February shatters heat records, becomes hottest month for planet

Source: NOAA

Source: NOAA

Via CNN

The month of February broke another heat record for the planet -- the latest in a string of broken monthly records that bring the Earth closer to the symbolic 2 degree Celsius temperature hike predicted to spark catastrophic consequences.

February smashed the previous record for the warmest February and even became the warmest month ever compared to average, according to NOAA, which released the data Thursday.

February temperatures over land and ocean averaged a scorching 2.18 F/1.21 C above the 20th century average. With records going back to 1880, that makes 1,646 months of data, and February tops them all. But what's even more remarkable is that the top three months in terms of heat are the past three, going back to December 2015, and they all top 1 C warmer than the 20th century average.

The planet is rapidly on its way to that 2 degree mark, possibly faster than anyone imagined. In fact, average temperatures over land in February were a mind-boggling 4.16 F/2.31 C above normal, the first time the significant and symbolic 2 degree Celsius bar has been topped.

During the climate talks of COP21, world leaders pledged to make efforts to keep global warming at an ambitious 1.5 C, which is seen as "dangerous climate change that they want to prevent," according to Imperial College London climate scientist Heather Graven. The fact that these recent monthly deviations are of that scale suggest to Graven that "we're very near that dangerous level of climate change."

February also marks the 10th consecutive month that ranks as the hottest one of that particular month in the 135-year record -- so for the past 10 months, we've had the hottest January on record, the hottest December ever, the hottest November, etc. This means by May we may have completed the 12-month sweep. That's like a boxer holding all of the championship belts in all of the different weight classes at once!

What's causing all the heat?

El Niño is a major driver of the recent uptick in global temperatures. The cycle brings warmer ocean temperatures to large portions of the Pacific Ocean, which provide extra heat to warm the planet. So El Niño years tend to be hotter than neutral or La Niña years. But El Niño alone cannot account for all the extra heat the planet has seen recently.

More recent El Niño years are rapidly outpacing El Niño years of the past, and while a switch to La Niña will likely bring global temperatures down a bit, they will still probably be hotter than even past El Niños.

Many scientists say climate change due to manmade issues is also to blame.

"We know that atmospheric CO2 and other greenhouse gases are continuing to increase, so that's contributing to climate change and the rising temperatures overall," said Graven.

Another clue that is it not simply El Niño causing the recent high temps: studying the map of temperatures from February shows that some of the warmest temperatures compared to average were found in the far northern latitudes. This is not a signal from El Niño -- which primarily impacts tropical and mid-latitude regions. Arctic sea ice, as a result, set a record for the lowest February extent on record -- making another record low Arctic sea ice minimum a real possibility this summer.

See original story here: 

LA residents to pay higher water, power bills starting April 1

Via 89.3KPCC

The L.A. City Council on Tuesday gave final approval to a plan from the city's Department of Water and Power to raise rates in an effort to fund infrastructure improvements.

For typical residential customers who now pay about $130.67 per month for water and electricity, bills will be closer to $151.65 at the end of five years. Billing increases will be phased in on an annual basis, with the first increase set to take effect April 1.

LADWP’s goal is to raise $1.05 billion over the next five years for water and power projects. Guy Lipa, the utility's chief of staff, said the agency will use the projected revenue increase  as collateral for bonds to fund work immediately on new and existing projects for water and power.

“There’s a mix of the basics, poles, pipes and technology...and new development like cleaning up the San Fernando groundwater aquifer and transitioning from coal to clean power,” Lipa said.

A major portion of the revenue for water will be spent on repairing the city’s aging infrastructure.  Many of the city’s water pipes are more than 100 years old, according to DWP. Lipa said a burst water pipe can cause damage and street closures and is ultimately more expensive than the cost of standard maintenance.

Much of the revenue for power will go toward meeting the state's renewable energy goals.

Lipa said even with the rate increase, LADWP customers are expected to receive cheaper bills than residents of San Diego, Pasadena, Long Beach and other California cities.

This is the first LADWP power rate increase since 2012 and the first water increase since 2009. 

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US Solar Market Set to Grow 119% in 2016, Installations to Reach 16 GW

Source: GTM, SEIA

Source: GTM, SEIA

Via GTM

GTM Research and the Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA) released their 2015 Year-in-Review U.S. Solar Market Insight report today, indicating the US solar market is set to grow by 119% in 2016.

