Moving Towards Energy Independence
by Austin Mayor Will Wynn, Chair, Energy Standing Committee
May 22, 2006
At the recent Conference of Mayors’ National Summit on Energy and the Environment, I was pleased and proud to see so many of our local communities working to address issues of global importance. America’s ever-increasing over-reliance on foreign oil has contributed greatly to high gas and energy prices, smog in our cities, and the prospect of adverse climate change, placing both our economy and national security at risk.
Each of us can make a difference by taking the lead in striving to develop more sustainable cities, encouraging alternative forms of energy, and searching for new solutions to the very real energy crisis and threat of global warming facing our nation.
Mayors know that to remain competitive as the global economy expands and puts greater strain on traditional fuel supplies, the United States must develop a comprehensive strategy that includes fuel diversity, conservation, alternative forms of energy and modern technologies. Furthermore, rising energy costs and the threat of widespread blackouts here, and the unpredictability of energy supplies from abroad require leadership at all levels in attaining energy independence, security, and reliability.
Clearly, mayors and cities across the U.S. are taking the initiative to respond to this energy crisis by implementing programs to help protect both the consumers’ pocketbook and the environment, as well as to wean us from our dependence on foreign oil.
The United States Conference of Mayors’ Energy & Environment Best Practices, to be distributed at our upcoming meeting, is a wonderful resource that details the numerous ways our communities across the country are addressing these critical issues. For example, in Chicago, Mayor Richard M. Daley’s green roof initiative encourages the planting of low-maintenance plants on rooftops to improve energy efficiency and the environment. Green roofs help dissipate rainwater naturally, relieving pressure on the city’s storm sewer system, plus they help reduce the urban heat island effect. Many other communities are promoting similar green roof programs.
In Los Angeles, Mayor Anthony Villaraigosa directed the Bureau of Sanitation – which collects and disposes of one million tons of solid waste each year – to eliminate reliance on landfills by increasing recycling and establishing an Alternative Solid Waste Processing Technologies Program. Within five years, the city plans to have in place a processing facility that will reduce air emissions and increase energy production from alternative fossil fuel sources.
In Seattle, Mayor Greg Nickels launched the U.S. Mayors Climate Protection Agreement to persuade all of us to do what the federal government has refused to do and endorse the Kyoto Protocol goals for reducing greenhouse emissions. As of May 12, more than 230 mayors representing more than 45 million Americans have accepted the challenge. I’m proud to represent Austin on that list and encourage you to consider joining us if you haven’t done so already.
In Austin, we strive to be effective environmental stewards through energy conservation and renewable energy use. We have found it easy to develop such programs, because our citizens expect and demand us to do so, and because we are fortunate to have our own municipally owned electric utility – Austin Energy.
Austin’s Green Building Program started in 1991 and was the first program of its kind in the nation to rate buildings on the number of energy-efficient features incorporated into their design and construction. Last year, Green Building rated more than 1,000 homes and the program’s energy-efficiency reductions achieved 17 megawatts in capacity savings, enough electricity to power about 13,000 homes.
Last year, Austin Energy sold more than 435 million kilowatt hours of renewable energy through its GreenChoice program, ranking it first in the country for the fourth year in a row for the most sales by a utility'sponsored program. The clean, renewable energy purchased by more than 8,000 residents and over 400 businesses is the equivalent of powering more than 36,000 average'sized homes in Austin year round and avoiding the emissions equal to more than 60,000 vehicles on our roadways.
Most recently, Austin Energy is spearheading a national “Plug-in Partners” campaign to urge automakers to manufacture plug-in hybrid electric vehicles that can run on the equivalent of 75 cents for an “electric gallon” of gas and can travel more than 80 miles per gallon when combined with bio-fuels. In Austin, we intend to replace Middle Eastern oil with West Texas wind.
We believe that cities, united in purpose, can build a groundswell of demand sufficient to entice carmakers to mass produce what is the logical near term response towards the critical goal of energy independence. More than 20 cities across the country, from San Francisco to Philadelphia, and more than 25 national organizations such as the Alliance to Save Energy and the Set America Free Coalition, as well as some 130 utilities have joined the Plug-In Partners campaign. About 5,000 “soft” fleet orders to date have been made by businesses and government agencies to indicate that they would consider purchasing plug-in hybrid vehicles for their fleets if they were manufactured.
My fellow Plug-in Partners and I ask your support in passing a resolution at our next meeting encouraging the use of plug-in hybrid vehicles. We also urge you to join us as a Plug-in Partner by visiting www.pluginpartners.org or contacting Lisa Braithwaite by phone (512-322-6511) or email (email@example.com).
I look forward to continuing to work with all of you in seeking creative solutions to the energy and environmental challenges facing us. Together we are making a difference.