Portland, South Portland move closer to ‘One Climate Future’

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Portland city councilors seemed receptive Monday to a plan that would dramatically cut the carbon footprint for the city and South Portland over the next 30 years, with a goal to be totally dependent on renewable energy. 

The council will vote on the plan at its Nov. 16 meeting.

Troy Moon, the city’s sustainability coordinator, told a City Council workshop the agreement with South Portland is the result of more than 100 community engagement events and talking with thousands of people over the course of 18 months. He said the plan, called One Climate Future, is a pioneering document for a collaborative approach to climate change, and one he thinks other communities can take up.

“We think this will be picked up around the country,” Moon said.

The plan calls for both cities to transition to 100 percent renewable energy for municipal operations by 2040 and reduce city-wide greenhouse gas emissions by 80 percent by 2050.

South Portland, where the plan was introduced in mid-September, must also adopt the plan. South Portland Mayor Kate Lewis said her city is proud of the plan, saying it went beyond climate action and clean energy.

“It reflects significant goals to improve public health, build a diverse economy, and ensure the vitality of our coastal ecosystems,” Lewis said in a statement. 

Portland’s City Council heard a remote presentation Monday on the city’s proposed climate action plan with South Portland. Councilors will vote on the plan next month. (Portland Phoenix/Colin Ellis)

The plan includes four focus areas: buildings and energy, transportation and land use, water reduction, and climate resilience. Strategies within those focus areas call for local action, regional partnerships, and state coordination.

In Portland alone, Moon said, commercial development and transportation account for a majority of the nearly 837,000 tons of carbon emissions annually, and have been targeted for greenhouse gas reductions. One way to achieve that, he said, is to create renewable energy policies for new building developments. 

As for reducing the carbon footprint for existing buildings, Moon said there is a lot of work to be done to weatherize buildings and reduce dependency on fossil fuels, and that starts with discussions with property owners.

To help reduce the carbon footprint created by transportation, Moon said the two cities will continue to encourage people to walk and ride bikes instead of using cars. He said part of that can be achieved through continued planning and development of “walkable” neighborhoods where people live and work.

Although the plan is a 30-year map, Moon said the city has already started deploying certain strategies. He also said it is important that Portland wasn’t going at the plan alone, and praised Gov. Janet Mills and her administration for being more receptive to renewable energy plans than past administrations.

“It’s great to have a state government that is in the same direction this council has been pointing us for years,” he said.

Moon said the Mills administration’s renewable energy goals involving solar technology are a “huge part” of Portland’s plan. “Solar energy is an area where we can make an impactful reduction,” he said.

Portland this year joined an energy consortium expected to reduce the city’s annual energy spending by an estimated half-million dollars. In response to a question from Councilor Justin Costa about the consortium, Moon said these kinds of projects will create “full savings opportunities” once they are fully operational.

“Over the course of three years we’ll see the savings start to come online,” he said.

Moon said Portland is fortunate that many residents and business owners are in favor of moving towards renewable energy, which helped mobilize and energize the effort. However, he said climate change is not the only vulnerability facing the city and other communities going forward.

He said climate change can be compounded when coupled with other social inequalities, such as food insecurity or homelessness. He also said Portland and other communities will continue to see “climate refugees” in the coming years as different parts of the world experience adverse weather conditions.

He noted that in places like Texas and Louisiana, where there has been severe weather-related flooding, there is also the threat of hazardous waste being discharged in industrial areas.

“That’s something we could see here in Portland with the industrial activity on the waterfront,” he said.

Councilors didn’t discuss the plan beyond a few follow-up questions for Moon, but Mayor Kate Snyder said the council will have the plan’s first reading on Nov. 9, followed on Nov. 16 by the second reading and vote.