The Paris Climate Agreement, with its voluntary CO2 targets, were back in the news this past week. The President announced that he was pulling the US out of the agreement and dozens of mayors, governors, and business leaders immediately jumped into the fray, stating that they support the agreement. Talk about a political football! Here is my take:
Extremists on both sides of the climate debate are equally out of touch with reality. The climate change deniers ignore the consensus of the overwhelming majority of scientists who actually study the climate: Things are warming up fast and there is a clear link to human activities. The rabid environmentalists who demand an immediate end to fossil fuel use, even if it sends our economy back into the tank, are likewise also out of touch.
I believe that we should set aside the long term questions of climate change and concentrate on two very immediate issues:
Any of you who have known me for a while are familiar with my dim view of buying oil from people who teach their children to hate everything we stand for. I was in college when OPEC responded to the Arab-Israeli war of 1973 by chocking off our supply of cheap middle eastern oil. They have manipulated oil prices repeatedly in the succeeding decades, most notably sending the price of gasoline well over $4.00 a gallon back just before the start of the Great Recession in 2008. While Wall Street bankers certainly played a major role in causing the economic meltdown, OPEC was right in there helping to send our economy into the dumps.
Our “friends” in the middle east, most notably the Saudis, take the money we pay them for oil to underwrite one of the most intolerant branches of Islam. I do not for a minute believe that it was an accident that 15 of the 19 9/11 terrorists were from Saudi Arabia. The net result is that we are spending untold billions of dollars every year to protect the flow of oil from the middle east AND funding the schools that teach the children to hate us.
It is time we take a stand. We can’t fight radical islamic terrorists at the same time we are funding them. We need to cut off the flow of dollars that pay for the spread of their toxic ideology. In the short term, that means an “all of the above” approach to developing domestic energy sources.
Although a good case can be made to limit fracking, it HAS provided us with new domestic supplies of gas and oil. The new supply of natural gas has helped create an economic justification to move away from coal and oil for our power plants. The Anclote River plant was converted from oil to natural gas. The current Crystal River plants burn coal, but the new plant under construction burns natural gas.
The Economy and Jobs
I believe we need to take advantage of this opportunity to continue the research and development of environmentally friendly forms of energy production, most notably solar, wind, and hydroelectric sources. The coal jobs that President Trump promised to bring back are beyond salvation. Those jobs are simply not going to come back anymore than we should expect to see a resurgent demand for buggy whips. We need to build a 21st century job base if we want to make America great again.
The number of solar energy jobs continues to grow while the number of coal jobs continues to shrink. Solar energy now employs almost three times as many people as coal production. Close to home, there are absolutely NO jobs in New Port Richey, or Pasco County for that matter, that involve coal mining. There ARE job opportunities in the solar industry field.
Solar energy is rapidly becoming cost effective compared to fossil fuels. A number of local companies, including Team Farrell, are either offering solar installations or are gearing up to do so. When people ask me what sort of good jobs can be created in New Port Richey, encouraging this rapidly growing industry comes to mind.
Informed people from across the political spectrum seem to agree. I can count both very liberal and arch conservative friends among the folks who are taking a hard look at solar energy. This is NOT a partisan issue.
One of my neighbors told me that he had paid for his solar panels in eight years. An eight year payback period on a capital project is pretty sweet. Given that equipment prices continue to drop, the payback period will continue to drop. Within the next few years, installing solar panels on homes and businesses in the Sunshine State will become the proverbial “no brainer.”
As mayor, I get lots of emails advocating for one thing or another. One recent campaign by the Sierra Club had local residents asking me to commit to making New Port Richey a 100% green and renewable energy city. I don’t believe we are quite at the point where it makes sense to commit to making our city 100% green on any sort of specific time table. I’ve written back to each person who has emailed me on this issue. My response to one of these emails led to an invitation to visit the solar energy installation at Marchman Technical College. A senior member of our Public Works staff and I took them up on the invitation. The visit, if you will pardon the pun, was enlightening.
Marchman has a fairly large solar array sitting between two wings of the building. They also have an electrical trailer that has solar panels on both the roof and an awning. Naturally, I wanted to share as well, so I drove over in my son’s plug-in hybrid. We enjoyed seeing the solar arrays and the students enjoyed checking out the Prius plugged into the wall plug.
The visit got us thinking about ways that the city could take advantage of the increasingly affordable solar option around town. One possibility would be to provide backup power to various lift stations with a combination of solar and battery power. In the event of a storm that disrupts Duke Energy’s power distribution system, our sewer system would continue to function without the need to run around town with mobile generators.
We should consider the economics of solar panels as we look at routine roofing projects on various city buildings. There are also some large open areas that aren’t suitable for anything else where we could consider possibly installing solar panels and selling the electricity back to Duke Energy. The closed city landfill on Indiana Avenue and the huge retention pond immediately north of the Rec. Center both immediately come to mind.
If the cost recovery period for solar projects is just a few years, we could invest now and save future taxpayer dollars for years to come. Does it make sense? I’m not sure, but it is certainly worth running the numbers to see.
Going green fits in with the progressive image we are trying to build for our city. We’ve taken some first steps and now it is time to think about the next logical steps. For example, we passed a golf cart ordinance that allows golf carts on most of the streets around town. Given that we have power jacks in most of the tree circles downtown, it wouldn’t take much work to designate one or more parking spaces as reserved for golf carts and provide free charging for golf cart owners that come downtown to eat at one of our restaurants.
We can encourage businesses to consider green vehicles when doing their own projects.
Those steps can be as simple as designating EV parking spaces in their existing parking lots. These spaces can be as simple to create as providing 110v outlets curbside or as complex as installing Level 2 (220v) charging stations specifically designed for electric vehicles. Of course, they will also need to educate their customers that a paint job does not a green vehicle make.
The city can take a leadership role by installing Level 2 stations around town. Some of the fancier stations would allow us to charge for charging, much as the City of Oldsmar and various Walgreens in Pinellas County do now.
The payback period for purchasing electric vehicles and plugin hybrids is fairly long, but given how long the city keeps vehicles, adding EV and PHEV vehicles to the city fleet may make economic sense. It is at least worth considering them as we replace vehicles in the city fleet.
We are transforming New Port Richey into a city that is attracting a younger, more environmentally conscious population. Regardless of how the climate change debate sorts out at the national level, I believe we have an opportunity to benefit by taking steps toward becoming more green and encouraging our businesses to do the same.
Rob Marlowe, Mayor