The Albemarle Board of Supervisors has reaffirmed its support for policies designed to reduce its own energy usage, six years after a previous board voted to withdraw from a program to reduce carbon emissions from county buildings.
Supervisors voted 6-0 on Sept. 6 on a resolution to “support local actions to reduce climate pollution.”
“This is just making sure that everybody is clear that we’re not in that same spot,” said Supervisor Liz Palmer. “We’re back on track.”
Supervisors had adopted the “Cool Counties” initiative in 2007 which called for the county to reduce its carbon emission by 80 percent of by 2050.
A later board rescinded the effort in September 2011 after receiving pressure from local groups concerned that efforts to address climate change were a way for the United Nations to limit American prosperity. Earlier that summer, the board ended its membership in the International Council for Local Environmental Initiatives following a public hearing in which 83 people spoke.
Albemarle had also participated in a regional effort called the Local Climate Action Planning Process (LCAPP) that culminated in an August 2011 report. Supervisors at the time opted to not participate in further regional environmental efforts, but the makeup of the board has changed in two subsequent elections.
“This report was really recommendations for the city, the county and the University of Virginia to use to then develop more of an action plan themselves,” sai Greg Harper, the chief of the county’s environmental services division. “It’s not very specific but it has strategies and principles that we would use to adopt our own implementation plan.”
As part of that work, supervisors did adopt an environmental stewardship strategic plan in 2013, a plan that was to have been adopted this year. That work is now under way.
“This was focused on the community and not government operations,” Harper said. “We wanted to look internally and just focus on those things that we had immediate control over.”
Harper said Albemarle’s school system is transitioning its lighting to LED systems to reduce energy and are also taking steps to reduce water usage. The school system has also installed 1.1 megawatts of solar panels at six schools.
However, those efforts won’t take place for now at the county’s main office building on McIntire Road.
“We’re sort of putting our work on hold until we can resolve how long we’re going to be in this building,” Harper said. “We didn’t want to make investments in this building unless we knew what the future uses will be.”
The current board of supervisors is exploring moving the main office building from the city of Charlottesville to another location in the county as a way of spurring economic development.
Harper also said county employees can now use a county-owned bike rather than a county-owned vehicle to make official business trips around the community.
The board’s resolution in 2017 is a far distance from the skepticism that culminated in the 2011 withdrawal from Cool Counties.
“There is scientific consensus regarding the reality of climate change and the recognition that human activity, especially the combustion of fossil fuels that create greenhouse gases, is an important driver of climate change,” reads the second paragraph.
The current board also places a premium on economic development.
“Taking steps to increase energy efficiency and resilience can attract jobs and economic development opportunities to our community and increase our long-term economic competitiveness and wealth,” reads the sixth paragraph.
“Regardless of how you feel about the cause of climate change, this is about jobs,” said Supervisor Diantha McKeel said. “It’s about jobs and putting people to work.”
Harper pointed out the LCAPP report is six years old and the county would like to update it to reflect new technology and to have a wider scope.
“We’re proposing that the plan would be a community-wide or county-wide plan and not just focus internally,” Harper said.
Harper said the updated report would also prepare the community for the effects of climate change.
“We don’t live on the coast but there are other threats that are going to come from a warmer atmosphere,” Harper said. “That’s more intense rainfall, higher volumes of rainfall and longer periods of drought. It’s really the extremes that we’re probably going to see more of.”
Supervisor Norman Dill pointed out that several clean energy companies are based in Charlottesville and this is a good time for the county to invest in solar and encourage others to do so as well.
“There are tremendous opportunities here because of price reductions,” Dill said. “And of course now with Hurricane Harvey and Hurricane Irma, it’s going to convince people that we really need to do something now.”
Supervisor Ann H. Mallek was on the board when supervisors peeled back support for addressing climate change in the summer of 2011 and was one of two votes against the move. She also has a farm and said agriculture is adjusting.
“I can tell you as a farmer that things are already changing in massive ways about breeding schedules for animals, what crops can be grown here and what bugs are coming here,” Mallek said. “It is here already, folks.”
Mallek told her colleagues they need to catch up with the city and UVA have done to invest in programs to help county residents make their homes energy-efficient.
On Sept. 8, supervisors directed staff to set aside funding in the fiscal year 2019 budget to increase funding for the Local Energy Alliance Program (LEAP).