If we are going to work out the dilemma of climate change, we must challenge our imaginations and embrace a new future of electricity based on zero-carbon sources.
Not so long ago we depended on horses and coal for transportation and heating. The carbon-based energy revolution of the twentieth century must give way to the electrification of renewable energy in the twenty-first century. Will Minneapolis rise to this challenge and lead?
The Biden Administration’s Climate Act is the broadest effort to mitigate climate change in American history. It provides tax credits to make heat pumps, rooftop solar, electric furnaces, battery storage, and electric water heaters affordable for both retrofits and new construction. Provides credits for electric cars. It saves more than $1 billion to make affordable housing more energy efficient. It creates a “green bank” to finance clean energy projects, focused on poor communities.
Minneapolis has adopted a climate action plan for its 2040 plan. But this plan is already unrealistic and outdated.
The city can help by stimulating solar generation for all new construction. Electric heating, electrical appliances and heat pumps can be required for all new buildings to take advantage of renewable sources.
The city’s zoning should preserve solar rights to existing buildings, especially residential housing. Unfortunately, Plan 2040 allows for much taller buildings in residential areas while eliminating the ability of neighboring property owners to contest the loss of their solar rights. This creates a disincentive to make investments in solar energy.
Furthermore, the city has not included car travel in its long-term plan, which means it has not planned the infrastructure needed to switch to electric vehicles.
We will all be driving vehicles in 2040 – and they will be electric vehicles. The city must ensure that charging station infrastructure is built to support the shift from carbon-based transportation.
This would also require reversing Minneapolis’ anti-parking policies and expanding the space for charging stations. Level 2 chargers must be authorized for all new housing. Adequate parking should be planned in commercial areas, including cargo space for both visitors and employees. St. Paul currently offers extensive curbside tolls, while Minneapolis does not.
The city has also adopted policies that lead to travel restrictions that needlessly consume more energy. Road obstructions, narrow streets, unused bike lanes, speed bumps, lane limitation on congested roads and other obstacles force vehicles to slow down and accelerate unnecessarily. Each time the car slows down and accelerates, it increases energy consumption and carbon emissions.
The city should focus on designing roads that reduce carbon emissions and energy use. The city’s policy of making driving undesirable and forcing us to use our bikes is laden with misguided arrogance.
The city should also protect existing buildings rather than incentivize their demolition. More than 500 buildings have been demolished since 2018, each representing carbon debts that have already been paid. New buildings may be more energy efficient, but most will not pay off the carbon cost of building them. Rehabilitation is always the right answer, but the city has adopted policies that incentivize building demolition. 2040 policies should be reviewed to conserve and rehabilitate as much existing housing as possible.
The Biden administration’s investments will advance clean energy and infrastructure innovations. Will Minneapolis head into the future or stick with its old, outdated politics? time is short. We must do better.
Tim Kean is an attorney from Minneapolis.
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