Kansas City’s Greenhouse Inventory Shows Both Promise and Concerns

The City of Kansas City, Missouri recently released a comprehensive greenhouse gas inventory that is both promising and troubling. Promising in that municipal operations have decreased their GHG emissions by 10% since 2000; troubling that communitywide emissions have increased by 8% in that same time period.

City vs. Communitywide GHG emissions

City vs. Communitywide GHG emissions

The report’s findings, which was prepared by the Brendle Group , were not shocking. The City of Kansas City has made a concerted effort to lower its greenhouse gas emissions in all facets of their operations – with their facilities, utility usage, fleet operations, water usage and their employee behavioral patterns. Those efforts have paid dividends – dividends that equate more money in the pockets of Kansas City taxpayers.

Communitywide, the report noted the main increases in emissions in 2013 occurred in the industrial and residential energy sectors while transportation saw a decrease. (The study notes that the drop in transportation emissions are due mainly to improved vehicle fuel efficiency standards.) To put some perspective on the communitywide emissions, the Brendle Group states that in 2013 Kansas City generated 10.8 million metric tons of CO2 energy – the equivalent of every Kansas City resident driving to Jefferson City every day of the year, or to put it another way, the same amount of energy used in 830,000 average Kansas City homes annually. To sequester that amount of carbon, the report notes one fifth of Missouri would have to be seeded with new trees.

Clearly, planting a new forest over a vast swath of the state isn’t feasible. So what to do? First, we should take heart in the fact that lower emissions is not only not an impossibility, it is quite feasible and the example of that is staring us in the face. The City of Kansas City is a great local example of how well it can be done. The City is a microcosm of Kansas City itself; it has buildings, for profit businesses (the airport and the water utility) lots of vehicles (the fleet the City maintains is large and varied and includes cars, trucks and buses). It utilizes a large amount of water to maintain its parks and golf courses. It has a large workforce that the majority commutes to and from work. Lastly, it is the largest customer of KCP&L. In essence, it is a city unto itself.

The Kansas City community could look for inspiration at the City’s efforts, and even tap into some of the local expertise that are municipal employees. Kansas City employees will tell you that their efforts were done by trial and error, but the commitment they had from the elected leadership drove change. They were allowed to think out of the box and develop new technologies that helped them not only achieve their GHG reduction goals, but exceed them. (This took place over the leadership of three separate mayors and an equal amount of city managers.)

Communitywide emissions by sector

Communitywide emissions by sector

According to the report, communitywide energy use in buildings contributes to almost 75 percent of the total emissions generated (the buildings are commercial, residential and industrial). Electricity consumption makes up 80% of those buildings emissions. And in Kansas City, most electricity is generated by coal fired power plants – a big greenhouse gas emitter.

While the City Energy Project is focused on large, commercial spaces, it does not mean the lessons learned cannot be applied to other sectors. Utilizing energy audits to measure building consumption makes sense whether it is done for a factory, a commercial building or a home. In addition, there are plenty of incentive programs to implement energy savings efforts, whether that be more insulation, new windows or better maintained HVAC system. Finally, the CEP continues to hold seminars on best practices on how to reduce energy use, tap into innovative financing programs and learn best practices from around the country.

There is no better “apples to apples” comparison than looking at a municipal operation versus the rest of the community when it comes to GHG emissions. The variables are the same- the same utilities are utilized to for electricity and natural gas. The climate is the same, so there aren’t any variations to energy use due to mild or extreme weather. The expertise to implement change, whether it be through an energy audit, an ESCO or a utility incentive program are the same.

The only difference is a lack of a unified vision from the community business leadership and its residents to make the same commitment the City of Kansas City began almost a decade ago. There is no magic pill to make changes, just a sustained commitment from the City’s elected and administrative leadership, a talented and tenacious staff to implement that vision and the ability to be innovative when there are difficulties reaching their goals.

Kansas City has many great examples of corporations that do similar type of programs to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions. However, there is not a unified vision that has been collectively been adopted by the business community and the residents of Kansas City to implement such changes throughout our region. A unified vision and implementation policy will have to happen if Kansas City hopes to make communitywide reductions to its greenhouse gas emissions.

The City of Kansas City has committed to reduce its GHG emissions by 30 percent below 2000 levels by 2020. They are well on their way to achieving their goals. The question is, will the community as a whole follow suit?

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