Fairfax County took at least a symbolic step toward making protecting the environment and addressing climate change a priority when the Board of Supervisors unanimously passed a board matter recommending possible actions that the county can take to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions.
“Based on recent scientific reports, I believe it is crucial that we act expeditiously and urgently if we are to begin to stem the growth of greenhouse gases which are dramatically altering our environment…and the people, places and property in our communities,” Mount Vernon District Supervisor Dan Storck said.
Stock presented the joint board matter with Lee District Supervisor Jeff McKay and Dranesville District Supervisor John Foust.
A report released by the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change in October found that humans’ global carbon dioxide emissions would have to fall 45 percent from 2010 levels by 2030 and reach net zero around 2050 in order to limit global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius.
Preventing global temperatures from rising by more than 1.5 degrees could reduce some of the damage caused by climate change, including rising sea levels, melting Arctic ice, and declining coral reefs, but reaching that limit would require “rapid, far-reaching and unprecedented changes in all aspects of society,” according to the IPCC.
With their “Fairfax Green Initiatives” board matter, Storck, McKay, and Foust recommended that Fairfax County develop a communitywide energy and climate action plan as well as a county-specific climate resiliency and adaptation plan.
Other suggested initiatives include contracting with an energy savings performance contractor, using locally generated clean energy to offset county government usage, increasing county staffing for energy, climate, and environment work, enhancing communication and coordination with county residents, and accelerating the goals and targets set in the operational energy strategy adopted on July 10, 2018 by the Board of Supervisors.
The board’s unanimous passage of the board matter was welcomed by local environmental groups that have spent years pushing Fairfax County to take more significant action to reduce the carbon emissions that contribute to climate change.
“The Board of Supervisors’ unanimous vote last week to approve the new Fairfax Green Initiatives…was a momentous step forward,” Faith Alliance for Climate Solutions founder and chair Eric Goplerud said. “We applaud this multifaceted approach that will strengthen the sustainability of the county and wellbeing of its citizens for years to come.”
This is not the first time that Fairfax County has committed to reducing its greenhouse gas output.
The county has been part of the national Cool Counties initiative since July 16, 2007, when local government leaders pledged to reduce the Washington, D.C., region’s overall emissions to 80 percent below 2005 levels by 2050.
Fairfax County also set targets in 10 focus areas, including energy use, green building, waste management, and electric vehicles, with its operational energy strategy, which provides specific goals for achieving the environmental vision adopted by the Board of Supervisors in 2004 and revised in 2007.
However, the broad scope of the board matter passed on Feb. 5 suggests that Fairfax County intends to take a more comprehensive approach to addressing environmental and climate issues going forward.
In a presentation to the Board of Supervisors environmental committee on Tuesday, Fairfax County Environmental and Energy Coordinator Kambiz Agazi highlighted the current status of some of the projects called for by the operational energy strategy, which received $4.5 million from the county in the Fiscal Year 2018 carryover review.
That funding covers 19 projects for retrofitting county facilities with LED lighting, including a handful that have already been completed with the others scheduled to finish by the end of 2019.
Fairfax County’s plans to convert at least 56,000 streetlights to LED is expected to generate $1.4 million in savings and reduce carbon emissions by 32.4 million pounds annually, though those numbers would change if more light poles are added.
The county is also working on a draft request for proposal to find a solar power purchase agreement vendor, which would design, permit, finance, and install solar energy projects at county properties for little to no upfront cost.
The Fairfax County School Board approved a proposal to install solar panels at three schools on Jan. 24, though McKay questioned on Tuesday why Fairfax County Public Schools limited its efforts to just three buildings.
“I can’t speak to the schools or the pace to include other facilities, but the hope is for the agreement to be scalable and flexible in allowing facilities to be added,” Fairfax County Department of Purchasing and Supply Management Director Cathy Muse said.
In addition to its ongoing initiatives, Fairfax County staff has requested that the Board of Supervisors allocate some money in the county’s next budget for new environmental and energy programs.
County staff is requesting up to $1.5 million over two years to install electric vehicle charging stations at up to 10 county facilities. The stations would be placed at locations that accommodate both government and private vehicles.
One of the most significant changes currently under consideration, however, may be the county’s plan to create an office of environmental and energy coordination within the Office of the County Executive that would oversee and coordinate the implementation of all environment-related initiatives.
Agazi is currently Fairfax County’s only individual staffer exclusively tasked to work on energy and environmental issues.
The proposed Office of Environmental and Energy Coordination would initially have seven staff positions, and the county is requesting a little over $1 million in funding.
Mason District Supervisor Penny Gross, who chairs the board’s environmental committee, described the proposed office as “a pretty big beginning step” that will better consolidate and structure the county’s environment and energy programs, though its staff and responsibilities can be altered or refined in the future as needed.
“I think this new office will absolutely provide the focus that we need,” Board of Supervisors Chairman Sharon Bulova said. “Climate, environment, it’s all very much interrelated, and I think we need to be holistic in our approach toward climate change, toward energy, toward environmental issues.”