North Sea and begins a slow descent over the Danish Archipelago. It is clear day and the sun is catching the graceful rotations of hundreds if not thousands of windmills that dot the Danish countryside. I am headed to Copenhagen to attend the climate meetings there this week, and as the plane begins its final approach I am thinking about how my journey from Toronto to Copenhagen really began over twenty years ago.

Climate change first burst on the international agenda in the sweltering summer of 1988. Throughout the 1980’s there had been a growing sense of concern among climatologists (scientists who study the physical and chemical processes in that thin layer of life-giving gas that surrounds our planet) that human activities were altering the atmosphere in potentially dangerous ways. In June of 1988 Canada hosted the Toronto Conference on the Changing Atmosphere which brought together climate scientists, energy experts, policy makers and others from around the world to address the problem. I had been working on energy and environment issues for over ten years by then, and the Canadian government asked me if I would organize the energy workshop for the Toronto conference.

Already by 1988 the case for human-induced climate change was strong. The greenhouse effect itself had been understood since the 19th century and the concentration of carbon dioxide in the upper atmosphere was clearly on the rise. Carbon dioxide emissions from fossil fuel combustion were double the level that the ecosphere could absorb, and the surplus was accumulating in the atmosphere. This in turn was enhancing the natural greenhouse effect, and the result would be an increase in the average global temperature. The theory was sound and well established, but in 1988 the signal – the actual increase in global average temperature – was difficult to detect amidst the natural temperature variations.

If the consequence of climate disruption were not so serious, a “wait and see” attitude might have been justified in 1988, but therein lies one of the central dilemmas of this issue. Increases in greenhouses gases today continue to affect climate for decades and even centuries into the future. Every day we continue to emit greenhouse gas emissions at current rates or higher, we lock into place the long term consequences of those emissions. And the consequences of upsetting the global climate system go far beyond simple warming. It’s not unlike the fever we get when suffering from the ‘flu; the average global temperature increase is a symptom of deeper problems. By the time the global atmosphere is running a fever of even one or two degrees Celsius, it represents a significant destabilization of the planetary climate system and anything that is connected to it. And everything is connected to it, including us.

This is where the “precautionary principle” comes into the picture.

An Eventful Week for Climate Change in the U.S.

This has been a busy week for climate change activity in the U.S. Here are three stories that struck me as particularly interesting:

Debate Commences on Senate Climate Legislation. The Kerry Boxer bill enters the ring, weighing in at over 800 pages (much of taken from the earlier Waxman Markey bill that passed the House in June), this is the bill that will define America’s response to climate change. Climate policy advocates swarmed the bill as soon as it was released and positions and alliances were already starting to form this week. The emission reduction target has been increased from 17% to 20% below 2005 levels by 2020, the provision for the use of international offsets has been cut back, and a ceiling on carbon price has been proposed. Interestingly, there appears to be relatively strong support in the business community for this bill, but there will be a difficult path to passage. The world community convenes in Copenhagen in December to address the increasingly worrisome warnings that dangerous climate change is closer than had been hoped. Virtually nobody expects the bill to pass before the Copenhagen meeting, but the tenor of the US debate between now and then will go a long way to determining the outcome. Watch for more on this story, much more, in the weeks ahead.

Coming to a Post Office Near You! Perhaps realizing that in the absence of a climate law the administration will have to demonstrate its commitment to greenhouse gas reduction in other ways, President Obama issued an Executive Order this week calling for a 20% reduction in GHG emissions from government operations, and federal agencies have just 90 days to show how they will do it. This is a sleeper. The federal government owns 500,000 buildings and is a significant purchaser of just about everything that uses energy. If the government delivers on these targets it will cause a significant shot in the arm to the US efficiency, renewable energy and recycling industries, and it will have wide ranging repercussions for supply chains everywhere.

PG&E Quits U.S. Chamber of Commerce in protest over its position on climate change. The PG&E blog entry announcing the move, entitled “Irreconcilable Differences”, makes for interesting reading. This is a sign of the times if there ever was one. Those of you who were around in the early days of the climate change policy debate will remember how rare it was to find any business support for action on global warming. That has changed in the last few years as the inevitability of an energy transformation has become apparent, and as astute members of the business community begin to appreciate the upside to climate change policy. American business is waking up to the enormity of the clean energy opportunity, and not a moment too soon.