August 24, 2022

New Climate Law Provides Boost to Sustainable Princeton Initiatives

By Donald Gilpin

The largest investment to combat climate change in the history of the United States passed Congress and was signed into law last week, bringing with it initiatives to help cut carbon emissions, increase the use of electric vehicles, boost the use of solar and wind power, and speed the development of newer, cleaner energy sources.

“The bill really helps communities like Princeton accelerate their efforts to pursue their mission in our built environment and in the transportation sector,” said Christine Symington, executive director of Sustainable Princeton.

A Sustainable Princeton press release pointed out that the landmark bill, the Inflation Reduction Act, offers a variety of incentives to help consumers reduce energy and utility bills, including incentives for electric and other energy-efficient appliances, clean vehicles, and rooftop solar panels. It also prioritizes lower-income households and disadvantaged communities.

The release highlighted the areas of electrification of building energy systems; increasing the adoption of low-carbon, on-site power generation; and expanding access to zero-emission vehicles as three specific elements of the bill that will help Princeton to meet the goals of its Climate Action Plan, which was adopted in 2019. Princeton has set the target of an 80 percent reduction in emissions by 2050.

“This bill is going to make it so much easier to achieve the goals that the community has for reducing our emissions in order to avoid the worst effects of climate change,” added Symington.

Sustainable Princeton has already been fielding many questions from residents about the effects of the bill and the best ways to take advantage of the opportunities it offers. “We’ve gotten a lot of questions like ‘OK, I want to make a decision about an electric vehicle. What do I need to do to take advantage of these new incentives?’” she said. “There’s a lot of excitement about the funding for energy-efficiency programs, and this is exciting for us because part of our mission is to promote these types of changes and now we’ll have more ability to do that. And hopefully there will be a lot more information coming forth that we can take and translate for our community and explain why this matters.”

Helping Princeton residents to navigate the complexities of the new bill and to figure out how to take advantage of the available funding is a priority for Sustainable Princeton.

“One of the biggest sources of emissions in our community is our buildings, commercial buildings and homes,” said Symington. “This bill is going to make it so much more affordable to implement different types of energy efficiency, renewable energy, and electrification of our buildings and transportation.”

Symington emphasized the new bill’s focus on environmental justice, with more funding for the types of programs offered by the state for low and moderate income households. “As more information about the bill becomes available, Sustainable Princeton can help homeowners access energy efficiency programs,” she said. “We want to team up with community partners in working with lower income families to take advantage of these programs.”

In describing this new legislation as “really big,” “an attitude changer,” and “a game changer,” Symington discussed some of the particular changes that residents should soon begin to notice.
“We should start to see lower energy bills,” she said. “I think we’re going to see rapid adoption of electric vehicles, not just passenger vehicles but also heavy-duty vehicles.” She went on to urge Princeton residents not just to replace every vehicle with an electric vehicle but to focus on reducing dependency on vehicles entirely and for communities to make it easier for people to get around without needing cars.

She also noted that new affordable housing developments are going to be built “with high efficiency standards to reduce the energy burdens on homeowners and tenants.”

As of last week, the path forward looks more promising than ever for Sustainable Princeton and its Climate Action Plan, and Princeton has some advantages in the battle to turn back climate change.

“We’re fortunate to have a lot of community groups and individuals who care about these issues,” said Symington. “Our task is to help the community take advantage of what’s in this bill as quickly as possible.”