Florida has been hard hit by the climate change-fueled growth of hurricane season over recent decades. Despite the pressures of disastrous weather and the complications of living in a landlocked part of the state, Gainesville, Fla. leads the way to net zero emissions and 100% renewable energy.
In this episode of our Voices of 100% series of the Local Energy Rules Podcast, host John Farrell speaks with Adrian Hayes-Santos, city commissioner of Gainesville, Fla., and Bob Tancig, a local climate advocate working with Citizens Climate Lobby, NAACP, and more. They discuss the city’s efforts to reach net zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2045 and their efforts towards 100% renewable municipal energy.
Listen to the full episode and explore more resources below — including a transcript and summary of the conversation.
|Bob Tancig:||You gotta have a plan, I put something at the end of my emails. Now that says “a goal without a plan is just a wish.” So we gotta have more than just the wish, we have to be working continually to educate the community, to build stronger coalitions and to stay on it because these are goals that might be 10 or 20, 30 years into the future. And we can’t wait to make the progress ongoing support.|
|John Farrell:||In October 2018, the city commission of Gainesville, Florida unanimously adopted a pledge to power city buildings with 100% renewable electricity and to reach net zero carbon emissions community wide by 2045. Unlike most cities, Gainesville owns its electric and gas utilities, giving it a leg up and making decisions to reach its goal. In September, 2020, I was joined by city commissioner, Adrian Hayes-Santos and community climate organizer, Bob dancing to discuss the city’s goals and its plans to achieve them. I’m John Farrell, director of the Energy Democracy Initiative at the Institute for Local Self-Reliance. And this is our special Voices of 100 series focused on local leaders and their pursuit from 100% renewable energy. It’s all part of local energy rules, biweekly podcast sharing, powerful stories about local, renewable energy, Adrian and Bob, welcome to Local Energy Rules.|
|Adrian Hayes-Santos:||It’s great to be here. Thank you.|
|Bob Tancig:||Thank you, John.|
|John Farrell:||So I always like to start off with just kind of the basic question. There are now over a hundred cities that have made these kinds of 100% renewable energy commitments like Gainesville has, but they differ in terms of the scope and of the timeline. Like whether they count that just the municipality or if they’re citywide, maybe it’s 2030, 2040. Could one of you explain what Gainesville has committed to and by what date?|
|Adrian Hayes-Santos:||Sure. I guess I can start off with that. We committed to net zero community-wide greenhouse gas emissions by 2045. So we do own our own utilities. So including that, and also looking at all of our vehicles that the city owns two, we own RPO and our have our own bus fleet as well. So really just looking at community wide and how do we get to a hundred percent renewable energy by 2045?|
|Bob Tancig:||I would just add that some of the different community organizations that were involved in getting that resolution passed back in 2018 different goals and framed it different ways. And so we can merge them all to something that everybody was happy with.|
|Adrian Hayes-Santos:||Yeah. In terms of the timeline too, I mean, we’re, I think one of the places where we’re focusing on right now is utility, which is our main kind of polluter that we have in our city. It’s probably the main culutre in most jurisdictions as well. And we have control of that and allows us to address that head on. We’re also working on a much vacation of our, of our bus fleet as well.|
|John Farrell:||I’d love to dive into some of those details a little bit more in particular with the city owned municipal electric utility. A lot of the communities that have made this kind of commitment don’t own the utility. So there’s a lot of, you know, maybe when I’m feeling a little less polite, begging and pleading that goes on or negotiating with the utility. And I did some research on the Gainesville Regional utilities. I see that it’s ahead of a lot of its Florida peers in terms of how much renewable energy it already has on the system. And in fact, I remember doing some work on in Gainesville. I think it was a decade ago about your feed in tariff for rooftop solar, which is one of the first in the country modeled on how European countries were getting solar developed. But I noticed it also still supplies, nearly two thirds of its electricity today from coal and gas. And so I was curious about how does that present a challenge in terms of meeting some of the goals you have? I was also just interested too to notice that– because we’re in the process of doing a report on in state, renewable energy potential across the 50 States– that Florida doesn’t have any onshore wind power, which is a really common resource that communities across the country are using as a low cost way to get to renewable. So tell me a little bit more about maybe that technical challenge that you have, but also about how receptive the utilities bend to this commitment and to working with you, given its current electricity mix.|
