New report shows greenhouse gas emissions dropping slightly in Lawrence

City employee Tommy Sutton installs a new LED traffic light at 9th and Massachusetts streets, Thursday, Feb. 9, 2012.

Everything from different light bulbs to tighter doors and windows are helping greenhouse gas emissions decline slightly in Lawrence, a new City Hall report finds.

But the latest numbers show the community still has a long way to go to meet its goal of reducing emissions by 80 percent by 2050.

“A lot of the areas we can improve in are still related to transportation emissions,” said Eileen Horn, the city/county sustainability coordinator. “It really causes us to ask how can we make it easier for people to not use their cars.”

The report shows that 2012 greenhouse gas emissions in Lawrence had dropped about 2.8 percent from 2005 totals. The per capita amount of greenhouse gas emissions fared even better, dropping to 14.16 tons of emissions per capita, compared with 15.44 in 2005. That’s below the national average of about 19 tons per person.

Horn said the reduction in emissions primarily is coming from a reduction in electricity usage and less trash going to the landfill. That’s been driven by switching to energy-saving LED light bulbs, better weatherization of homes, stronger building codes and increased recycling. She said the slowdown in the economy also has likely helped reduce emission levels as fewer construction projects were started during the time period.

Horn said the city government is going “building by building” looking for opportunities to reduce the city’s energy usage. Sometimes they also are going tree by tree. One of the projects Horn is highlighting this year is a multiyear effort to convert the city’s downtown Christmas lights to LED bulbs. She said the new bulbs are about 90 percent more efficient than traditional bulbs. She estimates the city is saving about $43,000 in electricity costs by making the switch.

Horn said she thinks area businesses and homeowners have been following suit.

“A lot of residents are taking this into their own hands,” Horn said. “I see a lot more solar panels out there than I have before.”

But the report also shows the city isn’t anywhere close to reaching its goal of reducing total emissions by 80 percent by 2050.

“That is the hard part about this report,” Horn said. “We need to not just flatten the curve, but really start bending it downward.”

Getting to an 80 percent reduction, however, likely will involve several factors that are out of the city’s control. Horn said a technological breakthrough that makes alternative fueled vehicles more prevalent would go a long way in reducing the number. Convincing Westar Energy, the largest utility in the area, to use more alternative fuels also would help, she said.

But she said there are some areas the city can control more directly. Reducing water usage may be a new area the city wants to concentrate on, Horn said. The city’s two water treatment plants are high users of energy. If water usage in the city declines, that would allow the city to cut down on electric usage at those plants.

Horn said she’ll also urge city commissioners to continue to place a high emphasis on building streets and neighborhoods with pedestrian and bicycle travel in mind.

City commissioners will review the report at their 6:35 p.m. meeting on Tuesday.