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The Community Forum for Shaping a Green Future – Part 1

Athanasia Senecal describes results of Oak Ridge's greenhouse gas emissions inventory By most measures, Saturday’s forum “Greening Oak Ridge: A Community Forum for Shaping a Green Future” was a smashing success. There were about 100 people there, with a diverse variety of perspectives, and those people seemed to be thoroughly engaged in generating ideas about what Oak Ridge needs to do to make Oak Ridge a sustainable community for future generations.

Sustainability is often about the environment, but more broadly it means “meeting the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.” This is no small challenge. The global financial collapse unfortunately means that we are now depending on those future generations to rescue our present economy. This forum was focused, however, on an environment-related sustainability challenge: sustaining the future environment and the future economy in the face of the impacts of the continuing buildup of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere — and taking action toward stabilizing greenhouse gas concentrations and the climate.

On Friday, I heard the news that a group of 26 big companies and several environmental organizations calling themselves the U.S. Climate Action Partnership had declared their support for reducing the nation’s greenhouse gas emissions by 80 percent from 2005 levels by 2050. That’s a frighteningly ambitious goal facing us, our children, and our children’s children. It’s even more frightening to realize that climate experts say that the goal of 80 percent reduction from 2005 to 2050 is not nearly ambitious enough.

In May of last year, the City Council passed a resolution committing Oak Ridge to take action to address greenhouse gas and air pollution emissions, and to take a leadership role in addressing of climate change as an issue. The Environmental Quality Advisory Board was charged with advising the City in the development and implementation of milestones to accomplish these objectives.

As a first step in reducing Oak Ridge’s impact on the global atmosphere, EQAB needed to figure out how big that impact is and what we do that produces that impact. At the forum, Athanasia Senecal (photo), a UT intern working with the City, told about the inventory of greenhouse gas emissions from City government and from the community as a whole. The biggest source of City government emissions is (surprisingly) the water and wastewater sector — mostly pumping water uphill in our beautiful but hilly terrain. City government emissions are, however, only about 1 percent of the community total.

Part of the crowd at sustainability forumTo help define actions for the community to take, part of EQAB’s task is to make recommendations on city actions and policies to help ensure sustainability in the coming years and decades.
Saturday’s forum was held to gather input and ideas to feed into those policy recommendations. Participants were asked questions like:
* What steps do you think Oak Ridge should take to become a greener community?
* What should the city do to reduce our carbon footprint and build environmental sustainability into our infrastructure?

[To be continued]

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11 Comments

  1. Ray Kircher says:

    Water! The largest portion of Greenhouse Gas (GHG) contribution by Oak Ridge. This could be the first area to be better controlled by city ordinance and progressive billing. The city should allow irrigation to be by private wells, not city water. This opens the market for Geothermal Heating and Cooling. When we lessen our usage of city water for other than human consumption purposes, we will have lessened our GHG output. Many privately owned pumps are electric, that is where Photovoltaic (PV) Irrigation systems can step in to make these dramatic changes in GHG for Oak Ridge.

    PV and Thermal Hot Water systems for all buildings are the future. It captures a fuel source, the Sun’s UV rays, and would have a dynamic change in GHG. The technology for many Green Building uses are out in the market, we must first choose which are the smart ones for Oak Ridge.

  2. Ellen Smith says:

    Hi, Ray. I’m glad that you made it to the forum — although it’s over, it looks like you haven’t stopped generating ideas. Keep it up!

    The water use situation isn’t quite as dramatic as you suggest. Water supply and sewage is the single biggest contributor among municipal government activities, but municipal government activities are only about 1% of Oak Ridge’s total greenhouse gas contributions.

    Reducing water and sewer use could contribute to reduced greenhouse gas emissions. The size of the possible reduction needs to be estimated.

    Converting from municipal water to a private well probably would not reduce the amount of energy needed to get water to your house, since wells require electric pumps to get the water out of the ground. However, as you pointed out in a conversation we had on Saturday, because groundwater is the same temperature year-round, in the winter you would need less energy to convert groundwater into hot water. That’s an interesting idea to explore, but it’s not really related to the energy cost of pumping water uphill.

    The idea of photovoltaic electrical supplies for water pumps — whether the pump on your own private well or the pumps that the city uses to move water uphill — definitely sounds like an idea to be evaluated. Solar thermal hot water systems won’t cut the city’s energy use for pumping water uphill, but it sure could contribute to some reductions in household energy use!

  3. CrackerNation says:

    Ellen, keeping on the water issue, our terrain certainly explains the dramatic water pumping carbon costs, but my understanding is that our water production system is efficient only at large volumes since it was sized to support a much larger population and high water use by the plants. Surely there are benefits to right-sizing our water system. As for the pumping costs, if we are looking for incentives, perhaps a carbon charge based on the elevation of a the meter would be a move in the right direction.

  4. Ellen Smith says:

    The inefficiently large size of the water treatment plant definitely is something that bears carefully examination as part of this effort. In the first-cut report on the greenhouse gas inventory, the high emissions from the water system were attributed not to the treatment plants but to electric pumps. (I think this is mostly pumps that hoist water to the water towers atop ridges, but it also includes some sewer lift stations.) The validity of this conclusion needs to be checked.

