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SPOTLIGHT: Climate action reaps rewards for Ashland

Switching from fossil fuels to electric transportation is starting to reap tangible rewards for Ashland, thanks to the city’s participation in the Oregon Clean Fuels Program managed by Stu Green, city of Ashland climate and energy analyst.

Launched in 2016, the Oregon Department of Environmental Quality’s Clean Fuels Program is designed to reduce the carbon footprint associated with transportation — the largest regulated contributor to greenhouse gases in Oregon.

Fuels such as electricity, ethanol and biodiesel have lower carbon emissions or carbon intensity than gasoline and diesel. The program encourages the use of cleaner fuels by providing incentives and requirements to create demand for them in the marketplace. Ashland Electric receives clean fuel credits based on the operation of city-owned electric vehicle charging stations and when residents register EVs within the utility’s territory.

The Clean Fuels Program creates an exchange to buy and sell fuel credits.

“Every credit represents a real reduction in carbon,” says Green. In 2019, the program reduced Oregon’s greenhouse gas emissions by 1,270,000 tons.

Ashland recently sold a first round of 2019 credits for about $285,000 and additional 2019 credits will be sold shortly, according to Green. The price of credits fluctuates, and so does the carbon intensity of Ashland’s electric power. Credits currently sell for about $126, compared to nearly $170 in mid-2019, according to DEQ. The agency will notify Ashland in the coming months how many credits the city earned in 2020.

Ashland is well positioned to benefit from the Clean Fuels Program because most of our electricity comes from hydropower and because so many residents are buying electric vehicles, Green said. “Everyone who buys an electric car is offsetting more emissions in our territory” than those who live in jurisdictions with more coal-generated electricity.

By reinvesting program credits into climate action, the funds will multiply. Green believes the funds should be used to continue to reduce transportation emissions. But “because we’re a municipal-owned utility, we have additional opportunities,” he adds, such as in electrifying home heating and cooling, or “to fill a funding gap for other climate projects. We don’t have a lot of discretionary funding for climate, so to be able to direct any resources at all is really important.”

“My role in the city is first to be an advocate internally,” Green explains. “I try to attune our existing programs to our climate interests, but I also go looking for resources,” says Green. In addition to working to maximize Ashland’s clean fuel credits, Green recently won a $50K Bonneville Energy Foundation grant to provide incentives for residents to buy electric vehicles and e-bikes. He was instrumental in securing a nearly $10,000 DEQ grant to launch the “Rogue to Go” program, which makes standardized, reusable to-go food containers available at participating restaurants, reducing the waste associated with single-use containers. Rogue to Go is now a program of the local nonprofit Be the Change Rogue. Green has at least two other grant applications under consideration that look promising.

“All the goodwill in the world is great, but if you don’t have the dollars to make the project go, it’s not going to go,” he said. “We have to be real about resources, and about what’s possible. Those are hard conversations.”

Ashland’s Climate and Energy Action Plan is a valuable resource for steering the ship. “If you buy into the vision, it answers a lot of questions,” says Green. “Everything is in the plan. It doesn’t solve all our problems, and there’s still a need for prioritization. But the climate plan can provide a unity of effort.”

The passion of Ashland residents for climate action and the initiatives that many have already taken to reduce their emissions help Green stay positive.

“You have to have optimism, but optimism alone isn’t going to get us there. I totally believe that the people of Ashland are trying to get to the same place. Everybody I talk to has an interest that resonates, somehow, with climate action. I would like to see people feel that it’s as important as their sports team. Or as important as their kids, because it is. There’s a lot we can accomplish if we commit resources to it.”

For more information about Ashland’s climate goals and targets, see www.ashland.or.us/climate.

Lorrie Kaplan is chair of the Ashland Climate Action Project of Southern Oregon Climate Action Now. She can be reached at ACAPSpotlight@socan.eco.