BY MAIRE O’NEILL
Los Alamos County Councilors heard an extensive presentation at their Tuesday meeting from Katie Leonard, chair of the Los Alamos Resiliency, Energy and Sustainability Task Force along with vice chair Robert Gibson on the LARES final report and recommendatons.
The LARES Task Force was formed following a citizen petition requesting action on climate change, specifically to make recommendations on reducing the County’s greenhouse gas emissions and meeting or exceeding the goals set forth Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham. The Charter was approved by the County Council and the Task Force members were appointed in January 2021.
Other members of the Task Force were Sue Barns, Elizabeth Daly, Chick Keller, Roy Michelotti, Heidi Rogers, Oral Saulters, Steve Tobin and former member Suzie Havemann.
Leonard said the Task Force was given just over a year to create recommendations on greenhouse has (GHG) reduction.
“We have researched what is being done in many other communities and have crafted recommendations based on the needs of our community, with our unique geography, climate, population, etc.,” she said. “Knowing exactly how to tackle climate change can be daunting. With these recommendations we offer to you a place to start, with the understanding that adjustments will be made as time goes on, technology advances, and needs change.”
Leonard noted that after a recommendation from LARES, the County joined the Coalition of Sustainable Communities New Mexico, which has been a source of support and information to the Task Force in creating its recommendations, allowing LARES to see that action is being taken in the state and in the region. It also allowed Los Alamos the opportunity to be part of the COP26 global conference on climate change in Glasgow, Scotland (which Council Chair Randall Ryti attended) which helps gain perspective on what is happening nationally and internationally to address the impacts of climate change.
Leonard said LARES has endeavored to reach out to the Los Alamos community during the whole process and that all their weekly or bi-weekly meetings were open to the public. She described the many outreach efforts of the Task Force during the past year.
The final report contains recommendations in six focus areas: General Recommendations, Natural Gas Reduction, Electricity, Transportation & Mobility, Waste, Consumption & Natural resources, and Community Planning with overlap in some areas.
Leonard noted that many recommendations suggest taking action as soon as possible but that others will take more time and planning to execute. She said in terms of time frames, the ‘immediate” recommendations should be acted on as soon as reasonably possible, hopefully within a year.
The General Recommendations were presented as follows in order of priority:
1: Establish net-zero greenhouse gas emissions as a long-term goal for Los Alamos, both the community (exclusive of Los Alamos National Laboratory) and its government.
2: Perform a comprehensive baseline greenhouse gas emissions study from which to set reduction targets (and other goals) and against which to measure progress. This should be conducted as soon as possible in order to get started on all other recommendations.
3. Create and adopt a strategic climate action plan for Los Alamos County which includes baseline data, greenhouse gas reduction targets, and climate mitigation strategies, to be utilized and updated regularly.
4: Create and fund a senior staff position (e.g., “sustainability coordinator”) to lead and coordinate the work of all County departments, including the Department of Public Utilities, to meet the County’s net-zero and other resiliency and sustainability goals. Leonard noted that County employees are already very busy with their current job descriptions and do not have room on their plates to take on this large task. She said, “We need someone to do this job: to get the climate plan created, to implement the plan, and to coordinate with departments and staff. This position is now considered standard at local municipalities. Santa Fe, ABQ, and Las Cruces, for example, all have at least one staff person in this position”.
5: Provide recurring funding to invest in and integrate the goal of net-zero greenhouse gas emissions and other sustainability practices into all County government operations, including modeling new green technologies for residents. Leonard said County operations always require a budget. Incorporating low-carbon planning into future budgets will allow for investments that help the County reach its zero carbon goals.
6: Create an on-going body of (largely citizen) collaborative stakeholders to advise Council, Department and Board of Public Utilities, and other relevant County bodies on implementing the goals and strategies recommended in the climate action plan and monitor progress. Leonard said this could be a continuation of the current Task Force in some form, a new standing advisory board, or a broadening of the charter for the Environmental Sustainability Board. She said whatever its form, there needs to be a group who can help support the implementation of the recommendations and the future climate plan. )
7: Form a partnership with LANL and the Los Alamos Public Schools with the specific intention of collaboration on greenhouse gas reduction. Leonard said working with LANL and LAPS will help the County and that LANL and LAPS, as two major community partners will the County and themselves make progress faster.
8. Invest in consistent, ongoing community outreach and education promoting the reduction of our individual and collective greenhouse gas emissions, including an “Educational Specialist” position. Leonard said community education will be crucial to reducing emissions. She said this isn’t just a government undertaking, that the County needs to get everyone involved. She noted that Los Alamos County is not alone in making the changes, that hundreds of other communities in this country are already doing this.
