On October 15, 2019, the Palm Springs Sustainability Commission met to discuss how to move forward with discussions and potential further actions to address the climate change. At that meeting, the group agreed that the City should develop a roadmap to acknowledge the seriousness of our current climate crisis, describe what the City has already done and plans to do to address climate change, and identify potential additional actions.
This document responds to that request and is intended to serve as a focus for further discussions among the Commission and the City Council. It also serves as an initial step in developing more detailed climate goals and strategies to include in a future iteration of the City’s Sustainability Plan.
The City of Palm Springs recognizes that climate change is real and is having a dramatic impact on our environment, our economy, and our way of life. Globally, we know that sea levels are rising, polar ice is retreating, permafrost is melting, and fires are increasing. Here in the Coachella Valley, the summer of 2021 saw new heat records, and a wildfire at Snow Creek in 2020 came close to the City limits.
Climate change is and will continue to manifest in Palm Springs in obvious ways: longer periods of drought; more frequent, above-average storm events; longer summers; more frequent and intense wildfires; and higher temperatures. It is also affecting life in the Valley in less visible ways. For example, changes in climate are having a significant impact on our local habitat. Although we experience some rebounds during wetter weather, we know further change is inevitable and could be irreversible. National scientists have also noted that the nearby iconic Joshua trees are threatened and may not last through this century. In 2020, the California Fish and Game Commission unanimously voted to grant western Joshua trees candidate status under the California Endangered Species Act making it the first plant species to be protected in the state due to the threats posed by climate change.
Our weather and environment are key factors why people come to Palm Springs to live, work, and play. Changes in our environment will have a significant impact on our economy and quality of life. Palm Springs recognizes the need to redouble efforts to strategically address our contribution to reducing climate change and mitigate the impacts we are already seeing and expect to see in the future.
The current Climate Change & Resilience goal as stated in the 2016 Sustainability Plan is to:
Reduce greenhouse gas emissions to 1990 levels by 2020, 80% below 1990 by 2050, and achieve carbon neutrality for municipal emissions by 2030.
This is consistent with the target identified by the state in AB 32 – California Global Warming Solutions Act. In addition, SB 32 signed by Governor Brown in 2016 requires the California Air Resources Board to ensure that statewide greenhouse gas emissions are reduced at least 40% below 1990 levels by December 31, 2030.
The Three primary goals are:
1. Reduce greenhouse gas emissions by at least 40% compared to 1990 levels by the end of 2030
2. Reduce greenhouse gas emissions by at least 80% compared to 1990 levels by the end of 2050
3. Achieve carbon neutrality for municipal emissions by 2030
Some efforts that have already helped Palm Springs achieve reductions in greenhouse gas emissions.
Launched the Co-generation Facility in 2015 to help offset energy use.
Installed solar arrays at Wastewater Treatment Plant and the Palm Springs Convention Center. The Convention Center is able to offset over 60% of its energy use from its solar output.
New commuter incentive programs for rideshare and electric vehicles.
Retrofitted LED and energy efficient lighting across the city.
Banned gas-powered leaf blowers and replaced over 400 gas-powered units with electric units.
New mobile home energy retrofit program.
New solar policy and zoning ordinance to expand the installation of solar on residential and commercial properties.
Installed a network of 36 EV charging stations and updated parking standards to reflect new state requirements and best practices on EV charging stations on private property to help support EV.
Implemented changes in the California Energy Code and Green Building Standards Code effective in January 2020.
Now require installation of EV charging stations for certain commercial developments.
New Home Energy Assessment Rebate program.
Introduced Desert Community Energy as the default energy company option for all residents. Desert Saver Program offer 100% carbon free energy.
Palm Springs continues working to quantify impacts of potential actions in more concrete ways and to identify potential additional actions to help meet established goals. The action plan will evolve and be integrated into other planning documents as more information is available. The sections below highlight the major areas of focus in the development process.
Emissions of greenhouse gasses are not constant. They tend to increase with population growth, economic development, and increased tourism activities. The City is working to identify future growth targets and trends through the General Plan Update.
Transportation-related emissions are the largest source (53%) of greenhouse gas emissions in the community-wide inventory. These emissions must be reduced significantly to each future reduction goals. Although some reductions will occur from improved vehicle efficiency, Palm Springs will look to identify opportunities for further reductions. This will include vehicle miles traveled and mix of vehicle types to understand what can have the most impact. Assuming sufficient granularity in the model, more detailed scenarios for meeting targets can be developed. Then policies, programs, and plans for infrastructure changes needed (requesting funding in city budget) can be initiated.
At a minimum, we know that improvements must be made to increase the number of alternative fueled vehicles, enhance non-motorized or electric transportation options, reducing idling, and enhancing public transit options.
