When Kira Roberts moved to Juneau, Alaska, last summer, she quickly noticed how the town of 31,000 changed every morning when cruise ships docked. Thousands of people flock to her, but she disappears in the evening. As the season winds down in the fall, the bus parade through her neighborhood slows and the trails near her home and the vast Mendenhall Glacier become less crowded with tourists.
“Juno’s unique rhythm is so impressive,” she said. “It’s kind of crazy to think this is less than a mile from my house.”
But Mendenhall is shrinking rapidly: the 13-mile-long glacier has retreated Approximately 1 mile in the past 40 years. To bring all of the roughly 1.5 million tourists to Juneau this summer on cruise ships alone will require burning the very thing that is contributing to its retreat: fossil fuels.
In an effort to reduce some of that carbon, some people who go whale watching or visiting glaciers are being asked to pay a few dollars to reduce their emissions. This money will go to the Alaska Carbon Reduction Fund, but instead of buying credits from some organization. Far-flung (and questionable) offset projectsthe nonprofit will spend the cash installing heat pumps, targeting residents like Roberts who rely on oil-fired heating systems.
In Juneau, heat pumps are a “no-brainer” Mild (for Alaska) wintersaid Andy Romanoff, who manages the fund.Juneau’s power grid relies on emissions-free hydroelectric power, so electricity is Cheap and less polluting than oil heat.they too save residents money– Roberts says she pays about $500 a month for heating oil, but her electric bill has only gone up by $30.
“The economic difference is huge,” she said
Programs from Monterey, California, to Lancaster, Pennsylvania, are attempting to use similar models to fund local renewable energy and energy efficiency projects, and carbon offsets for flights and other activities are It’s nothing new. However, most of the voluntary markets for such Operated by large corporations that support projects far away. Juneau’s foundation hopes to capitalize on the tremendous tourist interest in its backyard.
The program, which until recently was called the Juneau Carbon Offset Fund, was announced in 2019 by members of the advocacy group Renewable Juneau, which aims to meet 80 percent of the city’s energy needs with renewable energy by 2045. It started when we were discussing ways to help Juneau achieve its goals. Romanoff said existing heat pump programs are only yielding “low hanging fruit” – people who have the money and are willing to switch solely because of climate change. The company envisioned the fund as a way to bring the device and the fossil fuel savings it brings to more residents.
Romanoff, who is also executive director of the nonprofit Alaska Heat Smart, acknowledges that carbon offsets have suffered some reputational damage in recent years, but said he hopes the foundation will focus on heat pumps and work locally. We believe that this will bring transparency and accountability. “This is a carbon cost that people can actually relate to and understand,” he says.
Many voluntary offset projects overestimate the emissions they prevent, in some cases by a factor of five to 10, said Dr. Barbara Haya, director of the Berkeley Carbon Trading Project. “Project developers are making methodological choices that give them more credit rather than less,” she said, noting that those who test claims tend to be more conservative when there is uncertainty. We do not force estimates.
The Alaska Carbon Reduction Fund uses three years of utility bills to determine how much oil a recipient was burning before installing a heat pump. With 41 installations paid for on average at $7,000 since 2019, the device is estimated to prevent 3,125 tons of carbon dioxide emissions over its 15-year lifespan. those calculationsAdd in subsidies from non-tourism donations and the carbon price becomes $46 per tonne.
This is more expensive than many voluntary credits, but as Haya says, it results in higher quality projects. “That seems like a real mitigation cost,” she said. The more fundamental issue is proving that offset projects did not happen in isolation, Haya said.
Romanoff believes their project meets that criteria because the heat pumps will serve residents making less than 80 percent of the local median income. One of the first recipients, Gari Konstantin, was living in a much lower standard of living than when the system was installed. In the three years since, Constantine has become an evangelist for this technology. One of his reasons for this is that he will no longer be spending $300 a month on firewood, and instead his electricity bill will increase by $50 a month.
“I don’t understand why these things don’t spread like wildfire,” he said.
