The green energy boom in the Bay Area is finally bringing the city’s pollution problems to light.
But even with the city reaping all the rewards, it may still have to do some work to get its reputation as a green megacity up to par with its neighbors.
In an interview with Recode’s Kara Swisher, a former Arcata resident who’s now an environmental consultant, it was clear the city was looking to make some changes.
It wasn’t a case of putting up a wall, she said.
“The thing that I think people are really missing out on in this discussion, which is a bit surprising, is that the environmental problems of the city have actually been exacerbated by the actions of the people that actually run Arcata.
That’s a big deal.
So it’s a matter of figuring out what those solutions are.”
So what can Arcata do to get back on track?
There are a couple of steps the city can take.
First, the city has already begun taking some steps to mitigate its air pollution problem.
The city’s Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) has started to reduce pollution in areas of the City of Arcata, such as the city parks, from industrial sources such as power plants and chemical plants.
“In the city of Arcadia, we’ve actually had the first big-picture, long-term emissions reduction plan in the past five years,” said city spokesman Joe Caspi.
“And we have a new plan for the future.”
Arcata also has committed to spending $10 million on its greening efforts over the next two years.
The money will go toward installing solar panels in the city, buying and installing wind turbines, and building a new water treatment plant.
It also has a $4 million commitment to install an electric vehicle charging station in the next few years.
The city has also started the process of implementing new policies to limit the impact of pollution.
Its plan calls for limiting emissions by 20 percent by 2025, and reducing the number of vehicles per capita by 30 percent by 2040.
And by 2042, it will set a goal to get 95 percent of its electricity from renewable sources.
The plan also calls for the city to build its own hydrogen fueling stations, which are also expected to reduce its carbon footprint by 20 to 25 percent by the year 2040, compared to current levels.
“Arcata is already a leader in the solar power market and it’s got a strong leadership in hydrogen fueling,” said Caspis.
“We can make a real difference.
We can make our own hydrogen.”
Arcadia’s first hydrogen station, in 2017, was a two-unit hydrogen facility that could be used by both private cars and public transit.
But it wasn’t always like this.
When Arcata purchased the site for its current hydrogen facility in 2020, there was a lack of suitable infrastructure and an uncertain future for hydrogen fueling.
Caspi said that since the hydrogen fueling facility opened in 2019, “we’ve seen a lot of positive trends in our hydrogen fueling infrastructure.”
But there were also some challenges.
The company had to overcome the cost of buying the equipment and building it from scratch.
And the site was also near an intersection of highways that were often closed to drivers.
“It’s been a very challenging transition,” said Swisher.
“When we started out, we were very much focused on hydrogen fueling, so we knew that if we could get the infrastructure in place and the infrastructure set up, that was going to make a big difference.”
But the city is still working on getting that infrastructure in, and even if that’s not a complete solution, Caspias said it is a start.
The first hydrogen fueling station in Arcadia opened last year.
“Our goal is to get there,” said Jason Smith, a DEP spokesman.
“If we can do it in the short term, then we can continue to build momentum in the long term.”
But even though Arcata is building the hydrogen stations, the energy grid is not in full alignment with that goal.
The utility that runs Arcata’s electric power and natural gas grids is not cooperating with the state’s new goal of 100 percent renewable energy by 2030.
And, Cespis said, “The grid needs to be able to meet the needs of the energy industry and the cities.”
The city’s new hydrogen fueling program will be in place from the start of 2020 through 2021.
But, Cappis said the city will need to get the grid back to its former, more efficient, levels by 2041.
And to do that, the DEP will need more than a few hydrogen fueling units.
“We need to have a much bigger amount of units on the grid, we need to be upgrading the grid,” he said.
The new stations, combined with the new grid, are a big step toward a clean energy future for Arcadia.
But there are some other steps the City can take that will help Arcata achieve its goal