The market for electric vehicles increased significantly over the past several years. New State goals for 100% zero emissions vehicles by 2035 in California and commitments from car manufacturers to go all electric in a similar time frame may help make this a reality. Palm Springs will continue to provide a robust EV charging infrastructure and help direct people to less-polluting vehicles. Currently, 34 EV stations have been installed around the City. In addition, there is an EVgo high-speed charging station located at the Visitors Center, 2901 N Palm Canyon Drive.
Future phases will add chargers at community centers and other locations such as multi-family complexes. Networked chargers will also help the City understand who users are and their charging habits. This additional infrastructure also will help reduce “range anxiety” among EV buyers and promotes Palm Springs as EV friendly.
Potential Impact: Palm Springs currently has a higher than average rate of EV ownership (2.75% versus .85% statewide). A 30% inventory of electric vehicles by 2030 would result in an annual reduction of about 56,000 MTCO2e, a 22% reduction from the 2020 transportation estimates.
Palm Springs has created a Pedestrian Plan.
Many visitors to Palm Springs fly into the Palm Springs International Airport and rent a car during their stay. Research will be conducted to better understand the driving habits of visitors, the emissions reductions that could be achieved by reducing gas car rentals and use within the city, and what options are viable for making emission reductions. This could include a City Airport shuttle and a reinvigoration of an electric Buzz Trolley concept within the City. Palm Springs will also work with event organizers to ensure that they incorporate low or zero-emission mass transit options for event-related activities. Splash House could be a good event to start with given they already use buses frequently.
A key to promoting more alternative transportation methods is to enhance related infrastructure. This has been focused traditionally on bike lanes, but Palm Springs will consider a wider range of potential alternative transportation options. Plans will consider the emergence of electric bikes and other alternative transportation modes (e.g., trikes, e-scooters, “golf” carts, etc.) and how that may impact infrastructure needs. CVAG plans for CVLink could play a prominent role as a catalyst for future changes.
Getting more people out of their cars and onto mass transit (e.g., Flix Bus and Amtrak) will help further reduce our transportation-related emissions. The City could work with companies such as Flix Bus to promote shared ride options.
AB 3232 enacted in 2018 requires the California Energy Commission (CEC) to assess the potential for the state to reduce GHG emissions from the state’s residential and commercial building stock by at least 40 percent below 1990 levels by January 1, 2030. The bill states that decarbonizing California’s buildings is essential to achieve the state’s GHG reduction goals at the lowest possible cost. The bill establishes that it is the intent of the Legislature to achieve significant reductions in GHG emissions by the state’s residential and commercial building stock by January 1, 2030. In addition, SB 350 establishes an objective to double the energy efficiency savings in electricity and natural gas final end uses of retail customers through energy efficiency and conservation.
2020 estimated emissions from residential and commercial buildings combined is Palm Springs’ second highest source of emissions (about 183,000 MTCO2e). Although the best way that residents and businesses can contribute to the City’s GHG reduction efforts is to sign up for 100% carbon free energy plans, natural gas use remains an important contributor and will be hard to curb.
Palm Springs will continue to focus efforts to reduce emissions from buildings in the following ways:
The launch of DCE occurred in April 2020. The decision to shift to carbon-free energy as the default for all residents and businesses has had a significant impact on the City’s greenhouse gas emissions. However, rising energy prices and confusing energy bills could potentially reverse progress if more residents move away from the 100% carbon-free plan.
Potential Impact: Assuming the participation in DCE continues at relatively consistent levels as in 2020, we would expect that reductions due to DCE would increase from the estimated 115,070 MTCO2e to 153,427 MTCO2e for a full year of implementation (the 115,070 MTCO2e estimate was based on the initial 9 months). This is a net increase in carbon reduction of about 38,000 MTCO2. Although the State has mandated that 60% of regular household electricity must come from renewable sources by 2030, it is unclear what the carbon intensity of these renewable may be.
The Sustainability Commission is developing a proposal for an ordinance that would require residents to implement energy efficiency improvements depending on the size of their renovation projects.
Potential Impact: The water heating package included among the measures in the proposal would reduce residential GHG emissions about 6,000 MTCO2e over the 30-year lifecycle. The other energy efficiency measures in the proposal would not lead to large GHG reductions due to the high participation in the DCE 100% carbon free option. However, the measures that homeowners would take will reduce their energy use/costs and will provide more resiliency to higher temperatures.
Large commercial buildings, such as cannabis facilities, have the potential to use a significant amount of energy and water resources. By promoting more sustainable practices, including energy efficient systems and use of renewable energy, Palm Springs can avert the potential significant additional greenhouse gas emissions. This could include requiring us of 100% carbon free energy.
Implement incentive program for Home Energy Assessments.