Romanoff said the fund has $150,000 in the bank, but there are limits to how quickly it can move. There is a nationwide shortage of installers.. Most of these donations come from nearby gold mines, but regional travel company Allen Marine began marketing the funds to passengers this summer, offering opt-in donations when booking online. Travis Mingo, vice president of operations, said the company sees the fund as an opportunity to “give back to the communities in which we operate.” As part of the partnership, the Carbon Reduction Fund has agreed to begin funding heat pumps at other Allen Marine destinations, including Ketchikan and Sitka.
Wild Coast Excursions, a much smaller company, includes an offset in its prices. After owner Peter Nave’s plans for a summer trip to local ski mountains fell through, he turned to bear-watching and alpine hiking trips, some of which are so far away that they require a helicopter ride. Climate change is particularly salient to Naveh, a Juneau native who has seen Mendenhall’s dramatic changes up close and worked as an avalanche forecaster for the state. He covers his 125 percent of the climate impact from these trips and calls his company “carbon negative.” He estimates that it will ultimately amount to about 1 percent of each tour’s price. In his mind, it’s just the cost of doing business.
“I rationalized that if I could offset more money than I spent, I might feel a little more comfortable trying. [the helicopter] It’s a strategy,” he said.
He’s generally skeptical of offsets, but the specificity of this program made a difference. “I know heat pumps work, my friends use heat pumps, and people I know have installed them, so I can see the savings happening,” he said. Ta.
But Wild Coast Excursions’ contribution to the carbon reduction fund in the first year is unlikely to cover even one heat pump.include cruise ship or major airlines Participation in the program would further reduce Juneau’s emissions significantly. Romanoff said the organization had initial discussions with local representatives from major cruise lines, but was told it would not participate unless the fund would benefit Juneau only and the offsets would not be verified by a third party. It is said that
The Alaska Carbon Reduction Fund began a review with Verra, the world’s largest certifier of voluntary credits by volume, but halted the effort due to cost and its own discomfort. against negative press. “With that money, he could install five heat pumps or he could install six heat pumps,” Romanoff said.
Laney Downs, spokeswoman for the Cruise Lines International Association of Alaska, said offsets are one of the tools cruise lines consider on a “case-by-case basis” to meet their emissions goals.
Carnival Corp., which owns three cruise lines operating in Alaska, said it would only consider carbon offsets if energy efficiency options are exhausted. Two other major cruise lines that regularly call in Juneau did not respond to requests for comment, but do list offset purchases in their annual sustainability reports.
The city charges cruise lines a per-passenger fee, but that revenue can only be used for specific projects in the port area. Alexandra Pearce, tourism manager for the city of Juneau, said the city has “never formally proposed an emissions fee” for cruise ships, but said the city has “never formally proposed an emissions fee” for cruise ships, but said the city would encourage cruise ships to reduce emissions and stop idling emissions. He pointed out that the industry is involved in efforts to introduce equivalent offshore power. .
Allen Marine has “initiated discussions” about including offset fees on tours sold through cruise lines. “As we move forward with contract renewals, the amount of money we actually receive under this program will snowball,” Mingo said. But in the end, a large part of tourism emissions, namely cruise emissions, remains unknown.
Romanoff receives several emails a year from people in other parts of Alaska and the Lower 48 who are interested in starting their own offset funds. He believes his organization’s model can be replicated in places where there are plenty of kerosene heating systems to replace. That said, carbon prices based on replacing heat with gas may be too high for most people, he said.
But he believes that if there is a “swell” of support from small businesses in Alaska’s financial market, it could bring about a big change in cruise ship sailing. “I think once you build the arsenal to a certain scale, that becomes pretty clear,” he said.
This article was first published grist in https://grist.org/energy/in-juneau-alaska-a-carbon-offset-project-thats-actually-working/. Grist is a nonprofit, independent media organization dedicated to telling the stories of climate solutions and a just future.Learn more about Grist.org