Report Offers Recommendations For Reducing San Diego’s Carbon Footprint
Monday, December 7, 2009
What can be done to reduce San Diego's carbon footprint? Should policies be implemented to make our environmental goals a reality? We speak to the authors of a recent report that recommends policy changes for local buildings and transportation.
MAUREEN CAVANAUGH (Host): I'm Maureen Cavanaugh. You're listening to These Days on KPBS. World leaders, scientists, and activists have gathered in Denmark this week with the aim of agreeing on a Copenhagen protocol on climate change and global warming. The discussions are not expected to be easy but climate scientists are hopeful that most of the world can come to a consensus on this critical issue. Here in San Diego, two sets of recommendations have been released on ways to reduce greenhouse gases right here at home by changing the way we use energy and transportation. I’d like to welcome my guests. Scott Anders is director of the Energy Policy Initiative Center at the University of San Diego Law School. Scott, welcome to These Days.
SCOTT ANDERS (Director, Energy Policy Initiative Center, University of San Diego Law School): Thank you, Maureen. It’s a pleasure to be here.
CAVANAUGH: And Nilmini Silva-Send is senior policy analyst at the Energy Policy Initiative Center at the USD Law School. And, Nilmini, welcome.
NILMINI SILVA-SEND (Senior Policy Analyst, Energy Policy Initiative Center, University of San Diego Law School): Thank you. Glad to be here.
CAVANAUGH: And we’d like to invite our audience to join the conversation. What changes would you be willing to make in your lifestyle to reduce energy consumption? Would you stop driving so often or change jobs? Give us a call with your questions or your comments. The number is 1-888-895-5727. You know, Scott, before we talk about your recommendations, I do want to get your reaction to the release that’s caused this brouhaha at least in the media of stolen e-mails from a British climate research unit last week. There are some who say that comments made about controlling climate data made by the scientists in these e-mails weakens the case for manmade global warming. I’d like to get your reaction.
ANDERS: Maureen, I don’t know that I can comment on the specifics of the allegations but this is what I can say, that in any scientific endeavor or any research endeavor, manipulating the data for certain ends is, I think, unacceptable. However, having said that, this is an isolated case and it certainly doesn’t – one case or one issue, one bad apple, so to speak, certainly doesn’t spoil the whole barrel in this case. The overwhelming evidence suggests that there is manmade warming on the planet and I don’t think that – you know, I think it’s sort of fallacious logic to think that just because one group of scientists in one university did something that it somehow impugns the entire argument for reducing greenhouse gases.
CAVANAUGH: Do you think the political firestorm surrounding this may hurt prospects for a consensus at Copenhagen?
ANDERS: You know, I don’t think this is that significant in Copenhagen. I think that there are much larger political forces at work that are going to either propel something at Copenhagen or reduce chances at Copenhagen. I’m not sure that this rises to the level that will derail talks at Copenhagen.
CAVANAUGH: Let’s bring it back home. Last year, the Energy Policy Initiative Center released a first ever greenhouse gas inventory report for San Diego County. Can you give us a quick rundown, Scott, of the key findings that came out of that report?
ANDERS: Yes, what we did basically was an accounting of where the emissions come from in our region, and we found that overwhelmingly the emissions come from two categories, two broad categories. One is on-road transportation, which is essentially cars and trucks, and when I say trucks I mean the trucks that we drive rather than large tractor and trailer trucks. So it’s basically personal transport.
ANDERS: And the other one was energy and natural gas consumption used in buildings. So homes and businesses, lights, heating water, these kinds of things. Those are the two – that was about 70 to 80% of all the emissions.
CAVANAUGH: Wow. Okay, so now you’ve released another two-part report, a follow-up to last year’s findings about the greenhouse gas inventory. What were the goals in these new reports?
ANDERS: The goal was to dig a little bit deeper into the on-road transportation. Again, cars and trucks and buildings, and to look for local policies, areas where our local governments or somehow regionally we could act to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. We recognize that there are state initiatives, there are federal initiatives. We kind of looked – we kind of set those aside and we looked at how much savings we might get from those. But based on our calculations, those are not enough. You still need more savings from some local measures. And so the intent was really to identify and evaluate a set of proposals or policies and evaluate them based on their ability to reduce greenhouse gases, their cost to implement, their time to implement, and then we also looked at other jurisdictions that have done similar policies either in California, in the U.S. or in the world.
CAVANAUGH: So these really are targeted specifically for San Diego.
