Sarasota has promised to run solely on renewable energy. Is Bradenton ready?

The array of solar panels atop Bradenton's City Hall. A Parrish man is trying to drum up support to get the city on board to be 100 percent reliant on renewable energy sources by a certain date.
The array of solar panels atop Bradenton's City Hall. A Parrish man is trying to drum up support to get the city on board to be 100 percent reliant on renewable energy sources by a certain date. ttompkins@bradenton.com

St. Petersburg has done it. Sarasota soon followed suit. Why shouldn’t Bradenton make the transition to using only renewable energy? wondered Parrish resident Jim Willard.

“I think it’s time to complete the circle here, if you will,” he said.

Willard and about a dozen other citizens have gathered regularly since January as Bradenton Ready for 100, a campaign that is led nationally by the Sierra Club. Their hope is to get the city of Bradenton to set a goal for relying 100 percent on renewable energy sources, within city-owned facilities and community-wide, much like its neighbors to the north and south.

“We’re basically in the beginning stages,” Willard said.

He has been interested in climate change and renewable energy, which can include solar, wind, hydro and geothermal. He was impressed by Sarasota’s success.

Trevor Falk, an organizer with the Sarasota Ready for 100 campaign, said it took about six months to collaborate, draft a resolution and have it get city commission approval. The first hurdle was passed in June 2017 when the city commission unanimously approved their resolution, which set a goal for city-owned facilities to operate off of renewable energy for 2030, with 50 percent renewable by 2024. The community-wide goal is 2045.

“It’s certainly not over,” Falk said. “We’re still definitely working really hard.”

In his presentation to a small group at Manatee County Democratic Party headquarters Tuesday evening, Falk noted that the petition they presented to Sarasota City Commission had about 4,000 signatures. The biggest hurdles the group faced was gauging community and commission support, gathering signatures and coming up with a successful resolution. A year and a half into the national campaign, 50 cities nationwide made the commitment. Orlando was the third city to make a goal.

The city of Sarasota has been working with citizens toward coming up with a solidified plan to present its commissioners later this year, said the city’s sustainability manager Stevie Freeman-Montes. When that time comes, the aspiration to become fully dependent on renewable resources will become more real when the commission is presented with tangible solutions, and the price tags attached to them.

The city has outlined its four main objectives: reduce energy use; electrify the transportation sector; transition from traditional electricity to renewable sources; and cut back on greenhouse gas emissions, which include carbon dioxide and methane which become trapped in the atmosphere and warm the planet.

In 2015, the year off which the city of Sarasota is basing its transition, it only had 0.6 percent of its local electricity supply came from renewable sources.

“We have a long way to go,” Freeman-Montes said.

The three biggest contributors to greenhouse gas emissions in Sarasota at the time were residential energy, commercial energy and cars. The city and its residents consumed nearly 887 million kilowatthours of electricity and natural gas —that’s enough power to sustain a Super Bowl LII game at U.S. Bank Stadium in Minneapolis a little more than 20 times.

Freeman-Montes said the city wants to be inclusive in this measure, as low-income families on average pay more for electricity than those with higher-priced homes.

“We don’t want to leave those communities behind,” she said.

It’s just the beginning for Sarasota. Bradenton has yet to get this idea off the ground.

The city of Bradenton has 294 solar panels on its city hall, and in its 2009 comprehensive plan it states that “the City will require where feasible, all new buildings be constructed to allow for easy, cost effective installation of solar energy systems in the future,” though it doesn’t require solar panels on those buildings. Buildings built with city funds need to incorporate “passive solar design features,” meaning that the floors, windows and walls facilitate or reject solar heat in the building without a mechanical solar panel.

In an email to the Bradenton Herald, Ward 1 Councilman Gene Gallo said he would need more information about the cost of setting a Ready for 100 goal, but “would be willing to listen to a presentation on the subject.”

Ward 3 Councilman Patrick Roff considers himself “very environmentally friendly.” While open to the idea, he said he would have concerns of how to power the larger city vehicles, like dump trucks or fire engines.

“We try to be a forward-thinking community, but we’re very practical,” Roff said. “We’re quite frugal.”

Hannah Morse: 941-745-7055, @mannahhorse