|Adrian Hayes-Santos:||Yeah. So, um, it’s been, I mean, it’s in Florida is difficult. We don’t have the hydro power. We don’t have the wind power and mainly our, it gets windy and then it stops. It’s not like we’re, we’re called the swamp because it feels like a swamp. A lot of times we just have no wind at all. So it puts us at a disadvantage in terms of kind of renewable energy options and where we can kind of go. So we did, we got, we were the first place in the United States to move towards a solar feed in tariff and that helped get us started there. We also build a biomass plant that burns Westwood that would have otherwise gone. We have a lot of tree farms in our area. A lot of there’s wastewater, where that comes from that that would have been eaten, burnt in the field and released carbon emissions that way or left to rot in the fields and let carbon emissions going that way. So we take that and we burn it, which gives us a base fuel our base fuel option for renewable option. That is very difficult in Florida. You’re right. We do have a coal plant and a gas plant, and that is a significant portion, but we’re moving in good directions. Last year. One of our months in February, we were at 51% of our power is coming from renewable energy. I mean, last year yet we had about 33%, but moving into next year in our budget, we’re expecting to have about 50% of our power only coming from coal and our gas plants. Then we’re also on our coal plant. We are, we’re actually turning that into a gas. It’s kind of a gas plant for something to kind of carry us through. Cause we, we have to have a, me and coal is the worst out of all of them. And there aren’t a lot of renewable options. So we are turning that to a gas plant to give us kind of a little flexibility for a little while. We are also moving towards solar. We recently just signed a power purchase agreement last month, I believe four 50 megawatts of solar power that also is battery backed up, backed up as well. So that is kind of as a major thing for us to be able to have that battery backup and that’s the prices are coming down and making that feasible. We don’t expect any increase in cost of our utility rates by, by building the solar component and with the battery backup.|
|Bob Tancig:||And I would add, although Florida has thousand miles of coastline for that coastal wind Gainesville is located in Alachua County, which is a landlocked County and into inland County, as many counties are in the United States. So for us to be able to benefit from some of that, we would need to develop a more regional grid so that we could bring in some of our power from the beaches. We’re kind of right between you at night. I couldn’t the Gulf, so we have some potential there. But one other thing that I thought was interesting was that down in Palm beach County where the Gulf stream streams by all day long, very close to shore, there’s a university down there, Florida Atlantic, that’s trying to develop title current power so they can get turbines down there in the Gulf stream. Hopefully one day we’ll be able to benefit.|
|John Farrell:||You mentioned that idea of a more regional grid. Does Gainesville have, I mean, generally speaking utilities are interconnected to other utilities within States. Does Gainesville have connections that would allow them, like if that title power emerged, would they be able to purchase some of that energy or is there really no way to deliver it to Gainesville?|
|Adrian Hayes-Santos:||So we’re connected as all kind of the utilities in Florida are connected, but we can only get with our current connections only get a limited amount of power. We are kind of an Island that can take care of ourselves. I’m kind of proud of that, but to be able to get to that, that really a hundred percent renewable in Florida because of the limited supply of we have a real renewable options. I think a regional approach is, is one of the things that has to happen. Bob Frank. And it’s one of the things that we have been talking with some of the utilities that surround us of increasing kind of the connections on how much electricity can pass through those connections, allowing us to kind of purchase power from a further away where renewable what options might be more efficient and cost effective.|
|John Farrell:||I wanted to ask you a little bit more about the relationship between the city government and the utility company in part, because I remember I was emailing a variety of communities that had made these commitments and one of them was Truckee, California. And I said, I had contacted their utility company. I was saying, you know, do you have any kind of plan that you’ve developed that you’ve outlined to meet the city’s renewable electricity commitment? And he said, well, that’s the city government and we’re a separate thing. So we don’t have, we don’t have any plans to meet the city’s goal. That’s kind of like they’re independent. They made their own choices the way you’re talking about it. Adrian makes it sound like you’ve got a pretty good relationship with the utility that they’re on board with helping to meet this goal. So I’m just curious about how the utility was involved in the, maybe even in the public conversation about making such a commitment and then kind of like what the longer term parts of the plan look like in terms of, you know, scaling back the gas and coal plant and building more renewable.|
|Adrian Hayes-Santos:||That’s a great question. That’s one of the issues that we continue to have is kind of that fight between our general government side and the utility side, and then thinking they’re different and they should be treated differently and that’s like different cultures. And definitely it’s one of things I’ve tried to push forward is having more of an integrative push of our general government and our, our utility on the same they’re owned by the residents, our community, but that has been a, has been a struggle. I was talking with our head of our utility and that’s been one of the major things that he’s had to work on is changing the culture within the utility to be receptive, to going to a hundred percent renewable because theirs has been a culture of ‘we’re a coal and gas’ kind of place. ‘And that’s what we do and we do it well, and we’ll keep doing that.’ But changing the culture, then what are the kind of more difficult things on the management side of the utility to make sure that they’re on board. One of the things too we’ve done is kind of brought in some people who may not be on kind of the old utility kind of mindset, but bringing in new people who kind of have that more open mindset and not have kind of the blinders on for just cold gas. Luckily our utility manager has been on board and we’ve had a lot of, kind of very public conversations about it. And I also think because of the work that was done in the past decades of doing the feed and tariff and doing biomass, it kind of is already entrenched in our community of something that we want.|