ANDERS: They are very targeted to San Diego. In fact, when we estimated cost or we estimated the greenhouse gas reduction potential, we actually used San Diego data. So we used information from our previous inventory to look at some of the greenhouse gas emissions levels and then we applied those, for example, to houses or to cars or to how much we could reduce greenhouse gases from an expanded mass transit system. So this is very specific to San Diego County, though, having said that, it’s probably generalizable, if you will, to other regions of California because we are similar to many other counties.
CAVANAUGH: Now just to emphasize the point, you broke up the recommendations into two sections. One set is for transportation, another set is for buildings. Why did you decide to do it that way? Why not just release one big report?
ANDERS: Well, we started off looking at one big report and it became very clear very quickly that these are two very separate topics. There’s a different audience for each topic. There are very different policy recommendations. So, for example, looking at reducing emissions from on-road transportation, you’re talking about—and my colleague Nilmini will talk more about this later—but we’re talking about mass transit, we’re talking about improved fuel efficiency, those sorts of things. And the people who – or, you know, the policymakers or the implementers who do those sorts of things, the planners, transit planners, urban planners, are very different from the people who are looking at in the buildings category which are more kind of traditional electric and natural gas industry folks or retrofitters. It’s just a – they’re just very different. So we felt that it was – it would have been an overwhelming report to have them both altogether. We split them up to be more targeted in our approach.
CAVANAUGH: I’m speaking with Scott Anders. He’s director of the Energy Policy Initiative (sic) at the University of San Diego Law School, and his colleague, Nilmini Silva-Send, senior policy analyst at the Energy Policy Initiative Center at USD Law School. We’re talking about a new set of recommendations to reduce greenhouse gases here in San Diego, and, of course, to reduce energy consumption as well. The number is 1-888-895-5727 if you’d like to join our conversation. That’s 1-888-895-KPBS. Nilmini…
CAVANAUGH: …let me bring you into the conversation. You are spotlighting transportation. And I wonder if you can tell us what are the main recommendations in this report for local transportation?
SILVA-SEND: Yes, well, the first thing is that on-road transporation is the largest sector of greenhouse gas emissions in the county with about 46%. And of that, it’s our private transportation, which is like Scott said, passenger cars and things like SUVs and pickup truck that cause this. So the main recommendation from this is that there is a lot that local governments can do to get the target levels that we want to reach. One of the main things is to have a attractive, efficient mass transit system that can take about 16% of the commuters alone—we focused just on the commuters, not the leisure travelers—and this gives us the biggest impact in terms of greenhouse gas reduction.
CAVANAUGH: I’m wondering, how well did San Diego’s trolley system do as you analyzed it? Does it have an impact on taking the people off the highways? And in itself, is it energy efficient?
SILVA-SEND: Yes, well, it definitely has some impact. The impact is very small at the moment because it doesn’t catch most of the commuters that are going in to work every day. The use of mass transit in San Diego County is 3 to 4%. It’s very low compared to others. So – And your second question?
CAVANAUGH: My second question was, I wonder, is it, itself, the trolley system, energy efficient?
SILVA-SEND: Yes, we haven’t analyzed the energy efficiency of the trolley system in itself. But what I can say is probably that the whole mass transit system in San Diego County is just as efficient or inefficient as anywhere else in the U.S.
CAVANAUGH: Very interesting.
SILVA-SEND: It doesn’t stand out.
CAVANAUGH: How about our bus system in all of that?
SILVA-SEND: It’s the same. The whole…
CAVANAUGH/SILVA-SEND: …the whole thing…
SILVA-SEND: …together, yes.
CAVANAUGH: I see. So how – what are some of the improvements that you’re suggesting that we make in our mass transit system?
SILVA-SEND: Well, we would have to – in order to go from having a participation rate of about 3 to 4%, to go up to 16%, that is a big job. We would need to actually implement a plan, adopt, implement a whole new mass transit system. It could be a bus rapid transit system. It could be a light rail system. But that can capture most of the working population and make it attractive.
CAVANAUGH: I see. So basically we have to start to rethink this as far as…
SILVA-SEND: Yes, we have to refocus on how we get more…
CAVANAUGH: Are there other smaller changes that can be made to transportation in order to reduce our energy consumption and our greenhouse gas emissions?
SILVA-SEND: Yes, there are many, many small fuel use reduction measures. For example, having roundabouts in place of stop sign intersections. For example, harmonizing the speed. I mean, the stop and go traffic is one of the worst polluters in terms of greenhouse gas as well. And so there are a lot of things that you wonder why they have not been done already. And they don’t cost very much, traffic light retiming. So these are things that local governments can take sometimes in coordination with other cities. Yes, so the answer is yes, there are.
