It’s been jackets optional for most to the winter.

Updated, March 11, 2020: Rationally, I know climate change is more complicated than a sixty degree day in February or even a slew of forty-degree days in January, but still I can’t help but feel a little uneasy every time a winter day goes by without hitting freezing.  

Of course, it’s not all needless concern either. The earth is clearly getting warmer. 2019 marked the second hottest year on record – with temps in this area on average between 1.4 and 2.8 degrees above normal, and February is reportedly already nearly 10 degrees above average, a dramatic jump over last year. 

In 2017, West Chester declared it would do something about the rising global temperatures and signed a pledge to transition to 100% renewable electricity by 2035, and 100% renewable energy by 2050. This was thanks in part to overwhelming residential support for the Environmental Community Bill of Rights, a 2015 ballot measure that passed with 73% of the vote. The Bill of Rights modified the Borough’s Home Rule Charter to spell out our right to “a life- sustaining, clean environment” and set the foundation for West Chester’s current energy initiative.

After West Chester signed their pledge to transition to renewable energy. There was a lot of applause and handshakes but no real understanding of how to get there. There also wasn’t a lot of budget set aside by Borough Council to make this happen ($0). So the team leading the effort in West Chester figured, better together, and worked to pull together the West Chester Area Council of Governments (comprised of East Bradford, East Goshen, West Goshen, Westtown, West Whiteland and West Chester Borough and abbreviated to WCACOG). 

At the beginning of 2019, the WCACOG agreed to pool their money to hire the Cadmus Group, a strategic consulting firm.

“I am attaching a [PowerPoint] of the consultant’s presentation,” says Will Williams Sustainability Director for the Borough of West Chester in an email. “It is long and dense, but that is intentional so that it can ‘stand alone’ without other materials.”

The Cadmus Group was tasked with reviewing the area’s energy mix and making a recommendation on how exactly to make these transition goals happen. They also reviewed the feasibility and financial impact of each option in an effort to identify the most effective path forward. Now we have our first look at that report.

Establishing a Baseline

electric vehicle
Adoption of electric vehicles, both by the Borough and residents, plays a key role in the transition plan.

To reach its goal of 100% renewable electricity by 2035, and 100% renewable energy by 2050, West Chester needs to transition all the electric and energy usage in the borough. This includes every home, business and car in town which, let’s face it, is quite the daunting task. 

However, before you can begin to green your energy supply you must first accurately understand your usage. So the first step in the West Chester Area Renewable Energy Study was to determine baseline energy use. 

“The baseline analysis aims to help highlight the scale of change necessary to achieve the renewable energy goals that this study is predicated on.”

– Cadmus Group

According to the report energy consumption is broken into three main categories residential, which includes all the Borough’s homes and apartments, transportation, which includes all its cars, buses and various fleets, and commercial and industry which includes everything else (such as government, education and nonprofit which are not technically either commercial or industry.)

West Chester Area energy consumption sectors and the percent of each:

  • Transportation (40%)
  • Commercial and Industry (37%)
  • Residential (23%)

In order to meet the 2035/2050 goals all three of these categories need to transition to 100 percent renewable energy sources. 

Finding the Right Strategic Mix

Residential solutions will have to be part of the mix if West Chester wants to meet its energy goals.

Now that we have the baseline figures the next step is to build out a road map to transition energy sources in each sector away from non-renewable sources. The Cadmus Group modeled a variety of strategies, 60 to be exact, that have worked in other communities. They then narrowed it down to the 18 most likely to be effective in the West Chester area. These 18 strategies broke out into four main categories. 

The Cadmus Group believes each of the four categories below will play an important role in advancing the West Chester area’s energy transition.

“With no further action by WCA municipalities the electricity supply mix is expected to remain majority fossil fuels.”

-Cadmus report

1. Local enabling 

Overview: The idea here is to take steps now to make it easier to introduce renewable energy sources in the future. This is an approach California has taken. It now mandates that all non-residential buildings be built solar-ready

Suggested actions: Encourage solar-ready construction, install public charging stations for electric vehicles, convert building systems that use fossil fuels to high efficiency electric equipment (Building electrification).

2. Community engagement

Overview: This objective centers around generating awareness for renewable energy and gaining community support for the project. Remember residential energy usage makes up nearly one-quarter of the Borough’s total energy consumption, all of which needs to be converted to meet the target of 100% renewable energy. 

Suggested actions: Establish education campaigns, set up group purchasing campaigns, provide residential targets

3. Municipal supply mix

Overview: This focuses on taking action in the area government officials have the most control, municipal energy usage. As such, the actions recommended here have a more direct impact on actual energy consumption. 

Suggest actions: Install renewable energy on-site to supply municipal operations, purchase renewable energy credits (RECs) to offset energy usage, procure electric vehicles for municipal fleets.

4. State-Level

Overview: This includes anticipated changes to state-level policy that will affect the local energy mix. Things like – allow community solar and increase the Alternative Energy Portfolio Standard, which requires electric companies to include a specific percentage of electricity from alternative resources.

Suggested actions: There are not really any actions the Borough can take here outside showing support when these actions are taken up by the state.  

Next Steps

Marshall square park
It’s going to take more than statements, if we want to meet these energy goals. Tree, Marshall Square Park.

If you think of the energy supply transition as a puzzle, these are the pieces. Which pieces go where and how they all get filled in, still needs to be determined. Now that the full report has been received, it has to be accepted by the members of the WCACOG. West Chester Borough Council will be reviewing in committee this week with an option to vote on accepting the proposal at next week’s Borough Council meeting. Once all the governments have voted to accept, it is time for the members of the project’s advisory group (consisting of local energy advocates and municipal employees) to get to work. 

“Next steps for this initiative…” Sustainability Director Will Williams writes, “create list of 2020 actions steps for municipalities, as well as less concrete midterm and long term goals.”

It will not be an easy task but if nothing is done, nothing changes. 

“At a high-level, by 2050 with no further action by WCA municipalities,” the Cadmus Report reads, “the electricity supply mix is expected to remain majority fossil fuels.”

Speaking of 2050, here are some more future-facing articles for you – understanding the electric car demand, preparing our kids for the future work environment, and say goodbye to those plastic bags.

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