|Bob Tancig:||I think that’s very important that we have our city commissioners are actually making the decisions for our municipal utility. They’re the management, I guess, Oh, we have a general manager, but when the manager brings issues before the city commission, that gives the opportunity for citizens to first get noticed and then also to organize it, to make our voices heard. So it’s very important that Gainesville Regional Utilities is managed by our city commission and it, rather than these decisions happening in boardrooms, they’re happening into this well now on Zoom, of course, but before that in the city commission chamber and very out and opening the public and the community, if they have concerns to bring it to the commission recently, there was an issue that came up that was proposed. And I think in response to community pressure, I do was dropped and we moved down to something that people could get behind.|
|John Farrell:||Bob, I’m kind of interested in hearing you explain that a little bit more and also maybe offer a little contrast it given your kind of extensive history, doing community work around climate change, and no doubt you’re connected with folks in other communities that don’t own their utility, maybe served by Florida power and light. For example, I’m curious if you could both share a little bit more about this specific example in Gainesville where the public input helped change things, but also maybe how it’s different than for folks who are in a city that is served by Florida power and light where the utility is not controlled by the city. Like how does the advocacy and those places work in? Is there an opportunity to influence the decisions that utilities make?|
|Bob Tancig:||Well, maybe I should start off on that one. We had a, actually a city referendum not too long ago, proposing to take the control away from our city commission and give it to an appointed board. Our citizens rejected that idea thought that the city commission was the place for those kinds of decisions to be made because the interest there is not for stock holders or shareholders or some big investors somewhere else, but the city residents and the citizens of Gainesville, there’s certainly been some issues in the past that we didn’t all agree on. But I think overall with the boat showed that we do have confidence that our elected officials can do the job and represent us well, but making those decisions.|
|Adrian Hayes-Santos:||Yeah. In terms of talking to other elected officials and other cities around Florida who do have either FPNL or other Duke energy, it can be very difficult. I think one of the more difficult times is usually during the hurricanes here and major power disruptions happen. And that is where there’s usually when a lot of the fights come up is between the utility not doing what they’re supposed to and just not getting the power turned on the right way or how much resiliency they have in their and their power grid. That seems to be a continued fight that I see in other communities you’re in here in Gainesville, wasn’t beyond our own utility. We can say, we want to invest in this much reliability. And it’s something that the community is a part of. They’re not having to fight. So I think that’s where it comes into a lot, definitely on the climate side as well. But definitely during these emergencies where the city has direct control over, I think one of the most important utilities, electrical literacy, and here in Gainesville, we actually are lucky. We also have electricity, water, wastewater, gas, and telecommunications on the right.|
|John Farrell:||We’re going to take a short break. When we come back, I ask if Gainesville has a specific plan in place to reach its 100% goal what the role of racial equity is and their plans and what advice Adrian and Bob have for city leaders and organizers and other communities. You’re listening to local energy rules from the Institute for Local Self-Reliance. Hey, thanks for listening to local energy rules. If you’ve made it this far, you’re obviously a fan and we could use your help for just two minutes. As you’ve probably noticed, we don’t have any corporate sponsors or ads for any of our podcasts. The reason is that our mission at ILSR is to reinvigorate democracy by decentralizing economic power. Instead, we rely on you, our listeners, your donations, not only underwrite this podcast, but also help us produce all of the research and resources that we make available on our website and all of the technical assistance we provide to grassroots organizations every year. At ILSR, our small staff helps hundreds of communities, challenge monopoly, power directly and rebuild their local economies. So please take a minute and go to ilsr.org and click on the donate button. And if making a donation, isn’t something you can do, please consider helping us. In other ways, you can help other folks find this podcast by telling them about it, or by giving it a review on iTunes, Stitcher, or wherever you get your podcasts. The more ratings from listeners like you, the more folks can find this podcast and ILSR’s other podcasts, community broadband bits and building local power. Thanks again for listening. Now, back to the program.|
One of the things I am interested to hear more about than sort of broadly is there are several hundred percent cities that we’ve talked to recently that I’ve actually kind of crafted formal plans to meet their commitment. We talked to folks in Missoula, Montana just a month or two ago, and they have this thing called an electricity option study. They don’t own their utility. Same for St. Louis, Missouri. They have a pathways to a hundred percent clean energy report. So a lot of their reports are kind of like, what do we need the utility to do? But there’s also some other interesting things in there as well about transportation and such like you had mentioned, does Gainesville have a, sorry, I have a similarly like written out action plan for its goal or is there something like that in process or how are you going about achieving the goal?
