A Green and Carbon Neutral Formula 1?

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Today's a big day at the Austin city council. It can be a big day for the city of Austin and for Formula 1, too.

Working hard with the potential F1 opportunity has been Council Member Chris Riley, who has been laying groundwork to see that Austin can maximize the economic benefits of the Circuit of the Americas as well as making the Grand Prix as environmentally friendly as possible. Today that work may culminate in a deal between F1 and the city of Austin, should council vote to approve it. The environmental initiative is also co-sponsored by Mayor Leffingwell and Council Member Martinez.

Chris Riley said the following via a press release:

The opportunities here involve both the race itself and the technologies associated with the race. I'm excited to announce today that the U.S. Grand Prix will be carbon neutral and the Local Organizing Committee will support the establishment of a clean tech research and development center. This investment will harness the innovative spirit of F1 racing to strengthen Austin 's position as a leader in the 21st century green economy.

This project shouldn't just be about fast cars. The project offers opportunities to bring our local sustainability efforts to a worldwide stage. Over 500 million people in over one hundred countries watch F1. Austin 's version of the event should convey our commitment to clean technology research and development, and should inspire people across the planet to think green.

Beyond the carbon neutrality, a feat within itself, there's this kicker in the deal (see Item 3, page 5, section E, or below the jump): the local F1 sponsors will raise or invest $5 million dollars in green technology research and development. They will also work with the University of Texas and other colleges to research in green racing and transportation. And Riley convinced F1 to agree to work with the City to seek grant and loan funding from the US Department of Energy. This achievement can be a game changer for Austin and the country. If this deal passes, it will show the world an example of Austin at its best.

Here's a list of other community benefits that Riley has helped negotiate:

  • F1 will purchase carbon offsets to achieve carbon neutrality for emissions associated with all fuel and energy use related to the race
  • At least 50% of these carbon offsets will be local and include extensive tree-planting
  • F1 will create an event recycling and composting program for all major events at site; require food and drink vendors to use recyclable/compostable materials as much as possible
  • F1 will find a partner to help transport attendees to the event that gives preference to low-emissions vehicles
  • F1 will host alternative energy and energy efficient races such as a Go Green Auto Rally and solar-powered vehicle races, as well as bicycle and road races, at the track

The proposal also builds in incentives to move the large-scale events outside of Austin's ozone season-thus helping protect Austin's air quality attainment status.

Riley is, to no surprise, also pushing to have bike lanes put in to help folks get to the track in a sustainable manner as well. Everyone expects that from Chris Riley, but the way his efforts push into greater environmental efforts is truly impressive.

Riley also penned Op-Ed in the Statesman last week  that demonstrates his commitment to making F1 do great environmental things for Austin and mitigate as much negative impact from the race as possible.

When one remembers that F1 is using private money to build on private land they purchased southeast of Austin, one might be inclined to wonder why there has been so much fuss about the coming Grand Prix. The increase in property taxes alone will generate up to $4 million for Del Valle ISD, which is as cash-strapped as any school district in the state. (The property currently generates about $150,000 a year in property taxes, before the $300 million development planned for the site: source.) This can be considered another game changer.

Overall, if the council passes this deal and endorses F1 tomorrow, it will further enhance both the image and the reality of Austin as an international leader. About 520 million viewers across the world watch F1 races. Those spectators will hear about Austin's green values, and that's the sort of attention Austin can be proud of.

Although some, in a knee-jerk reaction, have simplistically rejected the idea of F1 as “Europe's Nascar” and unfit for Austin, Riley is a deeply substantive policy wonk who has spent countless hours working with F1, Public Citizen, Environnmental Defense Fund, and many community activists and interest groups. As a result, he has been instrumental in obtaining for Austin an unprecedented package of pro-environment concessions from the developers. And while Riley has taken the lead, several other council members have worked hard and quietly behind the scenes to make F1 uniquely Austin. The recent Shade-Tovo election pointed out many, many flaws about our municipal politics, but this is city government at its best. City Council will meet at 10 A.M.  


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  1. Amy Everhart on

    Thank you Chris for your leadership
    I know you and your staff have been working around the clock on this environmental agreement, which creates a new standard for major events in the city.

    As you said, we're going to show the world how we do things in Austin.  

  2. cindyflint99 on

    Thank you Council Member Riley
    I for one am proud of your hard work and the benefits, economically and environmentally,  that Austin will receive as a result.

  3. Riley has demonstrated genuine leadership on this one
    While Chris Riley has been accused of not exercising council leadership in the past, his critics cannot say that about what he has done here.  This is a praiseworthy accomplishment.

