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Two Cheers for Portland’s Draft Climate Action Plan

March 21, 2015

Portland’s leadership in climate and energy strategy is impressively displayed in its draft Climate Action Plan, now available for public comment. The draft can be accessed at www.portlandoregon.gov/bps/climate where one can read specific chapters or download the full draft plan. Comments may be submitted to climate@portlandoregon.gov by April 10, 2015.

The draft plan is a readable and detailed road map for many climate actions that can be taken in Portland. Among its useful recommendations is a discussion about adopting local carbon taxes if State and Federal governments fail to act on them. However, several useful innovations in climate strategy are strikingly absent. This post discusses two examples.

  • The Draft Plan assumes continuing the out-of-date, high-cost and inefficient market structure for the Oregon solar energy industry, which produces low levels of additional solar capacity and might be called “the past writ small”. Instead, it should advocate a modern market structure for the solar industry, which could stimulate lots of solar development.
  • The Draft Plan discusses Portland’s compost programs, but does not consider how other biocarbon strategies could help the city meet its goals. The Northwest Biocarbon Initiative could provide useful additional opportunities to sequester carbon in the City’s Plan.

Including these innovations could further reduce greenhouse gas emissions, reduce the cost of energy services for consumers, stimulate employment, business and economic development, increase connections between urban Portland and Oregon’s rural agricultural communities, and increase tax revenues.

Solar Energy Policy and Market Structure

Solar energy policy opportunities are poorly conceived in the draft plan. The underlying policy is assumed to be much like policy in the past, except that a small amount of community solar would be enabled by state legislation. This is too pessimistic by far.

Instead, solar policy should be re-imagined to transition into a modern market-based structure.  The redesigned policy should support extensive growth in distributed generation as well as utility scale solar energy power plants.

If Oregon implemented such a modern market structure, over the next 15 years solar energy could produce up to 20% of total Oregon electricity, save energy consumers more than $2 billion on the cost of the electric utility system, improve the business performance of the regional utilities, and reduce GHG emissions from the electric system by more that 100 million tons.

A modern market structure should include a German style Feed-in-Tariff for DG solar, a reverse auction mechanism to build utility-scale power plants, a Solar Renewable Energy Standard that specifies the amount of the solar resource to be built each year, and revisions to Oregon’s utility regulatory regime to enable utilities to enthusiastically lead the solar transition. (See “Solar Plan for Oregon” for how to accomplish these changes, at www.chrisrobertsonassociates.com )

An important additional benefit of a more robust solar strategy is that DG solar can be designed to enable energy production in the aftermath of a major earthquake when the electric grid is expected to be unavailable for weeks or months. The inverter specifications and other design considerations to enable this should be a very high priority for Pacific Northwest communities. Distributed energy services in the post-earthquake recovery will be priceless.

Biocarbon

Well over a year ago Climate Solutions sponsored a conference in Seattle on the many types of biocarbon strategies, including composting, that can be used to sequester carbon in soil. Portland’s composting program is extensively discussed in the Draft Plan, but other biocarbon strategies are not included. (For background on biocarbon see http://climatesolutions.org/programs/nbi )

The Draft Plan makes assumptions about the carbon impact of food production without consideration of the biocarbon impacts of various agricultural practices. One key example is the Draft Plan’s discussion of greenhouse gasses associated with beef production.

The Draft Plan apparently assumes the carbon impacts of “beef” are due to industrial beef production, based on row crop grains and confined animal feeding operations.  Industrial beef production produces large greenhouse gas emissions, along with many other negative effects, and appropriately should be avoided.

However, this picture omits an important form of beef production that sequesters carbon in soils.  Beef raised on pasture using the holistic management practices developed by Alan Savery can sequester large amounts of biocarbon in the soil, improve land, increase humus, reduce flooding, reduce exposure to drought, increase revenues for farmers, increase employment on the farm, and reduce other forms of pollution associated with beef production.  These effects have been extensively documented.

The effects on carbon sequestration are potentially large. If a significant fraction of US agricultural lands were to be converted to holistic management strategy then those lands could annually sequester as much GHG emissions as the US presently emits from fossil fuel combustion.

The City’s draft plan should rethink its solar strategy and expand its biocarbon perspective. New markets, businesses, and employment can be created, while strengthening the connections between urban and rural communities.

From → News and Updates

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