The theme of Northglenn city council’s study session on March 21? Climate change. With that, consensus giving staff direction to develop a climate action plan.
Council will discuss funding for the item in the 2023 budget.
In addition to Becky Smith, Northglenn’s Planning Manager, presenting on the ins and outs of what a climate action plan could look like, the city’s Sustainability Committee and Fleet Electrification Advisory Program provided an update.
Climate Action Plan
Smith began her presentation on the science behind climate change. She said that a thin layer of Greenhouse Gases surrounds Earth which allow sunlight through. The sunlight hits Earth and infrared radiation bounces back off the surface.
Most infrared radiation escapes back into space, she said, but some is blocked by the Greenhouse Gases, warming the Earth just enough to sustain life, she said.
However, daily human actions increase the levels of Carbon Dioxide — a Greenhouse Gas — in the atmosphere that traps more of that radiation, ultimately heating the surface more.
Those actions include burning fossil fuels, solid waste, deforestation, livestock and agricultural practices, refrigeration and more, Smith explained.
Transportation tops list
She then presented on the 2019 Inventory of Community and Municipal Operations Greenhouse Gas Emissions, which detail where Northglenn’s Greenhouse Gases are coming from.
In the community, 2016 numbers included 44% transportation, 22% commercial, 32% residential, 1% solid waste, 1% water/wastewater and 0.5% fugitive.
She said a little over 2.5% of the city’s emission come from government operations. For government operations, 2017 numbers included 41% water and wastewater treatment, 23% buildings, 17% street lights, 13% vehicle fleet and 6% employee commute.
She mentioned that much of the transportation emissions come from Interstate 25, which is beyond the control of the city. As well, the water and wastewater treatment plant needs a lot of electricity to run.
Smith also differentiated between climate and weather, and climate change and greenhouse gases.
“Climate is just the average weather in a place over many years,” she said.
Hinting that weather will change from day to day, but climate takes the average of those changes.
“The climate is changing based on global warming,” she said.
According to Smith, climate change is characterized by the changing weather patterns, and also extreme weather events including heatwaves, droughts and “anything considered extreme and unusual.”
“Since the 1950s, our snowpack that is measured in April at different monitoring sites around the city has decreased by 20-60%,” she said.
That affects water availability and agriculture, she said. As well, drought, groundwater flooding, rainstorms, severe hot days, severe wind, hail and changing seasonal patterns all impact Northglenn, including property and infrastructure costs.
With the evidence of climate change, she presented the steps of developing a plan.
The first would determine a baseline, which would calculate current energy consumption and find where the resulting greenhouse gas emissions are.
Then goals are set, with reduction targets and timeframes all at play, including long-term goals for the big picture matched with specific short-term goals to meet the long-term.
The game plan comes next with strategies, like carpooling, planting trees, energy efficient buildings and improving waste programs all serving as possibilities.
Those strategies would be modeled to see how much impact they would actually have.
Next comes resiliency to see how the city can prepare for possible climate events in the future, such as drought or heat waves. What infrastructure needs to be updated, updating emergency response plans and encouraging efficient water use all fall into this step.
Then comes monitoring the progress of the plan, which would cultivate into a prioritized schedule for implementing selected strategies and monitoring progress. Smith said a climate action plan is a living document, so it is never done.
Finally, the city presents its plan to residents and gets feedback.
“Actions won’t be successful unless you have buy-in and are inclusive of your community,” she said “Climate change can exacerbate existing challenges for your residents.”
Engaging residents in the formation and execution of the climate action plan is key, Smith said.
She said the average bill for climate action plans are $150,000, which include costs of public engagement and modeling to determine actions needed to achieve reduction goals.
However, the cost is more or less depending on how much public engagement is included and how much modeling is needed. Smith noted that past reports could be used to bring down the modeling costs, but based on how many strategies need to be modeled, the cost could rise.
And, Smith noted the potential savings for the city due to better preparedness for future climate disasters.
City Councilor Julie Duran Mullica asked how long the process would take, and Smith said about a year, depending on public engagement. She also encouraged Northglenn to team up with neighboring cities to make it a regional effort, including groups like the Tri-County Health Department and Excel Energy.
Mullica also said it’s important to include many diverse community stakeholders, noting that Northglenn is mostly a blue-collar community and some residents’ jobs could be at stake if policy isn’t written carefully.
Mayor Pro Tem Jenny Wilford agreed and noted conversations locally and statewide need to happen to brainstorm how to achieve a just transition to renewable energy.
“We don’t want to see the people that have chosen to make their lives here with us have to move because they’ve lost their livelihood,” Wilford said.
She wants to get the wheels rolling sooner rather than later.
“I don’t want to wait until 2023 because there is so much work to do,” she said.
City Manager Heather Geyer said a Sustainability Coordinator would help move the process along, but she is not budgeted to hire one until 2023.
Mayor Meredith Leighty and City Councilor Becky Brown both raised concern starting this year because of the lack of funding.
Rob Webber, Operations Manager for Northglenn Public Works, presented on how the city is moving their vehicle fleet from fossil-fuel powered vehicles to primarily electric-powered vehicles.
To assess which vehicles it makes sense to switch over, an assessment paid for by Xcel Energy will be completed. This will see which fossil fuel vehicles have any value to sell, which are old enough to retire, which make sense to keep and how effective the electric vehicles will be in comparison to gas powered.
From this report, Webber urged council to consider the results when they are making their vehicle replacement schedule.
Sustainability Committee Update
Renata Trisiliwat, Co-Chair of the Sustainability Committee, presented two main priorities for the committee in 2022: solid waste optimization and to set carbon emissions and climate goals in the sustainability plan.
Trisiliwat said that nearly 90% of single-family households’ waste from 2017-2020 went to landfills.
“This shows that the recycling program is not optimum,” she said.
She said that landfills generate methane gas, pollute groundwater and make for an unattractive area.
To solve this problem, she recommended a better recycling program and a composting program, promoting residents to reduce, repurpose and reuse, and to collect more data on where the waste is coming from.
The second priority, she explained, is to update the sustainability plan with “policies to help the City build resiliency to the biggest climate change risks and threats,” and “post-Covid 19 recovery plans that rebuild the economy and help people rebuild their lives in a green way.”
The meeting comes after the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) released their 2nd part of the Sixth Assessment Report, Climate Change 2022: Impacts, Adaptation and Vulnerability on Feb. 28. The report comes as a dire warning about the consequences of inaction, according to a press release from the IPCC.
Dr. Lauren Gifford, an Affiliate Faculty in the Department of Earth & Atmospheric Sciences at Metropolitan State University of Denver and who assisted the authors of the report, said that local municipalities play a huge role in combating climate change.
Northglenn Mayor Meredith Leighty said in an interview their council keeps climate change at the forefront of their conversations while making decisions.
“The best work happens at the municipal level,” she said. “We’re able to impact change a little more directly and then if we can impact change together, then we’re going to make a significant difference.”