Climate Dispatches: Together, for a stronger, more resilient, healthier Truckee
The purpose of this ongoing series of “Climate Dispatches” is to share with our neighbors how climate change affects our community and how we can all make a meaningful difference.
This past Wednesday, April 22, 2020, marked a historic milestone — the 50th anniversary of Earth Day. In 1970, 20 million Americans — 10% of the U.S. population at the time — came together for the inaugural Earth Day as a response to polluting factories, toxic dumps, oil spills, and the loss of wilderness and wildlife, sparking a wave of environmental action.
While the issues that brought people together then remain relevant today, Earth Day now has a new central focus: climate change. The urgency of the climate crisis has become evident — just look to Greta Thunberg and the millions across the globe that she motivated during her climate strikes. Everywhere, folks are standing up for the climate.
Our Truckee community is no exception. It’s hard to miss the amazing environmental stewardship and action being taken by Truckee High’s Envirolution Club, North Lake Tahoe Citizens’ Climate Lobby, Truckee 100% Renewable Committee, Sierra Nevada Alliance, Sierra Business Council, Town of Truckee Staff and Town Council, and many others. Residents’ understanding of how climate change affects their community with significantly reduced snowpack, more extreme weather, and increasing wildfire, is surely a motivation for this mobilization.
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With Truckee’s wellbeing at stake, collective action will be crucial in order to reach the goals we have set. In November of 2017, Truckee took a step in the right direction by proudly becoming the 50th city in the nation to join Sierra Club’s Ready for 100 campaign, committing to 100% renewable electricity by 2030, and 100% renewable energy across all sources by 2050, plus an emissions reduction target of 80% by 2040.
So how will our community get there? What will deep decarbonization look like?
First, it’s important to know where exactly emissions are coming from. Truckee’s largest emissions sources are transportation and natural gas, which produced about 37% and 34% of the community’s emissions in 2016, respectively. Electricity use accounts for roughly 20%, and the rest is generated from solid waste, water and wastewater treatment, and wood and propane combustion. For Truckee to meet its goals, it’s going to need a multifaceted, “everything goes” approach, employing a wide variety of actions over the next few decades.
In a rural area, this is particularly true for the transportation sector. A multitude of strategies will be necessary to reduce transportation emissions, but the main tenets include significantly increasing the use of public transit and active modes of transportation, widespread adoption of electric vehicles (EVs), installation of a reliable, local and regional EV charging network, and smart land-use planning.
Due to our colder winter climate, natural gas, which is primarily used for heating, comprises a larger piece of Truckee’s emissions pie than it does for most communities. While it does provide benefits to our mountain town, we’ll inevitably need to reduce reliance on natural gas over time. Fortunately, technology has made strides, and electric air-source heat pumps are a reliable, cost-effective alternative that use significantly less carbon. Importantly, the emissions reduction impacts of electrification will be dependent on how the electricity to power them is generated.
This brings us to one of the last pieces of this puzzle. In 2016, electricity use in Truckee accounted for around 20% of emissions — down from 40% in 2008. This decrease is due to changes in Tahoe Donner Public Utility Commission’s (TDPUD) energy mix. From 2008 to 2016, TDPUD’s mix increased from 4.5% to over 60% renewable, zero-carbon sources. This is a critical component of Truckee’s carbon reduction quest, because as the community electrifies and sources more renewables, emissions will decrease drastically. It is therefore crucial that we continue to work with TDPUD to reach 100% renewable electricity by 2030. In the meantime, weatherizing homes and investing in energy-efficient appliances will help reduce electricity use.
Reaching these goals will have both its challenges and benefits. Investing in renewables will stimulate the local green economy; solar and wind are already the fastest-growing jobs nationally. Renewable energy installations and residential energy efficiency and weatherization improvements will increase energy independence and lower bills. Switching from gas and diesel vehicles to EVs will not only produce long-term savings, but cleaner air and water too. More walkable and bike-friendly neighborhoods will make for healthier and safer lives.
There’s no doubt that this transition will take time and effort. But together, Truckee can be a part of the solution that everyone participating in Earth Day has been striving towards for half a century. Ultimately, Truckee will come out the other side as a stronger, more resilient, and healthier community.
Sam Ruderman is a lifelong skier, energy policy wonk, and an avid member of Citizens’ Climate Lobby North Tahoe Chapter.
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