Big changes needed to meet 2020 emissions goals

More than 800 solar photovoltaic (PV) systems (yellow dots) have been installed in Berkeley since 2000. The number of solar hot water systems (red dots) have also increased significantly. See the full map here. Source: City of Berkeley

Berkeley is making progress but still has a long way to go to meet its goals for reducing greenhouse gas emissions in the coming decades, according to a report set to be presented Tuesday night at 5:30 to the City Council. (A live stream of the meeting will be available here.)

In June 2009, the council adopted the Climate Action Plan as a guide for policy decisions to help the community significantly reduce greenhouse gas emissions over the next 40 years. The goal is to reach 33% below normal levels by 2020, and 80% below normal levels by 2050.

The plan sets out strategies to reduce emissions, improve public health, drive the creation of green jobs and, not least of all, save money due to reduced energy use.

It won’t be easy. According to the staff report, Berkeley must decrease its community-wide emissions by more than 200,000 metrics tons. That’s the equivalent of removing 35,000 passenger vehicles from the road. (Berkeley’s current vehicle population is about 56,000.)

But progress has been made, say staff.

As of 2011, “Berkeley’s community-wide greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, including emissions from transportation, building energy use, and solid waste disposal, are approximately 5% below year 2000 baseline levels. This represents a 13% reduction below Berkeley’s forecasted ‘business-as- usual’ scenario, meaning a modeled scenario in which the community is not taking action to reduce local emissions and emissions grow annually by a growth factor based on population.”

Still, the city is not currently on pace to meet its 2020 goals without major changes.

Fortunately for Berkeley, the city is not waging this battle alone. State-level decisions, particularly in the form of the Global Warming Solutions Act (AB 32), could achieve the majority, 63%, of the reductions needed for Berkeley to meet its 2020 goals, estimates staff.

Berkeley needs to remove the equivalent of 35,000 passenger vehicles from the road to reach 2020 goals. Photo: Walter Parenteau/CC

The remaining 37%, however, “will need to be achieved through local-level action,” according to the report. That’s a reduction of 93,000 metric tons of greenhouse gas emissions.

The goal of Tuesday night’s work session, notes the staff report, “is to illustrate policy scenarios, or ‘wedges,’ that could fill the gap between business-as-usual and targeted GHG emissions levels. Filling this gap will require a combination of state and local government-level policies, as well as action by businesses and households.”

In March, the council received the second annual report on Climate Action Plan progress. (See the 2011 report here.)

Staff summarized the gist of the March report as follows: “while the community is making significant gains at reducing global warming emissions and has reduced emissions well below forecasted trends, we have substantially more work to do in order to achieve the community-wide emission reduction target…”

Which changes could make a difference?

Tuesday night’s work session will give Berkeley officials a chance to discuss scenarios for closing the gap in the city’s projected vs. intended emission levels.

Reductions will result from a combination of increased efficiency and cleaner electricity measures, say staff. There are numerous scenarios for moving forward, but several components likely would feature in any of them:

  • Convert streetlights to more energy-efficient LED fixtures
  • “Green” the energy consumed in buildings beyond what’s required by the state via an increase in solar photovoltaic installations, an increase in solar hot water installations, and other clean energy measures
  • Update standards for existing residential and commercial buildings to achieve deeper energy use and cost reductions
  • Reduce municipal building energy use through a combination of solar panels, solar hot water installations and increased energy efficiency

Increasing the number of solar photovoltaic installations is a way to help close the gap in Berkeley’s projected vs. intended emission levels. Photo: Rob/CC

The city also will have to find ways to reduce vehicle miles traveled. That could result from developing mixed-use housing in transit-oriented locations; improving parking management strategies to reduce car trips or miles spent searching for parking spots; improving bike and pedestrian infrastructure; and increasing car share availability.

Berkeley also would need to continue its efforts related to solid waste disposal; since 2000, waste-related emissions have dropped by 60%. The adopted goal by 2020 is zero waste.

“Each of these sets of strategies comes with a cost as well as cost benefits,” according to the report. “Staff’s goal is to present an analysis that illustrates the trade-offs of potential policy options to achieve Berkeley’s 2020 goal.”

Staff suggests the creation of a formal working group to focus on speeding up implementation of Climate Action Plan goals and other sustainability efforts. The deputy city manager would run the group, which would meet quarterly and include members of various city departments and divisions.

