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City leaders focus on public support for clean energy alternatives

Friday, July 18, 2008 by Austin Monitor

Members of the Sierra Club, Council members and supporters met at City Hall Thursday evening in a rally designed to put pressure on elected officials to take steps to develop alternative sources of energy. The gathering in Austin was one of about 300 across the country for what was called the Light Bulbs to Leadership Program.


The gathering came on a day when the Public Utility Commission approved spending $4.9 billion to expand transmission lines to accommodate the growing number of wind farms in West Texas—a mid-range proposal that falls short of what environmental groups had been seeking.  Currently, power grid officials say there is too much congestion on the state’s antiquated transmission system to efficiently transmit West Texas wind power across the state to urban areas where it is most needed.


The focus of the Light Bulbs program, according to Sierra Club officials, was to encourage people to do more than just change their light bulbs as a response to the recent rise in energy prices (though they were giving away free compact fluorescent bulbs at the event).


About 100 people gathered in Council Chambers at City Hall to listen to Council Members Lee Leffingwell and Mike Martinez talk about the city’s commitment to energy savings and sustainability, and to hear Sierra Club Executive Director Carl Pope, Green for All leader Van Jones, and Washington Governor Christine Gregoire speak via teleconference.


Leffingwell talked about how the City Hall building had been built to strict environmental standards, from mostly recycled materials and sustainable design. He said even the landscaping was designed with sustainability in mind.


“If you split the landscaping in front of the building east to west, the landscaping to the west of the main entrance is typical of the Texas Hill Country,” he said. “To the east side of the main entrance, the landscape is typical of the Blackland Prairie. As you can see, with all the drought and heat, it’s still very lush and green.”


He noted other environmental features, from the pond in front of the building filled by condensation from the building’s air conditioners to the natural lighting in the foyer and solar cells that control how much light is let in.


Martinez said that while it was easy to sit on the dais and vote for environmental programs, it is city staff who make the programs happen.


“Programs such as the Mayor’s Environmental Protection Plan will only work if the city staff has the expertise and drive to carry them out,” he said.


Sierra Club Director Pope said the main reason for the meeting was to motivate members and others to contact their political leaders – particularly governors – and urge them to support green power initiatives.


Texans are likely to get a mixed response from Gov. Rick Perry, who earlier in the day in California, announced an alternative energy initiative that calls for wind power, solar power and other “green” alternatives. However, Perry is also calling to double the number of nuclear plants in the state, expand the use of “clean” coal plants and the use of biofuels, such those made from algae.

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