Communities Take Initiative to Combat Climate Change

While the federal government moves slowly to support renewable energy and energy efficiency, cities and towns across the U.S. are adopting green building ordinances or creating funds to encourage energy efficient building design and increase integration of renewable energy systems.

Last month, the town of Epping, New Hampshire, passed a town ordinance that requires all new commercial buildings to meet specific energy efficiency guidelines and rewards developers who install renewable energy systems on the buildings. The green building “performance zoning” is the first of its kind in New Hampshire. Now town officials from around the state are contacting the Epping Planning Board to get advice on implementing similar ordinances. According to Epping Town Planner Clay Mitchell, the town did not want to wait for leadership in Washington to act. “I’m happy to be blunt about it — given the lack of leadership on the federal and state level, it’s time for the towns to step up to the plate and this [green building ordinance] is a great way to do it,” Mitchell said. Epping is indicative of the growing local movement toward required green development, said Jason Hartke, Manager of State and Local Advocacy at the U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC). “We’ve seen an amazing amount of activity on the local level. This year has been very busy,” Hartke said. Hartke works with USGBC chapters around the U.S. to educate state and municipal governments about the environmental and economic benefits of green building. While interest in green development has steadily grown over the last few years, 2007 is the busiest year to date, Hartke said. Concord, Massachusetts, is another small town following the growing green development trend. Last year, town officials created the Comprehensive Sustainable Energy Planning (CSEP) Committee to issue recommendations on how to cut down on energy use and “achieve a sustainable energy future.” The CSEP recommended that Concord adopt a Renewable Portfolio Standard (RPS) of 4 percent renewable energy generation by 2009; implement minimum vehicle mileage requirements and use biodiesel for all town vehicles; create a program for residents to assess their energy use and encourage efficiency; establish a permanent Sustainable Energy Board to implement sustainable energy projects such as green building design; and establish a Sustainable Energy Fund to pay for projects. Vivian Myers-Marowitz, co-chairperson of the CSEP said that, more so than anything else, Concord was looking at these solutions for economic reasons. “While the environmental issues are very important, we didn’t bring them up as much,” Myers-Marowitz said. “The pocketbook issues and security issues are what got people interested in creating these recommendations. This stuff just plain makes sense. I don’t consider myself an environmentalist, I consider myself a realist.” Indeed, as energy demand increases causing rising fuel and electricity prices as well as security vulnerabilities, energy conservation, energy efficiency and renewable energy are becoming attractive to more communities around the U.S. Green development initiatives are especially important for towns and cities that rely heavily on tourism. Aspen, Colorado, is one of those towns centered around the lucrative ski and snowboard industries. However, recent climate analysis shows that the snow in Aspen will vanish as climate change speeds up, collapsing a significant portion of the town’s economy. “We’ve done some local computer modeling and climate simulation which says that with business as usual, the ski industry will be dead in Aspen and we will have the climate of Amarillo, Texas,” said Gary Goodson, Associate Director of Aspen Community Office of Resource Efficiency (CORE). CORE promotes energy efficiency, green building design and renewable energy in Colorado’s Pitkin County, where Aspen is located. The organization manages the Renewable Energy Mitigation Program (REMP), a $7 million program that provides rebates for citizens who buy energy efficient appliances or renewable energy systems like a photovoltaic array. Pitkin County also has a carbon tax for homeowners who use “excessive” amounts of energy or build houses over 5,000 square feet. At $340 per ton of CO2, the tax is “probably the world’s highest,” said Goodson. REMP is another example of local communities taking initiative to combat the world’s growing energy problems. Pitkin County taxpayers support REMP because the area’s long-term economic stability depends on a healthy environment. Support for those types of programs seems to be growing among citizens around the country who realize the consequences for their communities if they continue “business as usual.” “We see this as an economic driver,” Goodson said. “It’s not just reacting to a negative, it’s turning the lemons into lemonade, so to speak.”
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I am a reporter with ClimateProgress.org, a blog published by the Center for American Progress. I am former editor and producer for RenewableEnergyWorld.com, where I contributed stories and hosted the Inside Renewable Energy Podcast. Keep in touch through twitter! My profile name is: Stphn_Lacey

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