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Video: Climate Activists Celebrate After Arlington County Adopts Goal of 100% Renewable Power by 2035, Carbon Neutrality by 2050

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I love the goals – 100% renewable electricity overall in the community by 2035, carbon neutrality by 2050 – set out by Arlington County today (see the county’s press release, below), but I remain unclear as to the exact policy mechanisms to achieve the goals. Because the fact is, in a strong “Dillon Rule” state like Virginia, localities basically have to ask the state for permission to do almost anything big, such as establishing some sort of binding “cap” on greenhouse gas emissions or putting a price on carbon or whatever. For more on this subject, see Arlington County Struggles with How to Reach Ambitious “Net Zero” Carbon Emissions With Limited Tools to Get There. Not to say that there aren’t any tools – such as “the contractual purchase by Arlington of renewable energy from out-side sources,” Community Choice Aggregation, Property Assessed Clean Energy (PACE) loans for energy efficiency and renewable energy, offering bonus density and other incentives for energy-efficient buildings (e.g., LEED Platinum, net-zero), setting more stringent energy efficiency codes, installing on-site solar power, offering incentives for solar installation, shifting government buildings and vehicles to clean energy, increasing biking/walking/public transit, etc.

Ultimately, though, localities like Arlington are going to need help from the state government to achieve their necessarily ambitious goals. And that, in turn, is a pressing reason why we need Democrats – people who actually believe in science, as opposed to Republicans – to take control of the General Assembly on November 5. Make sure you vote blue, up and down the ballot!

By the way, following the Arlington County Board’s unanimous vote earlier this afternoon, climate activists – led by the Virginia Sierra Club – held a rally/celebration outside the Arlington Court House building. See below for video and highlights from that event, followed by the Arlington County press release. Speakers at the rally included: Arlington Clerk of the Circuit Court Paul Ferguson; Dr. Neelu Tummala of Virginia Clinicians for Climate Action; David Kepley of Faith Alliance for Climate Solutions; Karen Nightengale of the Arlington Branch NAACP; Morris Meyer (Chief Technology Officer for Virginia Clean Energy); Arlington County Board Chair Christian Dorsey; and Alice Redhead (ReadyFor100 Organizer, Sierra Club Virginia Chapter). Nice job by everyone who put this together, who pushed the Arlington County Board in this direction, and who spoke today!

Arlington Sets Ambitious Goals in Updated Community Energy Plan

    • Sets goal of becoming carbon neutral by 2050
    • Government operations to achieve 100% renewable electricity by 2025
    • Community to achieve 100% renewable electricity by 2035
    • Considering energy equity during implementation

The Arlington County Board today adopted a sweeping update to the Community Energy Plan that sets ambitious targets for transforming the County’s energy sector.

“This plan is bold, because nothing less than a bold response from every community across this nation and across the globe is essential to address the dire threat posed to our planet by climate change,” Arlington County Board Chair Christian Dorsey said. “Arlington’s updated Community Energy Plan is based on the latest climate science and views energy decisions through the lenses of energy security, economic competitiveness, environmental commitment and equity. It will maintain Arlington County’s position as a leader in America on climate change mitigation and adaptation.”

The Board voted unanimously to adopt the update.

The plan incorporates goals for buildings; resilience; renewable energy; transportation, County government actions, and education and human behavior. It envisions a carbon neutral Arlington by 2050 that will be more resilient, where all electricity will come from renewable sources, where more residents will drive electric vehicles and more will use transit, and where homes and buildings will be more energy-efficient.

Buildings: With a goal of lowering total building energy use in Arlington by at least 38 percent from 2016 levels, despite the growth in the number of households and corresponding economic activity, the plan calls for numerous steps, including:

    • More stringent energy codes that make renovated buildings more energy efficient, incenting new buildings to be designed, built and operated more efficiently than is required by code,
    • Expanding investment in energy efficiency programs and land use and transportation approaches that promote energy efficiency, among other measures, and
    • Pursuing funding opportunities and partnerships for energy efficiency programs and projects that reflect local and regional needs.

Resilience: With a goal of ensuring Arlington’s energy resilience, the plan calls for seeking opportunities to develop or facilitate projects that enable Arlington’s energy infrastructure to prepare for and adapt to changing conditions and withstand or more quickly recover from disruptions. These efforts include increasing the County’s renewable energy resources and assessing microgrid options for highest response, delivery and continuity of critical services.

Renewable Energy: Two primary policy changes since 2013 include establishing targets of 50 percent renewable electricity for government operations by 2022 and 100 percent by 2025, and a goal for the community achieving 100 percent renewable electricity by 2035. In addition, Arlington plans for the installation and use of 160 megawatts of on-site solar electricity.

Transportation: With a goal of moving more people with fewer greenhouse gas emissions, the County’s CEP focus is on electrifying transportation, with specific targets for reducing the amount of per capita carbon produced each decade through 2050. The County also will produce a plan that describes what it would take to transition away from internal combustion engines and increase the use of alternative and public transportation to reduce vehicle miles traveled.

County Government activities: The County will integrate CEP goals into all County Government activities, continue to integrate the CEP with other County Comprehensive Plan elements, and implement projects to lead by example. County government operations will become carbon neutral by 2050 and energy security will be improved throughout County operations.

Education and behavioral change: The County plans to engage and empower individuals to reduce energy use; to increase the level of professional expertise and work force in the community related to energy; to recognize extraordinary efforts made to help the community reach the CEP goals; to increase the number of buildings that disclose energy use through benchmarking, and to put in place programs that address energy equity issues, including seniors, the underserved, low-to-moderate income or disadvantaged communities and challenges unique to the rental market.

County staff will report regularly to the County Board on the progress made toward reaching the CEP targets.

Next steps: Once the County Board adopts changes to the CEP, County staff will engage with the community to finalize implementation options; the goal is to provide the County Board with a proposed implementation plan by June 2020. Learn more about the County’s energy programs: https://environment.arlingtonva.us/energy/.

To read the staff report and view the staff presentation, visit the County website. Scroll to Item No. 61 on the agenda for the Saturday, Sept. 21, 2019 Regular County Board Meeting.