Climate projects top mayor's 'bucket list' for his last months in office

There’s a green hue to Charlie Hales’ bucket list.

Since opting against seeking re-election, Hales has decided to make the most of his final year as Portland mayor, releasing an ambitious list of 35 projects he wants completed by December.

Hales list includes much unfinished business and new initiatives in transportation, police reform, growth management and affordable housing/ homelessness. But 10 of his bucket-list items are in the category of addressing climate change — more than any other topic.

"Since Pope Francis and President Obama have brought the challenge of climate change and the urgency of climate action to the forefront, Mayor Hales not only recognizes the critical need to move quickly to meet Portland's goal of 80 percent reduction of carbon emissions from 1990 levels by 2050, but also has popular will behind his climate agenda," says his spokeswoman Sara Hottman. "Mayor Hales views his climate agenda as part of a global imperative to stave off the catastrophic effects of climate change. That's why climate is one of his signature issues."

Here’s a look at the mayor’s remaining green goals:

• Make electric vehicles 20 percent of the city’s car fleet

This one was a bit of a no-brainer for Hales, as EVs such as the Nissan Leaf save money on fuel and have fewer parts to break down that require repairs.

“It’s cheaper for the city to buy, operate and maintain a Leaf than it is for a comparable vehicle,” says Michael Armstrong, deputy director of the Portland Bureau of Planning and Sustainability. “It’s a very good bottom-line decision for us.”

The city now owns 58 EVs in its fleet of 488 sedans, or 12 percent. Another 10 Leafs have been acquired plus 18 Ford CMax Energis, which use electricity for the first 12 to 15 miles and then shift to gas. Armstrong figures the city needs only about nine more EVs over the next six to eight months as vehicles get replaced to meet the mayor's goal.

However, that doesn’t count the light-duty trucks and other larger vehicles used by the maintenance, transportation, water, sewer and other bureaus, which account for half the city’s overall vehicles. Those are not available yet in electric form.

• Double the use of solar energy in city facilities

Solar panels provide only 1 percent of the city’s energy supply, but they are installed at 13 city facilities, plus solar water heaters on five more, Armstrong says. The city has already committed to adding solar panels atop the Northeast police precinct, and plans a major expansion of panels at the Southwest Community Center. There’s talk of doing an array of ground-mounted panels on Bureau of Environmental Services land near the Columbia Slough. If those all occur, two medium-size solar additions would get to Hales’ goal, Armstrong says.

In addition, any time the city does major work on a new roof, significant renovations or new construction, solar will be considered, such as at the Portland Building, the city’s largest office building.

“Solar will definitely be part of that design from the start,” Armstrong says.

• Move forward on Bus Rapid Transit on Powell-Division

TriMet and Metro are shepherding this project, but Hales hopes to create a new urban renewal district along the bus line to subsidize improvements at major bus stops and assure affordable housing is preserved or added along the line. There’s also corresponding land use changes to be considered in the new comprehensive land use plan.

• Create a community solar program

A good number of Portland homeowners can’t add solar panels because of the orientation of their roofs. Also apartment tenants don’t have the option of installing solar panels, and there are many commercial buildings that don’t have good exposure to solar rays because they’re overshadowed by taller buildings.

Community solar would allow those groups to buy into large solar installations and get a share of the power produced.

There’s little the city can do to encourage community solar until the Oregon Legislature changes state law. But the Legislature's recently announced coal/renewable energy package negotiated by PGE, Pacific Power and environmental groups includes a provision for the Legislature to do just that, which could occur as soon as next month.

• Issue first Green Bonds

Later this year, the city expects to finish installing LED light bulbs in its street lights. That was financed through a short-term line of credit, Armstrong says. The city expects to issue $18.5 million in Green Bonds to pay off that credit line and provide long-term financing for the LED conversion. That would be the city’s first foray into this new way to pay for environmental improvements.

• Pass residential energy disclosure requirement

Oregon has been a laboratory for creating a home Energy Performance Score, which shows how much power a new house would require, akin to the miles-per-gallon stickers on new cars.

The mayor would like every home for sale or rent to include either the Energy Performance Score or the Home Energy Score developed by the U.S. Department of Energy, Armstrong says. So far, those have been voluntary, but “we’re looking for a way to make that standard practice.” he says. “That’s a discussion we would like to start.”

• Clean diesel contracting policy

The city is in talks with Multnomah County and the Port of Portland about potentially requiring bidders on those entities' projects to use construction equipment rigged with diesel filters or newer clean-diesel rigs. That would safeguard the health of neighbors exposed to carcinogenic diesel fumes and improve air quality.

• Implement Fossil Fuel Export Policy

The City Council passed this as a resolution last year. Now city staff are working on putting it into the form of a city ordinance, with more legal teeth and specific provisions.

Other items on Hales’ green bucket list include:

• Requiring the use of LEED for large, new buildings in Central City, and

• Establishing a Green building policy for Portland Housing Bureau-funded projects.

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