|Adrian Hayes-Santos:||Yeah, so it’s a, I think it’s an ever evolving plan that we do have, and that was somewhat worked on before the, the goal and the push from our community to get, to be, have that goal a hundred percent renewable energy. But once that happened, that really kind of set us in motion and then we have crafted plants. It’s difficult in Florida. That’s one of the big things it’s about that hydro and wind energy. It’s difficult, but we have, but solar with battery, most likely looking at another, our biggest options, kind of that, that base load power and probably looking at maybe another biomass plant to be able to kind of have that, that base power and then looking at a solar too. We’re also looking at the regional approach. I think that’s one of the things that is another aspect of, of working with the utilities that are around us and how can we kind of bring renewable energy from, from other places that might have better supply and, and better prices. I think one of the things too is as technology changes, that’s something that we’re continually looking at as well. And this year we, we, we added 50 megawatts and we’re adding 10 megawatts of solar that we signed this year and that will go live next year with battery. And I think that’s where probably we’re moving towards as well as the solar with battery too.|
|Bob Tancig:||And that we should brag a little bit on our County commissioner. Who’s here city and County commissioners. We recently just last week appointed nine new members to a citizens’ climate advisory committee, a joint committee, advising city and County commissioners made up of community members with tremendous expertise who we of course have the university of Florida here and also some great agricultural interests we were able to, through the work of both the city and the County to get them to establish a committee in stools are to advise on how to come up with a plan like this and get the word out into the communities and make sure that we have representation from the whole community.|
|John Farrell:||That’s great. I’m really glad you mentioned that that’s been an interesting facet of what we’ve seen in other cities like St. Louis as well. And it has some bearing on my next question too, which is, as other cities have had these a hundred percent goals, there’s often been a focus on equity, such as ensuring energy affordability for low income residents, or maybe it’s ensuring Native American or Black populations that have live near polluting power plants have a chance to benefit more from the transition. They’d just like by getting rooftop, solar or something like that, or having access to energy efficiency. Are there any specific things that Gainesville’s doing either that were part of the broader campaign to set this a hundred percent goal or in terms of the plan to implement that are targeting equity?|
|Bob Tancig:||Yeah, actually the coalition that was first created through our local NAACP, actually it was the NAACP environmental and climate justice committee. There should be, if there aren’t there, they should, we should be organizing those committees in every County, every place that has a NAACP branch early on, again, back in 2019, we had a Jackie Patterson who was the national director of their department of climate justice committee to come and be the keynote speaker at an event. So Gainesville electric County has been working all along on those kinds of interests. We’re not, we’re not just recently to the game. And certainly we looked at that share with the committee as they made those appointments to the citizen climate advisory committee made special point that we needed a diverse population. So we do, we have diversity in age and race. Geographical patients in the County don’t treat me as well. So we, we, our, our, our community leaders are very well in terms of that. They, they feel that that’s an important part of their job is to get representation from the entire community.|
|Adrian Hayes-Santos:||Yeah, that equity is definitely one of our top things at the city. It’s become our overarching kind of goal and what we look at. And when we do make decisions, equity, we, one of the things that’s looked at and where we’re making a policy though, is how does this affect bringing more equity to our community? Because we do, we have significant racial gaps when it comes to education and income as well. So it’s something that has to be looked at. I can just can kind of put on the side. We’re also looking at it kind of from, from different paths, different ways as well. Actually this later this week, an ordinance that we’ve been working on for the past couple years, a rental housing ordinance, and one of the big issues we have in our community is substandard housing, not energy efficient, that’s old. A lot of it was kind of old military housing from basis that was brought here after world war II. And it just hasn’t really been taken care of. And Florida didn’t really have the best kind of energy efficiency rules to, for a long time. So the rental housing ordinance has mandated city inspections that inspect for both health and safety, but also for energy efficiency to make sure that units have attic insulation and other things and weather stripping, because we found that rental units in our community, you is significant more higher utility bills per square foot than someone who owns it. And mainly it’s because a lot of landlords just don’t invest into the energy efficiency upgrades, because they don’t have to pay the utility bills. So this helps bring that back and it should lower utility bills for our lower income individuals in our community.|
