by Jason Fults
Gainesville Loves Mountains was founded a little over three years ago on the simple proposition that our community does not have to choose between dirty energy and high utility bills. We have focused on (1) eliminating GRU’s dirtiest fuel source, (2) influencing one of our community’s largest energy consumers, and (3) moving aggressive, local energy conservation policy forward.
For many years, GRU has been using Appalachian coal that is mined using mountaintop removal (MTR), likely the most catastrophic energy extraction process known to man. MTR is a highly destructive form of coal mining that removes hundreds of vertical feet of a mountain using heavy explosives in order to access the thin seams of coal underneath.
MTR has a devastating impact on the economy, ecology, and communities of Appalachia. To date, more than 500 mountains have been leveled and nearly 2,000 miles of precious Appalachian headwater streams have been buried and polluted by MTR.
Since our inception, we have worked with our Appalachian counterparts to bring an end to MTR and to pressure GRU to end its consumption of coal mined in this fashion. As this issue goes to press, we’re headed before the full City Commission on the evening of April 17 in hopes that they will finally take action.
We have also been working with a fantastic group of University of Florida students to hold UF to its sustainability commitments. As UF’s contract with the nation’s largest utility, Duke Energy, expires at the end of 2014, we believe that we have a once-in-twenty-year opportunity to influence a major purchaser of energy in our community. Anyone who has been paying attention in recent months has undoubtedly heard of Duke’s exploits:
- operating in brazen contempt of water regulations in North Carolina, allegedly with the collusion of state regulators, dumping tens of thousands of tons of coal ash into the Dan River;
- charging customers almost $2 billion for the Crystal River nuclear plant that will never run again;
- and funding organizations such as the American Legislative Exchange Council to undermine environmental protection and support reprehensible legislation such as “Stand Your Ground.”
Not to mention the fact that sticking with Duke’s dirty, fossil fuel energy mix virtually guarantees that UF will not meet its carbon neutrality goals. We believe that the University can do better than that, and have been building public support through a petition drive to send UF a powerful message that Duke Energy either has to change or they have to go.
Finally, we have been pursuing a local financing option for property owners who want to make investments in energy efficiency and renewable energy for their home or business. We’ve received widespread support for this initiative, ranging from local contractors to the Sierra Club, with even a nod of interest from the local Chamber of Commerce.
We’re optimistic that this financing model, called Property Assessed Clean Energy, or PACE, will come to pass in Alachua County in the coming months. What will likely be more of an uphill battle are our efforts to help renters in our community reduce their utility bills through mandating that landlords meet certain energy efficiency standards for their rental properties.
Higher costs of energy are hitting people in the pocketbook all across the country, and rates are going up, including here. These higher utility bills have bolstered our arguments for increased investment in energy efficiency and conservation, because that is the fastest, cheapest, most effective way to lower one’s bills.
We believe that the very foundations of human civilization are imperiled as the age of low-cost, easily accessible fossil fuels comes to an end. Communities everywhere must grapple with the implications of this monumental transition by aggressively pursuing conservation and through persistent, focused efforts to reduce their energy footprint.
If you’d like to accompany us in this journey, you can follow our website (http://gainesvillelovesmountains.wordpress.com/), or Facebook (https://www.facebook.com/GainesvilleLovesMountains), or we invite you to contact us directly (firstname.lastname@example.org; 352-610-1090).