Council: No on Fossil Fuels, Yes to Solar

Only one of two resolutions sponsored by the city’s energy commission was given approval by the Ann Arbor city council at its Sept. 3, 2013 meeting. The first called on the city’s employee retirement system to divest from fossil fuel companies – but it failed on a 5-4 vote, with two councilmembers absent. The second directed city staff to work with DTE to create a community solar pilot project. That resolution was approved unanimously without discussion.

An energy commission resolution passed on July 9, 2013 recommended that the city council urge the city’s employee retirement system board to cease new investments in fossil fuel companies and to divest current investments in fossil fuel companies within five years. The resolution defined a “fossil fuel company” to be any of the top 100 coal companies or top 100 gas and oil extraction companies. The top three coal companies on the list are: Severstal JSC; Anglo American PLC; and BHP Billiton. The top three gas and oil companies on the list are: Lukoil Holdings; Exxon Mobil Corp.; and BP PLC. The basic consideration of the resolution is the importance of the role that greenhouse gas emissions play in global warming.

The resolution cited the city of Ann Arbor’s Climate Action Plan, which has a goal of reducing greenhouse gas emissions by 25% by 2025 and 90% by 2050. The resolution warned that fossil fuel companies have enough fossil fuel reserves that, if burned, would release about 2,795 gigatons of CO2. That’s five times the amount that can be released without causing more than 2°C global warming, according to the resolution.

Voting against the resolution were Stephen Kunselman (Ward 3), Margie Teall (Ward 4), Mike Anglin (Ward 5) and Sally Petersen (Ward 2). So the resolution fell short of the six-vote majority it needed on the 11-member council. Jane Lumm (Ward 2) and Marcia Higgins (Ward 4) were absent.

The second energy-related resolution also stemmed from an energy commission recommendation – that the council direct city staff to work with DTE to develop a “community solar” pilot program. A “community solar” program would allow people to invest in a solar energy system, even if the energy that’s generated would be located off-site from their own electric meter.

The goal is to create a program that would assist the work of the Great Lakes Renewable Energy Association (GLREA), which has a grant to work statewide, investigating the feasibility of and constraints facing this collective approach to alternative energy generation. As an example of this approach, the council resolution cited the Cherryland Electric Cooperative in Traverse City. The resolution asks that details of a pilot program be ready for consideration by the Michigan Public Service Commission by March 31, 2014.

The goal of community solar is to allow people who don’t own the property where they live, or whose own property is shaded or poorly oriented for solar energy production, to support the production of solar energy.

This brief was filed from the city council’s chambers on the second floor of city hall, located at 301 E. Huron. A more detailed report will follow: [link]