The Gazette covers City Hall, now a flood-damaged icon on May's Island in the Cedar River

City Council is out there on energy issue with Obama — 30 minutes after his inaugural speech

In Chuck Wieneke, City Hall, Jim Prosser, Monica Vernon, Pat Shey, Tom Podzimek on January 20, 2009 at 7:19 pm

The City Council spent its lunch hour Tuesday – 30 minutes after President Barack Obama finished his inaugural address – talking about how city government and the city as a whole should use energy in a way that doesn’t compromise the lives of generations to come.

Obama had just said: “… and each day brings further evidence that the ways we use energy strengthen our adversaries and threaten our planet. These are the indicators of crisis, subject to data and statistics. Less measurable, but no less profound, is a sapping of confidence across our land; a nagging fear that America’s decline is inevitable, that the next generation must lower its sights. Today I say to you that the challenges we face are real, they are serious and they are many. They will not be met easily or in a short span of time. But know this America: They will be met.”

Most of the nine-members on the council — whether they support Obama or not — can sound a little bit like him when it comes to thinking about the future.

“Sustainability” and a look out for the future has been a constant theme of this council and of City Manager Jim Prosser.

Developing an energy management plan is among the council’s top priorities.

In an hour-long discussion Tuesday, council member Pat Shey might have provided the best suggestion on how the council could begin to move on an energy policy and an energy management plan. He said the council should lead by example.

In the post-flood era, the council can do that, others said, by making sure that the city builds energy-efficient, LEED-certified buildings to reduce energy use in the future. The city, they noted, will be renovating or replacing many flood-damaged city buildings in the years ahead.

Shey also called on the council to create an energy-management scorecard, which local developers would be required to complete so the city had a sense of how energy-efficient and sustainable any proposed project might be.

The city already has such scorecards for smart growth and infill development, and Shey said the energy scorecard could be used like the others to make it clear — “It raises the consciousness,” he said — of what the council is trying to promote in the city.

“But we need to start with us,” he said.

Council member Monica Vernon and others said that any energy plan needs to start immediately and be applied to all the construction that is coming in the city as flood-damaged homes and apartments and businesses are rebuilt.

Building codes can be revised as a way to help bring desired energy practices about, she and council member Chuck Wieneke said.

Council member Tom Podzimek pointed to Portland, Ore., and said that city posts on its Web site the millions and millions of dollars it has saved over the years by having an energy management policy in place.

Such an effort can make a city “a beacon,” Podzimek said.

Podzimek and Wieneke agreed to work with the city staff on the formulation of an energy policy and plan.

In signing on with Podzimek, Wieneke said, “Tom wants to deal with the universe, and I can kind of hone it down to the planet.”

Podzimek had been talking about the council’s need to focus on energy production, distribution and consumption as it develops an energy policy.

But he also looked ahead and suggested a very specific step the city might consider taking to ready for the future.

Any time the city is replacing parking meters downtown, he said the city ought to install meters with plug-ins for the fast-approaching time when people can plug their electric cars into them.

“We know that’s coming,” he said.

After the meeting, he said the city would need to put a pencil to paper and work out whether it made financial sense now to buy some electric cars in the near term and install plug-ins to see how it worked.

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