Preserving the Environment

The United States’s First Carbon-Neutral City Is…

September 17, 2014
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The United States’s First Carbon-Neutral City Is…
Palo Alto, Calif. is carbon-neutral, which means the city makes no net release of carbon dioxide to the atmosphere. About half of the city's energy supply is hydroelectric power. Ray Krebs/Flickr Creative Commons
It's possible to have an electrical supply that doesn't make a net release of any carbon dioxide into the atmosphere.

The Silicon Valley city of Palo Alto is already well-known for its tech startups and Stanford University, but did you know it’s also one of the greenest cities in the country?

According to Slate, the northern Californian city is officially the first city in America whose electricity supply is 100 percent carbon-neutral.

Carbon-neutral — which isn’t the same as carbon-free — means the city makes no net release of carbon dioxide to the atmosphere. About half of Palo Alto’s energy supply is hydroelectric power (which isn’t technically free of fossil fuels), but the city has also purchased renewable energy credits to offset this half of their energy supply, Grist notes. Think of it as offsetting emissions by planting trees.

MORE: This Is What Happens When a County Bands Together to Get Cleaner Power

Going carbon-neutral is not only better for the planet, it’s only costing residents about $3 more a year. Grist reports that Palo Alto will eventually be receiving power from a variety of renewable sources, hoping to meet 23 percent of its energy supply from solar, 11 percent from landfill methane recovery, and 12 percent from wind power by 2017.

So how did Palo Alto unplug itself from the grid? It’s a combination of forward-thinking Palo Altans and the fact that the town is the only one in California that owns all of its utilities. Unlike the rest of the state (that gets its juice from Big Power company PG&E), Palo Alto gets to decide how residents get their gas, water, power and other services, Slate reports.

Last March, the city’s leaders voted for Palo Alto to use only 100 percent carbon-free electricity. “Palo Alto has been a leader in reducing its carbon emissions,“ Mayor Greg Scharff said of the decision, “but when we realized we could achieve a carbon neutral electric supply right now, we were compelled to take action. Climate change is one of the critical challenges of our generation and we hope our actions will inspire others to follow suit.”

Palo Alto has been eco-minded for several years — eventually hoping to run entirely on green power. Slate writes that back in 2007 the city established its “Climate Action Plan” of achieving 33 percent renewable energy by 2015 and ultimately, a carbon neutral electricity supply. Currently, the city is on track to reach 48 percent renewable power by 2017.

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