Key findings from the report:

  • The U.S. installed 7,260 MWdc of solar PV in 2015, the largest annual total ever and 16% above 2014.
  • Residential PV was once again the fastest-growing sector in U.S. solar, installing over 2 GWdc for the first time and growing 66% over 2014.
  • Led by the utility-scale segment, 16 GW of PV will be installed in the U.S. in 2016.

Find out more here: 

US solar market sets new record, overtaking natural gas in 2015

US solar PV installations 2000-2015

US solar PV installations 2000-2015

Via Green Tech Media

In yet another record-breaking year, the solar industry in the United States installed 7,286 megawatts of solar PV in 2015. GTM Research and the Solar Energy Industries Association announced the historic figures today ahead of the March 9 release of the U.S. Solar Market Insight report.

For the first time ever, solar beat out natural-gas capacity additions, with solar supplying 29.5 percent of all new electric generating capacity in the U.S. in 2015.

Led by California, North Carolina, Nevada, Massachusetts and New York, the U.S. solar market experienced a year-over-year growth rate of 17 percent. Geographically, the market continues to diversify with 13 states installing more than 100 megawatts each in 2015. States that made major solar strides include Utah, which jumped in the rankings from 23rd to 7th place, and Georgia, which moved from 16th to 8th in the nation.

  • The residential solar market grew 66 percent year-over-year and, for the first time in history, eclipsed the 2-gigawatt mark. The residential solar segment now represents 29 percent of the entire U.S. solar market -- its largest share since 2009.
  • For the fourth year in a row, the non-residential market broke the 1-gigawatt mark, but remained roughly flat year-over-year.
  • The utility-scale sector, the mainstay of the U.S. solar market, grew 6 percent year-over-year and represented more than half of all solar PV installed in 2015.
  • Cumulative U.S. solar PV installations have now topped 25 gigawatts, up from just 2 gigawatts in 2010.

  “Without a doubt, 2015 was a monumental year for the U.S. solar industry, and perhaps what’s most amazing is that we’re only getting started,” said SEIA president and CEO Rhone Resch. “Over the next few years, we’re going to see solar continue to reach unprecedented heights as our nation makes a shift toward a carbon-free source of energy that also serves as an economic job-creating engine.”

“The U.S. solar market remains concentrated in key states, with the top 10 states accounting for 87 percent of installed capacity in 2015,” said Shayle Kann, senior vice president of GTM Research. “But growth has been widespread, and 24 of the 35 states that we track saw market growth in 2015.”

On March 9, GTM Research and SEIA will release the complete U.S. Solar Market Insight 2015 Year in Review with detailed market analysis and updated forecasts.

Key findings:

  • The U.S. installed 7,286 megawatts of solar photovoltaics (PV) in 2015, the largest total ever and 17 percent above 2014
  • The 7.3 gigawatts installed in 2015 is 8.6 times the capacity installed five years earlier in 2010
  • Residential was once again the fastest-growing sector, installing over 2 gigawatts for the first time and growing 66 percent over 2014
  • Utility solar PV also had a record year with over 4 gigawatts installed, up 6 percent over 2014
  • 110 megawatts (AC) of concentrating solar power (CSP) capacity came on-line in late 2015 when SolarReserve’s Crescent Dunes project began sending electricity to the grid
  • Non-residential solar was essentially flat for the third year in a row, installing just over 1 gigawatt
  • Cumulative solar PV installations reached over 25 gigawatts by the end of the year, up from just 2 gigawatts at the end of 2010

For more information about the report, visit http://www.greentechmedia.com/research/ussmi.

Fossil fuels subsidized by $10m a minute, says IMF

Fossil fuel companies are benefitting from global subsidies of $5.3tn (£3.4tn) a year, equivalent to $10m a minute every day, according to a startling new estimate by the International Monetary Fund.

The IMF calls the revelation “shocking” and says the figure is an “extremely robust” estimate of the true cost of fossil fuels. The $5.3tn subsidy estimated for 2015 is greater than the total health spending of all the world’s governments.

The vast sum is largely due to polluters not paying the costs imposed on governments by the burning of coal, oil and gas. These include the harm caused to local populations by air pollution as well as to people across the globe affected by the floods, droughts and storms being driven by climate change.

