Palo Alto City Council votes to implement carbon-free policies

The Oracle

Written by: Klaire Tan

The Palo Alto City Council voted on Mar. 4 to implement a Carbon Neutral Plan for 100 percent carbon-free electricity, effective immediately.

According to Communications Manager of Utilities Debra Katz, Palo Alto City Council can decide to use only 100 percent carbon-free electricity because the city owns all its utilities. “Since we own all our utilities, we get to decide where we buy our power from,” Katz said. “Our ability to become entirely carbon neutral right now stems from a combination of this fact and that we have been purchasing increasing amounts of renewable resources for a long time.”

Currently, a majority of Palo Alto’s electricity already comes from renewable resources, such as non-carbon emitting hydro-electric generators, wind farms and solar arrays. As part of this plan, the city will be contracted to additional carbon-free solar power plants in the future which can provide long-term clean energy. This clean energy will replace any energy from carbon-emitting plants currently being used and allow Palo Alto to become entirely carbon free.

According Green Team club president senior Wonhee Park, limiting the city’s carbon footprint is an important step for a greener future. While the Green Team did not take part in the city’s Carbon Neutral Plan, the club supports the new plan implemented by the city. “Becoming carbon neutral is a great positive change to strive for,” Park said. “As a smaller student community, we hope to be able to aid this bigger plan and get more involved.”

However, until all the contracted, solar power plants have been built, the city will supplement the current carbon-free resources at hand by purchasing either short-term renewable resources or renewable energy certificates (RECs) along with carbon-based power. RECs are certificates equivalent to the green value of clean energy sold by renewable energy plants. By buying RECs, the city can cancel out the use of any “brown” or carbon-based power and immediately become 100 percent carbon free despite still using carbon-based electricity.

According to Katz, the city will try to purchase short-term renewable resources rather than renewable energy certificates (RECs) due to their true, green status, but the unstable and potentially high costs of short-term renewable resources may become an issue. “Rather than buying renewable energy certificates, we would prefer to buy short-term renewable resources, but it can be very expensive to do that,” Katz said. “The person selling them knows that all the short-term buyers are desperate for that energy. However, buying short term renewables will be our first choice if we can think we can afford it.”

The recent, decreasing costs of renewable resources has also been a contributing factor to the city’s decision to become carbon free. With the energy prices being at an all-time low, the city was impelled to implement the carbon free plan now and lock in the low prices. “Solar power used to be very very expensive,” Katz said. “However, the cost for solar panels has decreased drastically over the years, so the cost for solar power has become much much lower. The most recent contracts we’ve been signing having been substantially lower than anything we’ve ever seen before.”

With the passing of the Carbon Neutral Plan, Palo Alto has become one of the first cities in the world to become entirely carbon free. “There are a lot of places around the United States  and the world who have carbon neutral goals, but saying you’re 100 percent free starting right now makes us fairly unique on this planet,” Katz said. “I only know of one other city in the country that is both carbon neutral now and committed to staying that way into the future. Palo Alto is proud to be one of the very first to become carbon-free and hopes to lead by example.”