Bellingham Moves Forward With Phase 1 of Climate Policy Approval Process

On June 8, Bellingham’s Climate and Energy Manager, Seth Vidaña, presented 10 actions from the Climate Action Plan to research further and consider adopting as policy. This step was a part of “Phase 1” of the larger Climate Action Plan evaluation and implementation process, or the Climate Policy Approval Process.

The 2018 Climate Action Plan identified 145 actions that the city of Bellingham could take to reduce carbon dioxide emissions. The goal of the Climate Policy Approval Process is to filter the list of actions, evaluate and prioritize them, and adopt the best ones formally as city policy.

The first filter, part of Phase 1, analyzed the impact of all 145 actions on four broad factors: Legislative, Funding, Planning, and Return on Investment. Each of the four factors was posed in the form of a question, and, based on the responses, actions were assigned numerical values, ranked quantitatively, and assigned a tier that describes their readiness.

Ten actions that ranked the highest were assigned to Tier 1, which means they are identified as ready for a more in-depth analysis. The actions draw from the areas of energy efficiency, renewable energy, transportation, and planning.

The 10 actions are:

1. Efficiency Requirements for Owner-Occupied Residences

2. Electrify New Buildings

3. Encourage Statewide Ban on Internal Combustion Engines

4. Create Bellingham Clean Energy Fund

5. City and Puget Sound Energy Evaluate Community-Wide Green Direct

6. Promote Electric and Hybrid Vehicles

7. Support Property Assessed Clean Energy Financing

8. Establish a City of Bellingham Carbon Fund

9. Increase High Density Development

10. Increase Density in Transition/Residential Multi-Family Zones

Four actions were assigned to Tier 2, meaning they need more research. Nine actions were assigned to Tier 0, meaning they are either complete, ongoing, or a non-priority. The remaining of the 145 actions were placed in Tier 3, which means they will be tabled until the next annual update.

Vidaña also outlined how the public can be involved. The information presented on June 8 will be shared on the city website and anyone who wishes to participate in the legislative process can do so by public comment at a City Council meeting or in a written comment to City Council by emailing ccmail@cob.org.

City Councilmember Questions
Following the presentation, City Councilmembers asked questions and made comments. Councilmember Vargas expressed a fondness of energy efficiency, saying “[energy efficiency] for me is always number one.” Vargas asked about how the city is ensuring that municipal facilities are implementing energy efficiency measures and leading by example. Vidaña replied that city facilities have undergone a number of energy efficiency updates.

Assistant Public Works Director Renee LaCroix added that focusing on the community’s emissions is important because it will lead to greater emissions reductions. “When we look at Bellingham’s emissions, the municipal emissions represent, if I remember correctly, about 8 to 10 percent of total emissions, and so when we’re talking about trying to get the most bang for our buck and have our community emissions as a whole, including these municipal emissions, be reduced the most quickly, it makes sense to focus on community versus municipal.”

Councilmember Lilliquist expressed gratitude and relief to be at this stage in the process and support for staff’s list. “You know I had a gut idea of the ones I thought would be best and this list does indeed include all of those. So, I think it’s a really formidable list, a good list, probably the right list. So, go ahead, I’m supportive.”

Lilliquist also inquired about number five on the Tier 1 list, “City and Puget Sound Energy Evaluate Community-Wide Green Direct” and number two on the Tier 2 list, “Conduct a Feasibility Study for City Municipal Utility District with Mandate to Procure 100 Percent Renewable Energy.” Lilliquist said, “One way the Green Direct could work is by partnering with the Public Utility District (PUD), and I personally am not enthusiastic about the idea of creating another public utility district, a municipal one, if the Whatcom County PUD can play that role.”

LaCroix replied that the city is working with the Whatcom County PUD to conduct a feasibility study to understand if they can provide renewable energy to Bellingham retail customers. Lilliquist later added, “If our goal is to create new renewable energy to replace fossil fuels, and one of these utility ideas doesn’t get us there, then it shouldn’t be on this list …”

Councilmember Hammill asked about other large institutions leading by example with building electrification. “Do we see any value or any hazard when you’re reaching out to our institutional partners like the hospital or school district or higher ed in terms of engaging those institutions in the electrification of buildings?” Vidaña said Western Washington University is actively pursuing electrification of buildings, but is not familiar with the hospital’s processes.

Councilmember Stone had a question about what actions or measures have been excluded from consideration. “Tier 0 mentions that those are projects that have been our measures that are completed ongoing or non-priority … and I’m just curious with respect to non-priority … what some of those determining factors were and if there are some examples of what’s been deemed a non-priority.” There were nine actions in that category. Several pertained to diesel and biodiesel, an outdated technology. Others were about joining other organizations that promoted emissions reductions and staff said they feel like the city is already on a pathway to do that.

Councilmember Hammill asked what the source of revenue for the Carbon Fund would be. Vidaña said that’s “yet to be determined. We’ve looked at grants and potential carbon taxes … . We might look at how other cities are funding these items.”

With City Council’s approval, the second part of Phase 1 will continue, which is an in-depth triple bottom line analysis. The triple bottom line term is an accounting framework that considers people, planet, and profits. The three bottom lines consider the social equity, environmental, and economic impacts. This process is expected to be completed in the next two months.
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Alec Howard is an environmental policy student at Western Washington University interested in local governments and their response to climate change. He currently sits on the Whatcom County Bicycle/Pedestrian Advisory Committee and the Whatcom County Climate Impact Advisory Committee’s Transportation Work Group.

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