|John Farrell:||I’m actually really curious about given that you own your utility. If you have come or talked about the pay as you save program for energy efficiency, it was started by some rural electric cooperatives in the Southeast, probably the most prominent one is Watchtower electric cooperative, but also Roanoke. But the idea is that you essentially are able to finance energy efficiency improvements through the utility bill. And so the utility will invest its own capital through that to help folks pay for it. And then you just pay it back on the utility bill, but it doesn’t rely on loans like so many efficiency programs do. So I don’t know if you’ve even come across that, but that’s been one really interesting way that tends to have a really powerful, equitable impact in terms of the structure of the program.|
|Bob Tancig:||That’s why it’s so important to have these rental ordinances, energy efficiency in a rental unit where level of low income folks will be living really, really can’t make that kind of a improvement to their, to their unit themselves. It depends on the landlord, the landlord doesn’t pay the electric bill. So those kinds of programs are limited. So our city commission will decide, I believe this week to, to go forward with the energy efficiency standard and rental lives.|
|Adrian Hayes-Santos:||And on the utility on the, on the energy efficiency program, you mentioned, we actually did have something like that back before procession. And it was one of the things that was, we had quite a bit of energy efficiency programs and a lot of them, and they cleaned this one were cut out when the great recession hit and we were cutting budgets, I’d be aware, but it hasn’t, it hasn’t come back yet. It’s something kind of, I remember walking neighborhoods knocking on doors and people actually mentioned that and liked that program. I think it’s something to consider, but I, to Bob’s point it, it’s only really for homeowners, not for kind of rentals that we have in our community. So I, but I think it’s, you need to have a multifaceted approach of things that target each individual person.|
|John Farrell:||I’m happy to send you more about it. Cause the program I heard about actually was primarily benefiting rental housing. So they were working with landlords to help them. And there are some tricky business about like who’s paying the bills and stuff like that, that they managed to sort out, but it’s really, it was very successful. And particularly in communities where, you know, you had the electric utility, of course the biggest bill is the electric bill because of air conditioning, which I imagine is at least somewhat similar for where you guys are too.|
|Adrian Hayes-Santos:||It is. Yeah. If you can send that over, that’d be, that’d be great. Cause our, our previous one was just, I mean, I think it was just mainly focused on older octane because usually if you’re renting a place you don’t want to pay for the fridge or the stove or stuff like that since|
|John Farrell:||Nobody washes a rental car. Right. Isn’t that the, well I’d like to wrap up by just asking you in both the experience you’ve got Bob and helping to organize around getting this city commitment and then in an Adrian in the, in the work that you’ve done in city government to both adopt this pledge, but then also trying to figure out how to meet it. What advice do you have for other communities in Florida or elsewhere as they, as they think about this, about their energy future, how do you, how do you make this kind of commitment? How do you talk to people about whether or not it’s doable and, and, and, and identify some of those first steps.|
|Bob Tancig:||We’ll certainly reach out to the community, build strong coalitions. We worked quite a while before we got that pledged pass before the city commission. And then the important thing is stay on it. One of our, our other advocates this morning made that point again, once, once the goal is in place. And you’ve mentioned that on the call today that got to have a play on, I, I put something at the end of my emails. Now that says it’s a goal without a plan is just a wish. So we gotta have more than just the wish we have to be. We have to be working continually to, to educate the community, to build stronger coalitions and to stay on it because these are goals that might be 10 or 20, 30 years into the future. And we can’t wait to them to make the progress. We have to have ongoing support pressure. If you want to call it pressure. Some things he said, some, some commissioners don’t mean to be pressured as much, but some do. And so we need that. We need to stay on it. You can’t go and relax and have a celebration and then forget about the campaign. And that campaign is achieved.|
