Charlottesville pledges to become carbon neutral by 2050

Dominion's Chesterfield Power Station, the largest fossil-fuel powered plant in Virginia. (NBC 12)

The Charlottesville City Council took aggressive action Monday night to curb greenhouse gas emissions, becoming Virginia’s first locality to set a target of carbon neutrality by 2050.

The resolution, reported by the Daily Progress, followed on the heels of the council’s June 2017 commitment to the Global Covenant of Mayors for Climate & Energy, which seeks to slow climate change through voluntary measures by cities to reduce emissions in line with the Paris Climate Agreement.

Other Virginia cities, including Richmond and Alexandria, have also pledged to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions, and Arlington County’s Board of Supervisors last week directed county staff to prepare a plan to achieve zero emissions by 2050.

Charlottesville, however, is the first locality to approve a goal of becoming carbon neutral, a term that can refer to either the elimination of greenhouse gas emissions entirely or a situation in which a locality successfully offsets its emissions with mitigation efforts such that its carbon footprint is zero.

A staff report to the City Council admits that “a precise path from the City’s 2016 emissions inventory to carbon neutrality in 2050 is not currently clear.”

Compared to other localities in Virginia, Charlottesville’s greenhouse gas emissions are relatively low and have been decreasing since 2000. According to the Environmental Protection Agency’s Greenhouse Gas Inventory, which includes data through 2017, the largest single source of greenhouse gas emissions in the city is the University of Virginia, which in 2017 produced almost 82,000 metric tons of carbon dioxide equivalents.

That figure is dwarfed by emissions from the state’s 10-largest producers of greenhouse gases, nine of which are power plants. (The 10th is Buchanan Mine No. 1 in Raven, Va.) The largest emitter, the Chesterfield Power Station, put forth more than 4.5 million metric tons of greenhouse gases in 2017.

FacilityLocationTotal reported emissions (metric tons)Sector
Virginia City Hybrid Energy CenterWise County2,977,186Power Plants
Brunswick County Power StationBrunswick County3,073,868Power Plants
Warren County Power StationWarren County3,311,577Power Plants
Clover Power StationHalifax County3,393,359Power Plants
Chesterfield Power StationChesterfield County4,554,679Power Plants
Data from EPA's U.S. Greenhouse Gas Inventory, "2017 Greenhouse Gas Emissions from Large Facilities."


Notably, the data does not include emissions related to transportation, which accounts for just under half of Virginia’s overall greenhouse gas emissions.

While more high-profile initiatives to reduce emissions like the Mayors Covenant have focused on city action, all of Virginia’s largest point source emitters are in counties, which in the commonwealth — unusual among the United States — are politically and administratively separate from cities.

According to Virginia Association of Counties spokesman Gage Harter, the organization, which represents the interests of the state’s counties, “supports renewable energy policies and energy efficiency measures that reduce greenhouse gas emissions and lessen dependence upon foreign sources of energy.”