Bryan Beckman of the Suncoast Sierra Club presented the Ready for 100 Campaign to the City Commission on May 20. The Sierra Club wants cities to commit to transition to 100% clean, renewable energy by 2050. Some members of the meeting audience wore stickers or green tee shirts in support. Beckman shared the benefits of solar and wind power:
- Fossil fuels emit hundreds of pounds of carbon dioxide per million British Thermal Units (BTUs) while solar and wind emit none;
- Renewables do not pollute the earth and cost less than fossil fuels;
- Solar energy recently had an 88% drop in cost.
Problems with windmills
During public comment, Jonathan Brewer, the city’s volunteer Economic Development Liaison, expressed concern. He mentioned recent research on windmills was not all positive: “The effects of windmills and solar really have a negative effect on the climate and local weather patterns,” he said. Speaking after the meeting, Brewer said he is not opposed to the measure and supports “anything more environmentally-friendly” but wants the city to consider unintended consequences.
“The down side of wind power” by Leah Burrows (The Harvard Gazette article mentioned by Brewer) includes comments from David Keith, professor of Applied Physics at the Harvard University. Keith says “Wind beats coal by any environmental measure, but that doesn’t mean that its impacts are negligible. We must quickly transition away from fossil fuels to stop carbon emissions. In doing so, we must make choices between various low-carbon technologies, all of which have some social and environmental impacts.”
If your perspective is the next ten years, wind power actually has — in some respects — more climate impact than coal or gas. If your perspective is the next thousand years, then wind power has enormously less climatic impact than coal or gas.David Keith, Harvard professor • The Harvard Gazette
Matt Spoor, Safety Harbor City Manager, said the city has “no intention of any large-scale wind farms.”
Brewer also stated that “Duke will not have the resources to provide us with renewable energy if their energy plan is to be at 23% renewables by 2050.” And Brewer is correct: On its current path, Duke Energy would not be able to support the entire community by 2050.
How long do we have?
While some suggest caution, other environmental advocates don’t think the Sierra Club’s goals go far enough. Extinction Rebellion holds protests in both Hillsborough and Pinellas counties to highlight the need for climate change action. James Lamont from the Tampa Extinction Rebellion group says the Sierra Club’s Ready For 100 Campaign deserves credit for helping to move public conversation from “cutting” to “eliminating” emissions. But Lamont says updated climate change information means the Sierra Club’s target date of 2050 for 100% renewables is already woefully out-of-date. Extinction Rebellion advocates net-zero emissions by 2025.
Safety Harbor Mayor Joe Ayoub and mayors from Sarasota, St. Petersburg and Dunedin have signed the Mayors for 100% Clean Energy Endorsement.
Clearwater and Tampa are in the process of adopting campaign goals and Largo has “committed to transition the community-wide energy supply to 100% clean and renewable energy for all, and to transition the municipal energy supply to 100% clean and renewable energy by 2035 with 50% by 2030.”
Commissioner Nancy Besore said she loves the idea of “starting with some thing we can, and moving from there.” She noted Pinellas County’s recent addition of a climate change resiliency officer.
Commissioner Andy Zodrow said, “If you can’t get a coastal community in the state of Florida on board with 100% renewables, then I really have concerns about the fate of humanity. We are about 700 yards from Tampa Bay. We just got a report in last week that they raised the sea level rise from three to eight-and-a-half feet. That is really important to understand.” Zodrow reminded the Commission and audience of FEMA updates to flood zone maps. He strongly recommended implementation of some goals.
Community members who spoke in support of Ready for 100 at the Commission meeting included:
- Kayla Dixon, Countryside High school student, represented We the Students.
- Mike Moscardini spoke as a representative of Whispering Souls African American Cemetery.
- Father Joe Diaz, Holy Trinity Episcopal Church, reflected on his upcoming 80th birthday: “The paradise I grew up in is evaporating before my eyes.”
- Kevin McCullough and Brandt Robinson shared support from Indivisible Safety Harbor.
- Jessica Harrington, a public school teacher and candidate for State Representative – District 64, cited a United Nations report and asked the Commission to support Ready for 100.
How we make a difference is by having the courage to say that we are going to stand up for this and we are going to do this. We have eleven years to make this right.Jessica Harrington, FL-64 House of Representatives candidate
Some power companies are committing to renewable energy production. MidAmerican Energy has plans to be 100% renewable by 2020. XCEL Energy and Idaho Power share a goal to have 100% reduction of CO2 emissions between 2045 and 2050. Florida communities can pressure their energy companies to use more renewable energy, too.
At the meeting, the Sierra Club’s Beckman shared steps cities can take toward meeting Ready for 100 goals such as reducing energy consumption by making small changes like switching to LED bulbs, installing renewables such as solar where possible, and partnering with energy providers to purchase energy from renewable sources for remaining needs. Also, residents and businesses can make changes without waiting for the city.
City Manager Matt Spoor reflected on Safety Harbor’s ongoing progress to date: Approximately 90% of the city’s facilities’ lighting has been replaced with LED lights. City-owned street lights and bollards were replaced or will be replaced with LED this year. Duke Energy upgraded all Duke Energy-owned street lights to LED lights in 2018. The City Park ball field lights have not yet been replaced. There will be an EV charging station at the library.
Brewer, the Economic Development Liaison, suggests the city put together a community working group. The group, he suggested, could discuss possibilities and make recommendation to the Commission.
The Commission asked City staff to draft a resolution supporting Ready for 100. If approved, the goal-setting process will begin.
Nearby, Clearwater recently hired a sustainability coordinator. Will Safety Harbor consider this level of commitment, too? A sustainability expert could partner with community groups and volunteers, evaluate where we are, coordinate an energy audit and create an action plan.