Howard County, MD's Climate Action Contribution
About Howard County, MD's Climate Efforts
Howard County first developed a comprehensive greenhouse gas emission inventory and a Climate Action Plan in 2010. The inventory measured greenhouse gas emissions for both County government operations and the community. The reduction targets were met and in 2015, Howard County updated the Climate Action Plan and set new targets.
In 2023, Howard County developed a comprehensive, county wide Climate Forward Plan that is science based and focused on immediate and practical action. This plan utilizes local insight, interviews, and surveys to understand and address Howard County's greatest climate needs and vulnerabilities.
Mitigation strategies within this plan address Energy, Transportation, Waste, and Nature Based Climate Solutions, while resiliency strategies address Emergency Preparedness and Ecosystem Services.
Following targets set by the National Climate Task Force, Howard County's 2023 Climate Forward Plan has set goals to achieve 60% reduction from 2005 greenhouse gas emissions levels and net zero emissions by 2045.
Howard County has already made great strides toward these goals and has plans for new projects to further reduce its carbon footprint.
Howard County currently has solar energy generation at seven facilities: Robinson Nature Center (rooftop), Miller Branch Library (rooftop), East Columbia Library (rooftop), New Cut Road retired landfill (2,000 ground mount solar panels that supply 90 percent of the power to Worthington Elementary School), George Howard Building (solar powered light poles for electric vehicle charging), District Court (rooftop), and Little Patuxent Water Reclamation Plant (solar canopies over the parking lot).
Howard County is also home to Maryland’s largest Solar Power Purchase Agreement (PPA), in which multiple power needs are being met while keeping the cost of electricity down – even saving $1.5 million from its already low group purchase rate across the project’s 25-year lifespan. This is achieved through the aggregation of rooftop, parking lot, and ground mounted projects into one agreement.
When complete, the combined projects will generate a monumental 44 million kilowatt-hours of electricity each year. This will provide at least 60 percent of the County government’s electricity usage and provides a GHG emissions equivalent of taking nearly 7,000 cars off the road.
Howard County employs three full-size electric buses in the Howard Transit fleet for the most heavily used bus lines in and around Columbia. The buses are powered by an inductive charger that provides energy to the bus batteries through electromagnetic induction, allowing the batteries to re-energize without having to be plugged in. Howard County received funds in 2020 through the Maryland Department of the Environment to replace an additional three old buses with upgraded “clean diesel”, which reduces significant air pollutants (NOx and particulate matter) and the greenhouse gas carbon dioxide by over 90%. To date, the county fleet has 22 all-electric vehicles and over 250 hybrid vehicles that help reduce county government emissions.
By 2024, Howard County will reduce petroleum fuel consumption in its fleet by 20 percent. The County will accomplish this by improving the average fuel economy of its fleet, including through right-sizing vehicles for the functions performed and increasing the number of electric and hybrid electric vehicles in the fleet. By 2020, Howard County will add 44 new hybrid electric police vehicles to the fleet. They also aim to accomplish this by reducing unnecessary idling, and reducing the use of take-home vehicles.
ENERGY EFFICIENT GOVERNMENT
Howard County is committed to maximizing the efficiency of local government operations. Howard County has converted traffic lights at 85 intersections and approximately 2,000 streetlights to LED. In January 2021, Howard County began its goal of switching 10,000 streetlight bulbs for LEDs – an effort that would result in a reduction of electricity use by over 225,000 kWh per year and a reduction of GHG emissions by 3,045 metric tons over the project’s life. To date, the County has converted 100% of its street lights and traffic lights to LEDs!
Under an energy performance contract, Howard County implemented $13 million of energy-saving and comfort-enhancing capital improvements in more than 65 buildings without any capital investment by the County. The project is expected to reduce energy use in those buildings by 34 percent for a guaranteed cost savings of $900,000 each year. These annual savings are used to cover the costs of the improvements over fifteen years.