According to the report, current climate action priorities are paid for by existing grants and General Fund allocations: “Staff continues to seek additional grant funding to maintain and scale-up existing efforts. The fiscal impacts of accelerating CAP implementation are currently unknown, but in any event are dependent on policy choices.”

Bayer unveils Berkeley’s largest solar installation [05.30.12]
More homes in Berkeley but energy use is down [12.16.11]

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  • guest

    As a renter of a single family home, I think there is much room for improvement in the insulation of rental houses.  Landlords don’t pay the heat.  According to PGE my energy usage is a bit high.  I think that is because of the total lack of insulation.  Insulating rentals could also reduce asthma problems.

  • Dkurapka

    building more, safer bike lanes would help

  • TN

    In the energy conservation business, this situation is called the “split incentive” problem.

    The only way that I know that it is being addressed now is through regulation like RECO in Berkeley at the time of sale of the residential property.

    Incentives don’t work in this situation.

  • serkes

    Check with PG&E.  They might have an insulation program for rentals.


  • Guest

    If more kids went to their neighborhood schools, eliminating cars on the road, that would sure help!

  • Rob Wrenn

    “Reduce municipal building energy use through a combination of solar panels, solar hot water installations and increased energy efficiency”. This sounds like a good idea. I know that about 5 schools  in Berkeley now have some solar installations. But what about the two new library branches, and the two where renovation is under way? Would seem an obvious opportunity. Anybody know if solar is part of any of these new branches?

  • Charles_Siegel

    The International Energy Agency recently issued a report that found that the world must sign a treaty controlling climate change by 2017 in order to have a 50-50 chance of keeping warming down to 2 degrees centigrade, which is the goal that the world adopted in Copenhagen 2009 to avoid the worst effects of global warming.  (See today’s NY Times.)

    This is a case where acting locally and thinking globally is not good enough.  We need a national policy that will lead to an international agreement.

  • hilldah

    Providing adequate public transportation to neighborhoods currently not being served (N. Berkeley Hills for example) would decrease the need for automobiles.

  • franhaselsteiner

    Would that BART, instead of (or in addition to) building out to suburban locations, build infill lines, such as to UC Berkeley campus. 

  • franhaselsteiner

    Such as SF Muni is building out to North Beach ….

  • PragmaticProgressive

    Huh? Downtown Bart is steps away from Ucb. How much closer does it have to be?

  • Haselstein

     Ummm, like at Telegraph?

  • Susan

    I second that motion! Please take my car…but travel in and out of the hills is impossible without one or a scooter.

  • Susan

     “Convert streetlights to more energy-efficient LED fixtures” What street lights? Not in my hood, another reason not to get out of my car.

  • The Sharkey

    Talk to your landlord. If it’s important to you perhaps you could offer to split the cost of having insulation installed.

  • The Sharkey

    That Muni line is a horrible boondoggle. After the ridiculously dumb decision to continue with AirBART even though it made no sense financially, I hope BART’s directors don’t do anything else like that.

    Due to the capital cost ($1.578 billion for the 1.7 mile light rail line), the Central Subway project has come under criticism from transit activists for what they consider to be poor cost-effectiveness.[12] In particular, they note that Muni’s own estimates[13] show that the project would increase Muni ridership by less than 1% and yet by 2030 be adding $15.2 million a year to Muni’s annual operating deficit.

  • The Sharkey

    I wouldn’t worry too much about getting out of your car. The hills are a lot safer than most of the parts of Berkeley that have plentiful street lighting.

    B’sides, the lack of light pollution improves the nighttime views of the city, and makes stargazing marginally better. I don’t know what your specific view is like, but in my part of the flatlands I can see a maximum of about 12 stars on a good night.

  • BBnet3000

    LED streetlights will help stargazing in the flatlands thankfully. All the LED streetlights ive seen are designed to send light down only, as opposed to the sodium vapor ones that send light in almost every direction. (If you ever fly in at night, you can see the actual points of light from the sodium vapor lamps, not just the ground they are lighting).

  • BBnet3000

    It is not practical to provide good mass transit to a low density neighborhood that is not on the way to anywhere with winding, hilly streets. If you want transit move into the foothills at least.

    Sure, service on Shattuck/Henry/Sutter, MLK/Alameda, and Solano may be improved in the future. But if you want walk/ride a bike to any of those, good luck.

