The city of Norman took an environmental leap Tuesday with a resolution to transition to 100 percent renewable energy in city buildings by 2035.
NORMAN TRANSCRIPT -- The resolution makes Norman the first city in Oklahoma to make such a commitment to renewables and will see the city tap sources like wind and solar for electricity. By 2050, the resolution calls for 100 percent clean energy commitment across the board, including heating and transportation.
“We’ve already been taking baby steps toward this, and I think this is the public commitment to take us the rest of the way,” Ward 6 council member Breea Clark said. “We’re getting noticed for our efforts; now it’s time to follow through.”
According to the Sierra Club, 69 cities have made the commitment to clean energy, and six cities have reached that goal.
Ready for 100% is a national Sierra Club campaign whose Norman contingent was responsible for bringing the issue to the city. Norman campaign representatives presented recommendations to the Community Planning and Transportation Committee in March and have since been working with the city’s Environmental Control Advisory Board (ECAB) to further develop a plan.
How the city will reach its energy goals is to be determined. There could be legislative hurdles, and the city is still negotiating a long-term franchise agreement with OG&E, but the resolution has received broad support from the community and some practical measures are already being explored.
“It definitely makes our community a lot harder to get to renewable energy, but OG&E has stated they want to work with us, and we made it very clear where we want to go in the future,” Clark said. “I’m sure there are hurdles, but look at what our state has done in terms of [compressed natural gas] … I think Oklahoma is trying to get there.”
During the Ready for 100% presentation before the Community Planning and Transportation Committee in March, Ready for 100% policy committee chair Katherine Trent suggested that a wind farm could be a viable option. At an estimated cost of $87.6 million and an annual upkeep of $14.1 million, a 22-turbine facility that generates 50 megawatts of electricity would be less labor intensive than a solar facility at $20.2 million for 25 megawatts, she said.
Trent said a wind farm of that magnitude would generate enough electricity to meet 100 percent of the city’s current needs and could be supplemented with an expansion or solar energy as technology becomes more cost effective.
If land availability is an issue, Trent suggested the wind farm could be constructed in Tuttle and electricity could be routed to Norman.
Clark said that’s just one idea and the city will look at all its options, like solar panels on city buildings and possibly schools. A Mayor’s Climate Agreement Subcommittee of ECAB will be formed to develop an outline for the transition process, with the aim of completing it by Jan. 1, 2020.
“What I’m excited about is there’s an ECAB subcommittee focused on it,” she said. “I think that shows that we’re moving forward on the issue and giving residents of Norman a chance to participate in the process.”
One way or another, Trent said renewable energy is happening. In 2017, the World Bank made a commitment to no longer fund fossil fuel extraction, and some industry experts have predicted that oil prices will fall over the next 10 years as consumer demands change and supplies flood a market that’s increasingly saturated due to the U.S. shale boom.
• Griffin land acquisition: The city has awarded a $900,000 contract to Lippert Bros. Inc. for the Norman Forward Griffin Sports Complex project.
The city still hasn’t worked out a deal to acquire the land from the Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse, but city attorney Jeff Bryant said both parties are inching toward a resolution that may take the form of a long-term lease.
“They’re looking at new facilities … and it’s taken them a little more time for them to figure that out than we hoped,” he said.
Bryant said one possibility is a collaboration between Norman Regional Health Systems and the Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse to secure new facilities for the department.
Meanwhile, Bryant said the city has submitted a lease term sheet to the department and is hoping to get a response soon, possibly by the end of the week.
The city would have to pay the lease, but Ward 4 council member Bill Hickman said that could make a large portion of the $10 million allotted to the land acquisition available for other projects.
Ward 1 council member Kate Bierman said though it’s reassuring that a deal appears imminent, it’s worrying that the city finds itself tied up in a project that was put together and approved without assurances regarding the land acquisition.
“This is not the only Norman Forward project that we have run into this roadblock,” she said. “I hope we don’t do this again … I hope we’ve learned a lesson.”
Ward 3 council member Robert Castleberry bemoaned the fact that the city has spent $1.4 million in sales tax on Norman Forward projects that could have been avoided, had the city found a way to exercise its tax-exempt status.
“I think it’s ridiculous that we’re not using our tax-exempt status and we’re paying sales tax,” he said. “We only get half of it [back]. And the reason is that we don’t have the staff to manage it. This is why we need an internal auditor.”
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