Turning green for the red, white and blue

08/22/07 Seán Kinane
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This morning at the Children’s Board of Hillsborough County in Ybor City, local politicians and community members discussed energy conservation.

The theme of the meeting was “Turning Green for the Red White and Blue: Energy Conservation for a more secure nation.” It included Tampa City Council member Linda Saul-Sena, Hillsborough School Board Member April Griffin, climate change activist Roberta Fernandez and U.S. Representative Kathy Castor, who described the House Energy Bill that sets a national goal for renewable energy production.

The bill passed earlier this month but still must be reconciled with the Senate version. The bill sets a national goal for renewable energy production.

“In the state of Florida right now, we produce zero percent of our energy from solar, wind, tidal energy. And now under this law, by the year 2015, states will be required to have at least 15 percent of their energy portfolio coming from the renewable energies.”

The bill actually requires 15 percent renewables by 2020. One thing that was not included in House bill H.R. 3221 is Corporate Average Fuel Economy (CAFE) standards for automobile efficiency. They were not included, according to Castor, because of the auto lobby.

“The good news is the Senate Energy Bill contains an increase in the CAFE standards. So what’s going to happen over the coming weeks is conference committee between the House and the Senate. I believe that most of the new members of Congress, like me, and our leadership they want the boldest, strongest energy package that includes conservation measures but includes those renewable energy standards and better fuel economy from our automobiles,” Castor said.

She said the bill includes some funding for renewable energies.

“Billions of new dollars now will be taken from the subsidies the country was previously providing to big oil companies and instead investing that in renewable energy research and I think that’s very positive and overdue.”

Contrary to the claims of some nuclear energy advocates, the House bill does not consider nuclear a "renewable" source, she said.

Saul-Sena thinks that sustainability should also be a priority at the local level, including in all city construction projects.

“We want all new investments that the city makes to be green. And it needs to be built in a sustainable way. The LEED certification is the current marking mechanism. I’m not sure that it has to be LEED certified, but I want to see that green materials are used.

"And that our long-term maintenance costs will be lower because we’ve used smart heating and cooling systems, a greener roof, which, actually, the museum [Tampa Museum of Art] is planned for. They’re planning a garden on the roof.”

Saul-Sena dispelled a common myth - that sustainability is expensive.

“Long-term going green saves money. Yesterday at a Council budget workshop I said that I wanted to see our budget next year reconfigured so that it reflects that the initial capital investment is offset by the long-term maintenance costs. It’s a smart thing and a responsible thing for us to do as a local government. Actually, long term, we know that green saves money.”

Saul-Sena said any new franchise agreement with TECO should be short-term and flexible to allow the city alternative energy options in the future.

“We’re looking at our new franchise agreement with TECO. Our agreement expired about a year ago. And it’s going to be for either 10, 20, or 30 years, that’s one of the points under discussion. I believe that the field of energy is changing so rapidly that we should have a shorter franchise agreement. And it should have very, very supportive exit strategies in case we develop other means of producing power. And we should have a real distinct emphasis on conservation.”

April Griffin is a member of the Hillsborough County School Board. She spoke about some of the energy-reduction efforts she has initiated while on the board and heard suggestions from community members about how schools could be more energy efficient.

Griffin said the county will need to build approximately 21 new elementary schools and she would like to make them environmentally sustainable buildings. In fact, the design for the first LEED certified school in the county has been planned. Griffin said the school system is TECO’s second largest customer.

Roberta Fernandez is an activist who speaks with groups about what they can do to prevent climate change.

“To tackle climate change it’s going to take $300 billion a year. And people just go ‘oh my god’ and they want to stick their head in the sand. But if we looked at what that would mean … If everybody in that Northern Hemisphere, all of us rich countries, were to be taxed for that, it’s a quarter of a cent on a dollar, that’s it. I don’t think my change purse would notice the difference.”

Last week, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers approved the construction of a new airport in the Florida panhandle even though it means the destruction of 2000 acres of wetlands. Developers and Sen. Bill Nelson had pushed for the airport; Gov. Charlie Crist said he was pleased with the decision. But Castor feels differently.

“I’m very disappointed that the Army Corps of Engineers has issued a permit for destruction of thousands of acres of wetlands for a new airport in the Panhandle. Folks want to pay less for their property insurance. We will not continue to encourage development along our coastline. And that’s what this new airport is supposed to fuel, is more development along the coastline that will cost us more money. … And not just cost us more money, but harm the environment. It’s unfortunate.”

Learn more:

HR 3221 - House version of Energy Bill

NOW with Bill Moyers on the future of the Panhandle

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