New Policy, New Energy Cause Emissions Decrease



City planners, engineers and sustainability champions are notching a victory this year in Sarasota with the release of the 2015 Greenhouse Gas Inventory. According to the study, which documents greenhouse gas emissions within the Sarasota city limits for the 2015 calendar year, carbon dioxide emissions have dropped 22 percent since 2003—a decrease that Stevie Freeman-Montes, City of Sarasota sustainability manager, says can be attributed to improving resources, technology and local policy.

According to the inventory, emissions decreased in several categories, most notably electrical use in residential, commercial and industrial sectors and stationery fuel combustion and solid waste, but also in water and wastewater processes.

This is due in no small part to the shift away from coal and oil in favor of natural gas and nuclear energy on the part of the regional electric grid and exemplified by Florida Power and Light (FPL), says Freeman-Montes. In 2003, oil and coal accounted for 19 and 6 percent of FPL’s energy, respectively. By 2015, those numbers had dropped to .3 and 4.1 percent. On the other hand, nuclear and natural gas use grew since 2003 to account for 22.7 and 66.3 percent of energy generated in 2015, up from 21 and 34 percent in 2003. “And from an emissions standpoint, getting away from coal and oil is much cleaner,” says Freeman-Montes.

In terms of the impact the community has via its waste contributions to the local landfill, the real game-changer came from a 2015 decision by Sarasota County to install methane gas-to-electricity converters. Decomposing waste generates plenty of methane, whereas, previously, the county implemented no methane reduction or management program, releasing emissions directly into the air, says Freeman-Montes, and the new converters have already precipitated an 87 percent decrease in landfill emissions. “It’s a dramatic change,” she says, “and all due to a decision by Sarasota County that we really support.”

The only sector where emissions actually increased within the city of Sarasota was in vehicle emissions, which saw a rise of 2.5 percent. It’s a problem city engineers and planners are already wrestling with, says Freeman-Montes. “I don’t think there will be one silver bullet,” she says, but sees lessons to be learned from strides already made and the success this latest inventory heralds. “What it says to me is how important it is to focus on system-wide transformational changes. We’ve got good solid data and we’re headed in the right direction.”

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