Nicholas Stern, an eminent climate economist at the London School of Economics, said: “This very important analysis shatters the myth that fossil fuels are cheap by showing just how huge their real costs are. There is no justification for these enormous subsidies for fossil fuels, which distort markets and damages economies, particularly in poorer countries.”

Lord Stern said that even the IMF’s vast subsidy figure was a significant underestimate: “A more complete estimate of the costs due to climate change would show the implicit subsidies for fossil fuels are much bigger even than this report suggests.”

The IMF, one of the world’s most respected financial institutions, said that ending subsidies for fossil fuels would cut global carbon emissions by 20%. That would be a giant step towards taming global warming, an issue on which the world has made little progress to date.

Ending the subsidies would also slash the number of premature deaths from outdoor air pollution by 50% – about 1.6 million lives a year.

Furthermore, the IMF said the resources freed by ending fossil fuel subsidies could be an economic “game-changer” for many countries, by driving economic growth and poverty reduction through greater investment in infrastructure, health and education and also by cutting taxes that restrict growth. 

Another consequence would be that the need for subsidies for renewable energy – a relatively tiny $120bn a year – would also disappear, if fossil fuel prices reflected the full cost of their impacts.

“These [fossil fuel subsidy] estimates are shocking,” said Vitor Gaspar, the IMF’s head of fiscal affairs and former finance minister of Portugal. “Energy prices remain woefully below levels that reflect their true costs.”

David Coady, the IMF official in charge of the report, said: “When the [$5.3tn] number came out at first, we thought we had better double check this!” But the broad picture of huge global subsidies was “extremely robust”, he said. “It is the true cost associated with fossil fuel subsidies.”

The IMF estimate of $5.3tn in fossil fuel subsidies represents 6.5% of global GDP. Just over half the figure is the money governments are forced to spend treating the victims of air pollution and the income lost because of ill health and premature deaths. The figure is higher than a 2013 IMF estimate because new data from the World Health Organisation shows the harm caused by air pollution to be much higher than thought.

Coal is the dirtiest fuel in terms of both local air pollution and climate-warming carbon emissions and is therefore the greatest beneficiary of the subsidies, with just over half the total. Oil, heavily used in transport, gets about a third of the subsidy and gas the rest.

The biggest single source of air pollution is coal-fired power stations and China, with its large population and heavy reliance on coal power, provides $2.3tn of the annual subsidies. The next biggest fossil fuel subsidies are in the US ($700bn), Russia ($335bn), India ($277bn) and Japan ($157bn), with the European Union collectively allowing $330bn in subsidies to fossil fuels.

The costs resulting from the climate change driven by fossil fuel emissions account for subsidies of $1.27tn a year, about a quarter, of the IMF’s total. The IMF calculated this cost using an official US government estimate of $42 a tonne of CO2 (in 2015 dollars), a price “very likely to underestimate” the true cost, according to the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.

The direct subsidising of fuel for consumers, by government discounts on diesel and other fuels, account for just 6% of the IMF’s total. Other local factors, such as reduced sales taxes on fossil fuels and the cost of traffic congestion and accidents, make up the rest. The IMF says traffic costs are included because increased fuel prices would be the most direct way to reduce them.

Christiana Figueres, the UN’s climate change chief charged with delivering a deal to tackle global warming at a crunch summit in December, said: “The IMF provides five trillion reasons for acting on fossil fuel subsidies. Protecting the poor and the vulnerable is crucial to the phasing down of these subsidies, but the multiple economic, social and environmental benefits are long and legion.”

Barack Obama and the G20 nations called for an end to fossil fuel subsidies in 2009, but little progress had been made until oil prices fell in 2014. In April, the president of the World Bank, Jim Yong Kim, told the Guardian that it was crazy that governments were still driving the use of coal, oil and gas by providing subsidies. “We need to get rid of fossil fuel subsidies now,” he said.

Reform of the subsidies would increase energy costs but Kim and the IMF both noted that existing fossil fuel subsidies overwhelmingly go to the rich, with the wealthiest 20% of people getting six times as much as the poorest 20% in low and middle-income countries. Gaspar said that with oil and coal prices currently low, there was a “golden opportunity” to phase out subsidies and use the increased tax revenues to reduce poverty through investment and to provide better targeted support.

