The Chapel Hill Town Council discussed the implementation of its Climate Action Plan, the future of Franklin Street and concerns about the UNC Cogeneration Facility at a meeting on Wednesday night.
Members of the public raised concerns about coal ash produced by the cogeneration facility at the start of the meeting.
A presentation about the facility by Michael Piehler, UNC professor and director of the Institute for the Environment, showed that, since 2007, coal use at the plant has been reduced by 54 percent.
Energy use intensity at the facility has also dropped by 37 percent since 2003, with the plant on track to meet the 40 percent reduction specified by Gov. Roy Cooper's Executive Order 80.
John Richardson, the Town’s community sustainability manager, also gave an update on the implementation of the Town’s Climate Action Plan.
“Of all the emissions that are produced here in Chapel Hill, 96 percent of those come from just two sectors: building and transportation,” Richardson said.
He proposed four solutions: ‘greening’ the power grid, increasing sustainable transportation and sustainable construction, as well as retrofitting existing buildings. If implemented together, Richardson estimated these measures could reduce greenhouse gas emissions by up to 62 percent.
One ongoing project to reduce emissions is Solarize the Triangle: a community purchasing program for solar energy infrastructure. There are currently over 800 solar installations in Orange County which produce over 26 megawatts, Richardson said.
In comparison, Chapel Hill only has one megawatt of solar energy. Richardson praised rooftop systems but said they cannot produce enough power alone.
“These facts alone help us see the importance of also making investments in utility-scale, larger solar farms,” he said.
One 20-acre solar farm could provide five megawatts — roughly the same energy as 700 homes with roof panels — and would completely offset all Town operations, Richardson said.
He also informed the council of a pilot program for a fleet of electric vehicles for the Town, as well as an energy-saving program that replaced all the lights in the Chapel Hill Public Library with LEDs. This significantly reduced its carbon footprint.
Council member Paris Miller-Foushee applauded the progress but called up the University to address the root causes of transportation emissions by ensuring that UNC employees can live in the community in which they work.
“As we’re doing work around Complete Communities, I guess my question is how are you all taking a real holistic view in terms of why we have these commutes?” Miller-Foushee said.
The Complete Community initiative's goal is to make the Town more sustainable through measures such as expanding public transit and building bike infrastructure.
Bergen Watterson, the transportation planning manager for the Town, presented several options for development or renovation, ranging from small improvements to cyclist safety up to a complete reconstruction of the Town’s main thoroughfare.
The main barrier to these projects is the North Carolina Department of Transportation, which Watterson said has a very different philosophy on the maintenance of Franklin Street than the Town.
“We’ve had some challenges getting approval from NCDOT to implement the things that we want to implement to make this street a vibrant and safe place,” Watterson said.
One way around this would be for the Town to take over the maintenance of Franklin Street from the NCDOT, she said.
While it would incur additional annual costs of $191,000, as well as a one-time $2.7 million update to the stormwater system, transferring maintenance would open up more options for potential development, according to the presentation.
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