State College

State College Borough Council considers resolution to ramp up sustainability commitment

If it passes council on June 3, a resolution could make State College one of the few municipalities in the state to commit to achieving both net zero greenhouse gas emissions and 100 percent renewable energy by 2050.

That seems like a lofty goal, but Councilman Jesse Barlow, who introduced the resolution at the May 6 council meeting, thinks it’s attainable.

“The purpose of this resolution is to set a long-term goal for ourselves, for future councils, mayors, borough managers and sustainability officers,” Barlow said at Monday’s sustainability-focused work session. “Resolving to move toward net zero greenhouse gas emissions and 100% renewable energy is reinforcing a commitment we made in signing on to the Paris Accords.”

When President Donald Trump announced his intention to withdrawal the United States from the global climate agreement, several states, businesses and municipalities across the country decided to step up and take their own action on climate change. In the Centre Region, both Ferguson and Harris townships have pledged to move toward net zero greenhouse emissions.

Barlow’s resolution, drafted after months of research and in consultation with Ferguson Township Supervisor Peter Buckland, takes those resolutions a step further by also committing to transition the borough to 100% renewable energy no later than 2050. With that commitment, State College will become one of the more than 120 Ready for 100 municipalities, counties and states nationally recognized by the Sierra Club for their efforts.

“We’d be the first in this part of the state to sign on to such an agreement,” Barlow said. “Nationally, municipalities range in size, from Los Angeles and Chicago to small towns like Greensburg, Kansas. Other consequence of this resolution is that our sustainability efforts would get the deserved recognition they need as a Ready for 100 municipality by Sierra Club.”

State College made its first commitment to sustainability in 2007, under Mayor Bill Welch, when it passed Resolution 944, declaring the borough as a Climate Protection Community and committing it to 22 total goals to ultimately reduce greenhouse gas emissions and negative environmental impact.

Two bikers make their way down Allen Street on April 30. Abby Drey

The resolution established the Manager’s Committee on Sustainability, which started work on achieving some of those goals, such as reducing residual waste, increasing bike connectivity, making the borough’s passenger fleet vehicles more energy efficient, incorporating sustainable construction and demolition practices into borough ordinances and making all municipality-owned construction LEED Gold or Silver certified.

Through those efforts, the borough already acquires 100% of its electric energy through renewable energy certificates, and renewed that contract again for 2019, Manager Tom Fountaine told council on Monday. He also said that they are utilizing a grant to install electric vehicle charging stations in the Beaver Avenue Garage, and highlighted the borough’s maintenance facility, which now meets the standards after its recent redesign and reconstruction.

With the new resolution, Barlow said he hopes the borough can get recognized for the sustainability efforts it’s already doing, as well as move closer to the net zero and 100% renewable goals. If the resolution passes, he says the next steps would be setting some more short-term goals for 10, 15, 20 years down the road.

One of the biggest challenges Barlow says State College could face in trying to attain these goals is its large number of rental housing units.

“For the most part, landlords have no incentive to reduce energy costs, because they pass that onto the tenant” Barlow told the Centre Daily Times. “So we need to look at ways to give them incentives to do that, because that will definitely be a big part of this issue.”

Barlow also said he’d like to see a mandate for all new construction to be energy efficient written into the new rezoning update.

Barlow’s resolution drew support from his colleagues on Monday, and was moved to the June 3 voting meeting for final consideration.

“I think that this is an excellent goal for us,” Councilwoman Theresa Lafer said. “I would very much like to see us attain this, and to help encourage the surrounding communities, both the boroughs and townships, but also the smaller villages and communities that reach out from here. I think that all our lives would be improved by doing so.”

In order for the resolution to have a full effect, Barlow said it will require buy-in from other Centre Region communities, something he is optimistic will happen.

“I know that there’s a strong sentiment in some of the other townships because we regularly talk in COG committees and other things about our ideas on this, so I’d like to see that sort of spread in the region,” he said. “The other municipalities that have adopted this (Ready for 100) in Pennsylvania are in the Philly and Pittsburgh areas, but there’s no reason we can’t do that here.”

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