Local Governments Discuss Density, EVs, and Climate Action Funding

By: Tom Crawford | Thurston Climate Action Team Board President

The cities of Lacey, Olympia and Tumwater, along with Thurston County, are currently examining how to implement the Thurston Climate Mitigation Plan (TCMP).  During this phase of the Plan (called Phase 3), a Climate Action Steering Committee (composed of elected officials from all four participating jurisdictions) meets monthly.  At its September 27 meeting, the Steering Committee considered three topics related to the TCMP:

  1. The advantages and status of urban density;
  2. Electric vehicle ownership and availability of charging stations, and
  3. The agreement and scope statement for continuing work on the TCMP for the next three years, including funding options for local climate action,
  4. Study of building electrification

Prior to discussing these agenda items, Melinda Hughes (TCAT Executive Director) and Tom Crawford (TCAT Board President) provided public comment.  Melinda brought the steering committee members up to date on TCAT activities, and Tom briefed them on TCAT’s initiative to develop a local clean energy program proposal to present to various funding agencies. (More information on the clean energy program proposal can be found in another article in this issue of our newsletter.)

Urban Density

Density of homes and businesses results in reduced energy usage and reduced use of cars to travel back and forth.  Both of these things lead to lower greenhouse gas emissions.  Other benefits include improved health, reduced water usage, better housing options, improved salmon recovery (by avoiding development in rural areas), safer communities, and reducing I-5 congestion.  With its Sustainable Thurston plan (completed in 2013), the Thurston region set some goals for improving density of housing and jobs.  Examples are that 95% percent of new housing built between 2010 and 2035 occur in urban areas, and that by 2035 72% of housing in urban areas (new and existing) occur within a 20 minute walk of an urban center, corridor, or neighborhood center that provides access to services and transit.  Between 2011 and 2017 millions of dollars has been invested to achieve these goals.  Still, we are not on track to achieve these goals; bolder action is needed by elected officials.   Introducing climate change into discussions about density and development can help turn the corner on reaching those goals.  It was also recognized that the targets set for density within Sustainable Thurston may not be sufficient to reach the greenhouse gas reduction targets in the TCMP.  So very bold action and leadership in this area is needed.  It will also be important to ensure that density does not produce “gentrification”, that is, that it does not lead to more expensive housing that makes it more difficult to address our housing crisis and the needs of our most vulnerable residents.  For more information about our local urban density goals and progress to date, go to: https://www.trpc.org/668/Creating-Vibrant-Urban-Centers and https://www.trpc.org/164/Buildable-Lands-Program.  

Electric Vehicles

There has been a steady increase in EV ownership in Thurston County over the past several years, from 683 plug in hybrids and battery electric vehicles in 2017, to 2166 this year. There are about 50 public Level 2 and Level 3 charging stations in the county, connected to 20 different networks.   It is not clear whose responsibility it is to ensure there are enough charging stations to meet the growing demand: local government, state government, local business people, charging station networks, or some other entity.  To address the need for more charging stations and how and where they might be put into service, during 2022 the Thurston Regional Planning Council will develop a plan to help the region prepare for more electric vehicles (such as where to place additional charging stations).  For more information about the TRPC’s work on this front, go to https://www.trpc.org/1082/Electric-Vehicles

TCMP Three Year Agreement and Funding Options

Steering committee members discussed a proposed three year agreement and scope of work to continue efforts called for by the TCMP.  There was concern that the role, duties and membership of a proposed advisory committee were not clearly spelled out.  

Under the proposed plan, the budget for coordinating meetings and doing other planning work is to be split evenly among the four jurisdictions. The total cost per year is $230,000 in 2022, $290,000 in 2023, and $280,000 in 2024.  There was also discussion about setting up a separate fund, in addition to these amounts, for grants, contracts and other partnerships with non-profits or other organizations to accomplish tasks called for in the TCMP. Contributions to this fund by the TCMP partner jurisdictions (Lacey, Olympia, Tumwater and the County)  would be optional. Marc Daily, TRPC’s Executive Director, indicated that this fund might better be placed with one of the jurisdictions or another organization rather than with TRPC.  

Since local governments have declared climate change to be an emergency, we here at TCAT hope that they move forward quickly to commit and spend the necessary funds for critical climate actions identified in the TCMP.  You can help by contacting your local city council and county commissioners to encourage them to set up and contribute to a climate action fund right away.

Those interested in more details about this agreement and its budget can find the draft agreement and scope of work that steering committee members are considering at the TRPC web site’s page for this meeting.

Electrification Study

Dr. Pamela Braff, Climate Program Manager for the City of Olympia, shared with steering committee members a study she plans to contract for. This study would explore the cost difference locally between building homes or commercial buildings that use only electricity compared to those that also use other fuels, such as fossil gas (also called “natural gas”).  She invited the other jurisdictions on the Steering Committee (Lacey, Tumwater and Thurston County) to participate.  Expected cost is $30,000; cost per jurisdiction if shared equally would be $7,000.  Thurston County and Tumwater expressed interest. For more information about the Thurston Climate Mitigation Plan and its Climate Action Steering Committee, go here.  For more information about TCAT’s action groups working toward speedy and robust action to achieve the plan’s goals, go here.

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