An effort to put formal pressure on the Waco City Council to commit to renewable energy for municipal purposes stalled on Thursday in the face of a roomful of supporters urging a city environmental board to take action.
At a meeting of the Sustainable Resource Practices Advisory Board in City Hall, member Sarah Brockhaus called for the board to send a letter to the city council asking it to execute its next energy contract in 2022 with 100 percent renewable energy from its provider.
Brockhaus and Alan Northcutt, a local physician and environmental advocate, included a draft resolution in the proposal for the council to consider.
Brockhaus, who represents Baylor University on the board, was the only member who voted in favor of the renewable energy proposal. About 40 supporters who packed the conference room on the third floor of City Hall were disappointed by the result.
“You’ve got to be kidding me,” one attendee screamed after the vote. “You should be ashamed of yourselves.” She left the room, sobbing.
Board members discussed whether they have the authority to urge the council to consider a resolution. City Manager Wiley Stem III, who sits on the board representing the Heart of Texas Council of Governments, said it would be wrong for the board to push a resolution.
“I think the resolution is unnecessary,” Stem said. “I think it’s inappropriate for this purpose, and I think it’s inappropriate for this board because there is a method described to bring these recommendations before the council.”
He said the board should instead give its conclusions to the council through an annual report. Stem has previously raised concerns that the proposal would ask the city council to dictate budget details in a way that would limit future councils’ flexibility. As city manager, Stem is responsible for compiling a recommended budget each year.
A city advisory board has started discussions on a proposal to commit Waco to using exclusiv…
John Kinnaird, the city council’s liaison to the board, said the proposed resolution would be a non-starter because of its language stating that “all sectors” of the city should set a goal to commit to renewable energy by 2050. He said the proposal, which calls for exclusively renewable energy used for municipal purposes by 2025, is laudable but unenforceable and legally dubious.
“There were just things in that particular resolution that bubbled up that I knew I couldn’t support and didn’t think were feasible for the city operationally,” Kinnaird said after the meeting. “I felt incumbent upon myself as the city council liaison to this board to make that known to them ahead of their conversation and discussion.”
He also said the proposal to create a separate board to oversee the transition to renewable energy would be a duplication of the efforts the sustainability board and city staffers already make.
“While it sounds good on paper, the reality is a little less obvious,” he said during the meeting.
He said the letter drafted to the council, which lays out the benefits of renewable energy, contains good recommendations that should be discussed more.
Brockhaus said she hopes the board will communicate its objectives to the council outside of its annual report.
“I’m disappointed by the opinions expressed, as far as the procedural appropriateness,” Brockhaus said after the meeting. “I think there might be a lack of understanding of what our role as an advisory board is, and we’ve seen other cities that have similar advisory boards with similar charges provide recommendations and proposed resolutions that have successfully passed in other cities. It’s not a procedural anomaly or something that is illegal.”
“We can take steps now so we can answer to our children in 10 or 20 years what we do,” Northcutt said. “This is a crisis. It’s a global crisis.”