Tempe council moves forward on green-energy initiative
Green is good for cities, not only in their coffers but also in their energy use.
Tempe hopes to grow greener with a new City Council-approved goal of 20 percent of city property using renewable energy by 2025. That goes beyond the state’s renewable-energy standard of 15 percent.
“The city of Tempe has long been committed to sustainability,” Tempe Mayor Mark Mitchell said. “From being one of the first communities in the Valley with a recycling program to our new grease cooperative that eventually could produce bio fuels, Tempe is at the forefront.”
Most of the city’s energy comes from non-renewable sources, such as coal and gas. To reach the 20 percent renewable-energy goal, Tempe plans to rely mostly on solar power. In March, the city brought a new solar system online at the South Tempe Water Treatment Plant near Price Road and the Western Canal.
This system alone is expected to save the city $2.3 million over 20 years and significantly reduce carbon emissions.
According to council documents, construction of another solar system at the Tempe Police and Courts Building begins this summer and two more solar facilities are in the planning stages: at the Johnny G. Martinez Water Treatment Plant near Papago Park and at the Tempe Public Library.
When all four solar facilities are functioning, they will provide approximately 2.2 megawatts of solar power for the city. A handful of other city facilities now have smaller solar installations, such as Tempe Beach Park and the Household Product Collection Center Fire Training Facility.
The new renewable-energy goal emerged among three top priorities by the City Council’s Sustainability Working Group, consisting of Mayor Mark Mitchell, Vice Mayor Onnie Shekerjian and Councilwoman Shana Ellis. Their priorities include streamlining solar permitting, making low-cost, long-term solar financing available to Tempe residents and setting a renewable-energy goal. In May, the council agreed to participate in the U.S. Department of Energy’s Solar Roadmap program, which will provide tools and resources to help Tempe address those priorities. The council approved the renewable-energy goal June 12.
According to Councilmen Kolby Granville, Tempe plans to identify all of the surfaces on city-owned facilities where solar might make sense.
“That 20 percent goal means, basically, us taking the time to complete a feasibility study, which we’ve already got under way, that will then tell us what rooftops and what surface area we can put solar panels on without really incurring a significant infrastructure-change cost,” Granville said. “You do a simple thing: You basically count rooftop space and figure out how much rooftop space do I have where it’s a flat roof and an air-conditioning unit and it’s facing the right direction and all of that. Then, you calculate that out.”
Granville believes the 20 percent goal is obtainable and might even be revised upward.
“We heard from many residents who expressed that having a goal was vitally important to them and their community,” Ellis said. “I am happy that Tempe is at the forefront among cities making these commitments.”
Bret Fanshaw, advocate for Environment Arizona, commended Tempe for setting the example.
“Thanks to leaders like Mayor Mitchell, Vice Mayor Shekerjian and council member Ellis, Tempe is moving ahead toward a solar future,” Fanshaw said. “Solar energy greatly benefits Tempe because it is pollution-free and has no fuel costs. We look forward to working with the mayor, vice mayor and Tempe council members to take this goal to the next level as they look for ways to continue to expand the use of solar power.”
The city also made headway this year on reducing its energy use overall. The city commissioned an energy audit on certain city facilities and retrofitted them to be more energy efficient as part of a goal to reduce energy use by 15 percent.
The buildings that were audited and retrofitted met that goal and have seen a cost savings of $348,843 so far this year, according to the city’s most recent Environmental Scorecard.