Molly Jones, the Sustainable Princeton Executive Director, addressed the routine flooding on Quaker Road, this summer’s extreme heat waves and rainstorms accompanied by high winds that toppled trees.
And with it, she delivered a message to the Princeton Council.
“Climate change is real and it is happening here,” Jones announced.
Jones and Christine Symington, the program manager for Sustainable Princeton, outlined the Climate Action Plan at the Princeton Council’s July 22 meeting for the governing body’s approval.
The Climate Action Plan, which seeks to reduce carbon emissions or greenhouse gases locally, is the result of 16 months’ worth of study and discussion by community volunteers.
“We are setting a local example. Anything Princeton can do to blaze a trail will benefit (neighboring towns). We all have to put our oars in the water and push in the right direction,” Jones said.
Using Princeton’s 2010 levels of carbon emissions as a baseline, the Climate Action Plan aims to reduce community-wide carbon emissions by 50 percent in 2030; by 65 percent in 2040; and by 80 percent in 2050. It will be achieved through a variety of measures.
For example, the Climate Action Plan Emissions Reduction Strategies team set out several objectives – reducing half of all vehicle miles traveled by using electric vehicles, and encouraging zero-emissions in-town trips by bicycle, on foot or by electric vehicle by 2050.
The team also calls for reducing commercial and residential natural gas usage through accelerated energy efficiency retrofits, and by having residential customers’ electricity totally supplied by renewable energy sources by 2025. Potential funding sources include the state Board of Public Utilities’ New Jersey Clean Energy program and programs offered by PSE&G.
“It won’t be easy, but it will be possible,” Symington said.
Some parts of the Climate Action Plan are already being implemented, such as providing more electric vehicle charging stations in town. The Shade Tree Committee is preparing an inventory of street trees (trees in the public right-of-way) and revising the list of tree species to include those that can withstand the effects of climate change.
There will likely be a role for Princeton Council to play in implementing the Climate Action Plan – through policy changes and possibly by ordinance, Symington said. Any proposed changes would be subject to research, vetting and public comment.
While Princeton Council members praised Sustainable Princeton and the Climate Action Plan, there were some questions and comments, such as the impact of increases in the town’s population on meeting the plan’s goals.
Looking at the summary of actions that may require Princeton Council’s oversight, Councilman Tim Quinn zeroed in on the “requirement” that large commercial buildings and multi-family properties benchmark and report their energy performance.
Quinn also questioned the “requirement” of energy audits and disclosures at the time of sale or rental of older residential, commercial and multi-family properties, and Symington acknowledged that it could affect the sale price of a residential property.
Symington said other towns already have something similar in place, and “we would have to see” what those towns do.
When Quinn asked about requiring transportation demand management programs for employers with more than 50 employees and for new developments or businesses that will generate more than 50 employees, such as restaurants, Symington said the details are being worked out.
“I just don’t want to scare people,” Quinn said.
When the meeting was opened for public comment, Sophie Glovier, who chairs the Princeton Environmental Commission, urged Princeton Council to approve the resolution in support of the Climate Action Plan that was on the council’s agenda.
The Climate Action Plan is “rooted in data and in science,” Glovier said.
Quinn, before casting his vote in favor of the resolution – along with the rest of Princeton Council – said it contains a lot of “actions,” and that it will take time to address the issues. The Climate Action Plan is “very exciting,” he said.