    But of course I will add my two cents.

    My preference is that this development be built to German PlusEnergy standards.  PlusEnergy is a familiar idea in the German development community, and the folks at Tilke will surely be familiar with it.  You can find out more about it on the Wikipedia page:  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/P

    How about this for an idea:  Austin Energy should work with the developers to not just make the site carbon neutral but Plus Energy.  Facilitate the installation of massive quantities of wind and solar.  And grant the developer the Feed-In tariff.  This sweetens the deal considerably.

    Public utilities of course hate feed-in tariffs; they vigorously fought them in Germany.  But if our public utility is serious about carbon neutrality and meeting its stated efficiency objectives this is where the rubber meets the road.  

    It is this type of out-of-the-box thinking that I wish had been placed on the table.  Hopefully it is not too late.  Something like this would TRULY put Austin's F1 facility on the global map in a positive manner.

    All of that said, I'll settle for LEED Gold status.  This is a project of an international stature, and LEED is an international certification befitting such stature.  But PlusEnergy is the way to go here.

  4. This is a BIG deal.
    $5 million is a lot of funding for green tech R&D, and can go along way to making Austin the world leader in alternative energy vehicles.

    I just think it's so cool that our car-free council member is the person turning a race track into an opportunity to help Austin be a leader in green transportation.

    I look forward to watching the first solar-powered-car races. 🙂

  5. sounds like a win-win
    like I said on FB –  more jobs, carbon-neutral, R&D noney, other races (including my favorite, bike racing!). I hadn't really decided how I felt about F1, but if all this is firm, it puts me on the side of “yes”.

  6. Three Cheers
    It's great that City of Austin has the ability to host a big event with a large economic impact and keep it environmentally friendly. Three cheers for Council Member Riley for his leadership.

  7. Riley is Right On!
    I support Council Member Riley because of his experience and vision on issues that affect me & many other Austinites.

    As the one member on council who doesn't own a car, he has managed to turn a car race into the most sustainable event of its scale and ensure minority participation, local job creation, and significant investments in green tech development.

    We are able to secure good deals like this in Austin because we have elected officials backed by an engaged citizenry who will work very hard to get them. Thank you!

  8. Chris Riley is a rockstar!
    Thank you Chris for creating a win win situation for the city of Austin, and F1.  With the political climate in Texas at an all time low post session, at least Austin can show the world we do things right.

  9. Is This Really Going to Help the Environment?
    I have several real concerns with this idea. I like Chris Riley, I don't think he's acting in bad faith, and it's certainly better to have these proposals than not have anything at all. However, I'm curious how all of you all would address the following:

    1) How many race fans ride bicycles and how does that even matter for this?

    2) How is putting the event outside of our “ozone season” better for our environment? The exact same pollution would occur, just at a different time. Avoiding the non-attainment answers a fiscal concern, but not an environmental one, right?

    3) Many other F1 countries — especially in Europe — are far, far, far greener than Austin, or Texas, or the United States. You all really think Germany is going to look at this and say, “Damn, Austin is greener than we are!” Highly doubtful.

    4) How are the carbon offsets actually going to fix the massive pollution? CO2 stays in the atmosphere for hundreds of years. Planting trees, or buying offsets, isn't going to help in the short-run. Trees process C02 at different rates during their life cycle, so unless the City or F1 is going to stand next to whatever trees are planted to “offset” the pollution, how is that supposed to happen? When a tree burns or decays, it loses all its value. Is F1 going to stand next to all these trees and make sure no wildfire ever touches them, that no storm ever blows them over, etc.? Are we going to set up a tracking mechanism for them? Carbon offsets are good to offset existing pollution, but the idea that, “Hey, let's pollute more and buy trees and purchase offsets elsewhere” is complete crap. Any offsets that are purchased by F1 aren't going to be realized in Austin soon.

    The air in Austin will be more polluted than if F1 was not going to be here, and anyone who says otherwise is full of crap. That remains my main concern, and all the green-washing anyone puts on F1 won't change that.

    I'm opposed to F1. I'm opposed to the state using tax dollars for this. I'm opposed to the idea that it can/will be an “environmentally friendly” race, and I'm disappointed that so many are going to use these concepts as a reason to support what, ultimately, is nothing more than a financial benefit to the city. They're better than nothing, but that doesn't mean the idea, on balance, is still a good one for the city.

    Just call me Marge, and know that I'm opposed to any Simpsons-like monorails in my city.

