A blueprint for the city’s carbon diet

Can Minneapolis cut its greenhouse gas emissions 80 percent by 2050?

That’s the goal of city leaders and a question recently analyzed for the past year by Siemens Corp., which has launched a data-driven modeling tool that helps cities determine best ways to meet environmental goals.

Julia Thayne, director of urban development for Siemens, recently told a City Council committee that Minneapolis can achieve its goal based on a year-long review of the city’s energy consumption patterns if it works aggressively to adopt a wide range of clean energy technologies.

“But it’s achievable only with a lot of effort,” she said.

To tackle the goal, the city will have to continue work with utilities to push for a greener electricity mix, increase the number of electric vehicles on the roads and be a leader in building energy efficiency, among other things, Thayne said.

Gayle Prest, the city’s sustainability director, said Siemen’s analysis will help inform long-term planning work.

“Now it’s a very, very ambitious and we have to work very aggressively to cleanup the local energy supply, adopt electric vehicles and improve transit and energy efficiency, but the fact that it’s theoretically possible at this high level is pretty inspiring,” she said.

Buildings account for about 63 percent of the Minneapolis’ carbon dioxide emissions and vehicles about 37 percent, according to the Siemens’ report.

Greenhouse gas emissions in the city were down 7.5 percent in 2014 compared to 2006 levels, the most recent update on emissions levels. Prest noted that the city’s building stock has also grown by 27 million square feet since 2006 — making it a bigger challenge for the city to keep emission levels down.

Seimens has pledged to support the Carbon Neutral Cities Alliance, a coalition of 17 cities across the world that have committed to reducing carbon emissions 80 percent by 2050 or soon. Minneapolis is part of the alliance along with seven other U.S. cities: Washington, D.C., Boston, New York City, Boulder, Portland, San Francisco and Seattle.

Thayne said of the cities analyzed by Seimens so far, Minneapolis appears to have the most potential.

“In those analyses, we’ve found that cities and citizens will have to make significant investments to cut carbon emissions — and even then, they will have to continue to clean their electricity mix if they want to meet their targets,” she said. “This message is consistent with what we found in Minneapolis, although Minneapolis was the first city worldwide in which we estimated that the city could reach its carbon emissions goal.”

She said everyone will have to pitch into to make the goal a reality — whether it’s policy makers investing in bus rapid transit (BRT) or developers making buildings more energy efficient.

“Minneapolis residents can pitch in by making energy efficiency improvements to their homes; by choosing public transit, walking, or cycling over car transport; by purchasing electric cars when they purchase new cars; and by switching over to electric heating,” she said.

The report Thayne presented to the Council noted that Xcel’s recent pledge to make more aggressive reductions in carbon emissions is a significant factor in helping the city reach its goals. It submitted a plan to state regulators in the fall proposing a 60 percent reduction in carbon emissions by 2030.

The city has a Clean Energy Partnership with Xcel — the first initiative of its kind in the nation.