December 11, 2010

Sustainable City Spotlight

Quickie from the NYT: 

Using Waste, Swedish City Cuts Its Fossil Fuel Use 

The most remarkable information about Kristianstad is not that it provides heat to all of its municipal buildings and residences without the use of fossil fuels, but that the city (and country) are so far ahead of any serious renewable fuel efforts in the US of A. The lede really jumps out: 
KRISTIANSTAD, Sweden — When this city vowed a decade ago to wean itself from fossil fuels, it was a lofty aspiration, like zero deaths from traffic accidents or the elimination of childhood obesity.
... But after Sweden became the first country to impose a tax on carbon dioxide emissions from fossil fuels, in 1991, Kristianstad started looking for substitutes. By 1993, it was taking in and burning local wood wastes, and in 1999, it began relying on heat generated from the new biogas plant.
1991! Now that's some forward-thinking policy. Kristianstad was the beneficiary of this and other more direct policy interventions:

The start-up costs, covered by the city and through Swedish government grants, have been considerable: the centralized biomass heating system cost $144 million, including constructing a new incineration plant, laying networks of pipes, replacing furnaces and installing generators.
But officials say the payback has already been significant: Kristianstad now spends about $3.2 million each year to heat its municipal buildings rather than the $7 million it would spend if it still relied on oil and electricity. It fuels its municipal cars, buses and trucks with biogas fuel, avoiding the need to purchase nearly half a million gallons of diesel or gas each year.
 Policy sets the agenda: the innovation threshold in our nation's capitol has been low enough to effectively quash any real game changer like the effort described above. But incremental approaches are starting to make inroads:

Last month, two California utilities, Southern California Gas and San Diego Gas & Electric, filed for permission with the state’s Public Utilities Commission to build plants in California to turn organic waste from farms and gas from water treatment plants into biogas that would feed into the state’s natural-gas pipelines after purification.
It should be noted that the incentive for this effort comes from AB32, the bill requiring CA to reduce greenhouse gas emissions to 1990 levels, and Senate Bill 107 (California's Renewables Portfolio Standard), which mandates that 20% of the state's energy come from renewable sources. Without such leadership to challenge and push society forward with such incentives, sitting on the status quo remains pretty comfy. Anecdotal proof: I had a conversation this weekend with a guy getting a master of International Energy Policy at Stanford, and he said that for next decade(s), renewable energy initiatives will emerge from energy policy. So there's your Cardinal seal of approval.

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