|John Farrell:||Probably just one quick followup on that. When there have been elections for the city commission, is this an issue that has been talked about during those elections? I know that that’s a, in my experience in Minneapolis, which is where I’m from and where there has been some of that kind of discussion in the past around climate change, that was really important how it was involved in the municipal election conversation. I was just curious if that was part of what was happening in the work that you were doing organizing.|
|Bob Tancig:||Well, certainly in the work that we’re doing already, that I mentioned earlier, the, uh, the initiative through the referendum to, to try to keep here, you can Google about it. I’m sure Adrian can talk more about more recent political campaigns, but we certainly do try to bring it up when we have, like, for instance, the league of women voters who were on our NAACP coalition, they certainly bring it up in all of their candidate forums and that sort of thing. I’m sure you could get some firsthand accounts.|
|Adrian Hayes- Santos:||Yeah, it’s been environmental in our community its probably one of the top kind of polling issue that we have here. So I don’t, I, I don’t know. We’ve had, like, someone runs specifically on a hundred percent goal, but we definitely have people who run on renewable energy as something I ran on is like, we need to be focused on renewable energy and climate change too. I think that was the last couple of election cycles. We’ve seen climate change being kind of one of the main political points in there. And then on the, on the other side too, and kind of what can be kind of told to other communities are working on this? I think Bob said it well, when he, when he talked about keeping the pressure on, it’s not gonna be solved in a year or two years or three years, there’s going to be new commissioners that come on and new activists in the community. And that, that has to have that continued push that, that can’t be able to get it in. And then on another front, I think inside kind of city government on kind of the bureaucratic end, you, you have to have buy in from staff. And that, that has to be there. You have to change that, that culture that may be entrenched inside utility.|
And that’s, I think if you don’t, if you don’t have buy in from staff stuff, doesn’t happen. So that I think is one of the major kind of hurdles that has to be overcome and to make sure that you have that from your kind of higher ups. Um, but also going down to lower down in the, in the, in the organization to, um, are, are, are very important. You don’t have to have a plan to set that goal. And I think that’s one of the main things is setting that goal and getting it out there. And then you can do start doing the hard work of putting together the plan there’s even today, if you’re putting together a plan, it’s not going to be exactly, what’s going to get you to that point. It’s going to change over time. So I don’t think being afraid of not knowing how to, how you get there before you set that goal
|John Farrell:||Reminds me of a presentation I did once in Tucson, Arizona, and someone from the electric utility there, which is investor owned, but relatively local in terms of the area at serves, he said, you know, we basically come to work each day to do what we did the day before and to do it reliably. And so it really is interesting that challenge of culture change to help people understand, like you’re setting out to do something different. So I really appreciate you mentioning that Adrian. Thank you so much for taking the time to share how Gainesville has made this a hundred percent commitment and you’re struggling through it like so many other folks doing good work. I really appreciate your time. Thank you so much for listening to this episode of our voices. If 100% podcast series with Gainesville city, commissioner, Adrian, Hey Santos and community climate organizer, Bob dancing recorded in September, 2020 on the show page.|
Look for links to the Gainesville utilities, energy mix, and more about the pay. As you save inclusive energy financing model. We discussed to learn about other cities pursuing 100% renewable energy. Check out over a dozen additional voices at 100% interviews on the local energy rules podcast, including leaders in Madison, Wisconsin, Cleveland, Ohio, or even a fetus Springs, Louisiana look up the Sierra. Club’s ready for 100 campaign page to see more cities and their clean energy goals. Back on the website of the Institute for local self reliance, you can also find the entire list of 100% cities on our community power map and clicks through an interactive community power toolkit for stories on how cities have advanced toward their goal. Local energy rules is produced by myself and Maria McCoy. Editing provided by audio engineer, drew Burchard tune back into local energy rules every two weeks to hear more powerful stories of communities taking on concentrated power to transform the energy system until next time, keep your energy local. And thanks for listening.