Howard County currently offers free electric vehicle charging at several County facilities. In addition, Howard County is actively pursuing installation of new electric vehicle charging stations on County facilities to enhance the existing EV infrastructure for County and personal vehicles. Howard County has added 62 new public charging stations since 2019 and is adding more as new construction occurs.
Starting in January 2019, new home construction in Howard County is required to be “EV-Ready”, meaning that it will include infrastructure for plug-in electric vehicles (EVs). Installing EV infrastructure during construction is much more cost-effective than adding it later, when new wiring is needed or the existing pavement might have to be dug up. Howard County is the first jurisdiction in Maryland and one of the first in the U.S. to require that new residential construction with driveways or garages have the electric wiring to enable EV charging. In an even more innovative move, the County required that multi-family residential buildings will be required to provide one EV charging station for every twenty-five residential units, allowing apartment, townhome, and condominium owners and renters the opportunity to charge EVs at home.
WALKING, CYCLING, AND PUBLIC TRANSIT
Howard County is committed to increasing the efficiency and effectiveness of public transportation services, walking, and bicycling in and around Howard County and to ensure that connectivity is front and center in land use planning and site development. The County provides fixed route bus and paratransit services through the Regional Transportation Authority. The County also is evaluating the implementation of a Bus Rapid Transit system. BikeHoward, the Howard County Bicycle Master Plan, provides guidance for improvements for transportation and recreational bicycling, including recommendations for infrastructure improvements, policy, and programs. The County's goal is to provide an integrated 48-mile network of bicycle infrastructure. A similar program, Walk Howard, works toward improving walkability in the County.
Howard County is a leader in green building. Under Howard County’s Green Building law, new publicly funded buildings that are larger than 10,000 square feet must attain a Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) Silver rating. New privately funded buildings larger than 50,000 square feet must attain a LEED Certified rating. Several Howard County government buildings are LEED certified, including:
• Robinson Nature Center, LEED Platinum
• North Laurel Community Center, LEED Silver
• George Howard Building, LEED Silver
• Charles E. Miller Library, LEED Gold
Howard County also provides tax credits for High Performance Buildings. Qualifying commercial and residential buildings receive tax credits when the buildings are built to certain LEED and equivalent standards. In addition, Howard County’s unique and voluntary Green Neighborhood Program provides allocations for the design and construction of homes meeting specific environmentally-focused criteria. These developments can use this certification in marketing their communities and may also qualify for fast track plan processing.
FOOD PRODUCTION, PROCUREMENT, AND COMPOSTING
Howard County’s Roving Radish program promotes healthy eating and supports local farms by buying produce and protein from local farms and using those ingredients to create low-cost meal kits for sale to the public. The meal kits are offered seasonally (May through November) at a discounted price to those in need. The County also promotes local farmers markets, Community Supported Agriculture (CSAs), roadside farm stands, and pick-your-own farms. The County also provides a certification – HoCo Fresh – to local restaurants and other businesses that purchase locally-grown food.
Feed the Green Bin is another program offered to county residents that allows for residential curbside food scrap pick-up in several collection zones in Howard County. This program helps divert compostable waste in Howard County that could be used to make valuable products. Starting in November of 2023, the County will expand this program to an additional 7,860 homes!
NATURAL AND WORKING LANDS
Howard County understands the importance of natural and working lands for healthy human and wildlife populations, a resilient community, and carbon sequestration. Howard County preserves and enhances natural and working lands through numerous policies, incentive programs, education, community engagement, and restoration efforts. Since 1978, Howard County has been protecting farmland through the Agricultural Land Preservation Program by purchasing agricultural preservation easements and dedicating agricultural preservation parcels in the County’s zoning regulations. Using these tools, the County has preserved over 20,000 acres of farmland. Howard County’s Green Infrastructure Network maps the most ecologically valuable forests, wetlands, meadows, waterways, and other natural areas as well as the lands that connect them together. Howard County’s Green Infrastructure Network Plan enables planners to consider important natural resources when preparing planning documents, making decisions about zoning and development proposals, acquiring land for parks and public facilities, and obtaining agricultural, environmental and other land preservation easements. Howard County’s Stream ReLeaf and Turf to Trees programs provide trees and planting services to property owners, resulting in thousands of new trees planted. Howard County’s stormwater programs provide funding and technical assistance to property owners to install or retrofit stormwater management practices, which both filter water and sequester carbon.
