Green solution: Where is Rochester on its greenhouse gas emission reduction? (2024)

Rochester is several years into enacting a climate action plan, created with the intention of proactively addressing greenhouse gas emissions.

Has the city succeeded in meeting those greenhouse gas emissions goals? What challenges do the city and community face and how might those be addressed?

Rochester’s greenhouse emission goals

The city’s climate action plan outlines a pair of goals for greenhouse gas reduction, one for municipal operations and a community-wide goal. The goals were to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 20% by 2020 and by 40% by 2030.

The baseline figure for those emission reductions were set using a 2008 analysis for municipal reduction and a 2010 community-wide analysis. The community-wide baseline emissions were 1.9 million metric tons of carbon dioxide equivalent; a 2014 update estimation found 1.8 million metric tons, an 8% reduction.

Green solution: Where is Rochester on its greenhouse gas emission reduction? (1)

The 2014 figures don’t include 1 million in carbon dioxide equivalent emissions from airline travel, other non-fossil fuels or large emitters, as those categories aren’t “easily impacted or directly influenced” by most climate action strategies.

The city method to determine its greenhouse gas emissions for municipal operations was straightforward: collect utility bills and fuel usage, then convert to metric ton of carbon dioxide equivalent. The community-wide estimates were a bit more complicated, said Anne Spaulding, the city’s environmental quality manager.

Those calculations required gathering information from various sources, including Rochester Gas and Electric Corp., the New York State Energy Research and Development Authorityand the Genesee Transportation Council. Those figures also need to be converted to metric ton of carbon dioxide equivalent. “It’s more of an estimate and less precise than our own data that we can be very precise with,” Spaulding said.

By 2019, the city had already passed its 2020 municipal goal with a 33% reduction in greenhouse gas emissions, Spaulding said. At the same time, community-wide emissions were reduced by 10%, just halfway to its 2020 goal.

“Part of the reason for that is the climate action plan came into effect in 2017,” Spaulding said. “So it’s really only two years of initiatives. And we feel like a lot of progress has been made since 2019.”

Rochester greenhouse gas emission initiatives

One such initiative has been Rochester Community Power, which uses collective purchasing power to get better terms for electricity supply and purchase renewable energy communitywide.

  • The program began in September 2021 under a two-year contract and was renewed in September 2023.
  • Participants can opt into the program, receiving 50% renewable energy at a fixed rate of $9 cents per kilowatt- hour for residential customers, as opposed to the standard rate of 7 cents per kilowatt-hour.
  • A 100% renewable energy rate of 10 cents per kilowatt-hour is also available.

Spaulding also highlighted the Energy Smart Rochester program, which provides information and resources to reduce emissions through means such as electrification, alternative fuel vehicles and renewable energy. It also provides information on a no-cost energy assessment for recommendations on insulation, heat pumps and other efficiency components.

Those resources emphasize available state funding to help energy efficiency for low-income households, which are more impacted by climate change impacts and least able to do anything about it, Spaulding said.

“These are things that not only reduce greenhouse gas emissions but they reduce utility bills,” she said. “They make their homes more comfortable and more healthy as well.”

Rochester climate policy in action

Those greenhouse gas and efficiency programs are being employed in city initiatives like housing rehabilitation programs, said Shalini Beath, manager of the city’s office of energy and sustainability.

The situation is more challenging for renters, who don’t have control over their furnace type or insulation, Spaulding conceded. Many programs, including Energy Smart Rochester, are available to renters and income-driven, however, so lower-income tenants can be eligible even if the building owner is not.

“Part of the issue is getting the word out there and making sure that landlords understand these programs and tenants under the programs and take advantage of them,” Spaulding said.

Greenhouse gas emissions are competing against a lot of other priorities in the city, but the Inflation Reduction Act has provided federal dollars for tax credits and other initiatives. Those funds will play a role in the municipal and community-wide plans, which will be updated.

Rochester's clean energy grade

While city officials feel optimistic about the impact of the success of greenhouse gas emission programs, an analysis from the American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy rated Rochester in the bottom third of large metros in its 2024 Clean Energy Scorecard. Rochester was ranked 59 out of 75 for the metros reviewed and 50 out of 57 large metro areas. It was the only upstate New York city in the rankings.

The points-based rankings were based on categories including buildings policies, community-wide initiatives, transportation policies, community energy infrastructure and local government operations. Of 250 possible points, Rochester scored 48.

Green solution: Where is Rochester on its greenhouse gas emission reduction? (2)

The top performing cities were all in major U.S. metros, with San Francisco, Denver, Seattle, Los Angeles and Oakland making up the Top 5. Despite finishing first, San Francisco scored only 158.5 of the possible 250 points in the scorecard analysis.

The expected update to the city’s climate action plan could improve its score in the next edition of the rankings, as Rochester received no points in the community-wide initiatives category due to ACEEE being unable to determine its emissions data and limited information on community engagement and workforce development. It also scored just 4.5 points out of 25 in the local government operations category due to not having a comprehensive retrofit strategy, though the scorecard acknowledged streetlight upgrades to LEDs and the introduction of efficient vehicles to the city’s fleet.

Rochester did receive above-median scores for community energy infrastructure based on the Rochester Community Power program and RG&E’s multifamily energy efficiency program.

Recommendations from the Clean Energy Scorecard analysis included vehicle-miles-traveled reduction goals, establishing building energy performance standards and working with utilities to formalize partnerships with community-based organizations.

Steve Howecovers weather, climate and lake issues for the Democrat and Chronicle. An RIT graduate, he returned to Rochester after working around New York state and in Utah. Share with him atshowe@gannett.com.

Green solution: Where is Rochester on its greenhouse gas emission reduction? (2024)
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