Best practice Climate Action Strategies for local governments [with video]

I was recently invited to present at the Local Government NSW Net-Zero Emissions Insight Series webinar. I gave our thoughts on best practice climate action strategies for local governments, specifically focusing on developing an emissions reduction strategy and plan both for council operations as well as for the community. I also talked about the barriers to action and cited a few case studies. This blog post summarises what I presented and includes a 10-min video of my presentation.

Emissions reduction strategy and plan for local government

100% Renewables specialises in developing climate action strategies for business (also referred to as energy master plans, renewable energy strategies, or net-zero emissions plans).

Here is our method for developing a climate action strategy focused on greenhouse gas emissions reduction. It’s a seven-step method that is based on best practice we have developed over the years.

FIGURE 1: 100% RENEWABLES SEVEN-STEP PROCESS TO DEVELOP A CLIMATE ACTION STRATEGY

The most important aspect of our method is that a climate action strategy needs to be built on stakeholder engagement, which generates buy-in and the development of emission reduction opportunities that are practical, cost-effective and feasible. Feasible options are developed into business cases, which are then put into short, medium and long-term plans, which ideally align with a local government’s Delivery Program, Operational Plan and Strategic Plan.

It’s always a good idea to present a draft strategy to councillors before a plan is put up for adoption, so that councillors are aware of what the benefits are and have an opportunity to shape the strategy before it is finalised.

Actions on climate can address multiple abatement areas, technologies and cross-cutting approaches. The figure below shows the typical carbon reduction areas for a local government’s operations.

FIGURE 2: TYPICAL ABATEMENT AREAS FOR LOCAL GOVERNMENT’S OPERATIONS

Opportunities range from energy efficiency, onsite solar and battery storage, to energy-efficient transport and opportunities for waste management. Councils can also look at sequestering carbon in wetlands and urban forests (though these are hard to measure!). Abatement can also be achieved through procurement, such as buying renewable energy – through a renewable energy PPA, for instance, by reducing emissions in your supply chain, or by investing money in carbon offset projects. Local governments may also be interested in developing their own local clean energy generation projects, such as a mid-scale solar farm or bioenergy generation.

Carbon reduction is also enabled by having an appropriate financing strategy, and by having good governance and leadership structures in place.

There are also other external opportunities, such as a greening grid, though forecasts of grid decarbonisation support organisations acting now to reduce their emissions, rather than wait for this to occur.

An example of a net-zero pathway we developed for the City of Canada Bay’s operations is shown below. This scenario sees Council continue to increase its level of renewable energy purchased via PPAs to 100% in successive procurement cycles. It also sees 80% of petrol and 50% of diesel vehicles switch to electric by FY2030. Carbon offsets need to be purchased in 2030 to reduce residual greenhouse gas emissions to zero.

Emissions reduction strategy and plan for communities

Moving on to take a look at community emissions reduction plans. With many councils now having a plan in place for their operations, some are turning their attention to their communities. Local governments usually emit around 1-2% of the emissions in their community, so the key to unlocking deep cuts at a local government area level is to engage households and business.

FIGURE 3: TYPICAL ABATEMENT AREAS FOR COMMUNITIES

The abatement opportunities here are similar to council’s operational emissions, with the addition of agriculture, forestry and land use, particularly in regional areas. Key tasks are to identify and get the buy-in from many stakeholders, to understand their ability to influence their emissions, to develop opportunities that will help them to unlock that potential, and most importantly, to identify resources that can coordinate and help to facilitate some of these opportunities, such as community and business groups, Council staff, other levels of government and suppliers.

In our experience, we have identified ten key levers that can help to drive action at a community level, centred around government, business and community members each doing their part.

FIGURE 4: LEVERS TO REDUCE EMISSIONS IN THE COMMUNITY

For instance, Councils lead by example by committing to and achieving affordable emissions cuts in their operations and can demonstrate the feasibility of technologies like solar and electric vehicles.

Councils can also work with the community to educate and inform, incentivise and implement some planning controls, but rely on state and federal governments to do the heavy lifting on building standards.

Infrastructure to enable deep cuts can range from new transmission infrastructure to enable new large scale renewable energy generation, which federal and state governments need to lead, to EV charging that Council can influence in collaboration with others.

Of course, individuals and businesses can and do take action themselves, and this is key to whole communities decarbonising.

In our recent community emissions reduction plan for Clarence Valley Council, we have tried to capture the level of influence that different community stakeholders can have on different abatement areas, and this is summarised in our graphic below.

FIGURE 5: STAKEHOLDERS’ CAPABILITY TO INFLUENCE

Note though that even when the ability to influence emissions is considered to be low, the combined advocacy of many for change can also be impactful, so this does not mean that stakeholders should not act. They should, and do. Community Strategic Plans are a great example of precisely this, and we see many CSPs where individuals in communities have called for sustainability and action on climate to be a key pillar of their 10-year plan.

Top 5 barriers to action

There are, of course, many barriers to reducing emissions. Five key ones stand out[1]:

[1] Sustainable Councils and Communities Program Research by Iris Research, July 2020

FIGURE 6: TOP 5 BARRIERS TO REDUCING EMISSIONS
  • Financial constraints – naturally, there are financial constraints, whether through limited funds, low rate bases, or competing priorities
  • Lack of knowledge and internal resources – lack of information about opportunities is decreasing as initiatives like solar, LED, variable speed drives (VSDs) and Power Purchase Agreements (PPAs) become ‘the norm’, but even then, many local governments don’t have the resources to identify, plan and engage on energy
  • Old infrastructure – lots of energy-using assets are old, and big savings won’t happen until these systems are upgraded, which often relies on grants
  • Lack of a plan or strategy – simply not having a plan of actions to do over the next 4-5 years is a barrier, usually linked to a shortage of resources
  • Lengthy payback periods – lastly, some measures are currently difficult to justify. Batteries, for example, are still expensive, and small solar farms need other local co-benefits to be considered compared to a PPA from large solar and wind farms

Case study examples

Below are case studies from projects we have been involved with in recent years through the development of climate action strategies.

  • Coffs Harbour City Council’s ‘Powering Ahead’ is the next stage in Coffs Harbour City Council’s REERP implementation and involves the rollout of 2.2 MW of rooftop and ground-mounted solar PV to 16 sites across Council’s operations
  • Tweed Shire Council: multiple solar PV systems have been completed. Council also committed to a 604 kW ground-mounted solar array at its Banora Point WWTP.
  • Narrandera Shire Council’s Climate Action Strategy has recently been adopted. Council has applied for grant co-funding to implement the plan.
  • Nambucca Valley Council’s Renewable Energy Action Plan (REAP) was adopted in 2019. Since then, Council has steadily implemented the identified energy efficiency and renewable energy opportunities.
  • Kyogle used a Government grant of just over $400,000 for solar PV and building lighting upgrades and put aside a further $300,000 for streetlighting LED upgrades – to be done in two years, with initial capital coming from savings from actions implemented to date.
  • Clarence Valley Council recently developed a Community Energy and Emissions Reduction Strategy with funding help from the NSW Government. This plan follows the development of Council’s operations strategy in 2017, where ambitious goals for emissions reduction and renewable energy were set.

If you need help with your climate action plan

100% Renewables are experts in helping organisations develop their climate action strategies and plans, and supporting the implementation and achievement of ambitious targets. If you need help to create your Climate Action Strategy, please contact  Barbara or Patrick.

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