    • Yup
      Good for Chris Riley for squeezing these concessions, but it hardly makes the project green. A cap of $15,000 for carbon offsets doesn't seem like it would come close to balancing the carbon scales. Maybe they are just considering the fuel burned on the track, and not the 25,000 cars driving there, buses, lights, AC etc. They have to plant 800 trees, but those get credit towards the offset. Pocket change.

      Now, there is a reason there is an attainment issue on ozone, and that is environmental, so deferring the pollution to a time when we aren't already in extreme conditions is a plus. On a global scale, not so much, but locally, yes.

      Bike lanes to a Del Valle racetrack are unlikely to see much use during the event, especially in the heat of summer, but may be useful for the other events held at the track, such as bike or solar races, not to mention commuting. I can't see much demand for foot races on an asphalt track though.

      The 'low-carbon transportation technology incubator' could be a plus, but the language is pretty vague and toothless, so I'll wait to see what happens before giving thumbs up or down.

      The 'good faith effort' to find partners to invest $5 million in onsite green tech is also vague and toothless, but probably winds up funding a bunch of solar panels as rebates and tax deductions will cut the $5 million significantly. They have to get a percentage of their electricity from green sources or GreenChoice, so killing two birds with one stone makes sense here. Nothing wrong with solar panels, just that it's not as sexy as the option of an onsite green tech lab or something like that.

      Better to have these things than come away empty-handed, but I don't share the majority opinion on this thread that this makes everything green and win-win.

    • Some Smart opposition
      I'm for the F1 track, but I want to thank you for giving the most well-reasoned opposition to F1 I have seen. We need these well-reasoned arguments for both sides more often.  

  10. Bravo, Mr. Riley!
    This is a proud day for Austin: green development and the addition of an industry already pushing green and carbon-sensitive measures, and we have an opportunity to influence that industry to become even greener.   Monterey, California has been similarly dealing successfully with green issues in conjunction with a famous racetrack, and Austin has a chance to show California, the motherland of green initiatives, how to do it even better.  Great going, Councilman Riley!

    • Katie Naranjo on

      Finally Demanding a Green F1
      The inevitability of F1 passing has been around for months and yet the council did nothing to really broker an agreement to protect Austin's environmental standards until Chris Riley took a stand.

      Finally when companies are coming to Austin we are demanding that they take our green values into account. Good work to Council Member Riley and the environmental community for all your work.  

      • This is the biggest thing
        I agree with Phillip that our air will probably be dirtier with F1, even if it's not by way of carbon. But Austin is a booming city, and world class businesses will come here whether we encourage it or not.

        So, it's our job to encourage that when they do, they come to town playing our way.  

  11. My biggest problem is the opposition
    from a note I wrote on the bookface earlier today:

    I don't like auto racing and think the F1 thing may, in fact, be sketchy. HOWEVER:

    Those falling for Susan Moffat's act should remember that she has a direct personal financial interest in SXSW, which receives fee waivers from the city AND stands to be in for some competition for hearts and minds (and maybe dollars) if F1 goes off. (And I'm saying this as a guy who would much rather go to SXSW than a stupid car race).

    More interestingly, the Hyde Park neighborhood e-mail list moderator rejected this information while allowing similar information about a (much smaller) conflict of interest related to one of Moffat's critics to go through. Moffat is a former NA officer and has been using this email list to gin up opposition to the project.

    But finally, as I said earlier on twitter, if ANY of our city councilmembers had any guts, they'd say this:

    “We're approving F1 so we can afford to give you your monstrously huge historic tax break, Susan Moffatt(s) and Laura Morrison(s).”

    Or, maybe, “We're approving F1 so we can afford to keep Shipe Pool open next summer”.

  12. Way to go Chris!
    I'm not any more of a fan of F1 than I am of Australian Rules Football, so on it's own merits, I was initially dubious about this project.  However, thanks to Chris' leadership on getting commitments from F1 to make a significant investment in ensuring that the track will compliment our environmental values and meet long held sustainability goals that will help Austin live up to it's reputation as a green city, any doubts I had about F1 coming to town have been removed.

    It will be up to us and the city to hold them accountable for living up to their promises, but based on what Chris has proposed, I don't see a down side.  I've heard a number of people argue that this is a waste of $25 million a year that should be going to education and other priorities we all cherish.  While I agree with the spirit of that sentiment, that isn't the choice we are being given here.  If that money isn't spent here, it will most likely be spent somewhere else in the state in a place that is unlikely to demand environmental concessions anywhere close to that that we are poised to have enacted here.

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