Public addresses concerns about Mayor’s Climate Protection Agreement

Saturday, February 16, 2008 | 5:33 p.m. CST; updated 10:30 p.m. CDT, Thursday, July 17, 2008

COLUMBIA — In a packed room at the Columbia Regional Library on Wednesday, Dick Parker asked the question of the night near the end of a climate change public forum.

“The Mayor’s Climate Protection Agreement says we’ll reduce (our emissions) 7 percent below 1990 (levels) by 2012. Based on our projected use of electricity in 2012, to make that 7 percent reduction would require 35 percent of our electricity to come from renewable sources or energy conservation. Is the City Council prepared to vote to do that?”

In response, Mayor Darwin Hindman said: “I think you’ll just have to wait and see on that.”

He was one of five public officials answering the concerns of the public at the forum.

“Well, I think we’re going to have to face all of the issues, and we’re going to have to deal with them,” Hindman said.

Parker, a member of the League of Women Voters Energy Committee that hosted the forum, said after the meeting that he felt the mayor’s answer was predictable and not optimistic.

The mayor and the council signed the Mayor’s Climate Protection Agreement, which calls to meet standards set by the Kyoto Protocol in the summer of 2006. The most recent accomplishment was a baseline greenhouse gas emissions inventory presented to the council in July 2007. The “Climate Challenge: Columbia’s Response” meeting on Wednesday night was the first time experts and city officials have come together with the public to talk about the city’s progress.

Sixth Ward City Council member Barbara Hoppe, assistant city manager Tony St. Romaine, Department of Natural Resources energy engineer Frank Cunningham, MU Extension environmental design specialist Barbara Buffaloe and Hindman spoke to the crowd of about 100 people.

“What struck me is that while there is a lot to go, it was very evident that our city has done more than other communities,” said Sue Tillema, a state government employee who said she’s long been active in environmental issues.

Several questions at the forum centered around transportation, such as improving the city bus system by making the stops more frequent, encouraging more riders or buying better buses.

St. Romaine pointed to the fact that ridership is still going up. After a lengthy discussion on the nature of city bus systems, the mayor concluded: “It’s been looked at over and over again.”

Overwhelmingly, the questions asked at the forum focused on sustainable construction and the fact that electricity consumption accounts for the vast majority of the city’s carbon emissions.

“I think the next step is to develop this action plan,” St. Romaine said. “Right now we’re in negotiations with a consultant to put a draft of that thing together, and from my reading of other communities that have already established these action plans — I was reading Boulder, Colo.,’s here just the other day — they have a whole office of sustainability. But it comes at a tremendous cost. They estimated that in order to meet their target goals, they were going to spend about a million dollars over the next 20 years every year.”

Cunningham pointed then to 20 other states and many cities, including Boulder, that have levied taxes on electricity to pay for carbon reduction programs. Boulder, he said, charges 0.2 cents on every kilowatt hour of electricity.

“Based on Water and Light sales, 1.05 megawatt hours per year, with a 1 cent (tax) per kilowatt hour, that would generate 1 million dollars,” Cunningham said.

One person asked how the city would encourage landlords to make their rental properties, which account for 50 percent of residences in the city, more efficient.

Hindman said that though many apartments have inadequate or no insulation, tenants agree to pay utilities and the landlords have no incentives to make them more efficient.

“This is a major issue for the city,” he said. “We’re looking at what other places have done.”

He said a tri-annual rating system to give the actual cost of renting an apartment is an option, as is a licensing system that requires insulation, or a money lending program to encourage the landlords to improve efficiency. Berkeley, Calif., he said, is forming neighborhood improvement programs to place liens against poorly insulated houses, and Austin, Texas, is enforcing stricter building codes upon the transfer of property.

Hindman said he spoke to Austin Mayor Will Wynn on the matter, who told him these programs were very difficult to implement.

Parker said after the forum that despite the city’s emphasis on efficiency and conservation, it will, in the end, have to pay more for other sources of power production to meet the Climate Agreement goals.

“A lot of our increase in energy requirements, electricity requirements, are due to growth in the city,” Parker said. “We need to deal with that growth factor as well, and ultimately growth can only be dealt with by getting away from fossil fuels.”

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