June 23, 2016: Making progress on carbon reduction, more needed

Belmont Citizen-Herald: June 23, 2016

In 2009, Belmont’s Town Meeting adopted a climate action policy committed to reducing greenhouse gas emissions in the town by 80% by the year 2050.  The first update on Belmont’s GHG emissions was just released. The town is making progress, but not nearly fast enough to meet the goals established by Town Meeting.

The recent GHG inventory shows that while local government policies and programs can play a role in driving major change in emissions reductions, consumer purchasing decisions are even more important.  Over the past six years, three major initiatives of the town’s Energy Committee have been to successfully promote adoption of an energy efficient building code in Belmont; to lead the most successful home weatherization program (Better Homes Belmont) in the commonwealth; and to lead the most successful community solarization program  (Belmont Goes Solar) in the commonwealth,  Still, Belmont lags behind where it needs to be.

According to the recent GHG inventory, “total emissions from electricity, transportation, and heating fuels are estimated to have declined by 5% from 2007 to 2014.  This is promising, though not as large a decrease as needed to be on track for achieving Belmont’s long-term goals.” The major sources of carbon dioxide emissions in Belmont are transportation (36%), electricity (29%), natural gas (21%) and fuel oil (14%).

Overall electricity usage in Belmont was “virtually identical” in 2014 to the level in 2007.  “Electricity usage stayed essentially flat” for both residential and non-residential customers, the inventory said.  While that result “may seem disappointing,” the report said, in prior years, electricity usage in Belmont had been increasing.  “Stabilization of consumption is at least a step in the right direction.”

Where the town lost ground is with transportation.  Emissions from vehicles in Belmont increased from 2007 to 2014, the GHG inventory found.  This was due largely to an increase (13%) in the number of vehicles registered in Belmont.  However, the inventory continued, “the increase in emissions due to the number of vehicles was partially offset by likely improvements in vehicle fuel efficiencies.”  Since 2007, the inventory said, there has been a substantial increase in average fuel economy for cars (from roughly 23 mpg in 2007 to roughly 28 mpg in 2014).  In addition, the inventory found, vehicles in Belmont are slightly more fuel-efficient than the state average.

Offsetting this increased fuel economy, however, is the fact that emissions from gasoline production have been increasing in recent years.  More than one-third of the emissions from the use of gasoline comes not from the tailpipe, but rather from the gasoline’s production. “The trend toward ‘dirtier’ gasoline will reduce the overall positive climate effects of increasing fuel efficiency,” the inventory warned.

“The largest areas for potential improvement through the actions of Belmont residents are afforded by the choices made when replacing vehicles and heating systems,” according to the GHG inventory.  “In both cases, even relying on currently available technology, large-scale reductions are possible.”

“Given the fact that transportation-related emissions are the single largest category of emissions in Belmont, and the very wide range of vehicle efficiencies, with electric vehicles currently available that produce as little as a fifth of the emissions per mile traveled as the least efficient gasoline vehicle, the choice of an efficient vehicle is probably the single most important and effective action residents of Belmont can take for reducing emissions.”

Making progress toward reducing carbon emissions is the bottom line in acting locally to address the global challenge of climate change.  Understanding where we are, and what steps we can each individually take to make the most difference, is critical in deciding what local actions to pursue.

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