Sustainability town hall 4/19

Athens-Clarke County’s Clean and Renewable Energy Campaign hosted its third virtual town hall meeting on Monday, in which ACC representatives answered questions from Athens residents on how ACC will reach its 100% renewable electricity goal by 2035. (Photo/Screenshot by Maddie Brechtel)

Athens-Clarke County’s Clean and Renewable Energy Campaign hosted its third virtual town hall meeting on Monday, in which ACC representatives answered questions from Athens residents on how ACC will reach its 100% renewable electricity goal by 2035.

The panelists introduced themselves and explained how the meeting would consist of a layout of the plan’s progress thus far, followed by a Q&A for the attendees and finally an opportunity for feedback on the plan.

Before diving into the plan, former Sustainability Officer Andrew Saunders, who was filling in for current Interim Sustainability Officer Mike Wharton, introduced the Community Advisory Board made up of local stakeholders chosen by Mayor Kelly Girtz. The board advises ACC and its partners through the planning process.

Experts weigh in

Some of these members include 100% Athens, a grassroots campaign that aims to have Athens transition to only using clean and renewable electricity by 2035, and Athens Housing Authority, an organization that aims to provide affordable and quality housing for “wage earners, elderly and families.”

Megan O’Neil, the program manager for policy and sustainability at Southface Institute, reiterated the goals of the plan and then defined the term “clean” energy as energy sources that don’t emit greenhouse gas emissions and “renewable” sources as those that can be replenished in a human timescale. O’Neil credited 100% Athens for the grassroots start of the plan.

“Athens-Clarke County is rather unique in that you have four separate electricity providers,” O’Neil said. “That means these are going to be four key partners for planning out how we’ll achieve this transition in the years to come.”

After O’Neil described reasons for implementing clean energy, Etan Gumerman, senior consultant at Greenlink Analytics, talked about energy in Athens. Gumerman emphasized how $500 million leaves Athens annually in energy expenses and that clean energy could reduce the total cost. There is also a potential for almost 10,000 new jobs, equivalent to 90% of UGA’s workforce, Gumerman said.

“Reducing [the] energy burden, we’d love to keep money local, create more jobs, stimulate the local economy and improve health through improved air quality,” Gumerman said in his concluding remarks.

Public questions

The panelists then opened the floor up to attendees to ask questions. An attendee named Diane asked if there would be a detailed carbon footprint analysis for ACC.

“We’ll have a pretty detailed understanding of the CO2 emissions and other greenhouse gas emissions,” Saunders answered. But he also said it is important to think about other contributing factors, like the landfill, and that they will not have an analysis of that.

Diane also asked about the airport, and Saunders said while the airport may be more of a challenge to navigate in terms of using clean energy, he believes intermediate term hydrogen, which is a type of hydrogen conversion process, may be the best fuel substitute.

Another attendee asked in the chat who would pay for the switch from gas heating to electric heating, especially given the large number of impoverished people in Athens.

“I have been in homes where people heat their house in Athens with an oven. So it’s not even as simple as natural gas to electricity,” Saunders said. “It’s not that we go to low-income, highly-impoverished households and say, ‘You need to do this.’ I think we go to those houses and say, ‘What is going to support you in life?’”

An attendee named Justin also commented on the necessity of understanding equity in environmental policy, a topic the panel had addressed earlier. He pointed out the unintended consequences of some of these policies in other models, and said he thought those leading the plan should be wary of excessive gentrification and that environmental redlining — a banking practice in the mid-20th century that forced groups of minorities to live in certain neighborhoods — has also been shown to have placed a heavier climate burden on these communities. Bailey Shea, a program coordinator for the Southface Institute, agreed with him.

The meeting concluded with the panelists reminding attendees to fill out the survey regarding the town hall meeting or community survey and that all feedback is always welcome.

The ACC Sustainability Office is set to hold two more town halls on renewable energy, on April 22 and April 27.