Climate Action Commitments
Current Climate Actions Howard County, MD Is Taking:
Purchase renewable power or build on-site renewable electricity to run local government needs
Powering your own operations with renewable electricity or using local government buildings and land to site solar PV panels is within the decision-making authority of most localities and can be a model to your community.
Replace fleet vehicles and buses that run on fossil fuels with vehicles that run on electricity
Electric fleet vehicles, especially buses, have a range of benefits that make them an excellent investment for local government use. Cities are coming together to spur innovation amongst manufacturers and use their collective purchasing power to drive down cost.
Increase energy efficiency of local government operations, such as buildings, street lighting, and water or wastewater plants
Energy efficiency is the best way to save taxpayer money and cut climate pollution right now. The average building wastes about a third of the energy it uses. Consider implementing a strategic energy management plan for all major operations.
Work with energy utilities to increase renewable energy provided to residents and businesses
Going beyond the local government’s own operations to make renewable energy available to your community is a challenging, but critical step that means working with utilities, state government, and your residents. Clean, renewable bring with them better air, predictable, increasingly lower customer pricing, and local job deployment opportunities.
Adopt policies that accelerate the transition to electric vehicles for commercial fleets and personal vehicles
Electric vehicles for personal and commercial use are, along with automation, a major trend coming to scale quickly. The proper infrastructure to support EVs will be critical to capture their benefits. Consider partnership with the largest local commercial fleet operators to pilot new ideas.
Increase rates of walking, cycling and public transit through means accessible to all residents
In many communities, the transportation sector is the largest share of their pollution and getting people to use alternative modes of transit to the personal vehicle comes with a myriad of benefits, not only cutting greenhouse gases.
Adopt policies to reduce carbon footprint of new and/or existing buildings
Building electricity, heating, and cooling at the community-scale is, with transportation, the other major source of carbon emissions. Strategies will vary between single-family homes, multi-family residential housing, and commercial buildings. Conducting energy audits and using benchmarking is an excellent tool to drive efficiency. Incentive programs for energy upgrades can be done effectively the more buildings that participate.
Promote practices that reduce the carbon footprint of food procurement and consumption and prevent food waste
Food is often overlooked as a source of greenhouse gas pollution. What it takes to produce, how far is travels to get to consumers and what’s done with food that’s not eaten all lead to major carbon pollution. Producing more food locally, running programs with restaurants and institutions to reduce food waste, and cutting back on carbon intense foods such as meat and poultry are important steps.
Set a goal for emissions reduction equal to or greater than the US goal under the Paris Climate Agreement (26-28% by 2025)
We all know the best way to measure, and actually achieve success, is to set a goal. Making that goal inline with or stronger than the U.S. nationally determined contribution under Paris signals that local governments are doing their part. Hundreds of cities and counties across the U.S. see an emissions reduction target of this level ambitious but doable.
Commit to the Natural and Working Lands Challenge
The natural systems upon which we depend are essential to life and critical for reducing the impacts of climate change on our communities. These systems are also under threat from human activity and climate change. Maintaining the resilience of natural and working lands is an important part of any GHG emission reduction strategy. It is also important to securing the well-being of communities, economies and ecosystems. Actions that secure and enhance the “carbon base,” such as land conservation, restoration, and improved management, also support watersheds and food systems, improve air quality, protect against urban heat islands and sea level rise, and preserve the beauty and function of natural areas and parks. Those that accept the NWL Challenge should commit to securing natural and working lands as a resilient net sink of carbon. This will take different forms for different actors. For example, local, sub-national and national jurisdictions might take a broad approach like that of the U.S. Climate Alliance. Landowners and managers may wish to focus on restoration and implementing climate-smart practices on their own lands. Businesses may look at their supply chains and customers as potential partners, and incorporate natural and working goals into their own climate change commitments and strategies.
