THE NATURALIZED MID-AMERICAN: Goshen getting its first glimpse at collective energy use

Aaron Sawatsky-Kingsley

In the wake of the historic flooding we experienced in February of 2018, a small team from the IU Environmental Resilience Institute came to visit Goshen. They wanted to hear a bit about what the flood experience had been like, how we were recovering, and what steps we might be looking at to prepare for future flood events.

In the background was a larger question about what we might be willing to do to become better stewards of our resources in Goshen, especially in light of long-range, climate-change projections from the Indiana Climate Change Impacts Assessment (INCCIA, Purdue University). Larger and more frequent flood events are a key feature of these projections.

As a result of that conversation, Goshen was invited to participate in the 2019 Resilience Cohort, a collaboration between ERI and the IU Indiana Sustainability Development Program. We received a grant to help fund an extern to conduct two greenhouse gas emissions inventories.

The extern, Bronson Bast, an IU master’s degree student, was given the task of seeking out and compiling data from across our local government, and across our community, about the ways we use energy. Bronson has been working on these inventories throughout the summer; there is a lot of information, and a fair amount of complexity to decipher in order to make sense of it all.

Bronson’s work is coming to an end in the next two weeks, and the results are giving us the first glimpse of our collective energy use, and the generated greenhouse gas emissions for which we are responsible. As mentioned above, there are actually two separate inventories: one looks only at the local government (i.e. parks department, street department, police Department, fire department, etc.); the other one looks at our entire community. There is some overlap in the two inventories, and its important to understand that the local government inventory is a subset of the community-wide inventory. Its also important to know that while we’ve collected a lot of energy data, it doesn’t represent everything which we use.

I’ll write about the community-wide inventory in a few weeks, but for now I want to focus on the local government data. So, what have we learned?

Well, the most recent data we were able to collect from 2017 shows that our government consumption of energy has increased slightly since 2015, leading to an increase in emissions: from 10,975 (2015) metric tons of carbon dioxide equivalents (CO2e) to 11,246 metric tons of CO2e (2017).

We can see that the bulk of our energy is used in our stationary assets, specifically buildings and street lights. In 2017, 81.8% of our emissions came from these assets, mostly in the form of electricity, but also natural gas, and used for everything from heating and cooling to lighting and mechanical operations.

Fuels (gasoline and diesel) for the city’s vehicle fleet generated 11.2% of 2017 government emissions, and wastewater treatment generated 7%. Not surprisingly, our police and street departments use the most vehicle fuels — the police department accounting for 45% of all fuel purchased in 2017. The total 2017 government cost for energy was $866,000.

So what does this mean? How is this information useful to us? First, its important to note that while its tempting to want to compare our data to some other city — to see how we stack up — that’s really not fruitful, since each community is so distinct. Our data is most useful as we compile more of it, in order to see how we are changing our consumption habits. Will we use more energy in the future? Less? Why?

Tracking our energy use will allow us to become more efficient in our uses — saving money — and will help us to reduce the greenhouse gases which we put into the atmosphere, which cause climate change. Climate change will cost us a lot of money, as the 2018 flood indicates, so anything we can do to reduce those costs is important.

This inventory will also help us strategize about how best to plan and invest for our future needs, and how to work toward carbon neutrality, as the recently passed Youth Environmental Resolution has asked us to do.

For instance, knowing that NIPSCO will shut down all of its coal generators by 2029, means that the electricity we purchase will become very clean, producing far less CO2e than currently. In fact, our government emissions could drop by more than 50% simply because of NIPSCO’s commitment. This means we should invest in electrification throughout our departments and vehicle fleet to take advantage of what will become a cleaner source of energy.

One last thing this work points to: our tree canopy goal. The presence of our public trees helps us avoid the generation of 1,179 extra metric tons of CO2e annually. That’s almost as much as our vehicle fleet generated in 2017. Doubling our tree cover across Goshen will save us money and further reduce the greenhouse gases we put into the atmosphere.

Aaron Sawatsky-Kingsley is Goshen’s urban forester. He can be reached at aaronkingsley@maplenet.net or at 537-0986

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