Can Manatee County run entirely on renewable energy by 2045? These activists say yes

A group of local activists is calling on Manatee County leaders to get on board with a plan to transition to 100 percent renewable energy by 2045.

The Manatee Clean Energy Alliance argues that the revolution is necessary, given the impact that sea level rise can have on a coastal community like Manatee County. But getting elected officials to agree to the non-binding resolution is going to take an organized effort, activists say.

“We’ve discussed the plan with each commissioner,” said MCEA member Diana Cowans. “They’re receptive, but it’ll take a lot of community pressure.”

On Monday, the League of Women Voters of Manatee County hosted a meeting with speakers from the MCEA, who described what residents and the county can do to reduce their contributions to global warming.

“We’ve got to promote 100 percent, clean, renewable and affordable energy for all. It’s a tough project. It’s an expensive project, but we really have no alternative, especially since Florida is ground zero for climate change,” said MCEA Chairman Jim Willard.

With constant scientific reports and studies about the danger of global warming, Willard and other speakers argued that there’s little time left for municipalities to act. Florida residents are well aware of the effect it has had on the weather, said Carolyn Sheets, vice president of the League of Women Voters.

“We all agree that there is global warming and climate change,” she told the crowd of about 75 people at the Bradenton Woman’s Club. “If you lived through the summer here, you know that.”

Part of the solution could be to put energy use into a certain context, said Tim Rumage, the coordinator of environmental studies at Ringling College.

“The problem seems large, but there’s no one thing that caused the trouble we’re in now,” he explained. “It’s the everyday things we can do and can change. We’re looking at collective contributions.”

Instead, individuals should focus on what they can do to make even the tiniest difference. Things like buying electric vehicles, planting trees and cutting back on meat consumption are a few ways to reduce negative environmental impacts, according to Rumage.

Jim Willard, chair of the Manatee Clean Energy Alliance, speaks at a League of Women Voters of Manatee County event Monday afternoon. He called on the Board of County Commissioners to switch to all renewable energy countywide by 2045. Ryan Callihan rcallihan@bradenton.com

“It’s not that we can’t do things. It’s asking people to do things a little bit differently,” he said.

Lynn Nilssen, a co-coordinator for the Sarasota Ready for 100 Campaign, told the crowd about how her group fought for the city of Sarasota to approve the same resolution that Manatee County is being asked to sign. There are no penalties for missing the deadline, but it provides guidelines and tips.

“When it comes to climate change, it’s about resolutions and goals, because if we don’t have plans, we can’t get there,” said Nilssen.

Diana Robinson, the county’s energy manager, told the crowd about what Manatee County government is doing to promote clean and efficient energy use. One of the biggest projects so far has been the installation of the chiller plant in downtown Bradenton.

Others initiatives include using LED lighting wherever possible, promoting recycling and using rechargeable drones instead of helicopters for aerial imagery.

“We also have plans for solar sites at all of our facilities and we’re looking at where we can start implementing that. We can want to build that sustainability plan, so we have a lot of big ideas ahead of us,” Robinson announced.

Guests at the event signed a petition to encourage the Board of County Commissioners to transition to renewable energy, but the county’s approval remains to be seen. For more information, visit www.ManateeCleanEnergyAlliance.org.

Ryan Callihan is the Bradenton Herald’s County Reporter, covering local government and politics. On the weekends, he also covers breaking news. Ryan is a graduate of USF St. Petersburg.
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