The U.S. Climate Alliance States commit to taking actions that will reduce GHG emissions and increase carbon sequestration in forests, farms, rangelands, wetlands and urban greenspace, and integrating these pathways into state GHG mitigation plans by 2020. The Natural and Working Lands Challenge calls on other states, cities, nations, tribes, businesses and others to make the same commitment within their organizations. Feel free to elaborate on your work towards this challenge, along with your other efforts, in the "Other Commitments" field below.
New Climate Actions Howard County, MD Commits To Take:
Commit to Reduce Short-lived Climate Pollutant Emissions
Short-lived climate pollutants—such as black carbon, methane, tropospheric ozone, and hydrofluorocarbons—are powerful climate warmers many times more potent than CO2 over their lifetimes. Because they are short-lived in the atmosphere, actions to reduce these super pollutants can have substantial, near-term climate, agricultural and health benefits and are an essential complement to CO2 reduction strategies. Policy-makers can announce regulatory or voluntary approaches to drastically reduce SLCPs, such as developing methane strategies or adopting rules on use of warming HFCs. Organizations can commit to engage with suppliers to provide training, conduct pollutant inventories, and establish systems for tracking, measuring, and monitoring these types of emissions. Analysis shows that SLCP emissions can be cost-effectively reduced by an estimated 40-50 percent by 2030.
Policymakers, companies and organizations are encouraged to accept the #SLCPChallenge of the U.S. Climate Alliance, which calls for ambitious action on SLCPs. Feel free to elaborate on your work towards reduction, along with your other efforts, in the "Other Commitments" field below.
Give all residents in my community, especially those underrepresented or of marginalized groups, a voice in setting policy and action plans
Plans, strategies, and their implementation should include the input and priorities of the community. Having your residents’ support and involvement will lead to better long term solutions. Simply holding an open public hearing is not sufficient for the inclusion of all residents. Many methods exist for successful community engagement.
Use strategies building resilience to threats of climate change in zoning, capital improvement, comprehensive planning, and hazard mitigation documents
One of the most important things local governments can do when it comes to addressing climate change is to prepare for its effects--severe storms, drought, flooding, heat waves and more. Local government is already pledged to provide for the health and safety of their residents from these hazards. Climate change will make them worse and understanding and accounting for what’s to come in existing official documents is part of that responsibility.
Areas For Collaboration
We are interested in collaborating on the following:
- Encouraging more aggressive state energy efficiency policies
- Aggregating demand for electric vehicles with other actors
- Encouraging more aggressive state targets for electric vehicles and GHG standards
- Promoting increased charging infrastructure
HFC Phase Down
- Promoting greater participation in voluntary programs to phase out HFCs
- Collaborate on climate and clean energy action, and to advocate for stronger climate policy at the local level
- Encouraging states to adopt incentive programs for forest management, tree cover expansion, and soil health
- Aggregating demand for renewable energy with other actors
- Encouraging more aggressive state renewable energy policies
- Supporting states, cities, and utilities in decarbonizing their energy supply
With a total land area of 160,640 acres, Howard is the second smallest county in Maryland. According to the Maryland Extension Service, 90 percent of the county is in the Piedmont Plateau (gently rolling hills) and 10 percent is in the Atlantic Coastal Plain (sandy soils). Altitude ranges from 20 feet to 875 feet above sea level. Precipitation averages 43.4 inches per year.
Howard County has six regional parks, 24 community parks, five lakes, and over 200 miles of walking, hiking, and biking trails.