June 16, 2024

Whole Community News

From Kalapuya lands in the Willamette watershed

Sustainability Commission looks to align with council to bring clean energy jobs to Eugene

9 min read
Councilor Alan Zelenka encouraged the Sustainability Commission to focus on the hundreds of millions of dollars in renewable energy funds flowing into the state. He said the "once-in-a-lifetime" opportunity is estimated to create 435,000 jobs.

Eugene’s Sustainability Commission presented its annual report Nov. 13.

Jan Bohman (Sustainability Commission): Thanks for the opportunity to present our annual report for FY23 and our work plan for FY24.

[00:00:12] One overall theme for the year was aligning commission work with the work being done by staff and city council.

[00:00:18] The commission was asked to provide input and recommendations to staff on a variety of topics like the Climate Friendly and Equitable Communities’ parking rules…the Move EUG map…and the city’s revised street design standards.

[00:00:30] Another theme for the year was exploring community projects which could have a significant role in advancing the goals of the Climate Action Plan 2.0. For example, Lane County is considering an integrated material and energy recovery facility at Short Mountain landfill to improve recycling and materials recovery. Also, EWEB has an electric vehicle car share program.

[00:00:50] In addition, staff walked through the details of the 2021 greenhouse gas inventories for both the Eugene community and city operations.

[00:00:59] One good accomplishment was forming the Education and Outreach Committee to develop a foundation for how the commission can conduct public engagement and outreach. The committee developed a slide deck to present at community meetings, and had our first outreach effort tabling at the Southeast Neighbors Association picnic this summer.

[00:01:16] During the year, the commission sent three recommendations to city council and I’ll turn it over to Devon to expand on those.

[00:01:22] Devon Mann (Sustainability Commission): Thanks so much, Jan. In November 2022, the commission sent a letter to support an ordinance to restrict fossil fuels in new residential buildings. In February 2023, we sent a letter to support the concept of a public health overlay zone. And in June 2023, we recommended that a member of the Sustainability Commission be part of the Revenue Committee. The letter also included possible revenue streams for climate work for council consideration.

[00:01:51] Now, Jan will switch focus back to the proposed work plan of FY24.

[00:01:58] Jan Bohman (Sustainability Commission): Thank you, Devon. So, we have three main goals for our work this year. First, we’d like to better align our work with the CAP (Climate Action Plan) 2.0. This means understanding better where the city and community partners have made progress and identifying opportunities for the commission to help advance that work.

[00:02:14] Second, we’d like to provide input on city initiatives in progress. This means increasing our understanding about the city’s work across a range of sustainability topics and identifying where there are opportunities for the commission to participate. This could include providing input on projects at meaningful stages in the decision-making process, doing additional research that supports staff work, or providing recommendations to city council.

[00:02:38] Third, we would like to increase our engagement in the community. The commission is in a unique position to gather input on sustainability policies and practices that reflect community values. We’d like to have more of a presence at community events and more one-on-one conversations with the public.

[00:02:55] We will meet these goals by addressing the following topics: state and federal climate policies meant to increase investments in clean energy; local efforts by community partners to advance clean energy projects; the Recycling Modernization Act and what role that will have in waste reduction; and finally efforts being made by the city to decarbonize transportation.

[00:03:18] Collaborative topics are those that have been identified by staff: street trees; building decarbonization; the U of O Home Energy Score program, land use planning for urban growth; and various ways to communicate stories and progress related to CAP 2.0.

[00:03:35] There are several topics that will be explored further through committees.

[00:03:39] Devon Mann (Sustainability Commission): There are three main committees: the Outreach and Education committee that we established last year will increase the awareness about sustainable lifestyles, share incentives and opportunities with residents, and act essentially as the ears of the council.

[00:03:56] The second committee focuses on food waste prevention and we know from conversations with staff, there’s been lower than expected participation in the curbside composting and very little opportunities for composting in multifamily housing.

[00:04:10] Our third committee will focus on building decarbonization, which is a huge focus for the city’s sustainability staff. This committee will examine two specific challenges.

[00:04:20] The first is identifying essential best practices to overcome the challenges of making energy efficiency improvements to rental properties… The second challenge is how to ensure the energy efficiency or electrification upgrades are leading to actual improved building energy performance. So, we’re calling this the energy performance gap.

[00:04:40] Mayor Lucy Vinis: I’m very excited about your commitment to outreach and education because I think that what we learn over and over again is that, you know, no matter how far along you think you’ve brought the community, they’re not quite with you always, unless you’ve had a chance and that your commission is, you know, sort of very well positioned to actually understand those issues well and then help be a bridge to the community.

[00:05:04] Councilor Alan Zelenka: I think that your number one focus should be maximizing the once-in-a-lifetime federal and state funding that’s occurring right now. Once in a generation. There’s hundreds of millions of dollars flowing into the state. Where it’s going to go is still an open question. I think positioning our community for capturing that as much as we possibly can, more than our fair share, is what we should try to be doing.

[00:05:33] There was a recent article in the Register-Guard about 435,000 jobs being created by the renewable energy projects that are being done, being funded by this. That’s a lot of jobs. Having those jobs come here and they’re well-paying family wage jobs. So having those come here, I think should be a focus.

[00:05:50] So maximizing the dollars from the federal and state programs and the jobs from these programs, I think, should be a really high focus for the Sustainability Commission because if we don’t do it now, we’re going to miss the boat. This is a once in a lifetime.

