In an earlier era, the city’s soon-to-be-hired sustainability coordinator might have been called an efficiency expert. Government and business have always had a vested interest in getting more value for their money, even if it didn’t show when politics got in the way.
Sustainability has a different connotation, implying that we simply can’t keep on doing what we’ve been doing without facing serious consequences. The upgrade comes from a growing awareness of global warming as an existential threat to civilization on this planet. Frankfort’s new sustainability office is one product of work done by the Mayor’s Task Force on Energy Efficiency and Climate Change that was set up by former Mayor Bill May, now one of three city commissioners who, along with Michael Turner and Sellus Wilder, voiced support for creating the new office at last week’s City Commission meeting.
People who question the philosophy – including Mayor Gippy Graham, who says Frankfort isn’t big enough for such a specialized bureaucracy – may have a point. Wars on government waste sometimes end up contributing to the very waste they claim to be stamping out. However, the advent of $4-a-gallon gasoline, with some places already paying $5 or more, gives even small towns incentive to get serious about curtailing consumption.
Consultants told the commission the city should be able to save about $65,000 the first year it fills the position – offsetting the $40,000-50,000 salary plus benefits.
Just within government, there’s ample opportunity to reduce energy consumption. Public services that rely on motor transportation, such as police and public transit, come to mind. Others are less obvious. Not everyone recognizes that sewers constitute one of the most energy-intensive services government provides. These costs only add to the burden the city faces as it sets out to repair the system and reduce water pollution.
The sustainability coordinator will also be responsible for community education, which may stir suspicion it’s just a first step toward regulation of personal energy use – a la “pay-as-you-throw” garbage collection which endeavors to stimulate recycling by charging higher fees for more voluminous disposal. Sufice to say, there are some political hazards.
The ultimate goal is to enlist other public entities such as the Frankfort Plant Board and Franklin County government, which have declined to join but could contribute to a comprehensive energy policy for the community.
Three years ago, professional planner Henry Jackson of Lexington presented the commission a report touting the sustainability coordinator position and efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions as beneficial to both the city’s bottom line and the general environment. He said Frankfort generates a relatively high per capita volume of carbon dioxide – a combustion byproduct that’s blamed for heating up the planet’s atmosphere – with electricity the main culprit.
Tona Barkley of the Frankfort Climate Action Network called on City Hall to respond. “By doing so,” she said, “you may be contributing to the possibility that your children and grandchildren might be able to live here by 2050 or by 2080 instead of having to perhaps move to the upper regions of Canada.”
There’s certainly no guarantee that energy conservation can reverse climate change, but it’s worth a try if only to save money. If it also happens to save the world, it’s a steal.