Progress on the new Piedmont Aquatic Center has reached a key decision-making point.
Between now and April 4, the City Council will be deciding between a system that heats pool water by natural gas (a climate-warming fossil fuel) or one that uses no natural gas, relying instead on electricity from renewable sources.
The news from the preliminary energy use report prepared by the engineers under contract with ELS architecture is good and cause for great hope that a climate-friendly all-electric system is within our financial reach. The analysis shows that while an all-electric facility will require an additional $600,000 in upfront cost and have a longer payback period (15.8 years, in comparison with 8.4 years for the natural gas option), it will provide approximately $1,000,000 more in cost savings over the 25-year period studied as compared to the natural gas option.
The estimated greenhouse gas emissions from each option stand in sharp contrast: The natural gas-fired facility will generate 260 MT CO2e and will make greenhouse gas emissions from the new facility 1.5 times greater than those from the old Community Pool, which generated approximately 75% of municipal emissions from natural gas. The all-electric option, however, will reduce the pool facility’s emissions by 100%. Opting for natural gas would thus make it impossible to meet Piedmont’s Climate Action Plan’s targets for reducing emissions in municipal facilities, reductions that are important not only in and of themselves but also as an example for residents to emulate in reducing emissions in their homes.
It is wiser to construct an energy system for the future now, than to face the cost-prohibitive prospect of having to re-do the system later.
The decision to choose the all-electric system appears to be a no-brainer. But there’s a catch: The Staff Report accompanying the preliminary energy use report goes out of its way to frame emissions from the pool in the context of the municipal sector and Piedmont’s overall emissions, making the point that, when emissions from employee transportation are taken into account, the old Community Pool contributed less than 20% of municipal emissions and less than 1% of total emissions from Piedmont’s residential sector. While these numbers may be largely true for the old pool, the Staff Report fails to note that, given that a new natural gas-fueled facility will generate 1.5 times more emissions than the old facility, its portion of municipal emissions will also increase. These numbers also don’t take into account that emissions from employee commutes will decrease with the EV adoption that will likely accompany installation of EV charging stations near City Hall. The important point here is that referencing these numbers appears to be in service of providing a rationale for choosing natural gas for the pool.
Choosing natural gas would be very short-sighted, however. As the preliminary energy analysis points out, natural gas prices have become very volatile and are trending upwards at a faster rate than electricity prices. As California moves towards phasing out natural gas, a natural gas-dependent facility could become obsolete before the end of its expected lifetime. It is wiser to construct an energy system for the future now, than to face the cost-prohibitive prospect of having to re-do the system later. Choosing natural gas would also be imprudent from a financial perspective; while it may be tempting to choose a system with a lower up-front cost and shorter payback period, we need to keep in mind that the actual cost savings over 25 years of an electric system will be approximately $1,000,000 more than a natural gas system. A $600,000 up-front cost differential is really not that large in the larger picture, nor is an additional 7.4 years until payback.
Choosing natural gas would be irresponsible from a climate perspective. No matter how small the pool’s emissions are in the context of total Piedmont and world emissions, we all know that it’s important that each family, city, state and nation work to reduce its emissions in as many ways as possible, in order for us to collectively bring emissions down. Cities and other government bodies have an additional mandate of serving as role models for the citizens they represent; if governments don’t wholeheartedly attempt to reduce their emissions, saying that what they do doesn’t matter, citizens will follow suit. If we chose an all-electric pool, Piedmont will become one of the first California municipalities to do so, and we will be on the map as a model for other communities. If we chose a natural gas-fired facility, we will be taking the position that we are exempt from needing to tackle climate change on all possible fronts — an assertion of privilege that many in the community deeply wish us to move beyond.