The Environmental Advisory Committee for the city of Laramie and Albany County presented a proposal Tuesday night for Laramie — both its municipal operations and its community members — to become carbon neutral by 2050.
At a work session of Laramie City Council this week, members of the EAC explained their report and recommended next steps for the city to bring the idea into fruition.
The proposal comes after a University of Wyoming study estimated the city’s carbon footprint in 2019, leading City Council to task EAC with developing an emissions reduction plan and targets.
Contained to a six-page document, the EAC report is a cursory look at a number of steps that the city could take to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
Led by a three-person subgroup of the EAC, the report was crafted in just about five weeks to provide the city with an overview of options to consider as officials being preparing their 2020-2021 budget this spring.
“We know that (the recommendations) are somewhat vague. They sort of had to be with the five weeks we had,” said Alec Muthig, who chaired the subcommittee.
To have a “detailed road-map” to reach carbon neutrality by 2050, the EAC is recommending the city develop two comprehensive plans for emissions reductions — one for municipal operations and one for the community.
Muthig said the city could collaborate with UW’s Haub School of Environment and Natural Resources, which currently already has students developing a comprehensive emissions reduction plan for Laramie.
“It could just be a class project, but it would be nice if it was a useful class project,” Muthig said. Because numerous other cities have already developed similar comprehensive plans, he said Laramie could have one developed without the usual high costs that normally accompany paying for outside accountants.
“This is something that could be done in-house and with the Haub School,” he said.
The EAC’s recommendations include reducing net municipal emissions to 50% of 2018 levels by 2030, 90% by 2040, and achieving net zero by 2050.
“I consider that to be fairly easy to do in most cases,” Muthig said. “We decided not to be as aggressive as other plans.”
The EAC also recommends that the community’s emissions see a 30% reduction by 2030, 70% by 2040, and achieving net zero by 2050.
However, most of the specific recommendation actions in EAC’s report focus on ways that Laramie’s government can reduce its own emissions.
“We have more control over those,” Muthig said.
EAC has recommended that Laramie find ways to reduce idling of its vehicles and commit to a “Green Fleet” purchasing policy in which “purchases of new fleet vehicles are mandated to be the lowest emission vehicle possible, with special effort made to purchase electric vehicles.”
EAC also recommended the city review its ordinances in policies to “streamline renewable energy and energy efficiency projects for individuals and businesses.”
“Such actions may include, but are not to be limited to: Waiving or reducing permitting fees for solar installations … (and) offering templates of photovoltaic system configurations to streamline the permitting process,” the report states.
The report also recommends phasing out the city’s current landscaping and maintenance equipment and replace it with electric or four-stroke engine machines.
The EAC report also suggests the city put solar panels on “all eligible and feasible municipal building rooftops.”
“Given that solar panels are warrantied for at least 25 years, and that solar panels continue to produce energy well past their warrantied lifetimes, the city has the ability to reduce and control its energy costs for decades to come by installing photovoltaic systems wherever possible,” the report states.
The EAC recommends applying for grants, like the $350,000 in current available funding from Rocky Mountain Power for solar projects in Wyoming to make things cheaper.
The committee also suggested the city could reduce prices for municipal solar panels by working on projects with other entities, like Albany County School District No. 1, to buy panels in bulk.
The Laramie Youth Council, a city-sponsored committee of teenagers, has recently been trying to find grant funding to put solar panels in the roof of Laramie High School.
To make solar panels cheaper for the community at large, the EAC suggested having the city facilitate a community “solar bulk buy program” to “reduce costs for community members who wish to install photovoltaics by consolidating their purchasing power through a centralized point of contact.”
The report also notes ways that emissions could be reduced in the city’s Solid Waste Management department, like expanding to community composting to reduce methane emissions or making garbage-collection routes more efficient.
City Manager Janine Jordan said the recommendations about municipal vehicle emissions are “low-hanging fruit” that could be addressed in the upcoming fiscal year.
Jordan said that City Council should now set near-term and long-term goals for how the city can “chip away” at the EAC’s recommendation.
“In the near-term, which is our fiscal biennium that will begin July 1, I’d like to receive some direction (from council) on what I might be developing in the budget recommendation for late April,” Jordan said.
She agreed with EAC that developing a comprehensive plan would be a key first step.
“The plan would give a very clear idea of how we could move beyond our own fuel emissions and operations and move out into the community setting, whether we’re working with our business community which, in my mind, would include our for-profit, not-for-profit and governmental activities,” she said. “And then we would have an implementation plan for how we’ll move forward on a year-by-year basis.”
Council-member Brian Harrington suggested that council should considering formally committing to becoming carbon neutral by 2050.
“I certainly think a commitment is a strong stance and worthwhile,” Harrington said.
Jordan suggested that it would be better to first develop a comprehensive plan to know how feasible — and how affordable — the EAC’s goals are.
“What I would like to know as your CEO is what is that commitment going to cost ... and how aggressive we can afford to be,” Jordan said.
City staff are also currently exploring the possibility of including an option for residents to donate to emissions reductions efforts on their utility bills.