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City of Boise building path to carbon neutrality by 2050

Boise isn’t slowing up its plan to address climate change. 

Next week, Boise City Council members will take a vote on adopting a new “Climate Action Roadmap” that continues fleshing out the city’s plans to meet its ambitious sustainability goals. This includes the city’s original goal for the whole city to be powered by clean energy by 2035 and the possibility of a new goal of reaching carbon neutrality for the community by 2050.

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This has been a major priority of Mayor Lauren McLean’s, both in her time as City Council President and since she took over as Mayor in 2020. She said if Boise pursues these goals and the community comes on board, it will help the city prepare for the future and boost the economy by creating jobs in the clean energy sector. 

“The reason this matters is as our community changes and our world changes, this ensures we’re leading on climate and figuring out how we can turn these challenges into opportunities, which will mean prosperity for our people,” McLean said at Tuesday’s city council meeting where staff presented the concept of the Climate Action Roadmap.

What is carbon neutrality?

The carbon neutrality goal for Boise in 2050, and the City of Boise’s facilities by 2035, is a broader goal than the Boise’s Energy Future plan adopted by city council in 2019.

The city’s aim to power the community with 100% renewable energy by 2035 only covers electricity that powers buildings and other structures, but a carbon-neutral goal focuses on severely cutting down on all carbon emissions. This includes emissions from transportation and CO2 produced by various industries. This is not a mandatory program, and the city is looking to businesses and residents to collaborate with them to reach the goal.

Carbon neutrality can be achieved in three ways. First, the city is prioritizing ways it can reduce emissions by generating power in different ways and implementing new technology for electric vehicles. Once the city and partners in the private sector reduce emissions as much as possible, the city’s next priority is to implement programs to capture what CO2 is still being put into the air through programs, like planting more trees throughout the city known to capture greenhouse gases.

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Once as much CO2 has been cut in the first place or removed from the atmosphere in other ways, the city would like to reach neutrality by looking into programs to “offset” what emissions are left. This can be done by participating in certified programs where in exchange for emissions, the city would pay to rehabilitate the environment elsewhere in a way that removes a comparable amount of CO2.

That’s why the goal is carbon neutrality, instead of eliminating all emissions. Offsetting is particularly helpful for things like air travel where there isn’t any alternative not powered by fossil fuels. But, Boise’s Climate Division Supervisor Steve Hubble said this is far down the city’s list of priorities for now.

“The focus right now is on reducing emissions and that will be the focus for many years to come,” he said.

Cutting emissions + new infrastructure

The climate action road map breaks down priorities for the city into different categories, ranking them from focusing on reducing emissions to increasing the city’s resilience to the impacts of climate change. For example, projects focused on energy are squarely focused on cutting CO2, while initiatives to address water are most important to keep the city functioning as the climate continues to warm.

One of the projects the city is working on is called a green tariff system. This would be a potential partnership between the City of Boise and Idaho Power to create more renewable energy in the state, like a large solar power installation that Boise would specifically purchase power from to run things within city limits. The city would pay for the extra costs to build the new renewable resource, not spread across Idaho Power’s ratepayers. 

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Public Works Director Steve Burgos said there is also potential for this program to partner with other larger companies in the city that would also like to be powered by renewable energy. This arrangement is common across the country, but this would be the first of its kind in Idaho. The Idaho Public Utilities Commission needs to approve the proposal.

“The idea is it would be like a shopping mall where they like to have an anchor tenant, like an Albertsons, to support the other stores,” he said. “That would be us and other companies could come alongside.”

Calling all eco-friendly startups

There is also a mystery element in these plans: technology that hasn’t been invented yet.

Burgos said they are planning for innovation in the climate sector to help the city and the rest of the country meet sustainability goals, like in battery storage for electric vehicles. One of the city’s priorities is trying to work with people starting companies focused on developing new sustainability technology and getting them to set up in Boise to grow jobs and the city’s climate goals.

This goes along with McLean’s concept of an entrepreneurship incubator focused on growing businesses focused on climate change, which is still in development.

“We’re putting out the flag that if you want to innovate and develop climate solutions, you should be here,” Burgos said. “Boise isn’t too big so you can build something that can scale up, as opposed to something in LA or New York that might not scale down to a mid-size city.”

Margaret Carmel - BoiseDev senior reporter
Margaret Carmel is a BoiseDev reporter focused on the City of Boise, housing, homelessness and growth. Contact her at [email protected] or by phone at (757)705-8066.

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