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Mayors against climate change

From the Think Globally, Act Locally department.

Mayor Annise Parker

Mayor Annise Parker

Mayor Annise Parker briefly took center stage Monday in the campaign against climate change by pledging to make America’s energy capital a laboratory for experimentation and action.

Frustrated with the congressional response to global warming, Parker and the mayors of Los Angeles and Philadelphia vowed to set more aggressive targets for reducing their cities’ heat-trapping pollution while challenging others to do the same.

“Mayors are uniquely compelled and equipped to lead on the fight to stem climate change, as well as to adapt to it and prepare for the impacts of global warming,” Parker said after the mayors unveiled their agenda in New York, where world leaders were gathering for a United Nations summit meeting on climate change.

The mayors, all Democrats, stepped forward as the Obama administration faces Republican opposition to its efforts to tackle climate change, notably new rules that would slash emissions from coal-fired power plants, the largest source of greenhouse gas pollution.


As part of the plan, Parker said Houston would lower emissions 80 percent by 2050 from 2005 levels. New York Mayor Bill de Blasio made the same pledge Friday, two days before more than 300,000 people marched through the city in what was possibly the largest climate-related rally ever held.

Houston already has made significant cuts by reducing energy use in its public buildings, adding hybrid and electric-powered vehicles to its fleet and replacing 165,000 streetlights with more efficient light emitting diodes, or LEDs – a project city officials call the largest of its kind nationwide.

Houston also is the nation’s leading municipal purchaser of renewable energy, with 50 percent of its power coming from wind and solar sources. And it’s likely that the city will buy even more before Parker’s term ends in 2016, said Laura Spanjian, the city’s sustainability director.

Mayor Parker’s press release for this is here. I couldn’t find a website for the Mayors’ National Climate Action Agenda, but a Google News search shows they’ve been busy. Some of the Houston initiatves, like the ones for LED streetlights and electric cars, are things we have discussed here before. Some of them are things the city can do on its own – and remember, anything that saves energy also saves money, meaning it’s a painless way to cut costs – and some of them are things the city helps provide to enable its residents to use less energy, like improving the bike infrastructure. There’s no one silver bullet here, just a lot of big and small ideas that will add up to a lot in the long run.

City strikes two deals with CenterPoint

One on street lights, and one on bike trails. Both are great news.

All 165,000 of Houston’s streetlights will be converted to more efficient LEDs over the next five years, halving electricity use and cutting air pollution in what Mayor Annise Parker said will be one of the nation’s largest such initiatives.

Also on Friday, the city said it had struck a deal to open up land under power lines for the construction of hike and bike trails, the result of years of negotiations in Austin to enact necessary legislation and months of local discussions. Both the trails and streetlights announcements involved agreements with CenterPoint Energy.

The switch from yellowish high-pressure sodium, mercury vapor and metal halide streetlights to bluish light-emitting diodes, or LEDs, may require no added city investment. Officials with the city and CenterPoint, which owns the streetlights, project that a long-term drop in maintenance costs will offset the up-front cost of installation.

LED lights draw less power and last longer than traditional bulbs.

Parker said the move would help the city reach its goal of lowering greenhouse gas emissions produced by municipal operations by 10 percent by 2016. Once finished, the mayor said, the switch will save the city a projected $28 million in electricity costs over 10 years.

“In addition to being good for the planet, if we can cut energy consumption it’s also really good for the city’s bottom line,” Parker said.


Regarding the trails agreement, CenterPoint says there are 923 miles of right of way in Harris County, including 410 in the city of Houston. Those involved in the effort have estimated about 140 miles of right of way sit under large transmission lines, which make the most sense for trails.

In making the announcement, CenterPoint also presented a $1.5 million check for trail construction.

Houston voters in 2012 approved $100 million in bonds to be combined with private and grant funds for the $205 million Bayou Greenway Initiative to expand the city’s trail system along bayous.

The bayous largely run west to east, Parker said, requiring more north-south connections – and, conveniently, many transmissions corridors run north-south.

“We also have a lot of miles of bayou trails to install,” the mayor said, “but this allows us to make a more complete system.”

See here, here, here, and here for the background on the bike trails stuff, and here for the Mayor’s press release. It’s a beautiful thing being able to save millions of dollars without having to cut anything, isn’t it? The right-of-way trails have the potential to be transformative for the city’s – and the county’s – bike infrastructure. Like I said, great news all around.

LED power

Good for Harris County.

The county is joining a growing list of local governments switching out incandescent bulbs for light-emitting diodes, or LEDs, embarking on a $1 million effort to begin replacing the bulbs at the 880 intersections it maintains.

LEDs cost $60 each while incandescents run $4, but the average intersection with incandescent traffic signals costs county taxpayers $2,380 a year in electric bills, said John Blount, the county’s director of architecture and engineering. A test intersection the county converted to LED last year showed a projected annual cost of just $328.

Arguably more important, Blount said, is that LEDs last seven or eight years, rather than 12 to 18 months, thus cutting the $1,500 it costs every time a contractor must be sent out to replace bulbs.

“You get a lot of savings on the cost of installation,” he said. “Instead of going every year and replacing them, in essence, you’re going every eight years. Just like homeowners, we have to constantly look at ways to save energy.”

This is a total no-brainer. They’ll recoup the costs quickly in lower electric bills, and they’ll save in the long term by having to replace the LED bulbs far less often. The main thing about the LED signals that I have found to dislike is that the green light is often not visible from a medium distance, I suspect due to the viewing angle. I have not seen the same issue with the yellow or red lights, so at least I know when I approach the intersection that what I can’t see I don’t need to stop for. Am I the only one that has noticed this?

The city of Houston in 2007 began a $1 million effort to replace 300 traffic signals with LEDs downtown, in Midtown and near the Texas Medical Center, Public Works Department spokesman Gary Norman said. That program expanded into a $16 million, 1,700-signal project citywide; today, Norman said just 398 signals remain to be converted. The city has received a grant to help complete the work, he said, which will begin this spring and take about a year.

The spread of LED traffic signals began a decade ago, but sped up in 2006, when the Department of Energy mandated that new or replaced signal systems meet more stringent energy requirements, said Siva Narla, senior director of transportation technology at the Institute of Transportation Engineers.

ITE’s position, Narla said, is that “these are beneficial, these are more energy-efficient and, as a community, LEDs are the way to go.”

Indeed they are. And now I’m wondering when we’ll do the same for all those incandescent street lights.