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San Diego Climate Plan Heads To City Council Committee

City Councilman Todd Gloria rides a bike to show off the San Diego Bike Loop, May 27, 2014.
Claire Trageser
City Councilman Todd Gloria rides a bike to show off the San Diego Bike Loop, May 27, 2014.

San Diego Climate Plan Heads To City Council Committee
The plan aims to cut San Diego's greenhouse gas emissions by 20 percent in 2020 and by half in 2035.

San Diego's ambitious Climate Action Plan will get its first government hearing on Monday when it goes before the City Council's Environment Committee. If approved, it would then go to the full council in December.

The plan aims to cut San Diego's greenhouse gas emissions by 20 percent in 2020 and by half in 2035. Those numbers will be based on 2010 recordings.

San Diego Climate Action Plan Final
The final draft of San Diego's Climate Action Plan.
To view PDF files, download Acrobat Reader.

To do this, the plan calls for increasing the number of energy and water efficient buildings, reducing waste, promoting recycling and capturing landfill gases. It also aims to increase 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. Those goals only apply to people who live within a half mile of existing or planned transit stops.

That means cutting the number of San Diegans in those areas who commute by car from 87 percent to 50 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.

Census data released in September showed the number of San Diegans who drive to work stayed steady in the past year and has only dipped slightly since 2005. In 2014, 83.1 percent of San Diegans commuted to work by car. In 2013, 83.7 percent of San Diegans commuted by car.

In 2005, 88.3 percent of San Diegans commuted to work by car.


Another major goal in the plan is for the city to use 100 percent renewable energy by 2035, either through an alternative energy program called community choice aggregation, "or another program."

Currently, San Diego Gas & Electric purchases energy for all the residents and businesses in San Diego. Under community choice, electricity would still come through SDG&E's grid, but the city would make those purchasing decisions, giving it more control over where the energy comes from.

The plan says that by 2035 community choice or another program would cut carbon emissions by 3.19 million metric tons, compared with a cut of 0.4 million metric tons through SDG&E.

The plan's environmental impact report generated 36 response letters, including one from SDG&E that took issue with this description.

"The (greenhouse gas) reductions listed .. .overstate the actual (greenhouse gas) reductions that would occur from a 'Community Choice Aggregation Program or Another Program' and understate carbon reductions from State mandates by 2035," the letter says. Under California law, SDG&E is required to use 50 percent renewable energy by 2030.

City staff responded to SDG&E with a comment that says revisions to the climate action plan "separate out the emissions reductions associated with Community Choice Aggregation or another program that are attributable to the statewide Renewable Portfolio Standard. This change decreased the amount of reductions achieved at the local level, and increased the amount at the State level — the overall level of reductions remained the same."

The SDG&E letter also suggests it's unrealistic to achieve the 100 percent renewable energy goal.

"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," the utility says. "Natural gas is needed to provide grid reliability, as more and more intermittent renewable resources are integrated into the system."

City staff responded, "Natural gas is not a 100 percent renewable energy source, and thus, was not included specifically in the CAP strategies."

By state law, SDG&E is not allowed to market or lobby on community choice unless it forms an independent marketing district with separate funding that customers don't pay for. On Nov. 20, the utility announced it's doing just that.

City Councilman David Alvarez, who chairs the environment committee, said he's hoping not only to ensure the plan is passed, but to make sure its lofty goals are actually accomplished.

"I hope we send a message that these goals are not only aspirational but something we sincerely implement, and that we find a way to do that going forward," he said.

He said he plans to discuss how to do that during the council committee meeting Monday. Possible ways to commit to the goals include setting up an ongoing council review of the plan's progress and ensuring future budgetary and land use decisions take the Climate Action Plan into consideration.

"This is going to be about how do we actually make it happen and not just talk about it," he said. "My focus will be on taking action, on taking the steps necessary to achieve these goals and not just say this is something we aspire to do but something we actually, in fact, do."

Alvarez said he thinks his support, along with that of City Councilman Todd Gloria and Mayor Kevin Faulconer, will help drive that action.

Faulconer released a statement Wednesday outlining his support for the Climate Action Plan.

"This plan strikes the right balance between protecting our environment and growing our economy," he said. "San Diego's environmental and business communities are once again taking the exceptional step of joining together in support of this plan because we all agree that clean technology, renewable energy and economic growth are vital to our city's future. We’re going to hand down to our children a San Diego that is cleaner than it was when we received it."

Faulconer first released a draft of the plan in September 2014. It largely stuck to a plan outlined by Gloria when he was serving as the city's interim mayor.