Village Council— Village climate plan urged
- Published: May 7, 2015
While Yellow Springs has taken a good first step by shifting to more renewable energy sources, there is much more Village government could do to help the village become a model in addressing climate change.
That’s the message delivered to Council at its April 20 meeting, in a quarterly climate change report from the Environmental Commission. EC member Duard Headley delivered the report, which was written by Headley and other EC members Jessica D’Ambrosio, Tom Dietrich, Nadia Malarkey and Marianne MacQueen. To see a copy, go online to yso.com and click on April 20 Council packet.
“Climate change is perhaps the biggest challenge that humanity has faced: In change there is opportunity. Yellow Springs can seize the opportunity at hand to eliminate our climate negative impact and become a more integrated, diverse, vibrant and engaged community along the way,” the report states.
Compared to most other communities, Yellow Springs has made a good start by largely switching to renewable energy sources, Headley said. By 2018 about 80 percent of Village electricity will come from renewables, including hydro, wind and solar.
“We’re 80 percent of the way there and that’s unique,” he said to Council, stating that the Village signed on to contracts with renewables “because we’ve said we know this is the right thing to do.”
However, making a climate action plan is an important next step, according to Headley, and the Village does not yet have one. Such a plan includes specific actions needed to reach specific levels of lowered greenhouse gas, or GHG, emissions. The organization Local Governments for Sustainability USA, or ICLEI, helps communities with planning, and in Ohio seven municipalities — Akron, Alliance, Athens, Cincinnati, Cleveland, Oberlin and Youngstown — are members of the organization. Of special note is Oberlin, which early on took on climate action planning and aimed for a 50 percent reduction in GHG emissions by 2015; the town has met that goal. Oberlin has been recognized by the White House as a Climate Action Champion for Leadership on Climate Change and is currently in the running for a $5 million Georgetown University Energy Prize for its efforts.
The climate action planning process involves five steps, according to the report: 1) taking an inventory of current GHG emissions; 2) establishing a reduction target; 3) developing a climate action plan; 4) implementing policies toward climate action; and 5) monitoring and verifying results.
The Village can expect to take about two years to complete the plan, Headley said.
A second recommendation from the EC is for Village government to actively support actions already being taken by individuals and groups.
“Individuals and organizations like Antioch College are taking action now,” the report states, and the Village could pass ordinances to support them, as well as provide recognition, such as establishing a local award to recognize individuals, groups or businesses that have “taken decisive action” to reduce GHG emissions.
Considerable efforts are already being made by villagers involved in the Resiliency Group, which formed after the September Climate Change march in New York City.
“It’s bubbling up from the bottom and not coming from the top,” MacQueen said of local energy around the climate change issue.
In a third recommendation, the EC urged Council to continue to add renewables to its electric portfolio and to develop local capacity to generate renewable energy.
The group also encouraged the Village to increase community awareness around opportunities for residents and businesses to lower their carbon footprint, including such actions as promoting the Energy Smart program; highlighting the importance of shopping, eating and staying local; and promoting biking for transportation. The Village should also give preference when purchasing goods and services to those that have lower carbon footprints, the report states.
“Like is being done with the new solid waste and recycling contract, all environmental considerations that can be included in contracts should be included as line-item considerations so that those which are not cost prohibitive can be selected,” the report states.
And in the future, Village government should focus on ways to promote the construction of energy efficient houses and buildings; promote ways to minimize consumption and produce zero waste; encourage the production of local low GHG food and agriculture; encourage locally made goods and services; and promote low and zero GHG transportation.
In summary, according to the report, “We can define a path forward for Yellow Springs that brings new businesses selling locally manufactured staple goods and new service providers providing nearly all the services our community needs. We can become a village that generates net-zero waste, has expanded local farming, has 100 percent local renewable affordable energy and an environment where local low-impact tourism and higher education thrive — all while improving the quality of life for all residents and our overall social and economic resilience. … The next step is to continue to take actions such as those recommended in this report.”
Solar project discussed
In other April 20 Council items:
• In a topic related to the Environmental Commission report, Dan Rudolf of the Yellow Springs Energy Board urged Council to make Village ordinances more friendly to a proposed community solar project.
Community solar allows people who don’t have rooftops or spaces suitable for solar panels to still be able to invest in the panels in another location. The Energy Board suggested a community solar project several months ago, at which time Council and Village staff stated their need to gather more information about the project. Electric consultant John Courtney addressed the issue at a special meeting Monday, April 27 (an article on the topic will appear in next week’s News).
Currently, the Village has about 5 percent of its energy portfolio earmarked for solar power, with 4 percent of that amount to be produced by institutional producers and 1 percent by individuals. The proposed project is not attempting to change that percentage at this point, according to Rudolf, who said the project would have a capacity of producing about 100 to 200 kilowatts of energy, to partially fill the 1 percent portion of the portfolio.
Reasons for creating a community solar project include the need to address climate change and the opportunity for Yellow Springs to become a leader on the issue, as this may be the first community solar project in Ohio, according to a written report. The project could also save money during times of peak power usage and create an opportunity for free battery backup storage to be used during electric outages, the report said.
To support the project, Council needs to amend its current “Renewable Generator” ordinance to clarify how solar output would be rated, among other changes, Rudolf said. The Village also needs to develop a virtual net metering agreement that enables villagers to own solar panels not on their property and receive credit for the energy produced.
Village Superintendent of Electricity and Water Distribution Johnnie Burns, who previously expressed some skepticism on the solar project, stated that many of his concerns have been addressed. However, Burns indicated his preference for a solar array owned by the Village rather than one owned by a private group.
“We need to own it or maintain it ourselves,” he said.
• Council unanimously passed an ordinance that raises fees for zoning permits by $5 to $10 in most cases. The ordinance also clarifies the different types of permits issued by the Village and adds a refundable deposit for development projects.
• Council unanimously agreed to slightly revise the proposed “Roles and Responsibilities” document for members of Village commissions and boards. Developed by Brian Housh and Marianne MacQueen in an attempt to increase clarity regarding commission members’ roles, the document had sparked controversy, especially among some Human Relations Commission members, who balked at signing the document. The HRC members expressed concerns that doing so could squelch their ability to speak out about HRC issues. However, according to Village Solicitor Chris Conard, the document would have no legal value even if signed. Council members agreed that the document will be revised to clarify that a signature only means the document has been read and understood.
Council’s next meeting is Monday, May 4, at 7 p.m. in Council chambers.