October 28, 2021

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Town of Chapel Hill Climate Action and Response Plan works towards a sustainable future

The Chapel Hill Town Council discussed the implementation of the Town of Chapel Hill Climate Action and Response Plan at a meeting Wednesday. Its mission is for the town to transition to 80 percent clean, renewable energy sources by 2030 and 100 percent by 2050.

The plan has four main impact categories: green energy, transportation, sustainable development and infrastructure upgrades. The revised plan was adopted in April, and a budget was approved in June.

John Richardson, community resilience officer for the Town, presented a review of the plan at the meeting.

Richardson went over several studies the Town intends to conduct which will measure current emissions and plans for future resilience. This includes energy burden evaluations, public housing assessments and community options for investing in utility-scale renewable energy, which Richardson said will likely be solar.

Another important aspect of the Climate Action and Response Plan is making local transportation more sustainable.

“Just as a reminder, buildings and transportation make up 95 percent of our community emissions, so actions in these areas are a big focus for the next few years,” Richardson said.

Richardson said the Town has purchased three electric buses that will be on the road by January, which will be followed by seven more electric buses later next year.

The Town also hopes to make owning an electric vehicle easier. Richardson said they will use a location mapping tool to determine the best locations in the area for charging stations, with an intended 46 stations being installed within the next year. 

Town Council member Hongbin Gu addressed the need for other efficient modes of transportation in addition to electric vehicles.

“Many people are talking about the value or the impact that electric bicycles are going to have on our town,” Gu said. “We have a hilly topology, so if we can promote that program, we can significantly improve the bicycle adoption rate.”

The Estes Drive Connectivity Project is another proposal intended to increase low-impact travel in the town. It will create raised bike paths from Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard to Caswell Road, which will be more accessible for electric bikes. The project will also include walking paths that will allow pedestrians to walk from UNC’s campus to Estes Hills Elementary School, just shy of the Chapel Hill Public Library.

Chapel Hill Mayor Pam Hemminger added that some communities are giving out grants for people to purchase e-bikes, which is something the town may consider in the future. Traditional bike racks are too small to accommodate e-bikes, which is important to consider when building structures such as parking decks, she said.

Professor Noreen McDonald, a faculty member in UNC’s department of city and regional planning, said that combining electric vehicle use with low-speed transportation provides less carbon-intensive travel options.

“Chapel Hill’s plans show that making progress on climate change requires many interconnected actions,” McDonald said in an email. “Electrification is not enough; improving walking and biking paths is not enough. But combining these actions leads to change.”

Richardson commended the Town Council for its work to support the Climate Action and Response Plan. 

“From what I’m hearing from a staff perspective, inserting your voice, as are other communities in these conversations, it is having an impact,” Richardson said at the council meeting. “It is helping the state and others understand that local governments want to make changes and need these changes in clean energy policy to meet our own local goals.”

Town officials also said the Town plans to continue planting 200 trees a year, implement green infrastructure that will reduce flooding and implement a compost program for town employees. 

Although the action list is long, Richardson believes it is within the Town’s reach.

“This really is an organization-wide effort and I know we’ve been talking about wanting sustainability and climate action to work that way,” Richardson said. “I think developing this plan has really helped us kind of solidify that and put it down on paper and make it clear that there are so many people doing so many things that help us move things forward in the right way.”


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