Although Portland’s climate action plan is off to a slow start, officials say there is a tangible sign of its progress: the increasing number of electric vehicle charging stations in the city.
A year into the One Climate Future plan, which hopes to curtail the carbon footprint of Portland and South Portland, no long-term initiatives have been completed. But Troy Moon, the city’s sustainability coordinator, said things like the increasing number of EV charging stations are evidence that the city is taking the right steps.
Moon said an announcement is pending on an agreement with a private vendor to “dramatically” expand the number of EV stations in the city, specifically for use by renters who live on the peninsula’s east and west ends.
He also said the city is close to opening another charging hub at the intersection of High and Spring streets – a convenient location both for people visiting the city, but also those who live nearby and want to charge after work.
“As we develop EV chargers we don’t want to put them in places that lock in car use,” Moon said, referring to a goal of the plan to get people to transition away from fossil-fuel-dependent modes of energy.
The city has installed 15 EV stations, and under its Green New Deal, new construction projects such as parking garages need to have stations, too.
During a meeting last week of the City Council’s Sustainability and Transportation Committee, Moon said city staff has started work on several actions involved with One Climate Future. For example, he said, the city is part of a large solar energy consortium, with the goal of 75 percent of municipal energy coming from this consortium once all the solar projects are built.
One Climate Future, which the City Council adopted at the end of 2020, calls for both cities to transition to 100 percent renewable energy for municipal operations by 2040 and reduce citywide greenhouse gas emissions by 80 percent by 2050.
Moon said the need for One Climate Future was obvious because worldwide science shows the climate continues to trend in the wrong direction, and there is a need to “slow things down on a global scale to keep things habitable.” Locally, he said, 2021 was one of the hottest years on record for the Gulf of Maine, with waters warming rapidly and staying warm well into the fall.
The plan has 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.
Moon said about 34 percent of emissions in Portland come from commercial buildings, and another 22 percent come from residential buildings. Almost all residential homes in the city still rely on oil heat, he said, which is an opportunity to get many electric heat pumps into people’s homes. The council committee approved a resolution to join a statewide partnership that offers grants to municipalities for making these investments.
“We have a building stock that’s not very efficient and wastes energy,” Moon said.
New construction, meanwhile, needs to adhere to the Green New Deal and be more efficient and produce no carbon emissions.
Moon said land-use code is an important part of the plan, to create more walkable and connected neighborhoods that will get residents away from using their cars. He noted the city has eliminated parking restrictions and now allows two accessory dwelling units on residential properties, instead of only one. Moon said these changes were a “big step for walkable communities.”
A challenge hovering over all of this is the city’s lack of investment in its sustainability department, where there are only two employees: Moon and a part-timer.
Despite the lack of personnel, Moon said Portland is in a good place because residents are excited about these kinds of initiatives – he said there is enthusiastic support for various waste reduction efforts, including composting and recycling – plus support from other city departments and South Portland.
Moon said a climate change vulnerability assessment commissioned under the plan revealed the most obvious threats are catastrophic weather events. But there are also “stressors” – chronic and nagging problems that eventually compound, such as increased nuisance flooding.
By 2050, he said Portland can expect more uncharacteristically hot days and increasing sea levels. He said the city had never historically had to open cooling centers in the summer, but now that is a regular occurrence.
Additionally, he said climate disasters around the world will likely impact Portland, as more people from around the world who experience a climate catastrophe may want to move to Maine.