The City of Decorah recently released the results of the 2020 baseline inventory of greenhouse gas emissions produced by the community at large from Jan. 1 through Dec. 31, 2020, as well as the city’s government operations.
Decorah was a very early adopter of the study, and one of few in Iowa with baseline results at this time.
The community as a whole
According to the report released in March of this year, in 2020, the community of Decorah produced a total of 86,507 metric tons (MT) of carbon dioxide-equivalent emissions (CO2e).
“The vast majority of these greenhouse gas emissions are related to the direct and indirect combustion of fossil fuels to heat and power our homes and businesses and to drive our vehicles,” said Decorah Sustainability Commission Chair Jim Martin-Schramm.
Six categories of emissions were inventoried for Decorah’s community-wide emissions 2020 baseline report: 1. Commercial energy, 2. Residential energy, 3. Industrial energy 4. Transportation, 5. Solid waste, and 6. Water and wastewater.
Listed in descending order, Commercial energy created just over one quarter of the total emissions at 24,537 MT, while residential wasn’t far behind, producing 21,612 MT. Transportation created 19,278 MT, with industrial emissions reaching 17,228 MT. Solid waste and water/wastewater operations were a minimal impact at three percent and one percent, respectively.
Since the commercial energy emissions contributed the largest share at 24,537 MT, the report further broke down emission variations between electricity at 61 percent and natural gas at 39 percent in that sector. This comparison shows a much different picture in the residential sector at 21,612 MT, which shows an even split between electricity and natural gas of just over 10,600 MT each at 50.8 percent and 49.2 percent respectively.
Industrial emissions totaled 17,228 MT, with 30 percent from natural gas. Transportation emissions were divided between diesel at 25 percent and gasoline vehicles contributing 75 percent of the total. Wastewater treatment contributed 1,105 MT of emissions, with natural gas at 11 percent of the total.
City of Decorah operations
Using the same metrics and working in cooperation with the Center for Energy and Environmental Education and staff from the University of Northern Iowa, four categories of emissions were inventoried including: Energy used by city-owned building and facilities; fuel used by city-owned vehicles; electricity used to power streetlights; and solid waste generated by city departments.
The study evaluated the emissions from just the City of Decorah’s municipal operations, including Administration, Parks & Rec, Streets and Water departments and the Wastewater Treatment Plant, totaling 1,066 MT. Buildings and facilities contributed the highest portion at 49.3 percent, followed by the vehicle fleet at 26.6 percent and streetlights and stoplights at 21.8 percent of the total.
Electricity comprised 366 MT, or 69.5 percent, of the emissions from facilities and buildings, while the vehicle fleet contributed 137 MT of the total 284 MT of emissions from diesel vehicles, which did include Decorah Police and Fire Departments’ use. The study did note that ethanol blend fuels produced fewer emissions that diesel or gasoline but noted the current proportion of vehicles using these fuels was small.
The study added a graph showing predictions of energy emissions if Decorah took no action, assuming energy efficiency improvements and renewable energy use trends in the Midwest. The scenario estimates a gradual 43 percent energy use decline at 36,305 MT estimated per year by the year 2040.
According to the U.S. Energy Information Administration, 2020 produced the least CO2 from energy in nearly 40 years, due to disruptions from the COVID-19 pandemic. Nationwide in 2020, energy emissions were reported at 36 percent for transportation, 29 percent for industrial, 20 percent for residential and 16 percent for commercial operations.
The most recent figures for energy-related emissions per capita in Iowa are from 2018 from the U.S Energy Information Administration, reported at 26.3 MT/person. Using this data, the expected MT produced for a city the size of Decorah would be 199,538 MT as of 2018. In 2020, Decorah produced around 11.4 MT of CO2e emissions per capita.
In comparison to other communities that have completed Green House Gas inventories, such as Red Wing, Minn., produced 12.3 MT of CO2e emissions per capita, while Northfield, Minn., produced 9.5 MT per capita. Energy use per capita has been declining over the past decade due to wide-spread energy efficiencies introduced in cars, home appliances and lighting just to name a few.
Full story in the April 21 Public Opinion, here.