CAVANAUGH: I’d like to ask both of you, starting with you, Nilmini, you know, what you said made me realize that there is a debate about whether we should expand our highway system or use the money to expand mass transit. And what would be best to reduce the carbon footprint? Should we spend our money with the hope that people are going to start taking the mass transportation system if we improve it? Or should we make the highway system better so we don’t have that start and stop traffic, so we don’t have people in these terrible, you know, waiting thing – waiting situations on the freeway so that the gridlock and all of that energy, you know, greenhouse gas emissions from that? So what is your take on that? Where should we be spending our money?
SILVA-SEND: Well, my take is that the biggest impact on reducing greenhouse gases would come from a good mass transit system. So it would be a matter of getting a attractive mass transit system that people would want to use. So it’s not building it and then hoping that people would use, you would have to target it really well. And as far as congestion reduction, yes, I mean, it is a nuisance to be sitting on the freeway and it’s a very expensive proposition if you look at our reports. If you look at highway expansion in terms of costs, and in terms only of greenhouse gas reduction, what we get is little compared with having a mass transit system.
CAVANAUGH: Yes, Scott.
ANDERS: I would just add that in our reports, we looked at reducing regional emissions to the AB-32 targets, this is the statewide statutory target of reducing emissions to 1990 levels by 2020. So when we’re talking about targets or needing to reduce to a certain level, we’re talking about reducing back to 1990 levels by 2020. Discussions in Copenhagen, discussions in Washington, are talking about reductions of 60 to 80% below 1990 levels by 2050. So if you look beyond the horizon a bit, beyond 2020, you start – then the picture becomes very different and the question is, can we build our way, from a highway construction standpoint, out of this problem by 2050? And I think the answer is very clear that we can’t, so we need to figure out some other way because we’re going to have population growth. One of the things that Nilmini’s report found was that congestion, building more highways reduces congestion temporarily and then when the population expands and people come back onto that road, it fills up and there’s this kind of accordion effect, if you will. So we know that there’s a cyclical nature to the congestion reduction so, again, if you take this longer term look, we really need to start thinking in multi-decade, you know, 2030, 2040, 2050 time frame because that’s how – you know, if you think about the state we’re in today in terms of land use and transportation, it’s taken us 60 years or 50 to 60 years to get here so it’s not going to be solved overnight. But it’s going to require some leadership and some very long term planning to reach those long term targets.
CAVANAUGH: And, Nilmini, I wonder, in these recommendations, did you anticipate some of the challenges that’s going to be associated with adopting these recommendations like an overhaul of mass transit, for instance.
SILVA-SEND: Well, in the sense of cost, we did have a look at the magnitude costs and also the fact that you would need authorization from the cities, basically, to get this at a regional – done at a regional level. We do have another option which is to convert our whole private transportation system to an electric-based system and then provide the electricity eventually with more and more renewable energy but that does not get rid of the congestion problem so it would be a very costly issue in addition. So, yes, that was – so the limitations were cost and also getting it approved by the public basically.
CAVANAUGH: Before we move on to the second part or perhaps it’s the first part of your recommendations about buildings and how to make that – buildings and our energy use within buildings more, you know, better for greenhouse gas emissions, let us take a phone call. Greg is calling from Oceanside. Good morning, Greg, and welcome to These Days.
GREG (Caller, Oceanside): Good morning. I’ve got a comment on basically a very neglected area of the mass transit planning. If you take buses or trains, if you can set it up so you have one train or one bus to take, that’s fine. If you have to connect usually, especially with buses, you’re going to a lot of times double your time. It might be two hours or more. And the big factor which is neglected in the planning process is good, clean, well-maintained bathrooms. An awful lot of people just simply aren’t going to spend the extra time knowing that, boy, if I have to go to the bathroom, there’s a filthy one down there and there’s no bathrooms here, here, here, and here. So the people doing the planning a lot of times aren’t doing the full job and since they don’t ride mass transit, a lot of times they don’t know what some of the problems are.
CAVANAUGH: Great. Thank you for that. That is fascinating.
CAVANAUGH: All the ancillary ideas that come up from people. Did you take any of that into consideration? I mean, the maintenance of, actually the facilities. If people are going to have to take a long trip, they’re going to need to have some well-maintained lavatories.
SILVA-SEND: That is true. I mean, they – We need to look at the whole system and how to make it attractive for people to want to use it, and that includes having clean restrooms.
SILVA-SEND: And I understand the SuperLoop is – the SuperLoop Bus system—you know about that—is modern and clean and they’re placing some emphasis on getting this other infrastructure.
