Waco is taking incremental steps toward using renewable energy and making operations more energy efficient, but local environmental advocates say the city’s pace is far too slow.
The Sustainable Resource Practices Advisory Board met Wednesday to discuss the city’s progress on recommendations the board approved in February, including considering buying renewable energy and auditing energy use at city facilities. City Manager Wiley Stem III, who sits on the board, said the changes the board recommended are positive overall, but implementation will have to happen slowly.
“It’s a slow ship to turn, because we have to keep the service going while we do this,” Stem said. “We can’t stop picking up trash. We can’t stop responding to fire calls. We need the city to … function. We’ve got some good ideas, and we’ll be able to move forward.”
The board also approved a draft of its annual report for the city council, which includes a letter outlining specific recommendations for electric vehicles and renewable energy for municipal power.
“The Board recommends that the city of Waco commit to studying in more detail the feasibility of a transition to 100% renewable energy for city operations,” the draft report states. “To accomplish this, the board recommends that city management designate city staff members to work with the board to evaluate these general areas in the upcoming months.”
The draft report urges the city to consider conducting efficiency audits on municipal facilities, potentially adopting new green building codes and standards, pursuing renewable energy and creating programs to encourage residents and businesses to use renewable energy.
City Director of General Services Kelly Holecek gave a presentation on efforts so far, which include purchasing hybrid vehicles, evaluating a handful of municipal buildings to see if they can support solar panels and efficiency evaluations for city facilities.
Holecek said one building evaluated, City Hall, cannot support solar panels, while other buildings would need to be reroofed before solar panels could be added. The city bought an electric vehicle, now in use, and six hybrid Ford Interceptors for the Waco Police Department.
During the meeting, Alan Northcutt, director of Waco Friends of Peace/Climate, said the board should meet more often than the required four meetings a year.
“We can’t get it done at that rate,” Northcutt said.
Board Chairwoman Janet Wallace said she agrees the board should meet more often. The board also has issues with attendance and reaching a quorum, Wallace said. Board members discussed adding meeting dates but ultimately decided against doing so Wednesday.
Ashley Millerd, executive director of Keep Waco Beautiful, also said the board should meet more often. When she joined the board, it was focused exclusively on recycling, but its scope has expanded, Millerd said. Board policies have not changed to reflect the new role, she said.
“I think if you just meet quarterly, so much can go by in that time,” Millerd said. “I just think we should meet more.”
In an interview before the meeting, Northcutt said the board’s efforts to encourage sustainability in city operations are a good start, but he and his group want to urge the city to take more concrete measures.
“We hope this board will take a more active role in looking at what other cities have done and try to adopt those here and make recommendations to the city council,” Northcutt said. “We don’t have to reinvent the wheel here.”