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Local Government Commission

Currents - A Quarterly Energy Newsletter For Local Governments


Winter 2012

Great Valley Center Greenhouse Gas Inventory Program

Great Valley Center

Growing awareness of the impacts of global warming on California communities, coupled with legislative mandates, has created a need for climate action planning; and the baseline greenhouse gas emissions inventory is an important first step in a jurisdiction’s development of such plans. In consideration of the economic constraints prevalent throughout the Central Valley, the Green Communities Program serves as a resource for local governments to take such action at a time when very few resources exist to aid them.

The Great Valley Center (GVC), through the sponsorship of PG&E and technical support from ICLEI, offers assistance to local governments in completing local government operations GHG emissions inventories. The first phase of the Green Communities program was initiated by the GVC in November 2010. During this time, nine local governments in Stanislaus County and one in Merced County were assisted in completing greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions inventories for government operations (e.g. public lighting, water delivery, vehicle fleet, etc.). These inventories covered multiple sectors in accordance with the Local government Operations Protocol (LGOP) developed by ICLEI- Local governments for Sustainability and approved by the California Air Resources Board (CARB).

The cities ranged in size from large (e.g. City of Modesto, the 18th largest city in CA at over 200,000 population) to medium (Cities of Turlock and Ceres, at 70,000 and 46,000 respectively) and small (Cities of Waterford and Hughson, at approximately 8,500 and 6,700 respectively). The total population served by these ten cities is 420,111 residents.

During the project, a total of 108,768 metric tons of carbon dioxide equivalent (CO2e) were inventoried. With this baseline emissions figure, it is expected that by the year 2020 the ten local governments inventoried will have targeted 15% of these emissions, or 16,315 mtCO2e, in reductions.

The emissions included in the inventory derived from several sources including electricity and natural gas consumption, government-generated solid waste decomposition, and fossil fuel combustion by vehicles and equipment:

  • Electricity and natural gas consumption in the inventory year accounted for 41% of total emissions (44,957 mtco2e).
  • Approximately 2,083 tons of solid waste was inventoried during the program. This figure represents solid waste generated in full from six of the ten inventoried local governments, plus a portion of the waste generated by one other local government.

Participating government staff showed a great deal of support throughout the program. For instance, employee commute pattern survey responses were obtained from 460 employees. This overwhelming support enabled interns to extrapolate employee commute data based on an average response rate of 45%.

A large portion of the program was performed by paid university interns. Interns were offered training, tools, and resources necessary to assist local government staff with the development of inventories. Throughout the process, interns were able to build green job skills and experiences, as well as establish professional relationships within local government organizations.

Lessons Learned

  1. Not all LGOP-required data exists for the Inventory Year
  2. Private Sector collaboration was difficult to obtain
  3. Initial program timeline was underestimated
  4. Recruiting local government participants was challenging
  5. Intern retention was difficult
  6. Need for better coordination/timing between intern trainings and intern duties
  7. Apprehension about “Climate Change” in conservative areas
  8. Better intern training to deal with local government dynamics

 

Lesson INot all LGOP-required data exists for the Inventory Year
In some instances, the data identified in the Local government Operations Protocol (LGOP) was not recorded or maintained by the local government. The LGOP has identified alternative data, which may be used to calculate emissions in lieu of recommended data. However, during this round of inventories, not all of the interns who collected data were familiar with the alternative data types. In addition, organizational structure and staff responsibilities varied from one local government to another. In some instances, interns were unaware of the possibility of other departments, or external firms, being responsible for some of the data requested.

Recommendation: Implement a multifaceted approach in data collection that simultaneously identifies alternative sources of information and alternative types of data, including proxy data, according to the LGOP.
The approach employed during this round of data collection was essentially an iterative one: interns would request LGOP-recommended data from the local government contacts, and the data either existed or did not. If the data did not exist in the recommended format, the interns would reference the LGOP for alternative data, and then submit a second request.
Interns should be trained to present local government contacts with data requests, incorporating a multitude of options in order to increase the probability of fitting the local government’s data recording methods on the first attempt. The interns should submit data requests to multiple data sources (e.g. accounts payable, public works analyst, and fuel vendor regarding fuel consumption data) at once in order to improve the likelihood of obtaining a response, while possibly allowing for multiple data sets to be cross-referenced.

