Palo Alto goes “carbon neutral”

April 3, 2013, 11:15 p.m.

Palo Alto joined a select group of environmentally friendly cities last month by becoming completely “carbon neutral,” providing 100 percent of all electricity from carbon-free sources. The Palo Alto City Council unanimously ratified the city’s carbon-free electric portfolio on March 4.

“Palo Alto has always had a strong commitment to environmental sustainability and, by going carbon-free, is doing its part to combat climate change,” Mayor Greg Scharff said.

According to Scharff, Palo Alto had previously used renewable energy grants for carbon-free energy sources like solar and wind. However, he emphasized the difference between “carbon-free” and “energy-efficient” sources.

“They are separate programs,” he said. “Energy efficiency is getting a new refrigerator and new windows to decrease energy loss.” In contrast, he said, carbon neutrality involves the mitigation of excess carbon emissions.

According to Scharff, the switch to carbon-free electricity was an easy one to make, decreasing the city’s carbon footprint by almost 20 percent.

At the same meeting, council members also called for further action on carbon emissions. Palo Alto is aiming for a 60 percent reduction in greenhouse gas emissions over the next decade

According to Scharff, further progress in reducing the city’s carbon footprint must come through electrification and potentially through the introduction of a higher tax on carbon as a means of creating market incentives for the transition.

“As far as I know, we are the only [carbon-neutral city],” he said. “There might be some in the Northwest, but no others in California… I think it’s a great achievement for Palo Alto and the environment. It shows Palo Alto is committed to the environment.”

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