  • Guest

    That’s a mere 5 blocks away from the Downtown station.

  • The Sharkey

    Maybe they could put some high-density low-income housing in the hills to make a new transit line more practical.


  • The Sharkey

     Good to know! Switching to more efficient street lights is definitely something everyone should support and I look forward to the change. Light pollution in the Bay Area is a real problem. Hopefully as we get more energy-efficient we can also help solve that problem.

  • Charles_Siegel

     My doctor lives in the hills and uses an eBike to commute to his office in the flatlands.  He pedals downhill and around the flatlands, and he uses the electric motor to go back up hill.

    Don’t hold your breath waiting for more transit in the hills.  It would require huge subsidies, and we don’t have the money.

  • berkeleyhigh1999

    Yeah, tenants should subsidize home improvements for landlords. Oops, I meant “housing providers” 

  • berkeleyhigh1999


  • The Sharkey

    It’s just a suggestion. I’ve split the cost of improvements with landlords before (new light fixtures, better flooring), because they were things that were important to me but that the landlord didn’t care about.

  • Haselstein

    Half of UC faculty and somewhat fewer of staff drive to campus. The best way to reduce auto use is to target regular commuters, and studies show that people use transit only when it’s convenient. And those are long blocks.

    I don’t want to debate this, but I do think that if we want smart growth, fast and convenient transit needs to be there.

    I agree with Sharkey that the airport extension is a boondoggle.

  • Haselstein

     I’ve paid for the paint (and done the painting–ye gads, that hallway had like seven doors and extensive molding) as well as refloored the kitchen, but I would never have considered major improvements like insulation.

  • Jane Tierney

    More students would take the bus to the high school if the buses ran on time and were every ten minutes during the hour before school. It’s absurd how infrequently they come, or sometimes two in a row and then none for a half hour. Improvements in the route times would really help keep people out of their cars. 

  • guest

    The Daily Cal says that the contract for Bear Transit costs about $600,000 per year.  The Emery-Go-Round costs about 2-3 million dollars per year.  That’s a lot of money, but not so much that the city couldn’t find a way to pay for it if it really wanted to.

    Adding one bus per hour on the weekends on Euclid would double the amount of transit service for most of the hills and Northside (not exactly a low-density area).  Even adding one bus per hour to most of the trunk lines in Berkeley would have a noticeable impact.

  • 3rdGenBerkeleyan

    Having kids go to neighborhood elementary schools so they can WALK instead of driving them across town would be a huge start and while we are at it stop all of the neighboring communities from driving illegally enrolled students into Berkeley…OMG those go hand in hand because if we eliminated the fraudulent enrollment all of the Berkeley kids COULD WALK TO SCHOOL BECAUSE THERE WOULD BE ROOM FOR THEM AT THEIR NEIGHBORHOOD SCHOOL!  PROBLEM SOLVED! Now to just get everyone’s head out of the sand…

  • 3rdGenBerkeleyan

     they come two in a row because the drivers take breaks together

  • The Sharkey

    Blown-in insulation isn’t as expensive as it used to be, and doesn’t involve a lot of time or prep/cleanup work.  If the tenant at least did the work of finding a contractor and getting some price quotes, I bet it would make the landlord a lot more receptive to the idea.

  • Haselstein

    There was discussion a number of years ago about shuttle on-demand service for the hills, which may be more cost-effective. In any case, that discussion never  went anywhere.

  • The Sharkey

    Where would the city get the funds to pay for it?
    Should Berkeley homeowners in South and West Berkeley be asked to pay for transit subsidies for people living in the hills?

    Just wondering.

  • Haselstein

    This article provides useful information for the present discussion:

    For bus travel to be environmentally useful, there needs to be high ridership.

  • Haselstein

     The Pacific Legal Foundation unsuccessfully sued the city of Berkeley regarding school assignments.

  • Bcpaulos

    I’m surprised the memo doesn’t mention community choice aggregation (CCA) to replace the entire PG&E power mix with 100% renewable energy.  Marin has done CCA, and San Francisco is finally resolving their issues with it.  Cincinnati bought 100% renewables for their residential load, and Chicago is considering it this fall.

    The memo relies on the slow-moving state renewables standard (33% by 2020), but we can demand better than that now.

    This group tracks it nationally: