“Sweetheart, did you know the mayor has put together a Clean Energy Task Force Committee?” I asked Jock.
“No. Why am I not on it?” he responded.
“Well, ask the mayor; he likes you. But I should remind you that you like to actually do things—and committees like to talk about things. That will drive you crazy.”
On my walk home, I ran into one of my favorite neighbors, who mentioned the Clean Energy Task Force. I immediately bombarded her with a variety of questions: “Does that mean houses in the historic district would be allowed to have solar panels? (Currently, they cannot be visible from the street.) Would it be easier for residents to actually hook solar into the grid because right now it is a nightmare? Would the city’s motor vehicle fleet convert to electric?”
In an effort to forestall the avalanche I leveled at her, she calmly explained they were at the very beginning stages of trying to identify those questions, as well as assess which questions to ask and how to discuss policy to move forward. She pointed out the goal is to get the city to 100% clean energy by 2050, but at this moment what it means and how it looks are still being decided.
“So is it money the city is spending? Or does that include commercial and residential expenditures within the city limits?” I pressed.
She smiled and redirected back to the earlier response.
A quick glance at the Clean Energy Task Force page on the city’s website showed five aspects of their charter:
- Adopt a clean energy policy, including a target for 2050;
- Reduce the city’s reliance and use of fossil fuels in fleet and building operations;
- Promote renewable energy and reduce harmful energy-related environmental impacts;
- Create a socially equitable strategy that benefits all residents, especially low income; and
- Provide strategies on how to engage Wilmington residents in support of a clean energy policy.
Surprisingly, that is a lot less boilerplate and more substantial than I was expecting, especially number four. The site also had a citizen input survey that Jock and I decided to take. The first two questions confirmed our residential status, then asked our age. Since we were answering together, we split the difference (Jock and I are 34 years apart in age) and identified ourselves as between 50-59 years of age.
Then came question number four:
“The City of Wilmington is researching a clean/renewable energy goal. The City has committed to greenhouse gas (GHG) reduction goal of 58% by 2050, and to aid in reaching that milestone would like to establish a goal for transitioning all government operations from fossil-fueled energy (coal, natural gas, propane, gasoline, etc.) to clean/renewable energy (solar, wind, etc.) by 2050. Do you agree or disagree with this effort to transition to clean energy?”
We “strongly agreed.”
The next two questions seemed like a rhetorical cattle herd:
“5. Please, select your level of agreement with this statement: I am concerned about the impact of climate change globally and/or in the United States.”
“6. Please, select your level of agreement with this statement: I am concerned about the impact of climate change on the City of Wilmington.”
At question seven we were asked to select our top three priorities from the list.
“As the City of Wilmington plans a clean/renewable energy future, which priorities should be considered? Please, choose and rank your top three:
“Addressing climate / environmental impacts
“Clean / Renewable Energy
“2.) Local Jobs and Economy
“Safe to use
“3.) Shared benefits for all community members
“Resilience and Security
“Other (please, list and rank each)”
We obviously selected shared benefits for all community members, “local jobs and economy” (I mean, look at the title of this column) and “affordability.” As Jock noted, “addressing climate impacts” is pretty much a given for anyone answering the survey, so why waste a vote?
Number eight consisted of: “Nuclear energy is currently a large part of our regional energy mix. It does not add to our carbon footprint. Do you consider nuclear power ‘clean energy’?”
So this was a bit of a shocker for us, two rather old-guard environmentalists.
“How is that even included in a clean energy survey?” Jock queried.
Surprisingly, I got an odd answer to it a few days later. The Green Book Club had a discussion about their current read—about nuclear power as a potential clean energy source to eliminate the carbon problem. Interestingly, the authors chose to use a Swedish word to describe nuclear.
“So they eliminated the trigger word?” Jock asked. “How did that work?”
“Well, a couple of people commented they felt tricked, but one of the other points was that it seemed to allow for more consideration of the points the authors raised.”
One of the attendees raised the question: “Is the goal to get to 100% renewable or to 100% carbon-free? Because nuclear could get to 100% carbon-free faster.”
Jock and I got to question 10 on the City’s survey: “Which clean energy technologies should the City prioritize for implementation as part of this effort? With 1 being the highest priority, please rank the following from 1 to 8:
“Tidal / Water
“Hydrogen and Fuel Cells
“Other (please, list and rank each)”
We really just picked the top three, rationalizing it was sort of like a city council election—you can vote for up to three (or in this case eight candidates), but we decided not to water down our vote. Solar, wind and geothermal are what interest us most and what we see the most possibility for here. We both love solar and have given up trying to fight with Duke Energy about running our meter backward and hooking into the grip with an inverter. Instead, we just bypass them altogether. We have solar panels and enough battery storage capacity to survive for about two weeks after a hurricane. Now, that doesn’t include running a full central HVAC and having lights on in every room 24 hours a day. That’s running the refrigerator, charging cell phones, running a couple of fans, and occasionally turning on a window AC unit for the doggies to cool down.
One of the plans this year, before COVID changed everyone’s plans, was to get all the outside lighting at the bed and breakfast on solar power and put small pumps in the rain barrels connected to the solar system to do irrigation. Perhaps in two or three years that could be a reality.
The City’s survey continued with question 11: “Please, rank the benefits the City should prioritize when looking at policies and funding opportunities for implementing a renewable energy plan. With 1 being the highest priority, please rank the following from 1 to 6:
“1.) Increasing access for residents to install renewable energy on homes and businesses
“2.) Achieving 100% clean energy for City operations
“5.) Decreasing energy bills for City facilities and operations
“3.) Achieving GHG reduction goals on time (58% by 2050)
“4.) Minimizing environmental impacts (for example, improved air quality)
“Other (please, list and rank each)
I don’t think I need to explain our concerns about equal access, do I? Take a look around; we have a history of making sure the haves and the have nots stay separated in this city. A quick drive down Red Cross will give you an idea of which streets get repaired and which don’t around here. If you haven’t figured out why or why not, I might suggest there is a group of people in front of Thalian Hall who would be prepared to discuss this at length with anyone who cares to listen.
“Well, it’s climate change and COVID,” Jock observed. “If we can’t get people to take COVID seriously, how the hell are we going to get them to take climate change seriously?”
I think for many people the answer is in their pocketbooks. Yes, altruism is wonderful, but at this moment, if you want to run your house on solar, the upfront investment in the system alone is prohibitive—let alone an expensive, time-consuming and maddening battle of dealing with Duke Energy. But if the City invested in something that could benefit enough people at an affordable price—and were prepared to fight Duke Energy to make it possible for average citizens to utilize renewable energy at home—it could really turn the tables. That is what I hope could be included in this early discussion of policy direction. If we invest in all of us, we can all win.