South Portland council shows support for climate action plan

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SOUTH PORTLAND — Councilors expressed support Tuesday for a joint climate action plan with Portland.

The plan would aim to reduce carbon emissions by 80 percent by 2050, and have city operations powered by renewable energy by 2040. 

Sustainability Director Julie Rosenbach briefed the council on the plan in a workshop, where all councilors present said they were in favor.

The council is expected to vote on the resolve April 17. 

Councilor Claude Morgan said the city approved a similar action in 2008 in line with the Kyoto Protocol, and said the action changed the way the city did business and how it regarded itself.

“These are really noble, innovative goals, and I support this on every level,” Morgan said. 

The three objectives of the plan include reducing greenhouse gas emissions, preparing for the impacts of climate change on coastal communities, and building community engagement. 

A 12-member steering committee has been chosen to develop the city’s vision. 

“We can do a lot as a city, including advocating at the state and federal levels,” Rosenbach said, adding the city has gone to the Legislature before to recommend changes, including when the city’s streetlights were converted to LED bulbs. 

Resident Roberta Zuckerman said she is proud of South Portland for adopting the resolve because everyone will have to answer to their grandchildren and great-grandchildren about what they are doing to change behaviors – whether the city is being proactive or putting its proverbial head in the sand. 

“Local government gets things done, and must take the lead at this particular time and in our country’s history,” Zuckerman said. 

The climate action resolve and plan comes after the city adopted the Mayors Climate Agenda last July, which followed the goals of the Paris Climate Agreement to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. 

Globally, cities have rallied around the shared objective of keeping global temperature rise to no more than 2 degrees Celsius, preferably no more than 1.5 degrees Celsius. As a member of the Climate Mayors, South Portland has pledged to work toward this goal, Rosenbach  said. 

The main sources of emissions in the city are heating, electricity use and transportation, she said.

Rosenbach said with future development, the Planning Department must look at ways to build smarter and more efficient buildings, including the construction of a new middle school. Rosenbach said the heating system, in particular, should be chosen according to environmental criteria that align with the city’s goals to reduce emissions. 

She said the cities will also create parcel-level maps of energy consumption and greenhouse gas emissions and a map showing the location and capacity of key assets in the local electric grid. She estimated the project, proposed by Gridsolar and the Maine Chapter of the Sierra Club, would last about a year.

The data would allow the cities to identify effective ways to deploy distributed energy resources such as solar panels, choose areas where micro-grids might make sense, and where it makes the most sense to build electric-vehicle charging infrastructure, Rosenbach said. 

This project has been offered to the city at no charge, although fundraising is taking place, and it’s been proposed South Portland and Portland both commit $110,000. 

Rosenbach said moving forward with this project will allow collaborative regional climate action planning, minimize consulting costs, and leverage an innovative approach to energy modeling. 

Juliette Laaka can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 106 or at jlaaka@theforecaster.net. 

Sustainability Director Julie Rosenbach addresses the South Portland City Council March 27, talking through the goals the city is planning to reduce carbon emissions in conjunction with Portland. 

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