Olympia’s emissions decrease | The JOLT News Organization, a Washington-based nonprofit

By Lorilyn C. Lirio

Olympia’s daily operations in 2021 generated 8,262 metric tons of carbon dioxide equivalent (MTCO2e), down 11% from 2014, Louisa Sevier, an intern with the city’s climate program, reported during the Land Use and Environment Committee meeting on Thursday September 15th. .

Sevier worked with Dr. Pamela Braff, Olympia’s climate program manager, to update the city’s operations and greenhouse gas inventory.

“We’re using 2014 as a benchmark here because that’s the last time the city did an operational emissions inventory,” Sevier explained.

She said the inventory update estimates the greenhouse gas emissions generated by the city’s day-to-day operations and establishes where those emissions come from.

Citing the inventory, Sevier said the biggest source of emissions in Olympia comes from water and wastewater treatment, accounting for 31% of the city’s emissions, followed by the vehicle fleet at 24%; buildings and facilities at 23%. Other sources of emissions are employee travel, streetlights and traffic lights, and solid waste management facilities.

According to Sevier, preliminary inventory results suggest changes in emissions between 2014 and 2021:

  • Solid waste emissions decreased by 44%. Sevier said the amount of solid waste produced by city operations hasn’t changed significantly since 2014. “The Roosevelt landfill where the city sends our solid waste started collecting methane, which resulted in a significant decrease in solid waste emissions.”
  • Emissions from streetlights and traffic lights have been reduced by 43%. “This is due to the decrease in electricity consumption caused by the city converting streetlights to LED,” Sevier explained.
  • Emissions from employee commuting have been reduced by 20%. She said the change likely led her to working remotely during the pandemic. “While the city continues to support employee telecommuting. It is unclear to what extent employees will continue to work remotely in the future.”
  • There has been a slight decrease in emissions from municipal fleet vehicles, buildings and facilities.

However, Sevier noted that the water and wastewater sector had increased its emissions by 5% compared to 2014. “Because Olympia does not operate our wastewater treatment plant, these emissions do not include electricity needed to operate water and sewage pumps and lifting stations.

Regular emissions check

According to Sevier, the city is working on electrifying vehicles, installing energy-efficient upgrades at facilities, and installing solar projects at four city facilities.

“The city has also committed to purchasing local renewable energy credits through PCS’s Green Direct program to offset 100 percent of municipal energy consumption,” Sevier told committee members.

“These actions have yet to result in meaningful emission reductions,” she said.

The Climate Program, through Sevier, recommended that Olympia conduct an annual GHG emissions inventory of city operations.

Sevier said the annual inventory is a necessity. “We cannot effectively reduce our emissions if we do not know how much we emit and where our emissions come from.”

She also recommended establishing a city operating emissions reduction target with specific targets for water supply, vehicle fleet, buildings and facilities.

“The city should continue to work to increase energy efficiency and reduce energy demand in new and existing buildings. The city should also continue to perform electrification retrofits on facilities, because as electricity comes from more and more renewable energy, conversion of buildings, use of natural gas to electricity will continue to reduce emissions from buildings and facilities in the city,” added Sevier.

Louisa Sevier is an active member of the Thurston Youth Climate Alliance. She participated as a negotiator in the Olympia Youth Climate Legacy Resolution that the city passed in 2019.

In May, Sevier led the ranks of young people to stage a deadly protest at Olympia’s city council meeting to demonstrate the devastation the climate crisis could bring to their generation.

Virginia S. Braud