Vaibhav Sharma, Photo Editor
In the coming years, New Haven residents may see the Elm City growing greener.
On Tuesday night, the Board of Alders’ City Services and Environmental Policy Committee met to discuss a resolution officially committing the city towards powering all its buildings and vehicles with electric energy by 2030. This resolution is in line with the alders’ legislative agenda — which listed environmental justice as one of its public policy priorities — and the Board of Alders’ commitment to ending the use of greenhouse gases in the city by 2030. It was approved by the committee and will be taken to the Board of Alders for a final vote.
“Electrification is a really powerful tool because it allows us to directly address the air pollution that’s causing the climate crisis,” Ward 21 Alder Steven Winter said. “While also addressing the public health crisis that we’re experiencing acutely now, but that we’re chronically experiencing year over year in, particularly, respiratory illness.”
The Environmental Policy Committee’s resolution lists a plethora of reasons for this decision. These include New Haven’s asthma prevalence being one of the highest in the nation, the positive impact of electrification on jobs and the city’s vulnerability to climate change as a coastal town.
The document also puts forth a plan to implement the city’s shift to electric energy. This includes delegating tasks to the city engineer, the Board of Education, the City Plan Department and the Livable City Initiative, amongst other departments, regarding how to electrify their respective jurisdictions. The resolution also aims to create new jobs in the city — if it passes, it would task the Economic Development Department with reporting to the Board of Alders on how to most effectively generate jobs.
One of the groups involved in drafting the resolution was the New Haven Climate Movement, a grassroots environmental organization. Chris Schweitzer, the founder of the organization, said the resolution came from their Electric Future campaign, where they worked with City Engineer Giovanni Zinn ’05 and the City Planning Department on building electrification over the summer. They provided the resolution to Winter, who then introduced it to the committee.
A goal of the resolution, according to Schweitzer, is to have New Haven take on a leadership role in electrification. He said he hopes to see the city make a public commitment to electrification so that the public, developers and Yale University would face pressure to move towards electrification themselves.
“Part of the resolution is to get the mayor and alders to get out front and make a public commitment that electrification is the right way to go, and New Haven is committed to electrifying everything it can,” Schweitzer said.
According to Schweitzer, the state of Connecticut has claimed that two of the biggest electricity providers for the region — United Illuminating and Eversource — will be 91 percent fossil fuel free by 2025. Currently, Schweitzer said “a very small percentage” of New Haven’s buildings and vehicles are fully electrified. Therefore, greater electrification would drastically reduce greenhouse emissions.
Schweitzer said that electrification would not only lead to environmental and public health benefits, but it would also make more sense in terms of energy efficiency. Replacing furnaces and gas-powered cars with heating pumps and electric vehicles, for example, would actually use less energy.
“We have a climate disaster going on,” Schweitzer told the News. “We just can’t burn more fossil fuels … And luckily we have a great option. Everything made can be run with electricity and no fossil fuels, and it’s much more efficient.”
Tracy Zhou ’23, who is involved with the New Haven Climate Movement, testified at Tuesday’s meeting. She mentioned how a Greenhouse Gas Inventory Report done for the city and released in 2015 showed that transportation and buildings emissions combined made up about 70 percent of the total emissions for the city.
“Enough good technology already exists for the city to start making some meaningful changes,” Zhou said during the hearing. “In some ways, starting with those changes is probably going to be more impetus for the market to create even more and better technologies that can later be adopted.”
While the resolution has passed unanimously in the committee, Zhou said that resolutions such as the one discussed on Tuesday are declarations of intent, which means they are not binding by law. She said a previous resolution by the New Haven Climate Movement — called the Climate Emergency Resolution — was also passed unanimously by the Board of Alders in September of 2019. The resolution included a clause requiring a report from city departments to the Climate Emergency Mobilization Task Force six months after the resolution passed, which never happened, according to Zhou.
“We are certainly thrilled that it passed and it has a lot of the language that we consider important,” Zhou told the News. “But seeing how they actually make these steps going forward is something that the New Haven Climate Movement will definitely be watching.”
According to the U.S. Green Buildings Council, commercial and residential buildings account for 39 percent of carbon dioxide emissions in the United States.
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