West Chester’s Plan to Tackle Climate Change

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Solar panels in West Chester, PA

I know these temperature swings don’t necessarily mean we’re breaking the earth, but I can’t help but feel it can’t be good either. Deep breath. West Chester is working on a plan to make us all feel better.

Just over a year ago, West Chester signed a monumental pledge – it would transition to 100% renewable electricity community-wide by 2035 and 100% renewable energy for heat and transportation by 2050.

The pledge was part of the Sierra Club’s Ready for 100 initiative encouraging cities and towns to take the lead on climate change. Today 106 cities in the United States have committed to 100% clean, renewable energy and taken a strong stand on climate change in the process (including 6 others in Chester County).

Governor Wolf’s Executive Order

Then a month ago, Governor Tom Wolf signed an executive order pledging the state of Pennsylvania to work to reduce greenhouse gas emissions 26 percent by 2025 and 80 percent by 2050.

So with the resolutions firmly in the books and newly signed support from the state, is West Chester ready for action? I chatted with Jim Wylie, the Sierra Club’s Southeastern Pennsylvania’s Group Chair and regional leader on the Ready for 100 initiative (and member of West Chester’s Sustainable Advisory Committee), on where we stand today and what Governor Wolf’s executive order means to the borough.

Q: A little over a year ago West Chester signed a resolution to transition to 100% renewable energy – where do we stand today?

Wylie: Step 1 was passing the resolution. Done. Now step 2 is drafting a transition plan.

Q: How’s that going?

Wylie: The resolution called for a draft to be completed by April 22, 2019. We are not going to make that deadline, but for a good reason. West Chester Borough is working with the other six members of the West Chester Area Council of Governments to commission a professional energy transition plan for the greater West Chester Area. [Editor’s Note: the original proposal pertained only to the the Borough of West Chester]

We are currently reviewing proposals now, and if all goes well we will have a community-wide energy plan in place by the end of this summer.

Solar dashboard
Dashboard measures solar energy collected from the roof of the Chestnut Street Garage. You can view live data here.

Q: So, when do we get to action?   

Wylie: Step 3 is Take Action. Not that we haven’t already taken many steps towards renewable energy in West Chester — we  have a solar canopy on the Chestnut St Garage, electric vehicle charging stations, and Borough facilities are powered by renewable energy through purchase of wind RECs through 2021– but it will be good to have a road map and an action plan, with deadlines, and partners to work with to maximize our buying power.

Q: How do these initiatives align with the carbon emission targets in Governor Wolf’s executive order? Will West Chester be prepared to meet them?

Wylie: You are talking about Governor Wolf’s Exec Order to reduce carbon emissions across the state. There are two parts to it. One is for state agency operations to reduce energy consumption by 3% a year, get to 25% electric vehicles in the passenger car fleet by 2025, and purchase renewable offsets for 40% of state agency electricity. This is an order to be carried out by state employees. So that does not affect us.

The second part is for Pennsylvania as a whole to reduce carbon emissions by 26% by 2025 and 80% by 2050. This is a common goal around the world. And to achieve 80% emissions reductions we’ll pretty much have to be at 100% renewable energy by 2050.

This is an aspirational goal, but it’s important.

Q: If these pledges are non-binding and not likely to be met, what is their value?

Wylie: Making a symbolic statement from the governor raises the level of conversation. Next, we can get some detailed feasibility studies done, goal setting legislation and specific road maps.

Q: In his official announcement, Wolf stated, “In the absence of leadership from the federal government, states and cities are stepping up and doing their part to reduce emissions.”

Do you think this is true?

Wylie: Yes, cities and states are leading the way. Two states (HI and CA) and 106 cities have passed resolutions declaring that they are Ready For 100% Renewable Energy. Eight of those 106 are in the western suburbs on Philadelphia. We are gonna do this, with or without federal leadership.

Q: How would you describe your role in relation to this initiative?

Wylie: I am a cheerleader and a resource for elected officials and environmental committees in the greater Philadelphia area. There is growing energy across the region to learn about how a transition to 100% renewable energy is possible and profitable. We just need to work together to make it happen. 

Thank you, Jim.

To learn more about or get involved in West Chester’s Ready for 100 initiative visit Ready for 100 Chester County or attend a meeting of West Chester’s Sustainable Advisory Committee – or better yet, join the committee.

Plus, the best place to charge your electric car in West Chester.

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