[00:06:05] I think the number two priority should be from the biggest emission sector that we have, which is the transportation sector… The legislature misguidedly didn’t fund the rebate program for EVs. I think that’s something we should look at as a local thing, because I don’t, I’m not sure that’s going to happen at the state level.

[00:06:24] The two things on building decarbonization: There’s a new building performance standard that the state adopted which is a new requirement that all buildings meet a benchmark. And if they don’t, they have to show how they’re going to meet that and have a time frame to do that. There’s going to be six state staff working on that with tiers and it’s going to cover most buildings. So getting involved in that, making sure that that’s done really well at the local level, is going to be really important.

[00:06:49] The home energy scoring is a way to get at building decarbonization. People have information, they can act on it, and it basically gives you an energy score like your appliance score for your house. Many, many cities have already done this. And actually, Eugene’s way behind the eight ball on that. I’d like to see us move and hopefully the Sustainability Commission can push for that and move for adoption of that.

[00:07:11] As well, there’s just been an RFP released to look at how you apply the home energy score to rental properties, which we have 50 percent of, so that’s going to be a big deal as well.

[00:07:21] John Q: CAP stands for Climate Action Plan.

[00:07:25] Councilor Alan Zelenka: The CAP 2.0 communications is a really important part of what the Sustainability Commission should do (despite the fact that nobody knows it exists, which really hurts me, since it was my motion to create it.) But we don’t tell our story very well and focusing in on that and making sure we tell our story better and getting resources in this city about how that will work will, I think, be really helpful as we ask for things that are going to be tougher to ask for.

[00:07:51] On the street trees. the governor’s task force on housing, one of their draft recommendations basically does away with our tree ordinance. And so I hope that Sustainability Commission is focusing in on that because that would be a shame.

[00:08:07] And then, finally, at Short Mountain, the materials recovery, that project, the longstanding project by Emerald PUD, the landfill gas electricity project just had its 30th anniversary. But it uses the landfill gas to create electricity and it reduces greenhouse gas emissions pretty dramatically and it creates revenue for the community. But it requires the organics to be there to be able to do that. And so decreasing its organics makes that project less viable, which is why they’re, and also electricity, which is becoming more valuable reduces that.

[00:08:44] And so getting rid of the non-organics in that recycling is really great. There’s also, because of the interplay between the organics and how much generation of electricity they have because of the decomposition of the organic material, the power sales contract they have with the county, the contract that they have on how that operates requires all the organics to go to Short Mountain and be used to create this project. Or they have to pay EPUD for the reduction.

[00:09:13] So, I’m kind of wondering how people are seeing that project and what its focus is going to be and hopefully it’s on non-organic recycling materials and not on the organic stuff. Because we don’t want to cut our nose off to spite our face by hurting one really good project to do a different project because we like that one, because this one’s a new one du jour, as opposed to one that’s been a success for many, many decades.

[00:09:40] Councilor Matt Keating: …About the gas-powered leaf blower committee: This report indicates that the proposal was not able to get council approval in time, but the Sustainability Commission decided the topic would be rediscussed for inclusion in the FY24 work plan.

[00:09:53] I’m encouraged to learn about the work. If it’s helpful in my role as council’s liaison to LRAPA, I encourage this work through the Lane Regional Air Protection Agency Citizen Advisory Committee. So some work has been done. I don’t necessarily think LRAPA is the best agency to take it on. It sounds like it’s in our wheelhouse.

[00:10:12] So I thank the members of the Sustainability Commission for putting it to the forefront. I look forward to what comes out of that, that work plan for the next fiscal year. Thank you.

[00:10:22] Councilor Lyndsie Leech: I’ve been thinking for a long time that I’d love to see more of that triple bottom line in our information packets, of: How is this impacting every decision that we make? How is this impacting our climate and our equity work that we’re doing?

[00:10:37] Councilor Jennifer Yeh: I remember there being some issues was about not being great communication between the commission and council. And I’m wondering if that is also getting better or how you feel about that.

[00:10:48] Jan Bohman (Sustainability Commission): There had been a plan for leadership to meet with the mayor and managers on a quarterly basis but we are resuming that and I think that that’s very helpful, and we are making an effort as commissioners to meet more with the councilors, either the councilors who appointed us by ward, or if we’re one of the at-large positions, you know, pick a councilor, pick someone, try to stay in touch with on a more frequent basis.

[00:11:15] And also creating a liaison to other established commissions, making sure we have someone who does some tracking with the Human Rights Commission, you know, keep a better handle on what else is going on and relates to our work.

[00:11:30] Devon Mann (Sustainability Commission): Jan touched on this but like, I don’t know if I can emphasize this enough, but I really strongly encourage councilors to meet with your or a commission member quarterly if you can do it. I understand we’re all essentially volunteers, so we all have limited time, but that is a great way for information to go both ways, but also, ‘Hey, this is what I’m hearing out in the world. This is what happened at our last commission meeting,’ even since I know all of you don’t tune into every commission meeting.

[00:12:03] But I just wanted to add that in as well.

[00:12:07] Councilor Matt Keating: See you the last Wednesday of the month at noon.

[00:12:10] Devon Mann (Sustainability Commission): Exactly. We have a regular date with the Ward 2 councilor.

[00:12:14] John Q: The Sustainability Commission aligns with the City Council, as Councilor Alan Zelenka highlights a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. Their work could help bring Eugene a share of hundreds of millions of dollars, and some of an estimated 435,000 new jobs.

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