CAVANAUGH: To make it attractive…
SILVA-SEND: To make it attractive.
CAVANAUGH: …for people to use.
CAVANAUGH: Let’s take another call. Jim is calling from Normal Heights. Good morning, Jim. Welcome to These Days.
JIM (Caller, Normal Heights): Hi. Good morning. I am quite an advocate of bicycling, trying to help people make that choice, and it seems like it’s efficient and probably works good for many of the trips. As I understand it, many utility trips are under, gee, three or four miles and could be replaced by bicycles. But I wonder, is my effort a waste of time? Is this a good – something that people can do with relative lack of cost for the major infrastructure?
SILVA-SEND: It’s definitely something you can do. It’s not a waste of time. It’s especially applicable within the cities because the distances between – among the cities in San Diego County are large and because of the topography, I don’t think that there are that many people who’d be willing to take the bicycle 12 miles up and down hills. However, it is worth it. It’s absolutely no or low carbon. And it’s something that we continue to pursue, yes.
CAVANAUGH: Let’s turn to the recommendations for local buildings and, Scott, what are the key recommendations for improving the energy efficiency of local buildings?
ANDERS: Well, what we found was that existing residential buildings is really an area that we need to focus on. It’s true for existing commercial buildings as well, though that market has been served fairly well over the past several decades. There’s still some potential there to be had but it’s the residential sector where there’s an enormous goldmine of greenhouse gas savings, if you will. And, frankly, our – you know, the recommendations are not sort of – it’s not rocket science. I mean, you just need to reduce energy use in the home. I think the difference in what we were looking at is, you know, people have replaced their light bulbs or you get an efficient refrigerator. We’re trying to move away from this piecemeal approach so, you know, you get a refrigerator, you get a new set of windows or something but doing it more in a packaged way, kind of looking at the whole house as a system, because it may be that, you know, you call your contractor to get a new air conditioner, the contractor comes out and replaces the exact same air conditioner you had before. But if you took a more systems based approach, you could reduce the need for air conditioning in your home and actually use a smaller air conditioner. So we’re looking at kind of deep, comprehensive retrofits in residential – in homes.
CAVANAUGH: Well, you know, it’s interesting. That’s exactly what happened to me. I was calling about a problem with my furnace and the person that I was speaking with said, well, what we want to do is come out and we want to take a look at your whole home and see what kind of furnace you need, and I thought that was a very interesting approach. But to get back to your larger point, Scott, I think a lot of people don’t do this because it’s too expensive.
ANDERS: Yeah, that’s a very good point, and that’s where – I guess the way I look at this is kind of three main ingredients for making this retrofit market happen. The first one is easy and convenient financing, and the City of San Diego recently announced a finance program whereby city residents can make an investment in energy efficiency or clean energy generation like photovoltaics and they would receive a loan through this program. The payment of that loan would be attached to the property tax bill so you’d pay it when you pay your property tax bills. The genius of this is that it runs with the land, meaning that if you sell the property, it transfers to the next owner. So if you have a longer payback period, say 10 or 15 years before you recoup that initial investment, if you’re thinking you’re going to move in 5 to 7 years, you’re just not going to make that investment but under this program, it really eliminates that barrier. So if you have good, convenient financing, which is now available or soon will be available to City of San Diego residents, and I think in a short time it’s going to be available to everybody in the county. The other thing you need is incentives to bring down that initial cost, and there are lots of incentives available today and there is a push toward making those more comprehensive. So instead of giving an incentive on an air conditioner, the incentive is going to be based on the performance of your home. So you get a rating, and there’s a standard rating system that says you’re an A, B, C or D—that’s not necessarily the rating system but I’m just giving…
CAVANAUGH: Umm-hmm. Right.
ANDERS: …you an example. And if you rate – your system is a C, you house is a C, you can get a certain level of incentives if you make it a B and you’ll get even more if you make it an A. So encouraging this more systems approach in the home. And the third piece, which I think comes a little bit later down the road, which is a lot of what we focused on in our report is policies to actually require certain action. So a couple of the policies we looked at, one is, you know, it’s a rather – it’s not a very complex thing but to require homes to be audited, or to get an evaluation, to look at that systems approach and see where they are. That could be done at various trigger points: when a home is sold, at a date certain. You know, in other words, any home built before a certain date has to – you know, any home built before 1980 has to get their home audited by 2015 or 2020. And I think we’re – The danger or the downside to these requirements is that the market, the industry, is not ready for them yet. So I think it’s going to require some time for these finance mechanisms, for the incentives to take hold and to sort of grow the first phase or sort of the base of the pyramid, if you will. But I don’t believe that that’s going to be enough to capture enough of the marketplace to get the kind of savings we need and we’re going to need to start thinking about phasing in these kinds of requirements. Another requirement, which other cities have adopted in California, is to require upgrades. So, you know, you sell you sell your house or at another trigger point, you’re required to attain a certain level of efficiency. Again, you need to go from a C to a B or an A. But – And it may sound onerous but I think in combination with financing and incentives, it’s possible that you could create a package that is on a cash flow basis fairly attractive to the homeowner.
