Spotlight on Raleigh: Cool Cities

>> Sunday, February 22, 2009

It's probably been about a month now since I attended the Cool Cities Workshop that I mentioned as one of my goals in my January Round-Up. I always have lofty intentions for writing on this blog, and then other things end up taking priority (like spending time with my husband who turned 30 this weekend). So here is a better-late-than-never description of the Cool Cities program for all you Raleigh-ans out there. (Or really for anyone - it's a nationwide program.)

Cool Cities was started by the Sierra Club in 2005 in conjunction with the US Mayors Climate Protection Agreement that was developed that same year. Communities who join the Cool Cities program commit to reducing their greenhouse gas emissions 7% from 1990 levels by 2012. So far, 20 North Carolina cities have joined the program, including Raleigh.

The idea behind the program is that local groups will work with their city government to establish an environmental advisory council and take actions to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, including the steps I've listed at the bottom of this post (you can skim them -they're pretty wordy)

The meeting I attended focused on Action #5: Make energy efficiency a priority through building code improvements, retrofitting city facilities with energy efficient lighting, and urging employees to conserve energy and save money. I learned all sorts of fascinating and useful things (including the word "retrofit"). In fact, I learned so much that energy efficiency is going to have to be a topic for another post.

What I wanted to talk about here is how Raleigh's doing on the Cool Cities program, and how you can help.

Based on my general observations comparing Raleigh to Chapel Hill/Carrboro, I assumed that Raleigh was a pretty sucky member of Cool Cities. Turns out, Raleigh's not so bad, though there's much room for improvement.

The biggest action that Raleigh has taken is partnering with a company called Cree to switch as much of the city's lighting as possible to LEDs. According to Cree, "switching to LED-based lighting can save 40 to 70 percent of the electricity a city uses for certain lighting applications such as parking garage, parking lot, outdoor public area, street and portable lighting." When I first read that Raleigh was focusing their Cool Cities action on lighting, I thought, "Lighting, shmighting. Come on, Raleigh. You can do better than that." But actually, 22% of all energy in the U.S. goes toward lighting, so it's a big deal.

Raleigh's showiest example of LED lighting is the amazing Cree Shimmer Wall on the side of the Raleigh Convention Center. It is backlit by 56 LED fixtures.

Raleigh's 2030 Comprehesive Plan also includes a number of things in line with the Cool Cities program, including requiring all new buildings to be built to LEED standards and improving public transportation. The big thing is just making sure Raleigh sticks to the plan. If you're interested in helping Raleigh grow sustainably, you can:

  • Sign the petition supporting improved transit in the Triangle.
  • Join the Political Committee of the local Sierra Club to lobby area government officials on relevant issues.
  • Join the Conservation Committee of the local Sierra Club to get involved in conservation activism.
You do not have to be a member of the Sierra Club to get involved in any of their committees.

And last of all, here are the actions included in the Cool Cities program:
  1. Inventory global warming emissions in City operations and in the community, set reduction targets, and create an action plan.
  2. Adopt and enforce land-use policies that reduce sprawl, preserve open space, and create compact, walkable urban communities.
  3. Promote transportation options such as bicycle trails, commute trip reduction programs, incentives for car pooling, and public transit.
  4. Increase the use of clean, alternative energy by, for example, investing in "green tags," advocating for the development of renewable enrgy resources, recovering landfill methane for energy production, and supporting the use of waste to energy technology.
  5. Make energy efficiency a priority through building code improvements, retrofitting city facilities with energy efficient lighting, and urging employees to conserve energy and save money.
  6. Purchase only Energy Star equipment and appliances for City use.
  7. Increase the average fuel efficiency of municipal fleet vehicles; reduce the number of vehicles; launch an employee education program including the anti-idling messages; convert diesel vehicles to bio-diesel.
  8. Evaluate opportunities to increase pump efficiency in water and wastewater systems; recover wastewater treatment methane for energy production.
  9. Maintain healthy urban forests; promote tree planting to increase shading and to absorb CO2.
  10. Help educate the public, schools, other jurisdictions, professional associations, business and industry about reducing global warming pollution.

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