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Town of Chapel Hill hears update to its Climate Action and Response Plan

A yard waste bin sits outside the driveway of a home on Church Street on Oct. 13, 2022.

John Richardson, community sustainability manager for Chapel Hill, offered an update on the progress to the Climate Action and Response Plan at the Town Council's Oct. 12 meeting.

The Town of Chapel Hill passed the original plan in April 2021. 

The plan aims to reduce greenhouse gas emissions that contribute to climate change and help Chapel Hill become a community where everyone has access to affordable housing, clean air and water and healthy foods.

Richardson said the main goal right now is to target the major sources of greenhouse gas emissions in the community.

“Ninety-six percent of (emissions) come from just two sectors: buildings and transportation,” Richardson said.

He said his team is working on implementing new energy-efficient alternatives to combat the high emissions from the top two sectors.

“We want to see more rooftop solar here in Chapel Hill, we know that's a good thing,” Richardson said. “We also have learned that the most efficient way to do renewable energy is at that larger utility scale for both wind and solar.”

Richardson said steps towards implementing solar energy have already been taken in the community with the launch of Solarize the Triangle this past August. The initiative acts as a solar crowdsourcing program.

The basic idea is the more people who participate, the cheaper and more affordable it is to access solar energy, Richardson said. 

The initial cost of solar panels starts anywhere from $16,000 to $21,000 — money he pointed out some individuals just do not have. 

He said Chapel Hill ranks second in the Triangle for total signups in the Solarize the Triangle initiative of the 11 communities participating.

Richardson also said sustainable transportation is the second biggest opportunity to reduce emissions. He said supporting a transition to electric vehicles is important, yet implementations of electric buses, bus rapid transit and building out a real town-wide mobility network that does not require cars are equally as significant.

Chapel Hill Town Council Member Paris Miller-Foushee said the issue of sustainable transportation is also apparent with the number of commuting professors at UNC. She said these individuals are another factor contributing to the emission of greenhouse gases.

As of 2019, nearly 70 percent of UNC employees reported commuting by driving alone. No statistics are provided on the current number of professors who drive to work alone.

Miller-Foushee said taking a holistic view in terms of why these individuals have to commute is an important part of addressing the issue. 

“I think unless we start talking about it and making those connections, we're not going to really get to the root causes of a lot of the kinds of commuters that we see coming in and out of the Town,” Miller-Foushee said.

She said assisting in providing housing and increasing wages could potentially help to ensure these individuals do not have to commute back and forth. 

First-year student Hannah Reed said taking these steps toward combating environmental issues is important to future generations.

“There are so many health effects that come from the environment and human pollution is a huge contributor to climate change,” Reed said. “I think just limiting our human actions towards the environment is going to significantly improve our food security.”

Along with the large-scale actions of the Climate Action and Response Plan, Reed said individuals can help reduce the effects of climate change, such as limiting water usage and eating organic foods. 

With a goal of moving towards 100 percent clean and renewable energy by 2050, Richardson said the Climate Action and Response Plan will continue to implement new strategies to combat climate change.

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“Just really taking a holistic view of thinking you know, reimagining what things can look like and ways to get to the solutions and outcomes that we're looking for, is going to be really essential,” Miller-Foushee said.


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