Lesson II Private Sector collaboration was difficult to obtain
Activity data relied heavily on collaboration with private sector organizations: utility energy consumption; solid waste collection; solid waste hauling; transit fleet maintenance.
Issues arose in data collection for a number of reasons:

  • Data was not available because private sector organizations are not mandated to maintain records in the format or for the length of time that governments are required.
  • Private sector organizations were apprehensive of releasing information, even with written consent from local government representatives, due to a concern that the organization would be negatively reflected in the final analysis.
  • The above issues resulted in slow turnover of information, at times resulting in delays in program progress, or resulting in omission of data from inventories.

Recommendation 1: Establish communication with private sector collaborators early in the program, and make a greater effort toward clarifying objectives. In order to clarify program objectives, Program staff should explain to the organization how it fits into the overall scope of the program, and that the focal point is the local government, not the private sector organization.
Since the determination of which private sector organizations to contact depends on the determination of which local government participants will be recruited, an “early” attempt to contact these organizations may not be plausible. Devote full-time staff to focus on establishing communication with private sector organizations as close to the start of the program as possible. Relying on interns to initiate this communication after the start of the Workshop Program would likely result in even greater delays.

Recommendation 2: Discuss with local government staff early in the program the availability of internal records to support or substitute for records of privatized operations where the primary source of data exists with contracted organizations. For example, while utility records can be obtained directly from the utility provider, the local government may have internal records of utility accounts.

Lesson III Initial program timeline was underestimated
Interns were recruited under the expectation of the program would be completed four months from the beginning of the Workshop Program in November 2010 – an end date of roughly March 2011. The program experienced several delays, namely in the form of delayed data collection, causing the initial deadline to be pushed back to late March, and then April.

Recommendation 1: Establish a more realistic timeline for all partners and participants, while incorporating lessons learned in order to reduce unexpected delays. Program staff can begin collecting “centralized data” – or data that can be obtained from one source (e.g. utility provider) that applies to several jurisdictions – as soon as local government Data Release forms are acquired. While interns are beginning their training under the workshop program, it should be a priority of the program staff to obtain this data as early in the program as possible.

Lesson IV Recruiting local government Participants was challenging
It is difficult to recruit local governments – even for a free program – when local governments are short-staffed and experiencing budget cuts. The initial pool of local governments offerred the Green Communities program was much larger than the number of local governments that eventually signed on as participants. Local governments are short staffed, so they tend to have little opportunity to take on additional programs. Despite the free services provided through the Green Communities program, many local governments cited the workload (e.g. collecting internal data, reviewing program documents, attending workshop program) as an added cost to the local government.

Recommendation: Program should offer staff incentives, such as an additional disbursement of funds to cover staff hours devoted to the program. A program comparable to the Green Communities program is currently offering a small lump sum to local governments to compensate staff for the hours of work committed to the program. Such an incentive may also improve Workshop attendance, which is expected to inform interns more effectively along the process of data collection and analysis.

Lesson V Intern retention was difficult.
Early in the program, some interns were released due to insufficient work progress/ participation. Later losses and reduced participation seemed to occur due to slacking motivation, as the program timeline continued to extend beyond the initially anticipated timeline. Finally, losses during the summer months came about as a result of interns having made summer plans (job opportunities, travelling home, etc.), not expecting the program do last into the summer months.

Recommendation 1: Improve recruitment and screening process, seeking higher-caliber interns. By seeking interns who are capable of performing the rigorous tasks required, and who are willing to learn a great deal about GHG Emissions, local governments, public utilities, etc., the interns should demonstrate an improved level of dedication to the program.
This is not a traditional internship opportunity. Interns should be notified of the difficult tasks they must complete if they are interested in receiving the benefits of the experience. The Program should collaborate with professors, advisors, academic programs, and career services departments in order to improve recruitment processes, and target upper-division and graduate-level interns in future iterations of the program.