Palm Springs provides rebates to residents that conduct a home energy assessment as part of an approved home energy labeling program. It is hoped that providing homeowners with information about how they can reduce their home energy costs will help boost the energy efficiency of existing housing stock.
Some cities are moving towards requiring buildings to go all electric to reduce GHG emissions. The goal is to eventually eliminate or minimize natural gas use, because natural gas can be made from renewable sources such as biogas but not carbon-free sources. The 2022 California Energy Code moves in this direction and will require electric heat pump water heaters in new single-family homes in Palm Springs beginning January 1, 2023. The all-electric ordinances adopted by other cities are not without controversy, and more information will be developed to assess this option more fully.
Potential Impact: The move to electrification would primarily affect only new construction and potentially major renovations. Natural gas use contributed about 127,000 MTCO2e in the 2020 estimates. We should expect this number to rise given the number of new construction projects underway or in development. A move to electrification may help reduce the increase from future residential and commercial projects.
One of the challenges that the state continues to have in managing greenhouse gas emissions broadly is managing emissions from landfills. The State has a law – SB 1383 – that is designed to reduce the amount of organics going to landfills, because these are often responsible for generating a key greenhouse gas, methane. Palm Springs is working with PSDS to anticipate and respond to this new law. The City will also continue to work to encourage recycling of other materials to achieve our overall goal of diverting 90% of waste from landfills. The current diversion rate is about 50%.
Potential Impact: This would potentially reduce our landfill waste to 16,000 tons resulting in only 4,600 MTCO2e of emissions as a result of landfilled material. This would be a reduction of almost 18,400 MTCO2.
Palm Springs banned gasoline-powered leaf blowers in 2019. Gasoline powered leaf blowers can emit in 1 hour the equivalent air emissions (nitrous oxide and reactive organic gasses) of 100 miles in a new passenger car. A gasoline lawn mower produces the equivalent of 300 miles in 1 hour. The State just recently banned the sale of gasoline lawn equipment (as well as generators and other items) starting in 2024. Lawn equipment is particularly polluting, because units do not fully combust the gasoline used to run them. In addition to air pollution, this equipment also contributes significantly to noise pollution. The City will re-evaluate its leaf blower efforts next year to determine how to move forward with a complete transformation of this important initiative.
Potential Impact: Lawn equipment is accounted for in the community inventory under Off-road Equipment (540 MTCO2e). Of these emissions, only about 40 MTCO2e, is attributed to lawn equipment. If we assume that 80% of lawn equipment is converted to electric by 2030, this may mean a reduction of 32 MTCO2e. While not a significant amount from a GHG perspective, the other co-benefits – reduced ground-level particulates and noise pollution reduction – warrant further focus on this issue.
Palm Springs is working to update the General Plan to incorporate elements of climate adaptation. Particular attention will be paid to the impact of climate changes on vulnerable communities and the equity of impacts across various communities.
Examples of potential strategies to address some of these issues include:
When developing the gasoline leaf blower ordinance, one of the requests that gardeners put forward was to allow them to start earlier to reduce battery depletion. Given year-after-year of record temperatures, outdoor workers are increasingly vulnerable to the effects of heat. Allowing work to start earlier will help reduce these impacts.
Shade will play a critical role in the ability to enjoy outdoor spaces and to encourage pedestrian activity, especially in warmer months. Tree planting may become a less appealing option than the installation of shade structures. Sustainability staff plans to work with Planning staff to discuss shading and how more varied ideas for shade structures can be integrated into the General Plan and into specific project planning efforts.
Develop an ordinance to promote energy efficiency measures for homes. Among these are opportunities to improve insulation. This will be a critical element to increasing resiliency of homes against rising temperatures.
City emissions are a subset of overall community emissions. A detailed City Inventory will be done as part of a more in-depth assessment to determine how the City might achieve carbon neutrality by 2030.
The last assessment shows largest sources of emissions are the following:
Wastewater treatment plant emissions
Buildings and facilities – especially the co-generation facility that is operated on natural gas
Ideas to explore are:
Investigate capture technologies for greenhouse gas emissions from wastewater treatment plant.
Palm Springs may be able to further reduce its direct greenhouse gas emissions by incorporating emissions control technologies that capture emissions from the wastewater treatment process for use as fuel. Although similar options have been pursued similar, there were legal, technological, and fiscal barriers that prevented implementation.
The City will work to identify infrastructure needs and feasibility of electrifying the City fleet. This would include Police Department vehicles as well as maintenance, Code Enforcement, Engineering, and Planning. Incentives and grant programs are anticipated to assist in this transition.
Building Energy Assessments
Although some accounts have moved to Desert Community Energy, some accounts cannot be converted, and energy efficiency is a critical first step in achieving carbon neutrality.
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