Gainesville Jumps into Renewable Energy
In 2018, Gainesville’s City Commission resolved to reach 100% renewable electricity and net zero emissions community-wide by 2045. The city’s commitment includes more than 100 city vehicles planned for electrification. The commitment came after significant compromise between many groups.
Hayes-Santos says that their community sees both sides of the energy coin. A decade ago, Gainesville was one of the first cities in Florida to implement a solar feed-in tariff, yet the landlocked city has few means to produce wind power.
“We’re called the swamp because it feels like a swamp. A lot of times we just have no wind at all,” says Hayes-Santos.
Other renewable energy efforts include the city’s biomass farm burning waste wood that would otherwise be left to rot, solar power accompanied by battery packs, and tying into potential wind power from the city’s onshore neighbors. Florida has yet to tap into gulfstream winds.
Florida is one of three states unable to meet its energy needs with a combination of in-state wind, hydro, and rooftop solar. Read more in the third edition of Energy Self-Reliant States.
Despite those efforts, the city still relies on gas and coal for two-thirds of its electricity. The slow transition is surprising, since the electricity provider, Gainesville Regional Utilities, is municipally owned. However, there is a disconnect between the city’s goals and the utility’s intentions, says Hayes-Santos.
Recent personnel changes have built hope for the pursuit of Gainesville’s 100% goal, but Tancig says there’s a long way to go. Part of that stems from past disagreements between the city commission and the utility, but both Tancig and Hayes-Santos remain confident that those elected will represent the city well.
One of the major things that the utility’s head had to work on is changing the culture within the utility to be receptive, to going to a hundred percent renewable because theirs has been a culture of ‘we’re a coal and gas kind of place.’
– Adrian Hayes-Santos
Part of Gainesville’s pursuit of 100% renewable energy includes a citizen advisory committee to the city and county commissioners. The committee opens communication between the community’s needs and those with the power to make the changes.
Neighbors hope that there will be a bigger push toward solar and supporting new technology.
A Focus on Community Wellbeing
Tancig mentions that the climate coalition in Gainesville was first organized by the city’s NAACP chapter and that its leadership has secured a representative view of the community’s needs.
The city is focused on advancing equity, Hayes-Santos explains. They continue to seek to overcome historic gaps in education and income, among other inequalities. At the time of recording, Hayes-Santos was expecting an ordinance addressing housing issues in the city and rental housing safety to go through the commission.
One of the issues that renters in any community may see, Hayes-Santos says, are landlords that don’t invest in energy efficiency. Renters are usually responsible for utility costs, but don’t have the ability to make efficiency upgrades without impacting the lease.
An important part of minimizing the energy use of the city is to monitor predatory landlords. Property inspections, says Tancig, help to ensure that property owners maintain efficiency goals.
Plotting a Path to 100% Renewable
To other cities thinking about setting renewable energy goals, Hayes-Santos says to work within the community, find groups already concerned about similar issues, and collaborate. Tancig echoes this sentiment, saying that constant pressure is the only way to get changes. He also says anyone involved must have an eye on the end goal and an eye on the road ahead.
A goal without a plan is just a wish. We have to be working continually to educate the community, to build stronger coalitions and to stay on it.
– Bob Tancig
Hayes-Santos mentions the importance of having the local government support the cause. When tracking a path to 100% renewable energy, he says that flexibility is very important too.
“If you’re putting together a plan, it’s not going to be exactly what’s going to get you to that point. It’s going to change over time,” Hayes-Santos stresses, it’s okay to readjust.
See these resources for more behind the story:
- Click here to read Sierra Club’s press release on Gainesville
- For more coverage of Gainesville’s commitment to 100%, read this article from Alligator.org.
For concrete examples of how cities can take action toward gaining more control over their clean energy future, explore ILSR’s Community Power Toolkit.
This is the 25th episode of our special Voices of series, and episode 114 of Local Energy Rules, an ILSR podcast with Energy Democracy Director John Farrell, which shares powerful stories of successful local renewable energy and exposes the policy and practical barriers to its expansion.
Local Energy Rules is Produced by ILSR’s John Farrell and Maria McCoy. Audio engineering by Drew Birschbach.
Featured photo credit: Noya Fields via Flickr (CC BY-SA 2.0)