It's about time, local experts say of push to control climate change


President Barack Obama speaks about climate change, Tuesday, June 25, 2013, at Georgetown University in Washington. The president is proposing sweeping steps to limit heat-trapping pollution from coal-fired power plants and to boost renewable energy production on federal property, resorting to his executive powers to tackle climate change and sidestepping the partisan gridlock in Congress.

AP Photo/Charles Dharapak
Published: Tuesday, June 25, 2013 at 9:26 p.m.
Last Modified: Tuesday, June 25, 2013 at 9:26 p.m.

As President Barack Obama unveiled his climate change program on Tuesday, local environmental experts cheered what they say is a long-overdue address, while adding that Gainesville is far ahead of energy conservation efforts when compared to the rest of the nation.

"I am excited that the federal government is starting to catch up to state and local governments like Gainesville that have been working on these efforts a long time," said Pegeen Hanrahan, a former mayor of Gainesville who now runs her own environmental consulting agency.

Hanrahan said that Gainesville is currently eighth in the nation for the amount of solar energy capability installed per-capita, according to the Solar Electric Power Association.

"Solar companies in town are really proactive in helping people understand how to maximize tax incentives for building solar projects," Hanrahan said, adding that GRU became the first utility to adopt a feed-in tariff.

"If you put solar on your roof or parking lot, the utility agrees to buy back power at a set rate over a set period of time," Hanrahan explained. "That has been copied by California, Long Island, Colorado … They all look to Gainesville to see how we did it."

The city's Climate Action Plan, adopted in 2008, has also helped reduce carbon emissions. For example, the traffic signal synchronization system reduces cars' time spent idling at traffic lights.

"It was done because people hate sitting in traffic," but it's had a positive environmental impact, Hanrahan said.

She added that the biomass plant, once constructed, "will meet international standards for carbon reduction," explaining that biomass "is a much less carbon-intense way of producing (electricity) than fossil fuel."

Chris Bird, the Alachua County Environmental Protection director, seconded Hanrahan's view that Gainesville is one of the leading cities in the nation for energy-efficient policies. He mentioned the county's purchase of hybrid cars to replace SUVs as part of its fleet policy. They've also looked to adopt more energy-efficient air conditioners and lightbulbs, Bird said.

"If you leave a conference room, the lights turn off," Bird said. "The one thing we do understand in reducing energy consumption: Sometimes it takes money to save money."

To that end, Bird said he is relieved that the federal government is stepping in with a national framework.

"It's very difficult to do it locally without a national framework," Bird said. "Hopefully this is going to even out the playing field."

Contact Kristine Crane at 338-3119 or kristine.crane@gvillesun.com.

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