Subsidy reforms are beginning in dozens of countries including Egypt, Indonesia, Mexico, Morocco and Thailand. In India, subsidies for diesel ended in October 2014. “People said it would not be possible to do that,” noted Coady. Coal use has also begun to fall in China for the first time this century.

On renewable energy, Coady said: “If we get the pricing of fossil fuels right, the argument for subsidies for renewable energy will disappear. Renewable energy would all of a sudden become a much more attractive option.”

Shelagh Whitley, a subsidies expert at the Overseas Development Institute, said: “The IMF report is yet another reminder that governments around the world are propping up a century-old energy model. Compounding the issue, our research shows that many of the energy subsidies highlighted by the IMF go toward finding new reserves of oil, gas and coal, which we know must be left in the ground if we are to avoid catastrophic, irreversible climate change.”

Developing the international cooperation needed to tackle climate change has proved challenging but a key message from the IMF’s work, according to Gaspar, is that each nation will directly benefit from tackling its own fossil fuel subsidies. “The icing on the cake is that the benefits from subsidy reform – for example, from reduced pollution – would overwhelmingly accrue to local populations,” he said.

“By acting local, and in their own best interest, [nations] can contribute significantly to the solution of a global challenge,” said Gaspar. “The path forward is clear: act local, solve global.”

See original story here:

Scientists are floored by what’s happening in the Arctic right now

Temperature anomalies for January, 2016. NASA Goddard Institute for Space Studies

Temperature anomalies for January, 2016. NASA Goddard Institute for Space Studies

Via The Washington Post

New data from NASA and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration suggest that January of 2016 was, for the globe, a truly extraordinary month. Coming off the hottest year ever recorded (2015), January saw the greatest departure from average of any month on record, according to data provided by NASA.

But as you can see in the NASA figure above, the record breaking heat wasn’t uniformly distributed — it was particularly pronounced at the top of the world, showing temperature anomalies above 4 degrees Celsius (7.2 degrees Fahrenheit) higher than the 1951 to 1980 average in this region.

See full story here: 

California solar industry job growth reaches record levels

Sunistics Group installation crew members working at Village Covenant Church, Azusa, CA. 

Sunistics Group installation crew members working at Village Covenant Church, Azusa, CA. 

Via LA Times

California led a record-breaking year for solar power in 2015 that included the addition of more than 20,000 new jobs within the state -- more than half of the positions the industry created nationwide, according to a new report.

The California Solar Jobs Census report released Wednesday found that roughly one out of three employees in the solar industry works in California.

By the end of 2015, that total number of solar workers in the state exceeded 75,000. That's more than all jobs held at state's five largest utility companies combined, according to the California Solar Energy Industries Assn.

Read full story here: 

Rate Tracker: DWP board approves power rate hike to raise $720 million

Via LA Times

The board that oversees the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power approved a plan Tuesday to increase power rates in a move it said was necessary to meet a slew of energy-related mandates and repair the city's degrading power infrastructure.

If approved by the City Council, the rate hike would result in a systemwide 3.86% average annual rate increase and generate about $720 million over the next five years, DWP said.

Agency officials say typical residential customers would see a smaller change — a 1.56% average year-over-year increase to their monthly power bills.

But the city's ratepayer advocate said monthly bills for many of those customers would jump about $4 in the first year; the five-year cumulative total increase would be about $12.

The board's 5-0 vote supporting the power rate increase came about a month after it endorsed a similar water rate hike.

See full story here:

Congress passes tax credits for solar and wind

Via GTM

Lawmakers in the House and Senate passed a spending package today that includes multi-year extensions of solar and wind tax credits, plus one-year extensions for a range of other renewable energy technologies.

The pair of bills, which included tax extenders and $1.1 trillion in funding to keep the government running for the next year, passed hours before lawmakers adjourned for the holidays.

“May the force be with you,” said Senator Dianne Feinstein, urging her fellow Senators to vote in favor of the package shortly after the House approved the bills.

The force was certainly with renewables.

Under the legislation, the 30 percent Investment Tax Credit (ITC) for solar will be extended for another three years. It will then ramp down incrementally through 2021, and remain at 10 percent permanently beginning in 2022.