9. Produce an annual climate action report to be presented to County Council and shared with the community. Leonard said LARES sees this as being very similar to the annual water quality report that is distributed to residents.
Natural Gas Reduction
Leonard said use of natural gas releases both carbon dioxide and methane. Reducing and eventually eliminating our consumption of natural gas is required to reduce emissions. She said the LARES first recommendation is to set a community goal to reduce natural gas use by at least 2% per year and that this should include county government, businesses and residents. The second, she said, it to encourage compact architectures in new construction, meaning duplexes, quads, apartments, condos, etc. She noted that shared walls reduce heat loss, thus reducing gas and electricity usage, and that multi-unit buildings will help with the County’s land and housing shortage.
The third recommendation is to require that new construction has solar access if feasible, which could be rooftop or in the yard, depending on the lot. Another recommendation is to require new construction to derive a significant amount of its heating energy from the sun. This could mean solar panels, solar thermal heating, and/or passive solar, Leonard said. LARES Also recommended adopting the 2021 International Energy Conservation Codes (IECCs) as the standard for new construction and guidelines for remodeling, and continuing to adopt new IECCs as they are issued. Leonard noted that the State did not adopt the 2018 IECCs, which include greater insulation requirements, but is planning to adopt the 2021 IECCs either this year or next. She said typically, these codes are revised every three years, but it can take many years for the state to adopt them and that energy savings are lost during the delay, thus increasing emissions.
LARES also suggested setting a cut-off date for new natural gas hook-ups and new electric resistance heating installations, effectively requiring electric heat pumps, as well as encouraging substitution of heat pumps when gas-fired furnaces and boilers are replaced. Leonard said some of the LARES recommendations involve having an appliance replacement plan that the County could help property owners with. LARES also encourages substitution of solar thermal, heat pump, tankless, or point-of-use water heaters when traditional hot water heaters are replaced, as well as substitution of electric induction ranges when traditional electric or natural gas ranges are replaced. Education and outreach for residents and property owners will be needed, Leonard said.
Another issue raised was the need to discourage or prohibit pilot lights in new or replacement gas appliances. LARES believes that as gas appliances are phased out, the need for pilot lights will disappear, but that there is no reason to wait that long. Leonard said installation of appliances with pilot lights should be discouraged or outright banned, and that LARES estimates that it could reduce gas consumption in the County by more than 10%.
LARES recommended including heating demand in electrical utility generation, transmission, and distribution supply planning because as the County reduces has consumption adjustment will need to be made to electricity needs.
LARES also believes energy audits and other relevant information should be made available to property owners through County government. She said helping the County, businesses, and residents reduce gas consumption will take time and consistent information campaigns and that energy audits, building efficiency checklists, and appliance replacement plans are a great start.
“Natural gas reduction goes hand-in-hand with electricity supply and demand. As we reduce our consumption of gas, our electrical needs will increase. Electric vehicles will certainly play a role in increased electricity needs,” Leonard said.
The first LARES recommendation is to formalize the Board of Utilities/Department of Public Utilities and Council goal to be a net-zero carbon electricity supplier by 2035. Leonard said DPU staff have indicated that this change from 2040 to 2035 is achievable.
LARES also recommended developing a strategy that achieves LAC’s net-zero carbon goals regardless of the nature of any future LAC/LANL power generation relationship.
“We want to be sure that should there be a change in the nature of the energy coordination agreement, that the County is free to pursue carbon-free power for its own purposes,” Leonard said.
LARES recommends developing an “Intermittency Management Strategy” including but not limited to demand management, curtailment of generation, and time-of-use metering. As more power is obtained from renewable sources like wind and solar, a plan will be needed to deal with fluctuations in power generation.
With regard to sources of power generation, LARES recommends investigating periodically the feasibility of restricting market purchases of electricity to carbon-free sources. Leonard said eventually the County will be 100% carbon free power, but the sooner this is done, the faster that zero carbon goal will be met.
LARES recommends continuing to pursue the feasibility of small modular reactor technologies. In addition to nuclear, rooftop solar should be considered as a major future electricity supplier. LARES also recommended studying distributed electric generation and storage as potentially an integral part of the County’s power supply. Leonard said this generation could be on residences, businesses, parking lots, and in open spaces. She said in tandem with rooftop generation is storage and that the storage piece is crucial.
