A city advisory board has started discussions on a proposal to commit Waco to using exclusively renewable energy for all municipal purposes by 2050, but the proposal hit a procedural snag Wednesday.
Sarah Brockhaus, a city Sustainable Resource Practices Advisory Board member representing Baylor University, and Alan Northcutt, a local physician, pushed for the board to send a letter to the city council urging it to commit to renewable energy, such as wind and solar power, a commitment more than 90 cities in the United States have already made. The proposal includes a resolution that would require city council approval and the appointment of a special board to oversee the transition in the coming decades. It would not directly affect residences’ or businesses’ power use.
The proposal stalled when City Manager Wiley Stem III, who sits on the board on behalf of the Heart of Texas Council of Governments, said it would be better to delay a vote on the proposal until the city legal department could offer feedback on the resolution. The board tabled the vote Wednesday and is expected to review notes from city attorneys during its next meeting, set for Jan. 17.
After the meeting, Stem said he supports clean energy but has questions about the council’s authority to approve a resolution that would dictate details of future budgets.
“(Council members) have a responsibility to approve a budget every year, and when I see things that could potentially restrict their flexibility on a budget, like we have to use this type of energy, then I consider that a conflict,” Stem said. “It would be a conflict for me as I develop a budget that I recommend to the council that I can’t have the flexibility to use the kind of energy that brings the most value to the citizens.”
Ninety-three cities in the United States have committed to transition to renewable energy over the coming decades, according to the Sierra Club, a national environmental organization. Six more cities, including Georgetown, already exclusively use renewable energy. Denton is the only other Texas town to make the commitment.
In October, the United Nations’ scientific panel on climate change released a report describing further rises in the world’s temperature that will lead to food shortages, wildfires, hurricanes, sea level rise and the destruction of coral reefs. Another study found the suicide rate would increase as more days become abnormally hot.
And last month, 13 federal agencies issued a major report predicting 10 percent of the American economy would come under fire by 2100 because of damage brought about by climate change.
The United States is the second-largest emitter of heat-trapping greenhouse gases, behind China.
Michaela McCown, an environmental science and biology teacher at Vanguard College Preparatory School and McLennan Community College, urged the board to take action at the meeting.
“You guys are in a position to really represent the interests of this city and make a difference, not only in our community but globally,” McCown said. “I teach the next generation, and when we talk about climate change, when we look at impacts here and now, globally, they’re shocked. And they ask, ‘Why aren’t we doing anything about it?’ ”
The city’s contract with its energy provider, MP2 Energy, will end in 2022. The company offers renewable options but cannot supply those options under the current contract, director of general services Kelly Holecek said.
Northcutt, an environmental advocate and director of the group Go Renewable Waco, said the city must start using at least some renewable energy in its next contract.
“The city of Waco will go to renewable energy,” he said. “We will do this. The science says that if we don’t act, the temperature is going to keep rising. The situation and impacts are going to get worse. And at some point, everybody will say we have to act. There won’t be any denial at that point because it would be so absurd. But the problem is it may be too late if we wait. The other choice is we act now.”
Stem said the city has studied renewable energy and taken green initiatives, including conservation steps in its energy plans and the testing of a Chevrolet Bolt, an electric car, for two weeks in October. Feedback from that initiative will soon be provided to the city council.
“We want to be renewable,” Stem said. “But more than anything, we want to spend the taxpayers’ dollars wisely. I think we’ve been working on this, frankly, longer than this group has. But we have a huge budget, a huge operation, and we have a lot of responsibilities from a service standpoint, so we need to make sure we meet all those commitments as we move in this direction.”
Brockhaus said the renewable commitment is an important measure and that she remains hopeful the 12-member board would take up the proposal next month.
“I would like to see progress made,” she said. “I thought it was great discussion, and I’m looking forward to meeting again and moving forward with it.”