Recommendation 2: Establish a realistic program timeline early in the program. The Program should disclose to program participants all potential delays. The Program should share lessons learned with participants to develop a mutual understanding of program dynamics.

Recommendation 3: Offer incentives to continue participating. Initially, interns were offered $2,500 upon successful completion of the four to five month program. When the length of the program began to exceed initial projections, the Program considered increasing the stipend amount in order to retain interns beyond the initial timeframe. Interns who continued participating over the summer months were paid an additional $1,500.
Based on this experience, the Program has considered splitting intern stipends into periodic disbursements throughout the course of the program. For instance, an intern may receive 25% of the stipend for reaching a checkpoint set at 25% of program completion – say, once all data has been collected and inputted into Master Data Workbook. Concerns with this approach include the possibility of interns resigning from the program after an early disbursement is made, but before the program is completed.

Lesson VI Need for better coordination/timing between intern trainings and intern duties.
There was a lag between Workshop training topics and instances where an intern encountered those topics in the field. For example, CACP 2009 software training occurred before interns had adequate data to input into the system. Fortunately, the trainings were recorded and stored on Central Desktop, so interns were able to access trainings as needed.

Recommendation: Schedule Workshop Program in-line with projected program timeline. This timeline should be taken into consideration when establishing the schedule and subject matter of the Workshop Program.

Lesson VII Apprehension about “Climate Change” in conservative areas
Some local government representatives were apprehensive about the “Climate Change” undertone of the Narrative Report document. These local government staff cited conservative Elected Officials and/or Citizens as a reason for not wanting to frame the GHG Inventory process as anything related to “Global Warming,” or the “Kyoto Protocol.”
Some recommended leaving out any “strategic” messages, citing the Contractor’s role as strictly objective (data collection, analysis, and report). These local government staff cited a disconnect between program recommended “Next Steps,” and the local government’s internally planned next steps.

Recommendation: Discuss report format and contents early in the program, perhaps directly after participation agreements are obtained, in order to establish expectations early. If there is dissatisfaction with the contents of the report template, provide local government the opportunity to revise or specify a template that is better aligned with citizen expectations or local government plans.

Lesson VIII Better intern training to deal with local government dynamics
Throughout the program, there were internal dynamics at play within every organization. Some dynamics had little effect on program delivery, while others had drastic effects. From simple things, such as local government operations and structure, to complex things, such as inter-departmental friction, interns were not prepared through the Workshop Program to approach local government organizations effectively.

Recommendation 1: Early in the program, Program staff should help interns develop a data-collection strategy, and incorporate internal dynamics into intern training. By training interns to recognize organizational dynamics, interns should be prepared to identify potential issue areas and avoid them, or notify program management early enough to address them. The development of a data-collection strategy should allow interns to maintain a comprehensive approach to data-collecting, rather than an activity-by-activity approach seemingly applied during the first round of this program.

Recommendation 2: Obtain top-down support of program by local government staff, rather than obtaining a single department/division’s support (e.g. the Planning Division alone). By informing the entire organization of the program, there should be an increase in collaboration, or, at least, less initial resistance.

The Green Communities Program is a collaboration between Pacific Gas and Electric Company (PG&E), ICLEI-Local governments for Sustainability and the Great Valley Center. The program is dedicated to providing innovative energy efficiency and climate change solutions for local governments and communities in the Central Valley within PG&E service areas. Green Communities is part of a portfolio of programs administered by PG&E using ratepayer funds under the auspices of the California Public Utilities Commission.

The second round of Green Communities program assistance in the Central Valley started in December. Contact Bryce Dias (bryce@greatvalley.org) for more information.

A fact sheet on a similar program developed by the Association of Monterey Bay Area Governments is available at:
californiaseec.org/tools-guidance/best-practices