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Sunday, April 11, 2021

Gainesville is only one resolution away from joining 84 other cities — and two states — in committing to 100 percent renewable energy.

The discussion began in Thursday’s City Commission General Policy Committee meeting and will continue Oct. 4, City Commissioner Adrian Hayes-Santos said. Once the city passes a resolution declaring its commitment, it will begin creating a plan to switch to renewable energy.

“It’s important to take it to a local level because we’re not seeing it at a state or federal level,” Hayes-Santos said.

Currently, about 28 percent of the energy Gainesville uses is renewable. The number can rise to 48 percent depending on factors such as the time of day and even the season, Hayes-Santos said.

Roberta Gastmeyer, theReady for 100 campaign coordinator, believes Gainesville still has a long way to go. The Ready for 100 campaign, an initiative by the environmental organization Sierra Club, encourages cities to commit to 100 percent renewable energy. California and Hawaii have already signed on to the initiative, Gastmeyer said.

The initiative focuses on two major energy systems in the city: transportation and energy. The goal is to have all municipal vehicles run on electric energy by 2035, Gastmeyer said. By 2045, she hopes the energy Gainesville Regional Utilities supplies to homes and business will also be entirely renewable energy.

“This is the future,” Gastmeyer said. “This is good and healthy for the community.”

Although she believes the city is moving quickly toward electric vehicles, Gastmeyer said it should provide incentives to business owners and homes to encourage the use of more solar panels.

City Commissioner David Arreola is also hoping to see more of a focus on solar energy. Right now, GRU draws from several energy sources, including two coal factories, natural gas turbines and a biomass plant, Arreola said.

The hope is to phase out aging coal facilities and step down to natural gas until the city can reinvest and refocus on renewable energy, he said. Due to Gainesville’s location and environment, the city is limited in the types of renewable energy it can potentially use. Wind, geothermal, tidal and nuclear energy wouldn’t be possible, but depending on technology, solar energy could work, Arreola said.

Batteries would be necessary to store solar energy, but the technology is currently too expensive and can’t store the energy well enough to use when the sun isn’t out, Arreola said.

“It all hinges on battery technology,” he said. “We can’t rely on solar energy at night or on a rainy day.”

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Arreola hopes the City Commission can pass the resolution committing to 100 percent renewable energy at the next meeting, he said.

Fiona Hogan, a second-year UF sustainable development practices master’s student, said she is excited for the possible resolution. The impact of switching to renewable energy would not only affect the environment but also improve general health because of cleaner water and better air quality, said Hogan, who also works at UF’s Office of Sustainability.

“There’s nothing that wouldn’t improve,” she said.

Contact Jessica Curbelo at jcurbelo@alligator.org and follow her on Twitter at @jesscurbelo

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