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San Diego’s Long-Awaited Climate Action Plan Could Become Reality

Photo caption:

Photo by Sandy Huffaker

Photo credit: Getty Images

A view of wind turbines at the Kumeyaay Wind Project on the Campo Reservation in San Diego's East County.

The San Diego City Council will vote Tuesday afternoon on Mayor Kevin Faulconer's Climate Action Plan, which lays out a set of guidelines to cut the city's greenhouse gas emissions.

The San Diego City Council will vote Tuesday afternoon on Mayor Kevin Faulconer's Climate Action Plan, which lays out a set of guidelines to cut the city's greenhouse gas emissions in half by 2035.

The plan was released by Mayor Kevin Faulconer in September 2014 but has been in the works for years. The City Council's Environment Committee approved it last month — with one additional request.

Councilwoman Marti Emerald asked that the deadline for bringing an alternative energy program called community choice aggregation to the City Council for consideration be pushed up by two years, moving it from the second to first phase of the plan. If the council approves her request on Tuesday, it could be voting on community choice in the next two years.

Community choice energy plan

Community choice, which would take the energy-buying power away from San Diego Gas & Electric and give it to the city, has been one of the plan's most controversial parts. Here are some of the issues related to the community choice debate:

• Background on how the plan would work in San Diego.

• A dispute over community choice erupted at a city meeting on alternative energy sources.

• A feasibility report on community choice aggregation was incomplete and six months late.

• SDG&E takes a legal step to lobby on community choice.

• Environmentalists and San Diego County political leaders protest SDG&E's decision.

The cities of Solana Beach and Del Mar both sent protest letters, along with state Sen. Marty Block, D-San Diego, and county Supervisor Dianne Jacob.

San Diego City Attorney Jan Goldsmith also sent a letter, not in protest, but requesting more information about SDG&E's decision.

SDG&E sent a letter to news organizations last week outlining its support for the Climate Action Plan.

"We’re also working aggressively to increase the amount of renewable energy used by San Diego and southern Orange County homes and businesses," the letter said. "Today, SDG&E is the only utility in California to deliver 33 percent of its energy from renewable sources and is committed to increasing this amount to 50 percent by 2030."

Under the Climate Action Plan, San Diego would use 100 percent renewable energy by 2035.

SDG&E also sent a response letter last month over the Climate Action Plan, which said the goal of eliminating any natural gas use was unrealistic.

"The Climate Action plan would necessarily rely on the use of local natural gas-fired power plants to maintain grid stability, especially at peak usage hours in the evenings," it said. "Natural gas is needed to provide grid reliability, as more and more intermittent renewable resources are integrated into the system."

The utility's paid lobbyists have met with each council member and the mayor at least once in the past year. A list of those meetings can be found here.

Decrease driving, increase alternative transportation

The Climate Action Plan also calls for cutting the number of San Diegans who commute by car from 87 percent to 50 percent by 2035. That goal applies to people who live within a half mile of existing or planned transit stops, which is predicted to be about 60 percent of the population by 2035.

To accomplish this goal, the plan calls for increasing the number of people who commute by public transit from 10 percent to 25 percent, by bike from 1 percent to 18 percent and by foot from 1 percent to 7 percent by 2035.

The plan's environmental impact report suggests that those changes would cut carbon emissions by 36.1 percent by 2020 and by an additional 10.9 percent by 2035.

Here is more information on the plan's transit goals:

• Census data shows the number of San Diegans who drive to work remained steady.

• One woman’s commute to work shows a gap between SANDAG’s transportation plan and the Climate Action Plan.

• A study details the gap between SANDAG's plan and the Climate Action Plan's goals.

Stop trash at landfills

The plan also calls for redirecting 90 percent of the city's garbage away from landfills in 25 years. That means more recycling and composting:

• The San Diego Union-Tribune details the recycling and composting objectives laid out in the Climate Action Plan.

• A city official and an environmentalist explain the plan to reach zero waste at the city's Miramar Landfill by 2040.

If the City Council approves the Climate Action Plan, as expected on Tuesday, the next step would be to develop a process and funding proposal to carry it out. That could happen by April 1, 2016, the date the council's Environment Committee recommended.

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Claire Trageser
Investigative Reporter

opening quote marksclosing quote marksAs a member of the KPBS investigative team, my job is to hold the powerful in San Diego County accountable. I've done in-depth investigations on political campaigns, police officer misconduct and neighborhood quality of life issues.

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