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Waco Trib Editorial 2/13/2019: Renewables push for municipal operations benefits from hard facts, leadership vision

Advocates seeking to shift city of Waco municipal operations to 100 percent renewable energy in the near future may voice frustration at the pace of change, but last week’s meeting of the Sustainable Resources Practices Advisory Board should hearten all, given the discouraging tone of January’s meeting. The worthy topic of renewable energy last month became entangled amid discussions of protocol and propriety involving a formal board recommendation to the Waco City Council.

By sharp contrast, the advisory board last week unanimously approved a letter assembled by City Manager Wiley Stem III urging the council to consider 100 percent renewables in upcoming contract negotiations for energy purchase (even if, yes, without hard and fast timelines). It proposes that Stem’s office designate city staffers to collaborate with the advisory board to evaluate building energy audits, new construction requirements, power purchase agreements, transportation and more.

And if this decided change of heart isn’t enough, Councilman Jim Holmes rates praise for reminding city administrators and fellow council members of the need to more concertedly consider renewable energy in the future. This “tangential observation” arose during last week’s otherwise routine council discussion of the city’s contract with an energy-consulting and management services firm over competitive procurement of electricity and natural gas.

Holmes, describing himself a “big fan of renewable energy,” indicated he was fine with the consultant under discussion, “but as we talk about renewable energy and as it enters the community conversation, I just want us to be armed with facts.” He asked that the city “get me personally and the council more informed with facts as they have to do with conversion to renewable energy, conversion costs, market availability, scalability, timing and all that. I just want to be armed with better data than what’s out there right now as it has to do with the city of Waco.”

Yes, renewables figure into the broader, admittedly controversial question of climate change. While some political orthodoxy counts heavily on climate-change denial, at least as caused by man, can we really afford to take the chance most climatology scientists are wrong if our children and grandchildren are at risk? Is their wellbeing not worth some insurance in the form of renewables as a worthy environmental goal, even if the bridge to greater use of renewables is paved with fossil fuels?

During his presentation for board members, environmental warrior Alan Northcutt warned against myopic ideology in this realm: “Our main point is that this recommendation should be based on the science. What needs to be done is for the city ultimately to go 100 percent renewable. We cannot continue to use fossil fuels indefinitely.” In their own way, councilmen Holmes and John Kinnaird and even City Manager Wiley Stem III suggest the very same reliance on facts, if only to better scale challenges, hurdles and doubts down the winding road to environmental purity.

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