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Louisville Leaps Toward Renewable Energy Future

Moments after Metro Council voted in support of a resolution to reach 100 percent renewable energy for the city of Louisville, Mayor Greg Fischer announced the next steps.

Come March, the city plans to begin accepting bids to conduct an energy audit of city operations. The audit is a deep dive into the city’s energy consumption to identify ways to cut costs and improve efficiencies.

Louisville hopes to use the savings identified in the audit to hire an energy manager to oversee the city’s consumption of power and energy billings.

“We as a city must take bold action around climate change, and Louisville Metro Government must lead by example, which is why we support Metro Council’s 100% renewable resolution,” Fischer said in a statement. “[Metro government] is already taking action by moving forward with plans to conduct an energy audit.”

Late Thursday evening, the full Metro Council voted 15-4 in support of the resolution to reach 100 percent renewable energy. The vote fell along party lines, with Republican council members either voting no or declining to vote.

The resolution urges Louisville to transition city operations to 100 percent renewable electricity by 2030, to 100 percent clean energy by 2035 — including both electricity and natural gas — and to 100 percent clean energy throughout the community by 2040.

It also says the council supports revised building codes that incorporate energy efficiency and conservation, and public participation in decision making.

The resolution is non-binding, meaning the city does not have to take action. Democratic Councilman and bill sponsor Brandon Coan described it as a “big bold goal.”

“That’s a generational goal,” Coan said. “The rate of change accelerates. Technology changes, the markets change, the laws are being changed by other states across the country and this wave is going to wash over us.”

Louisville now joins more than 150 cities around the country that have committed to achieving 100 percent renewable energy, according to the Sierra Club.

In Kentucky, climate change will bring about warming temperatures, increasing the frequency of large storms, flooding, heatwaves and droughts. Rain may become less likely in the summer months, but overall it is expected to get wetter. And when the storms do come, they will be more intense, raising the risks of river and flash flooding, according to the 2017 Ohio River Basin climate report by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.

A Model for Civic Participation

Last September, Fischer declared Louisville in a “climate emergency” while surrounded by hundreds of students, parents and politicians all demanding action on climate change.

But efforts to jump start the city into action began at least a year earlier when a coalition of environmental advocates drafted a first version of the renewable resolution.

That version fell by the wayside, but the Renewable Energy Alliance of Louisville continued its push and Coan sponsored a second version of the resolution. Their efforts included demonstrations, billboards, yard signs and meetings with elected officials.

On Thursday evening, advocates including Sam Avery and Margaret Stewart were there to shepherd the bill on its journey toward passage.

“I’m worried about climate, worried about fires, floods, droughts, heatwaves, rising seas, species extinctions,” Stewart told Metro Council on Thursday night. “Worry is justified. Climate crisis is real, but possibilities for change are also real.”

Costs and Mandates

During Thursday night’s debate, Republican Council Member Anthony Piagentini (D-19) mischaracterized the science behind climate change, arguing it’s unclear how much humans contribute to climate change.

“Is it 10 percent is it 90 percent? God only knows, scientists will argue that until the cows come home,” he said.

Piagentini and Councilwoman Marilyn Parker (D-18) both described the non-binding resolution as a mandate that will overburden the private sector.

“I’m not going to support this resolution because just as my peer said, it’s going to be held over our head, it’s going to bludgeon us to death,” Parker said.

In response, Councilman Markus Winkler (D-17) said the resolution sets goals that the city should strive to achieve.

“The way that we move forward is with big and ambitious goals,” Winkler said. “Kennedy didn’t say ‘let’s sort of go in the general direction of space whenever we can finally get there.’ It was 'we will get to the moon by the end of the decade.”

Explaining his vote, Councilman Bill Hollander (D-9) said acting on climate change is the most important thing he will do in his time on Metro Council.

“I’m confident that at the end of the day, more than anything we’ve talked about or will talk about during my time on Metro Council, I’m going to be asked what did you do when this climate crisis came. And I’m not going to say ‘nothing, it was too hard,’ I’ll be a proud yes vote,” Hollander said.

Ryan Van Velzer is the Kentucky Public Radio Managing Editor. Email Ryan at rvanvelzer@lpm.org.