Riverside committee pushes to go carbon neutral by 2040, workshops have proceeded

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By Cheetara Piry

Riverside is considering a plan that would have the city reach 100% carbon neutrality by 2040.

The city’s Decarbonization Advisory Group introduced a proposal for a transition to electrical power to the public Aug. 31 at the Riverside Main Library.

The two-phase plan would put the city five years ahead of the state’s carbon reduction goals. 

Phase one, if implemented as currently proposed, would take effect January 2023. The first step would require new constructions of low rise buildings, described as any building three stories or fewer, to have all electric appliances, with some exceptions. Current homeowners and business owners will not be affected.

However, Tracy Satos, Riverside Public Utility (RPU) power resources manager, said updates to current infrastructures could eventually be required.

“If you install natural gas now and put those appliances in now, they will be obsolete potentially in the future,” Satos said. 

There are two California Senate bills that have set a 2045 goal of powering all energy sold in California with renewable and zero-carbon resources. 

“This is where the state is going,” Satos said. “We are going to be mandated to do this.”

Over 50 municipalities across California, including San Luis Obispo, Los Angeles and South San Francisco, have adopted similar ordinances to reduce their reliance on gas. 

Riverside’s proposal aims to phase out fossil fuel infrastructures utilized for cooking and heating in buildings and, instead, use electricity powered mainly by solar, wind and other alternative sources.

Caleb Ragan, policy adviser to Councilman Ronaldo Fierro, said the goal of electrification is to improve public health, create clean jobs and aim toward cost-effective new construction. 

“We, as a community, wanted to champion proactive and equitable climate solutions based on science to ensure clean air, safe water, a vibrant natural world and a resilient green new economy for current and future generations,” Ragan said.

About 30 individuals came together at the library to discuss the city’s Envision Riverside 2025 Strategic Plan. 

The room remained divided. Those in opposition collectively felt “forced” toward electrification, addressing costs and limitations. Supporters shared optimism toward the environmental mission in addressing the global climate crisis. 

Ray Acastor, 23, a resident of Moreno Valley, was concerned the division of the room came from lack of awareness of the current global climate crisis. She opted for the city of Riverside to create a climate emergency declaration.

“The education of climate systems and climate science should be provided to people so that they understand that we are operating under the circumstances of a climate crisis,” Acastor said.

The 2022 State of the Air Report, placed Riverside county as the second most affected county for ozone and particle pollution. Neighboring county San Bernardino is the first. In 2020, Stacker, a data-driven publication, compiled statistics about how people in Riverside felt about climate change.

The article stated, “Gen Zers and millennials are more willing to give up fossil fuels than older generations.”

One of the concerns at the Riverside meeting was whether there would be potential reimbursements to the homeowner or business owners in light of the rising costs required on new buildings.

RPU set a self-generation tariff that would allow users to receive a credit on their bill for all excess energy sent back to the electrical grid. However, the compensation has been slightly reduced in order to meet all the necessary costs that go into the electrification of the city.

“There are embedded costs that are above and beyond electricity,” Satos said. “Instead of shifting those costs to customers, we are incorporating it into avoiding costs of energy.”

On average, electricity users in Riverside spend about $216 per month, 33% higher than the national average, according to EnergySage.  

Satos said that in converting to all electric as the ordinance planned, there would be an expected increase in electricity bills. She also said  the increase would be minimal, since the first phase would only affect new buildings, which comprise a small number on the electric load.

“Every building already requires electricity, so there will be incremental increases over the next three years,” she said.

According to the program, adopting this ordinance now will avoid early discontinuance of natural gas appliances as buildings could convert to all electric in the future.

“There is a cost saving in not having to install natural gas infrastructures now which will probably not be used,” Satos said.

Organizers of the ordinance are asking for community feedback. There will be a total of three workshops for public debate before the proposal is introduced to the Riverside City Council in October. 

The next workshop will take place this Wednesday at 6 p.m. at the Casa Blanca Library.

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