At their meeting on May 21, the Mayor and Commission of Athens, Georgia committed to achieving 100% clean energy by 2035. Is that even possible? How will we accomplish it?
Thank you to the grassroots advocacy group 100% Athens who made this possible! Make sure to like their Facebook page to keep up with their efforts.
At their meeting on May 21, the Mayor and Commission committed to achieving 100% renewable energy by 2035. Is that even possible? What will it mean for our community…. and the world?
Well, to be honest it might not mean anything. This resolution is non-binding, and Athens had already set a goal to increase renewable energy back in 2016. So, what’s different this time?
The first thing that’s different is that, in 2017, Donald Trump became President and withdrew the US from the Paris Climate Accords. The Paris Climate Accord is simply the latest example of Washington entering into an agreement that disadvantages the United States.
Without leadership on a national level, that means it’s up each city to take action on our own. 124 other cities across the nation have already stood up and pledged to meet their climate obligations regardless of what Trump does. Now, Athens joins them with a new resolution that’s much more specific than the one signed in 2016.
Let’s take a look at it.
Therefore, be it resolved: The Unified Government of Athens‐Clarke County will obtain 100% of its energy from clean and renewable sources by 2035.
The biggest difference between this resolution and the previous one is that the target is an actual number to be arrived at, by a certain date. 100% by 2035. 100% – that’s everything. And 2035 sounds like a long time from now, but it’s only like 15 years. This is the kind of aggressive target necessary to keep the CO2 in our atmosphere to manageable levels.
Can we do it? If we’re just talking about our local government, yes,I believe we can. We live in a state that gets a lot of sunshine, and every solar panel we put up lowers the amount of money we spend on energy every year.
Solar these days is very cost effective compared to fossil fuels. There are currently $14 million dollars in the 2020 SPLOST for renewable energy. Assuming the referendum passes, SPLOST will reduce energy costs by over $1 million dollars a year. By 2035, we’ll be past the return on investment, and the savings will start rolling in!
And the grid itself is also getting greener all the time, even if our local government did nothing. Georgia power companies are 9.3% renewable right now, that’s up almost 6 fold in the past decade! And we’re doing even better here in Athens. We’ve got a new solar array at the Cedar Creek Water Reclamation plant that’s producing over 1 million kilowatt hours of electricity a year! And did you know that we harvest natural gas from the landfill and burn it for power? We used to just let methane leak out of the landfill. It’s a huge amount of energy, so there’s less of a need to buy and burn coal – and since methane is 17 times more potent as a greenhouse gas than CO2, this is a win-win for the environment, and a win for taxpayers at the same time.
That’s three wins!
Section two of the resolution sets a goal, not just for the local government, but for Athens as a whole. We’ll transition to getting 100% of our electricity from clean and renewable sources by 2035, and 100% of our total power (including gasoline and jet fuel) by 2050.
Wow! Is that possible? Well, they’re still working on the renewable energy plan, but there’s a general outline already. Let’s take a look.
Getting to 100% will be done in three steps.
Step 1: Conserve. We’ll promote energy efficiency and reinvest the savings.
Step 2: Replace. This is where we buy the electric cars, put up solar panels, etc. And of course.. we’ll reinvest the savings again.
Step 3: Offset. Okay, so clearly steps 1 and 2 won’t get us all the way there. Not everyone is going to have an electric or biodiesel car by 2050, and jet fuel is just about impossible to replace with renewables no matter what. So, there’s kind of a fudge factor built into this plan: renewable energy certificates.
Basically, we can pay people who are producing renewable energy somewhere else and add their energy to our total, as if we produced it ourselves. These certificates are traded on the market sort of like stocks. But this isn’t an ideal plan, because no matter how many of these things we buy, we’re still burning fossil fuels and putting CO2 into the atmosphere, which is what we need to stop doing. But the idea is that buying these things will encourage renewable energy production, and that will give it the boost we need for those last few percentage points to get to 100%.
Will this plan work? I don’t know. What I do know is that it’s important for the environment, for our society, and really for all life on earth that we give this a try. I also know that Athens spends over $300 million a year on energy. That means it’s cheaper for us to start making progress, than to do nothing right now. So what have we got to lose? Let’s get to 100%!
Okay, keep watching because there were a couple important changes made to the resolution by Commissioners Denson and Parker before passage. They added a clause saying that the local government should divest from fossil fuels in our investment and pension funds. That’s huge!
Second, they added some specific language around equity to the resolution as well. Parker and Denson clarified that the focus should be on helping specifically black, brown, low-income and senior communities in the transition. We can’t leave them behind while the rest of us drive electric cars and hovercraft or whatever. It’s so important that we recognize the energy burden that they are already dealing with. So, let’s not make that any worse with this plan.
But that being said… here’s to the future.
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Clips used in this video:
Mayor and Commission Agenda-Setting Session, May 21, 2019 (ACC Public Information Office)
Solar Array at Cedar Creek Water Reclamation Facility (ACC Public Information Office)
Generating Electricity With Landfill Gas (Environment Matters)
Trump pulls US out of Paris climate deal (BBC News)
Royalty Free HD Stock Footage Coal Plant by José da Vede