    I believe that one of Saturday’s idea lists included an idea about “right-sizing” the water treatment plant. It’s clear that the larger-than-necessary water treatment plant results in higher staffing levels than a smaller plant would. I’ve asked about operating only part of the facility, but I’ve been told that there are now modules that can be cut off — it can only be run as one big plant. Right-sizing the water plant clearly would cut operating costs, but the effect on energy use (and greenhouse gas emissions) is one of the many things that needs to be evaluated.

  5. Ray Evans says:

    I great community interchange Saturday. I hope that inclusiveness continues through the process and that this is only the first of several community visioning forums.

    Regarding the water plant, as I recall we inherited a large rather outdated facility that was continually patched together by Y-12 machine shops. As Y-12 continues to reduce its footprint its water demand will continue to lessen leaving the City rate payers with expanding operational costs. I hope that there is a way to address that issue.

  6. Ray Kircher says:

    Charging for water by location is segregation. Usage should be determined and charged progressively. Users should pay a share appropriate to their usage.

    Ellen, I also feel very strong about our construction codes not being sustainable. New and remodel construction should include inspections for foundation drain and waterproofing, insulation, ventilation, and rain water run off issues. The issue about many Oak Ridge homes is that sustainability was not built into the process. We are still a temporary city. Improving our building process and inspections can ensure buildings built or remodeled will show sustainable lower energy usage: inspections to check for water vapor linings, foundations drains and basement wall waterproofing, insulation in rough-in crevices around doors and windows, and exterior wall partition blocks for perpendicular walls, exterior house wrap with proper taping of joints, and proper ventilation of spaces over and under areas.

    If you can help with the term sustainable, am I correct in thinking that sustainable is defined by EQAB as a quality goal in our communities that can be passed on to the next generation of Oak Ridgers?

  7. Ellen Smith says:

    To Ray E: As you know, the city has already done some major repairs and upgrades at the water plant, and decreased water demand at Y-12 has already led to increased water rates for the rest of us.

    To Ray K: I hope you submitted comments about your ideas for (1) changing the rate structure for water and wastewater and (2) making the building codes and inspection process more consistent with long-term sustainability? Note that the city has adopted international building codes. Thus, if there are problems with our codes, the same problems exist in many other jurisdictions, and it’s likely that some of those other jurisdictions have already started looking into the same problem.

  8. Ray Kircher says:

    Yes I did submit those ideas. I am familiar with the International Building Code (IBC), but sustainability is not an idea built into code books. The IBC has its 2009 edition out. They seem to come out every 3 years. I would guess Oak Ridge is using the 2006 IBC, and most councils adopt the new IBC the following year. What I have learned from the National Electric Code (NEC) my interpretation of sustainability is mainly an issue of electrical design. The IBC contains many more issues of sustainability than the NEC. This is just a small part of Greening Oak Ridge as I see it.

  9. CrackerNation says:

    Ray K, I’m not sure why paying for increased services, like paying for water pressure at altitude is discriminating. I pay more for long distance telephone calls, for mailing heavier letters, for driving less efficient car. The goal of the session included developing incentives for reducing the carbon footprint and this is an incentive works in the right direction. I don’t believe it is politically viable but it is an idea that might help someone else come up with one that is.

  10. Ray Kircher says:

    CN, your understanding of water and sewer service doesn’t account for the hills of our city. Our service isn’t a grid on one level progressively rising as the service extends out. Even though a consumer is at one level the service has traveled up and down to get there. Larger users should pay the larger proportions for maintaining our facilities providing water and sewer. I’m not saying you may not have ideas, but please think about the meaning trying to become us, Greening Oak Ridge.

    Changing your login name would go a long way for seeing with you, CN, as a nice person.

  11. Ellen Smith says:

    The policy implications of water-use pricing are complex (and interesting, if these comments are any indication!). They are, of course, further complicated by the fact that our sewer rates are based on our water use.

    Oak Ridge has a minimum monthly charge for residential water supply and sewer use. It’s the same as what you pay for metered usage of “2”. It makes sense to have a minimum charge to cover the basic costs of having a connection and a meter. With that kind of rate structure, though, there’s not much room to add incentives or disincentives for behavior. Most months of the year, the minimum is what my household pays (because our water use is typically about “2” — sometimes it drops to “1” or increases to “3”), so the city’s pricing doesn’t give us a price incentive to reduce water use in our home. Our water use (and our cost) goes up in the summer when we water outdoor plants, though — and I think many of the ideas for reducing water demand that were presented at the forum related to outdoor watering.

    Water does travel both up and down to get to individual houses, but the energy for most of that travel comes from the water pressure that is maintained by the water towers located at the tops of ridges. My informed guess is that pumping water to those water towers accounts for the vast majority of the energy the City uses to deliver water. I don’t think it would make sense to use water bills to penalize people who choose to buy or rent homes near the tops of ridges, but I suppose there could be interest in changing future development patterns by requiring developers to absorb the differential costs of providing utilities and other city services to high elevations and remote locations.

    I hope all of Oak Ridge will continue the discussion, and I share Ray K’s view that CN ought to consider posting under his real name (or at least not disguising his identity), so that we can all recognize him as the fair-minded person that he is in real life.

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