Columbia Council approves new renewable energy standards, radon system

Monday, January 6, 2014 | 11:42 p.m. CST; updated 11:14 a.m. CST, Tuesday, January 7, 2014

COLUMBIA — Columbia aspired to be a little greener on Monday night, increasing its renewable energy requirements originally passed in a 2004 city ballot measure. 

In a vote of 5 to 2, Columbia City Council passed new renewable energy standards. Mayor Bob McDavid and Fifth Ward Councilwoman Laura Nauser cast the only dissenting votes. 

The new standards require the city of Columbia to either generate or purchase 15 percent of electricity from renewable energy sources by the end of 2017, up from 10 percent; 25 percent by the end of 2022, up from 15 percent; and 30 percent by the end of 2028, a new addition to the city's standards. 

The philosophy behind the program, Third Ward Councilman Karl Skala said, is about diversifying the city's energy portfolio as well as moving more aggressively to a renewable future.

The new requirements would "catapult us into the energy of the future," Skala said.

Currently, 7.94 percent of Columbia's energy comes from renewable sources, exceeding the city's mandate of 2 percent for this year.

The mandate further requires that Columbia stay within a 3 percent price increase when incorporating renewable energy sources, costs that McDavid thought Columbia's low-income residents could ill afford. Columbia is achieving is currently renewable energy portfolio with a 1.8 percent price increase, or just under $2 million.

McDavid and Columbia Water & Light Director Tad Johnsen predicted the city would reach the 3 percent ceiling before the 15 percent renewable standard in 2017.

Johnsen told the council that renewable sources are not yet capable of replacing traditional sources for meeting total energy needs until people adapt their use and new technologies are developed.

Referencing a report on the social services funding recommendations presented at the pre-council meeting, Nauser mentioned the increasing number of people enrolled in WIC — Women, Infants and Children, a nutrition supplement program — as evidence of Columbia's misplaced perspective by focusing on energy sources rather than costs. 

Although McDavid said the best financial decision was using natural gas, which is expected to be among the cheapest energy sources in the next few years, Monta Welch, of the Columbia Climate Change Coalition, believed that the council wasn't taking into account the health concerns that she said relate to burning fossil fuels. 

In the end, Skala bridged the spirited debate. While sympathetic to cost containment, ultimately, he said, there will be technologies that haven't been invented yet that should make it easier to transition to renewable energy sources further down the road. 

Radon mitigation systems 

The council also passed a new ordinance for radon mitigation in a vote of 6 to 1. The ordinance requires all new homes to install a passive radon mitigation system, which costs around $150. 

During public comments, Jan Dye, a Columbia resident, favored the new requirement. Not only are mitigation systems a good idea for health reasons, but if a homeowner needs to install one after their house is built, it is an expensive eyesore, she said. Installing the systems during construction would save a lot of trouble. 

Lawrence Lile, of Columbia's Environment and Energy Commission, also came out in favor of the bill. 

Although 4 picocuries per liter of radon is the amount the EPA deems potentially dangerous, Lile noted that the amount was "arbitrary." Any amount of radon is harmful, he said, and any radon mitigation would be a good thing.

The Building Codes Commission have opposed the new requirement, and Don Stamper, of the Columbia Homeowner's Association, said the ordinance singled out new construction and would not apply to existing homes.

Skala made one amendment to the bill to remove the requirement of installing a power outlet so that passive mitigation systems can be made into electric, aggressive systems if necessary. The amendment passed unanimously. 

Supervising editor is Zachary Matson.

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