The 2.3-cent Production Tax Credit (PTC) for wind will also be extended through next year. Projects that begin construction in 2017 will see a 20 percent reduction in the incentive. The PTC will then drop 20 percent each year through 2020.

Also included were geothermal, landfill gas, marine energy and incremental hydro, which will each get a one-year PTC extension. Those technologies will also qualify for a 30 percent ITC, if developers choose. In addition, the bill expanded grants for energy and water efficiency.

Business groups and analysts say the extensions will support tens of billions of dollars in new investment and hundreds of thousands of new jobs throughout the U.S.

“There’s no way to overstate this -- the extension of the solar ITC is the most important policy development for U.S. solar in almost a decade,” said MJ Shiao, GTM’s director of solar research.

According to GTM Research, the ITC extension will help spur nearly 100 cumulative gigawatts of solar installations by 2020, resulting in $130 billion in total investment. More than $40 billion of investment will be “directly attributable to the passage of the extension,” said Shiao.

Read full story at http://www.greentechmedia.com/articles/read/breaking-house-passes-1.1-trillion-spending-bill-with-renewable-energy-tax?utm_source=breakingnews&utm_medium=Newsletter&utm_campaign=breakingnews

US solar prepares for biggest quarter in history

Cumulative US PV installed capacity 2007-2016E Source: GTM Research/SEIA

Cumulative US PV installed capacity 2007-2016E
Source: GTM Research/SEIA

Via GTM Research

Today, GTM Research and the Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA) release the Q3 2015 U.S. Solar Market Insight report. This report series is the industry's definitive source for data and analysis on U.S. solar markets, from demand to policy and pricing by state and market segment.

Key findings from the report include:

  • The U.S. installed 1,361 MW of solar PV in Q3 2015, marking the eight consecutive quarter in which the U.S. added more than 1 GW of PV installations.
  • Throughout the first three quarters of 2015, 30% of all new electric generating capacity brought on-line in the U.S. came from solar.
  • As of Q3 2015, more than 50% of all states in the U.S. have more than 50 MW of cumulative solar PV installed. 

Download the free executive summary here.

California members of Congress urge regulators to protect rooftop solar program

Via Los Angeles Times

Two dozen members of California's congressional delegation urged state regulators this week to protect the compensation program for rooftop solar owners who send power to the electric grid.

In a Dec. 2 letter, the Congress members urged the California Public Utilities Commission to continue the state's "net metering" program, a benefit given to rooftop solar owners in exchange for sending the power they produce to the electric grid.

"Absent net metering, consumers will lose the option of saving on average 10-20% on their utility bill," the letter stated.

"While we understand the needs of the commission to develop fair and balanced policies for the entire energy industry, we urge you to preserve net metering and reduce our reliance on climate changing fossil fuels."

The commission is revising the state's net metering rules. Regulators were given until the end of 2015 to develop the new policies but have yet to produce the guidelines.

California utilities argue that rooftop solar owners do not pay their fair share of maintaining power lines and other equipment that make up the electric grid. That, the utilities say, leaves those who can least afford it to foot the bill for the electric grid.

The California Solar Energy Industries Assn. said in a statement that net metering has helped fuel growth of rooftop solar across the state. The association counters the utilities' arguments by saying their proposals would put future customers’ ability to go solar at risk. 

“Ensuring a strong net metering policy is a win-win," U.S. Rep. Barbara Lee (D-Berkeley). "It means more clean energy on the grid while creating good-paying jobs in the growing green sector economy.”

Los Angeles Deploys A Fleet Of Smart Street Lights

Source: Fast Co Design

Source: Fast Co Design

Via Fast Company:

America's geriatric infrastructure is a well-documented problem, and the city of Los Angeles is killing two birds with one stone with its latest urban initiative: a fleet of 100 smart streetlights.

Outfitted with energy-saving LED bulbs, the new Philips-manufactured lights also serve as cellular hubs to boost LTE reception throughout the city.

Unsurprisingly, L.A. mayor Eric Garcetti praised the modernization effort:

L.A. is a world leader in LED streetlights and has more poles than any other city in America. We are now taking advantage of previously untapped real estate to give our streets better broadband connectivity and future-ready infrastructure, while generating revenue for the city. This project shows what smart infrastructure can do for Los Angeles: create jobs, save taxpayer dollars, and improve our environment.

