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“On The ClearPath” Interview Series with Metro Washington Council of Governments

Solar Array - US DOE’s Forrestal office building
Solar Array – US DOE’s Forrestal office building


“On the ClearPath” Interview with Metro Washington Council of Governments (MWCOG)

“On the ClearPath” interview series is an opportunity to highlight stories and experiences from ICLEI members as well as ClearPath users in an effort to bring greater awareness to the power of ClearPath. With hundreds of local governments actively leveraging the platform to monitor and track their municipal and community scale emissions, ClearPath is becoming the premiere local government emissions management platform.

We continue our blog series with Metro Washington Council of Governments (MWCOG), a long standing climate leader and forward thinking regional agency that was awarded one of the White House’s Climate Action Champions for 2015. MWCOG is an independent, nonprofit association that brings area leaders together to address major regional issues in the District of Columbia, suburban Maryland and Northern Virginia. MWCOG’s membership is comprised of 300 elected officials from 22 local governments, the Maryland and Virginia state legislatures, and U.S. Congress. We sat down “virtually” with Steve Walz, Director of Environmental Programs for MWCOG to learn more about the MWCOG’s experience with ClearPath as well as their robust regional climate action planning initiatives.


What action plans does the region have in place to combat climate change and further improve community well-being? 

MWCOG has several policy, advisory, and planning committees dedicated to air quality, energy, climate, and the environment.  The Climate, Energy, and Environment Policy Committee (CEEPC) developed a Climate and Energy Action Plan, setting goals to reduce the region’s greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions from the built environment, infrastructure, transportation, and land use.  This action plan also outlined goals for regional sustainability and resiliency, renewable energy use, and local outreach and education.  The CEEPC action plan has been the driver for other climate and energy targets and strategies, like the Multi-Sector Working Group, which focuses on addressing emissions across the transportation, land use, energy, and built environment sectors.  The District of Columbia, Maryland, and Virginia, as well as individual jurisdictions within the metropolitan Washington region, also have climate and energy goals that work alongside the overarching action plans in the region.


Is the region reaching its emissions goals?

Under the metropolitan Washington Regional Climate and Energy Action Plan, targets were set for emissions reductions across the region.  Using emissions levels from 2005 as a baseline, the goals are to reduce GHG emissions to 10 percent below business as usual projections by 2012 (back down to 2005 levels); 20 percent below 2005 levels by 2020; and 80 percent below 2005 levels by 2050.  The region’s current GHG inventory measures residential, commercial, and industrial emissions within the region in 2005 and 2012 to evaluate progress made toward the 2012 target.  Based on the research and analysis conducted for this inventory, the metropolitan Washington region has surpassed its initial 2012 goal, bringing emissions to below 2005 levels.

Greenhouse Gas Emissions Inventory For Metropolitan Washington – 2005 and 2012


What are the challenges with emissions data at the government operations and community scale?

MWCOG has completed a community-scale inventory for each member jurisdiction using the same methodology and base years for each inventory.  The metropolitan Washington region is made up of 22 member jurisdictions in the District of Columbia, Maryland, and Virginia.  Community-scale challenges stem from a lack of readily available data region-wide.  Utility, demographic, and population data, for the most part, is available at the state or county level and not broken down to the level of smaller cities and towns in the region.  Due to the composition of our region, data collection was the most time consuming part in completing these inventories.


How has ICLEI’s ClearPath tool helped inform decision making around emissions accounting?

Using the ClearPath tool allows analysts, planners, and policy makers to understand local emission sources and activities and make informed decisions on how to set targets for the future.  In the case of the metropolitan Washington region, emissions targets and possible strategies to reach these targets were adopted by member jurisdictions and policy committees prior to the use of the ClearPath tool.  The results of using ClearPath show the region met its first reduction target and will help regional stakeholders evaluate the next steps in emissions reduction as we kick-off the update of our Regional Climate and Energy Action Plan in May 2016.


What story is the region trying to tell with the data generated in ClearPath? 

The region has met its first regional GHG emission reduction goal of 10 percent below business as usual projections by 2012 (back down to 2005 levels). Despite population growth, overall and per capita emissions decreased across the region. The results also illustrate the sectors and activities that account for the majority of emissions, allowing government agencies to strategize and work together on addressing these issues. In order to achieve the 20 percent by 2020 target, the region must work collaboratively on energy efficiency and deploying more efficient, renewable sources that will emit fewer GHGs from electricity production.  The ClearPath data was published in a regional GHG inventory and will be used to inform emissions policy and planning to meet the region’s Climate and Energy Action Plan going forward.


What do you like the most about using ClearPath?

ClearPath is very user-friendly and provides information and guidance for each input and calculator.  The tool allows for quick and easy entry, and adjusts to the data limitations of the user; providing options for emissions calculations based on available data.  ClearPath also creates helpful reports, highlighting different aspects of the emissions data and illustrating and summarizing results in easy-to-understand figures.  The ICLEI staff is very accessible and helpful in providing quick technical guidance with the ClearPath tool as well as policy guidance on the ICLEI Protocol.


Do you have any advice to others starting to use ClearPath?

ClearPath is fast and straightforward for generating emissions calculations. The ClearPath tool offers default settings with national averages for the many data inputs and background emissions factors. When using this tool, MWCOG found it beneficial to collect data inputs specific to the metropolitan Washington region so that the emissions calculators produce results that reflect the emissions more specifically for the region.


What is an example of a successful climate mitigation initiative in your region?

In 2009, the region had fewer than 500 distributed renewable energy systems, accounting for less than 4 MW of capacity.  CEEPC members set a goal of 5,000 grid-connected systems by 2016, which the region has surpassed, boasting more than 7,300 systems with over 79 MW of capacity in 2015.  One of the strategies that has been most successful for helping the region achieve this goal is a collaborative public sector solar procurement initiative. MWCOG partnered with the US Environmental Protection Agency and public agencies across the region to assess solar potential at 170 public facilities to lay the groundwork for bulk public sector solar procurements. Thus far, the effort has resulted in procurement of more than 28 MW of solar in the region.


Steve Walz

Director Environmental Program

Metro Washington Council of Governments