CAVANAUGH: And you – when you talk about, oh, the kinds of savings that we need to make, you’re talking about various target points that we have just the way you talked about various ideas of how much emissions, transportation emissions, need to be reduced by a certain amount of time. And it’s also for our general emissions when it comes to housing as well, right?
ANDERS: That’s absolutely correct. And the same point that I made earlier for transportation applies to buildings. We were looking in our reports at this 2020 target. If you, again, look beyond the horizon to 2050, it’s nearly – it seems to us, at least, nearly level of savings we’d have to get without some kind of compulsory measure. And I should say that – and this is something that Nilmini looked at as well, is if you look at the European Union and you often get a reaction, well, we’re not European, they’re different, but if you just simply look at them as an experiment, right? They’ve been looking at these issues for a long time. They’ve actually been very successful in reducing emissions. They’re sort of our canary in the coal mine. What are they doing? Well, they’ve recently adopted an EU directive. All member states have to have mandatory auditing for all residential and commercial buildings. So, you know, this is what we might expect. They’ve already done a lot of other things and now they’re starting to look at these compulsory measures. So I think that there’s a logic to how this flows, and some of the issues that we looked at or some of the specific policies that we looked at in our report are appropriate in the near future.
CAVANAUGH: So now you have released these two reports. They’re out in the world. What happens next?
ANDERS: Well, we hope that local decision makers will read them and staff members will read them and planners will read them, and we’re out making presentations and trying to get the word out as well. But I think what we’re trying to do is add information into the debate. We want to try to add sort of factual, fair, honest information and, you know, we do talk about, you know, the pros and cons of all these policies and we don’t necessarily support any one of these policies; we’re just trying to kind of lay out what our options are here locally.
CAVANAUGH: I wanted to see if I can squeeze in one more phone call. Alan is calling from San Diego. Good morning, Alan. Welcome to These Days.
ALAN (Caller, San Diego): Morning. Yes, I wanted to especially ask for Nilmini, this is Alan Hoffman, you know, I…
ALAN: …work with – Hi. I work with Move San Diego in developing an alternative transit planner and I know in your study you kind of looked at the existing plans as well as our alternatives. I’m curious, do you think that from your perspective – were the alternatives, the one that Move San Diego developed, are these helping us get close to the targets you’re looking at? So should SANDAG and our region’s decision makers be taking these alternative plans more seriously?
SILVA-SEND: Well, I think that – Yes, I think that SANDAG is and will be looking at these alternative plans and they do provide a way of getting the greenhouse gas reductions and getting those mass transit numbers that we would like to reach, the AB-32 target in our region, yes.
CAVANAUGH: Okay. All right. I wonder, you know, as you – what kind of feedback that you’ve been getting from – as you go and you speak to different organizations and you present these findings to SANDAG? Any feedback so far, Scott?
ANDERS: You know, we’ve gotten mixed feedback.
ANDERS: You know, some of the feedback has been very detailed about some of the assumptions we make in our calculations and, by the way, it’s all available on our website. You can dig in. There are two summary reports and then two very detailed reports which have all of our assumptions in them so you can sort of pick through it if you really want to. I recommend that for people who have trouble sleeping. But, yes, we’ve gotten, you know, a mixed – mixed feedback, some positive, some negative. Some people have commented on the cost. Some people have commented on the political will or lack thereof to implement some of these things, and whether they’re politically feasible. And, again, we were sort of – we weren’t thinking about this through a political lens. We were simply looking at this, really, more for – through an analytical lens and then let the politics flow as it may.
CAVANAUGH: I want to thank you both so much for coming in and speaking with us about these reports. Thank you, Scott Anders and Nilmini Silva-Send. Thank you for all this good discussion.
ANDERS: Thanks for having us.
SILVA-SEND: Thank you for having us.
CAVANAUGH: And there are a lot of people who wanted to get involved in our conversation but we just didn’t have time so, please, we urge you to post your comments online at KPBS.org/TheseDays. And stay with us for hour two of These Days coming up in just a few minutes here on KPBS.
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