According to Philips, L.A. is the first city in the world to deploy its SmartPoles, but it isn't the first city to experiment with connected streetlighting. Jacksonville, Florida, and San Diego, California, are part of GE's Intelligent Cities pilot program of lamps outfitted with all manner of sensors and data-collecting devices. Regardless of the provider, making existing infrastructure—especially something as pervasive as the streetlight—smarter is a bright idea all around.

See original story here:

Solar homes sold 20% faster and for 17% more

Via Clean Technica

When Shea Homes put solar PV and solar thermal systems on half the homes in a development, all 257 of them sold within a year, two years faster than expected. And while these new houses were priced at $380,000 to $500,000, they sold for as much as $600,000.

This was well before the housing crash, so it represents the buoyant market of that time, in 2003. Still, it found that compared with non-solar homes, the houses that had solar on them sold for more. While the average price increase related was 55% for the solar homes, the non solar homes appreciated only 33% (pg 49.) This represents a 20% higher sales price for solar homes.

The Clarum Homes’ solar homes in the study also sold faster than their “control” homes. The solar homes sold in 23 months, the non-solar, in 28 months. This is a 17% faster home sale for a solar home.

The solar homes appreciated 20% more, and sold 17% faster than the non-solar homes.

After extensive interviews with the home buyers in the development, the (413 page pdf) NREL study made some other interesting findings.

If solar was already on the house, and factored into the price already, buyers were more likely to pick a house with solar. But if it was just one more decision to be made at the point of purchase, the decision got shelved.

This was found to happen because the salespeople were more likely to neglect to bring up the option altogether, for fear of losing a sale to indecisiveness. After all, they can’t even sell the house till the buyer has decided on either the Neon orange Corian or the Tuscan granite for the counter tops. They can sell the house without solar, but not without the counter tops.

Why builders should make solar standard:

By contrast, instead of leaving the decision to the salesperson, simply building the house with the solar system as standard was found to be behind the successful widespread adoption of the solar powered homes. Some of the homes were built with solar on them already, so there was no decision needed. The sales comparison between them and the non-solar homes formed the basis of the discovery of the 20% higher prices, and 17% faster sales.

Solar as the standard was also more profitable for builders themselves, the study found. In one California development, all 306 homes included solar hot water systems and 120 also included PV systems. That builder found that it was more profitable to build in the solar systems as the standard feature rather than wait for homeowners to request an upgrade and to add the solar in those instances later.

Even modest reductions appreciated:

Also, interestingly, the homes are not nearly as solar powered as they could be, with relatively modest reductions in their electricity bill. But the buyers were very satisfied with their energy bill reductions. Homes had small 2.4 KW PV systems (as well as solar hot water systems) that reduced their energy bills by only 54% compared with comparison homes.

Of course, it depends on how many plasma TVs are inside, but the average home like this needs about a 6 KW system to supply all of its electricity.

And were these just crunchy granola-chomping lefty hippies buying the solar homes? Absolutely not. The study found no differences between the solar home buyers and the average buyers for these sorts of homes. But the buyers were thrilled with their savings.

As the NREL study concludes, these results suggest:

“…a conceptually fresh alternative paradigm for the building and marketing of new Zero Energy Homes. When this paradigm is used, builders, new home buyers, and utility companies will benefit. When appropriately applied to business practice and public policy, this new paradigm will help builders create the sustainable communities so necessary for our well-being and that of future generations”.

See original story here:

Solar project set for Port of LA

Harbor commissioners Thursday approved a plan to operate a dozen photovoltaic systems on rooftops, parking lots and other sites at the Port of Los Angeles.

Each of the 12 photovoltaic system sites will operate for 20 years. The panels will generate 10 megawatts of energy, which is enough to power 2,500 homes or a sixth of the port’s energy demand.

The harbor department is entitled to 7 percent of the proceeds from sales of power to the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power, and stands to receive up to $140,000 per year from the energy sales, or a total of $2.8 million over the life of the contract, harbor officials said.

If the contract is approved by the Los Angeles City Council, the first solar panel systems are expected to begin operating by mid-2016, officials said.

Mayor Eric Garcetti touted the project as a “perfect example of our city departments doing their part to adopt my Sustainable City plan.”