San Diego’s ambitious plan to cut carbon emissions took another step forward this week as the City Council’s Environmental Committee voted unanimously to forward its Climate Action Plan to the full City Council for review and approval.

San Diego’s Environment Committee has been working on its Climate Action Plan for the last two years. The Climate Action Plan outlines five strategies to cut emissions in the city, including instituting more energy- and water-efficient building codes, programs to promote bicycling, public transportation and walking over commuting by car, and moving the city toward completely renewable energy sources within 20 years.

The Climate Action Plan sets out specific milestones to help achieve San Diego’s clean energy goals. By 2035, the city plans to increase the number of people who commute by public transit from 10 percent to 25 percent.

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This would mean reducing the number of San Diego residents who live near existing or planned transit stops from 87 percent to 50 percent within the next 20 years.

According to the Climate Action Plan’s environmental impact assessment, these initiatives alone would reduce the city’s carbon emissions by 36.1 percent within 5 years and another 10.9 percent within 20 years.

The plan would commit the city to using 100 percent renewable energy within 20 years, probably by a program called community choice aggregation. Community choice aggregation would give the city and individual consumers more power to buy energy from renewable sources.

Under a community choice aggregation program, city residents can choose an energy plan that uses only renewable energy, which would cost more, or choose a plan that uses less renewable energy and costs less. Alternatively, customers could opt out of the program altogether and get their energy from the San Diego Gas & Electric public utility. SDG&E says that 32 percent of its energy currently comes from renewable sources.

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The community choice aggregation plan is set for the second phase of the Climate Action Plan, but Councilwoman Marti Emerald wants to move it up to the first phase. If she is successful, San Diego residents could have the option to participate in a community choice aggregation program by 2017.

SDG&E, for its part, objects to the city’s goal of 100 percent renewable energy by 2035. In a letter to the City Council, the SDG&E argued that natural gas power plants would be necessary to maintain grid stability, particularly during peak usage hours in the evenings.

If passed by the City Council, the Climate Action Plan would be legally binding. Even so, the chair of the city’s environmental committee, David Alvarez, has called for the formation of a working group to monitor its implementation and ensure that it does not become a dead letter resolution.

Apart from reducing carbon emissions, the Climate Action Plan is also intended to create green jobs, improve public health, reduce San Diego’s dependence on imported water and energy and save taxpayers’ money by decreasing municipal energy use and waste production.

The San Diego City Council will hear the plan on December 15.

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