2020 | Government

Plan to end county greenhouse gas emissions in 15 years is ‘incredibly ambitious,’ Elrich says

Proposal includes natural gas ban, electric school buses, transit expansion

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County Executive Marc Elrich is proposing a Climate Action Plan with "incredibly ambitious" goal.

File photo

Montgomery County has set a lofty goal of eliminating its greenhouse gas emissions in 15 years. That means none of its power would come from coal and natural gas.

The draft plan to achieve the goal is “incredibly ambitious,” but if it didn’t set a high target, the county would set a lesser goal, County Executive Marc Elrich said during a recent virtual community meeting on the plan.

“We’d achieve it and say the job is done,” he said. “I wanted a target that would make it extraordinarily difficult to say that the job was done until the job was actually done.”

The draft Climate Action Plan of more than 220 pages, released on Dec. 14, also proposes cutting greenhouse gas emissions 80% by 2027, and calls for strategies on climate adaptation and carbon sequestration. The plans lists 87 “actions” for how to end emissions and reduce climate risks.

Actions include:
• a ban on natural gas in new construction
• more electric public transit buses and school buses
• an expansion of public transit
• a ban on stormwater management requirement waivers
• an electric vehicle car share program for low-income communities.

Other actions related to climate adaptation are: repair and upgrade the county’s stormwater drainage and management systems and update floodplain maps.

Each action was assessed for primary benefits, secondary co-benefits, feasibility and equity-enhancing measures.

The plan identifies the county’s largest climate hazards as extreme heat, extreme precipitation, high winds and drought.

Elrich said other jurisdictions are passing the county on addressing climate change.

“We were reading reports coming out of other places that you kind of wish were written in Montgomery County and that we were taking up in Montgomery County,” he said during the virtual community meeting on Dec. 15.

The county has already experienced hotter summers that come with increased flooding and extreme storms.

“We’ve heard from many residents about stormwater problems they never had before, about the sewer systems not handling the water, about their yards not being able to handle the amount of water being pushed in their yards and the effect on their houses,” Elrich said.

A recent poll that the nonprofit group Chesapeake Climate Action Network released on Dec. 15 found that 69% of the county’s voters support legalizing limited amounts of solar arrays on farm land in the county.

The solar arrays are part of a zoning proposal the County Council is considering that would allow the installations in the Agricultural Reserve.

The solar arrays would be capped at two megawatts of energy generation, which would require up to 12 acres, according to a press release by the group. The zoning proposal specifically targets 1,800 acres — 2% of the reserve — for dual solar and farming.

Gonzalez Polls conducted the poll in December.

The county is already taking steps toward the plan’s goals.

It recently announced a plan to place three solar arrays, producing six megawatts, on a 16-acre portion of the county-owned former Oaks Landfill in Gaithersburg. The solar arrays will be built, owned and operated by Ameresco.

The first solar array will produce energy for the county government to use. The other two arrays will produce community solar for low- to moderate-income subscribers, who will receive a 25% discount off the tariff rate.

As part of the project, students will learn about how the arrays are designed and built.

The county already has solar photovoltaic microgrids at the Public Safety headquarters in Gaithersburg and the correctional facility in Clarksburg. The county is also experimenting with solar glass window replacements at a senior center to analyze electricity generation and cost effectiveness.

In September, the county purchased its first four electric Ride On buses with a federal grant.

County staff members said many of the goals will require “substantial financial resources” beyond what the county can do on its own.

The county will need help from the federal and state governments, as well as the private sector, they said.

Funding for additional staffing and resources for the plan will be included in Elrich’s fiscal year 2022 budget proposal.

Elrich said that climate change needs to be addressed, even as the county is battling COVID-19. The two dilemmas have shared traits, he said — neither knows any boundaries and will have an effect on everyone, and they won’t stop on their own.

“They’ll both continue their inexorable march towards horrible impacts for all of us until we do something to stop them,” he said. “It will just keep rolling until we figure out how to stop it.”

How to get involved:
● The county is gathering responses to a survey on the draft plan
● The county is hosting a Climate Action Plan Art Contest with a $100 prize
● Questions about the plan can be sent to climate@montgomerycountymd.gov

Briana Adhikusuma can be reached at briana.adhikusuma@bethesdamagazine.com.