The cities of Portland and South Portland released a joint climate action report Wednesday that aims to have all new buildings powered by renewable energy within the next 12 years, drastically reduce carbon emissions for existing buildings and eliminate virtually all waste in the next 30 years.

The nearly 300-page draft report establishes several other climate goals and strategies for achieving them by 2050.

Portland’s Sustainability and Transportation Committee endorsed the plan Wednesday and sent it to the full City Council for a workshop, while South Portland’s City Council will discuss it on Sept. 26. Both councils will be asked to formally adopt the plan, according to a news release.

The action plan comes as wildfires continue to rage in the western U.S. – the smoke from the fires has been seen on the East Coast, including in Maine, and as far away as Europe. The dry conditions and heavy winds that are fueling the blaze have been intensified by a changing climate, scientists say. In addition, the latest hurricane in an unusually active hurricane season slammed into the Gulf Coast this week. And, in Maine, the entire state is experiencing drought conditions, which also is consistent with the changes scientists have predicted as the climate warms.

The plan also dovetails with the climate goals of Gov. Janet Mills. Last year, Mills created the Maine Climate Council, which is charged with reducing greenhouse emissions by 45 percent by 2030 and 80 percent by 2050; doubling the state’s renewable energy portfolio to 80 percent by 2030 and reaching 100 percent by 2050; creating incentives for energy efficient heating; and creating new solar incentives.

Citing strong community connections such as sharing Portland Harbor and the exchange of commuters, Portland and South Portland embarked on the joint planning effort in June 2019, with the goal of ensuring that 30 years from now residents of both cities will experience the same quality of life in the face of rising seas, more intense storms and other climate change threats, according to an introduction signed by both mayors.

Both communities declared a climate emergency last November in response to pleas from youth climate activists and set goals for both municipalities to completely operate on renewable energy by 2040 and reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 80 percent from 2017 levels by 2050.

“(The plan) recognizes that our efforts to address climate change will have more impact if we coordinate our actions and speak in unison at the state and federal levels for policies that we will need to make our work successful,” the mayors wrote. “Adoption of this plan signals our resolve to act, despite the many challenges we face now and will continue to face in the coming decades.”

The plan, drafted over the last year with extensive public input, includes nearly 70 strategies that entail local, regional and state actions across four areas: buildings and energy; transportation and land use; water reduction; and climate resilience.

It also highlights how changes implemented to protect public health during the coronavirus pandemic have proven the feasibility of several climate strategies, including the closure of city streets to encourage more use by pedestrians and to expand outdoor dining and common areas, and the ability for many companies to work remotely, which reduces traffic congestion and vehicle emissions.

According to the report, 34 percent of greenhouse emissions in Portland in 2017 came from commercial buildings, 30 percent came from vehicles, 22 percent from homes and 10 percent from industrial buildings. In South Portland, 32 percent of emissions came from vehicles, 24 percent from industrial buildings, 23 from commercial buildings and 19 from homes.

On a per capita basis, South Portland emits 13.8 metric tons of carbon dioxide per resident and Portland emits 12.6 metric tons, compared to the national average of 20.7 metric tons, the report says.

City Councilor Spencer Thibodeau said he hopes both communities will take the 298-page report and find a way to make it more accessible to the public, so people can better understand the goals and strategies.

“This is a huge step forward for both of our communities,” Thibodeau said. “We need to dial it down and streamline it so we can achieve these goals.”

The report lays out “six big moves,” which Thibodeau said represent the policy areas that need to be addressed in each community.

Those include stronger sustainability measures in building codes; encouraging higher density housing on transportation corridors and better connecting neighborhoods with trails and public transit; switching to renewable energy sources, such as solar; “growing a circular economy,” which seeks to reuse waste, such as composting organic waste to improve soil health; protecting open spaces and treating polluted storm-water runoff; and fostering more collaboration between municipalities, regions and the state, particularly around data collection and sharing.

Some key milestones include more than doubling the use of public transit and ensuring the city’s housing stock meets the needs of its workforce by 2035; replacing natural gas and oil heat with electric and solar by 2050; reducing organics in the waste stream by 70 percent by 2030; achieving zero waste by 2050; and converting 15 percent of the hard surfaces in the city to a type of surface that can absorb rainwater.

Some of the regional strategies aim to build more robust and better integrated public transportation systems, strong freight transit and linking regional bike networks.

The report notes several sustainability projects already implemented by the cities, including building large scale solar arrays on landfills as well as the use of municipal electric vehicles and creating electric vehicle charging stations in the community. Both communities also have enacted climate plans and bench-marking ordinances that would require larger commercial buildings to track and report energy usage.

“We are immensely proud to launch One Climate Future together,” South Portland Mayor Kate Lewis said in a written statement. “One Climate Future goes beyond climate action and clean energy. It reflects significant goals to improve public health, build a diverse economy, and ensure the vitality of our coastal ecosystems. The progress we make through this plan will positively affect our quality of life into the future.”

Portland’s Sustainability and Transportation Committee heard a presentation about the plan Wednesday night, and all three councilors voiced support and voted to send it to the full City Council. Seven members of the public spoke in support for the plan during the Zoom meeting. They also encouraged the councilors to act as quickly as possible to make these goals a reality.

“Huge buildings are getting built right now,” Maggy Wolf of Portland said. “We can’t wait until 2030.”

Multiple speakers also encouraged the councilors to add staff to work on sustainability issues, not cut employees.

“We need to pony up and put our money where our mouth is,” Elissa Armstrong of Portland said.

Staff Writer Megan Gray contributed to this story.

Related Headlines


Only subscribers are eligible to post comments. Please subscribe or to participate in the conversation. Here’s why.

Use the form below to reset your password. When you've submitted your account email, we will send an email with a reset code.

Kennebec Journal & Morning Sentinel news

Get news and events from your towns in your inbox every Friday.
  • This field is for validation purposes and should be left unchanged.