The wording is simple: An ordinance requiring the city of Ashland to produce 10 percent of the electricity used in the city from new, local and clean resources by the year 2020. It is a petition received on April 26 by the Elections Division and filed by Ashland residents David Helmich, Carol Wilder and Ronald Boutwell. To get on the ballot, backers will have to collect more than 2,400 valid signatures of registered voters by July 4.
The arguments for the petition, which voters would have a chance to vote on in November if it makes it onto the ballot, say: “Whereas climate change is caused in large part by human action and whereas Ashland residents have a responsibility to contribute to the slowing of climate change and whereas Ashland owns its own electrical utility, then the City of Ashland … shall enact such ordinances and resolutions, and appropriate such funds and take necessary actions as are necessary to implement the requirements ….”
The petition was recently written about by Ashland Councilor Mike Morris, without directly mentioning the proposed ballot measure, in his column featured in The Tidings on May 10.
“Currently, there is an outside push to circumvent the hard work of the Climate and Energy group and put a requirement on the city to produce (not acquire) 10 percent of its electricity locally,” Morris wrote.
Others argue the petition supports the work of those creating the Climate Energy and Action Plan for the city, which is now hosting open houses and seeking more public input about “investments in on-the-ground measures designed to meet goals and targets to efficiently reduce emissions and build resilience,” according to the plan’s architects.
Marni Koopman, a climate scientist for the Geos Institute, which studies global warming and measures to slow it, says the measure would make goals concrete. In speaking about the action plan and the initiative, she says, “I imagine this would fit in with that process.”
But Councilor Morris argues the 2020 goal is too aggressive. “No long- or short-term impact studies, no feasibility study, no looking at required rate increases or other associated costs to residents, no look at carbon reduction – currently, approximately 2-4 percent of Ashland electricity is from fossil fuel sources. Just a mandate for Ashland to produce 10 percent by 2020, less than four years away.”
But Koopman disagrees with the implication the schedule of 10 percent by 2020 is unrealistic. “It’s doable,” she told the Tidings. “There’s plenty of solar that’s affordable locally. It keeps up with fossil fuels and the price has been dropping so much.”
Koopman also says the petition would give the residents of Ashland good motivation. “It would be significant,” she said. “It would give people the confidence that they could do more.”
Councilor Morris also expressed concerns about where to locate any new forms of electrical production. “Does the city buy property? Do we replace housing or businesses or farmland for this?” Koopman agrees the approach needs to be thoughtful about where the city would locate a solar farm or wind turbines. “We don’t need a big trade-off or rush,” she said. “There are places already degraded where we can put those.”
But ultimately Koopman says doing something is better than not. She urges that we’re not too far along to make a difference in slowing climate change. “It’s not too late at all. (The petition to get on the ballot is) a great start. It’s not enough, but it’d be nice to show it can be done quickly.”
In Ashland, much of the energy we use comes from hydro and the greatest source of energy would be conservation, according to Koopman. Beyond that the number-one source would be solar, followed by wind energy.
Next Tuesday, May 24, the city’s Climate and Energy Action plan will be up for public discussion at the Historic Ashland Armory from 5:30 to 7:30 p.m. at 208 Oak St. It is the first in a series of three open houses.
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