“The storage piece in these recommendations is crucial. Generation is guaranteed, but matching generation to demand is more complex. Making the most of this resource will require storage,” Leonard said.
LARES recommends initiating a pilot program to support the addition of residential storage batteries to homes with and without rooftop solar. Leonard said there are a few ways this could be done, but that there are models out there where a home just has a storage battery—like a County-owned meter, only it’s a County-owned storage battery
Transportation & Mobility
“Electricity and transportation overlap primarily through the expected increase of electricity needed to charge electric vehicles and establishing a charging infrastructure,” Leonard said. “Transportation is one of the largest sources of emissions, particularly here in this spread-out community and with so many commuters coming up and down the hill every day. We hope partnering with LANL and the schools will be fruitful particularly when addressing transportation emissions.”
LARES recommends increasing and incentivizing public transportation ridership as well as reducing the number of single-occupancy vehicles and the traffic and emissions they cause.
“Many communities, businesses and schools incentivize public transit use or other lower-carbon ways of getting to/from work and school, like carpooling or riding a bike. Our wonderful Atomic City Transit is already free around the County, so perhaps we need another incentive to increase ridership. The bigger emissions issue is the number of commuters who do not live in the County. Forming a partnership with the Lab and the schools, as well as strengthening and incentivizing regional transit, will help encourage people to take the regional buses,” Leonard said.
LARES recommends improving bicycle and walking infrastructure to promote safe and convenient carbon-free transportation. LARES also recommends increasing publicly accessible vehicle charging infrastructure.
Increasing the number of electric vehicles in the County fleet by at least two per year, eventually making 100% of light duty (passenger cars and trucks) plug-in electric, is also recommended. Another recommendation is to implement a “no idling” policy with shaded parking options.
Launching a municipal bike share program and encouraging private electric vehicle purchase are also recommended.
Waste, Consumption & Natural Resources
LARES recommends setting a goal to eliminate municipal solid waste through reduction, reuse, recycling and composting (by e.g., 2035) following “Zero Waste” principles.
“The more we can keep out of the landfill, the less carbon we will contribute to the atmosphere in two ways: one, we won’t contribute carbon dioxide and methane through decomposing waste, and two, we won’t be trucking it 90 miles away to the landfill,” Leonard said. Closely linked is reducing consumption-associated greenhouse gas emissions through sustainable purchasing and consumption /disposal of food, goods and services,” Leonard said. “We don’t expect people not to buy or consume anything; we just hope we can start making more environmentally-friendly choices.”
LARES recommends developing and adopting a comprehensive water conservation and water-shed stewardship plan to maintain and enhance the quality and quantity of the County’s as well as a plan to capture stormwater runoff and reduce through green infrastructure approaches.
Among other recommendations, LARES suggests that the County add commercial zoning within each area of town, such as each mesa and within White Rock.
“Having access to a business like a corner market or coffee shop near one’s home would be a huge convenience for many residents, and would create a space to meet up with friends and neighbors. This would reduce emissions from, say driving from Barranca or North Mesa to downtown and back. It would also provide opportunities for small local businesses to pop up or expand,” Leonard said.
Council voted 5-1 to accept the LARES Task Force recommendations, and include the LARES budget items as budget options in the FY2023 budget. Included in the motion was a budget adjustment to allow for immediate action on recommendations General Recommendatione 2 and 3. Also included is a provision that the County Manager and Utiliies Manager identify near term opportunities as they review current and future study information and bring those opportunities to Council for decision.
The following are the budget request items for the FY2023 budget:
- Funding for a 1.0 FTE Sustainability Coordinator (GR-4) $100,000 – $140,000 (annual/recurring)
- Funding for a comprehensive, consumption-based greenhouse gas emissions study (GR-2)
$25,000 – $100,000 (one-time, this may include a CAP)
- Funding for a Climate Action Plan (CAP) (GR-3) $100,000 initial plan development
- Funding for 1.0 – 2.0 FTE Natural Gas staff (NG-11) $100,000 – $250,000 (annual/recurring)
- Funding for 1.0 FTE Education Coordinator (GR-8) $100,000 – $125,000 (annual/recurring)
- Funding for community outreach & education (GR-8) $40,000 (annual/recurring) Funding for 2 electricity studies: -Preferred resource plan S9 (1 year) (E-5, E-7) -Market purchase of electricity feasibility study (6 months) (E-5, E-7) $75,000 (one-time) $75,000 (one-time)
- Funding to support sustainability programs and practices County-wide (GR-5) TBD
- Total Requested $615,000