‘We don’t want to wait until 2049’: Northampton works toward carbon-neutral goal

  • Wayne Feiden, director of Northampton’s office of planning and sustainability, at the Pulaski Park bus stop with an electric bike. STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS

Staff Writer
Published: 9/17/2019 11:05:02 PM

NORTHAMPTON — In January 2018, the City Council passed a resolution with the goal of making the city carbon-neutral by 2050.

How does that happen exactly? That’s a question that the city’s developing Climate Resilience and Regeneration Plan is trying to answer.

“We want this to be a clear road map,” said Wayne Feiden, director of planning and sustainability, the office that is leading the creation of the plan. “We don’t want to wait until 2049 to do that.”

The report, which has been in development for more than a year, looks at how to cut Northampton’s emissions and what preparations to make to adapt to climate change. “The goal is to adopt it by the end of the year,” Feiden said.

The plan aims to make the city more resilient in the face of climate change, which Feiden said will impact Northampton.

“The single biggest thing is more rainfall, particularly bigger storms,” he said. “A 2½-inch storm, we’re OK with that a few times a year. If that’s a few times a month, that overdoes the system.”

The dikes, the structures that protect the city from Connecticut River floodwater, were built around 1940 and need to be evaluated to determine any necessary updates, Feiden said.

He also said there may be an increase in tick-borne illnesses, as more will survive in a warmer winter, and more heat waves — especially because those over 65 are more at risk for heat-related health problems, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Protection. “Our population is older than the nation as a whole,” Feiden said.

The developing plan includes an inventory detailing where the city is creating the most greenhouse gases. “Heating and cooling of buildings,” he said, “is the biggest single emission of greenhouse gases in Northampton. Obviously, it has to be one of our top priorities.”

Another focus is transportation, which accounts for about 25 percent of the emissions, he said.

Feiden noted that the numbers don’t take into account all emissions tied to the city.

“What’s not there — when you buy socks from China,” he said. “We’re not owning that load.”

Rather, the analysis looks at emissions created within the bounds of the city. Still, he said, “It’s all really important. I’m not trying to minimize any of it.”

Some solutions to reduce emissions include shifts in transportation. Already, there are electric car-charging stations in the city.

“Electric cars are great,” Feiden said, “but the best vehicle is not needing a vehicle.

Electric vehicles are expensive, he added, and not affordable for many people. Improvements to public transportation, and more people walking and biking, would reduce transportation emissions. Last summer, ValleyBike Share stations were put in the city, the implementation of which the city of Northampton led.

A draft of the plan suggests potentially requiring new city buildings to meet net-zero energy standards and to shift toward heating buildings with air- and ground-sourced heat pumps instead of using oil and natural gas.

Reductions in lighting costs are also planned. On Tuesday, the Department of Energy Resources formally gave Northampton a $250,000 grant that it will use to install LED lights at locations such as the high school and police station. The change will cut the energy the facilities use by 66 percent, according to Mayor David Narkewicz.

Steps toward slashing emissions and becoming carbon-neutral also depend on larger shifts in the energy system, Feiden said. The city is currently looking at community choice aggregation, a program in which the city, instead of National Grid, would supply electricity to residents with the goal of offering more energy from renewable sources.

Another way to decrease emissions, Feiden suggested, could be to give every city department a “carbon budget,” a certain level of emissions they can create each year, with the understanding that it would progressively shrink. Individual departments can make their own reductions.

The drafted plan, Feiden said, aims to focus on the big picture.

“We’re being careful,” he said. “If we go too deep in the weeds the plan is useless.”

Groups like the Energy and Sustainability Commission are weighing in on the plan, and a forum to gather public comment will be scheduled.

Greta Jochem can be reached at gjochem@gazettenet.com.

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