Pittsburgh’s City Planning, Sustainability and Resilience team is working to reach renewable energy for city facilities, energy use reduction, and zero waste by 2030
by Dan Gigler
March 20, 2023
It’s among the most fundamental and essential — if frankly unexciting — of any municipality’s services: trash collection. It’s an important, dirty job, done in diesel-belching trucks and tends to only attract notice when something goes wrong.
Given that, it’s hard to underscore the feelings Assistant Director, City Planning, Sustainability and Resilience for the City of Pittsburgh Rebecca Kiernan has about the eight new electric-powered recycling “packers” or trucks to the city’s fleet.
“That's a touch point that we have with every single person in the city at least [every other] week. It's really exciting,” she said. “I'm hoping to see more big, big decarbonisation projects like that, where we have a really dirty diesel fleet, or a building that's in really bad shape, and we're able to transform it into something cleaner.”
Kiernan and her team have been working for a decade to develop plans to make the city a leaner, more environmentally and economically efficient body. They’re finally seeing returns on their investment of time and energy, thanks to an influx of federal funds to the tune of $335 million from the American Rescue Plan Act.
ARPA money will underwrite the new electric trash trucks, and there will be a new place for them to be charged at the City’s vehicle fleet parking lot along Second Avenue between Downtown and Hazelwood.
“We're working on a project with Duquesne Light and the parking authority — a large solar installation,” she explained. “The Duquesne Light grid reliability team is bringing a three megawatt battery to the parking lot. So [even] if the grid goes down, if we have a lights out event it would allow the parking lot to keep being powered. And we'll be installing electric vehicle charging for the fleet and for public charging.”
In addition there will be a 1.2 megawatt solar installation, which could feed other buildings Downtown within the radius through something called net metering.
“That, plus the battery, plus the charging is really exciting.”
For Kiernan and her colleagues, initiatives like these are years in the making.
“We have a broad citywide view of sustainability and resilience initiatives,” she said, referring to guiding documents like the city’s Climate Action Plan, which is updated every five years. The last one was adopted in 2019 by city council and will be updated again next year. Also, the One PGH resilience strategy, developed in 2017 and 2018.
“We have a series of 2030 goals that we're working towards. Things like renewable energy for city facilities, energy use reduction and for city facilities, zero waste by 2030.”
“We have a goal to do 50 percent energy use reduction in our facilities. It includes 40,000 streetlights the city owns. We've been [working] for a number of years to retrofit the streetlights to LED. But they'll also be dark skies compliant, which is better for flora and fauna.
Other projects include stormwater management, a composting pilot program, repurposing organic waste from the city’s forestry division, and further development of greenways in Hazelwood, Seldom Seen and Spring Hill.
“We have a lot of really great forward thinking plans and now there's federal funding for it. We can't lose that opportunity, which is why we're gonna be hyper-focused on that on trying to take advantage of all that federal funding … in the most efficient way for all things that we really need money for … across departments, [and] prioritize for what we're going to apply for, so that we're [getting] bang for our buck.”