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City climate change plan faces pushback from Winston-Salem council, staff
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City climate change plan faces pushback from Winston-Salem council, staff

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City Council Committee Meeting

Dan Besse 

A committee that keeps track of how the city is doing on environmental concerns is recommending that Winston-Salem commit to running its operations with 80% clean and renewable energy by 2030, with a transition to 100% by the year 2050.

The goals would be tougher than the ones recently adopted by Forsyth County, and even the city's own sustainability staff says they would set the bar too high.

Members of the Winston-Salem City Council's general government committee got a first look at the proposal this past week, and while no immediate action is proposed, advocates say setting the goals could yield grants to help the city meet the goals.

"The problem is here and is costing us money," Rajesh Kapileshwari told members of the general government committee on Tuesday. "Winston-Salem is a city of arts and innovation. We are tracking greenhouse gases ... planting trees is not enough."

Kapileshwari is a member of the Community Sustainability Program Committee, an 11-member panel created by the city in 2019 to provide reports and recommendations on reducing greenhouse gas emissions.

Kapileshwari said the committee had unanimously backed asking the city to pass the resolution committing to clean energy usage by city departments.

In addition to the 2030 and 2050 benchmarks for clean energy, the resolution proposed by the sustainability committee includes encouraging community and utility providers to meet the same goals, and a program of energy-conservation measures to force a 40% reduction over the next five years in greenhouse gas emissions from 2005 levels.

The city would commit the city to supporting the enactment of a carbon tax, to developing programs to help low-income neighborhoods go green, and to promoting green job training, job creation and economic growth.

Helen Peplowski, the director of the city's office of sustainability, told members of the general government committee on Tuesday that she has concerns that the goals aren't realistic.

The city currently meets about 6% of its energy needs with clean energy supplied by Duke Energy, according to the city's sustainability staff.

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"We would be responsible for installing 74% of the renewable capacity in the next 10 years," Peplowski said, referring to the 2030 goal of 80% reliance on clean energy. "I was concerned about the feasibility of meeting those goals."

General government committee member Robert Clark of West Ward wanted to know if the proposed resolution for the city is like the one that the county passed in 2019 that set a goal of using 100% clean energy by 2050.

Kapileshwari said the city resolution would have key differences: It has the interim benchmark of 80% clean energy that the county resolution lacks, and takes out language that qualifies the benchmarks as goals only:

"They had 'try towards' — we don't have that," Kapileshwari said, adding that Duke Energy is pledging to get to 20% renewable by 2030.

"We want to be more aggressive because we are the city of innovation," Kapileshwari said.

Southwest Ward Council Member Dan Besse, a member of the general government committee, said that while he is "a strong supporter of aggressive action to pursue clean energy," he had "real problems with the language of the draft as it comes to us."

Besse said he had urged the sustainability panel to come up with a more simplified resolution that would be followed up by more detailed specifics later on.

However, Kapileshwari said that the resolution presented by the sustainability committee was already simplified from an earlier version to focus on the main points.

Meanwhile, aside from the clean energy resolution, the city is also looking at an action plan that calls for efforts inside city departments to reduce emissions.

That document calls for a goal of reducing emissions by 15% by the year 2025. As with the clean energy resolution, the action plan was presented to the council committee for information and not immediate action.

"I still think action like this is important," Peplowski said. "I proposed this plan as a starting point."

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@wyoungWSJ

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