Energy efficiency at former Meadow Gold building

Solar panels fill the roof space at the former Meadow Gold buildings at Seventh and M streets. Mayor Chris Beutler's environmental action plan includes streamlining the review and permitting for solar energy projects.

GWYNETH ROBERTS, Journal Star file photo

Mayor Chris Beutler will ask the Lincoln City Council this month to endorse an energy action plan that commits the city to using less energy, supporting energy-saving technologies and promoting environmental stewardship.

Many of the goals in the Lincoln Environmental Action Plan (LEAP) are ones Beutler has been working on during in his 10 years as mayor.

"Our community wants these things not only because we know it's the right thing to do for our children and future generations. We want them because the people in our community know these things are helping — right now, today — to build Lincoln into a city on the forefront of technology," said Beutler at a news conference Wednesday. 

The City Council will hold a public hearing on the proposed plan at its Dec. 18 meeting and is expected to vote that evening. 

Beutler said he doesn't know whether he has support from the seven-member council, which includes four Democrats and three Republicans. 

Beutler said the public feedback to the draft plan, released last summer, "confirms we are on the right track."

The final draft incorporates suggestions from the public, including streamlining the permitting and review for solar energy facilities, a more comprehensive strategy for protecting green space, and increased support for electric vehicles, transit and biking. 

"We are never content to rest on current success," Beutler said. "We are dreaming, planning and working together to build a great city." 

The council resolution is intended to acquaint the City Council and city leaders with what is planned and to develop broad support, Beutler said. 

Beutler said he will be asking for council support on specific projects later. They include developing a prairie corridor, testing new autonomous vehicle technology and creating energy savings performance contracts for street lights and public buildings. 

The action plan describes what the city is already doing and lists specific future goals, including expanding public and private lands suitable for urban agriculture activities; increasing recycling to 50 percent by 2030; developing a construction and demolition waste recycling strategy for publicly supported construction projects; converting the 31,000 street lights to LED and reducing nonrenewable fuel use in the city fleet by 50 percent by 2030.

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It also includes obtaining a gold designation in the Department of Energy's SOLSMART program, which measures whether city policy and processes are solar-friendly for residents and businesses that seek to start solar projects.

LEAP intentionally does not include the words “climate change,” in order to avoid the national debate, said Frank Uhlarik, a sustainability aide to the mayor. It makes good economic sense to minimize energy consumption and to reduce greenhouse gases, he said.

But Councilwoman Leirion Gaylor Baird did raise the climate change issue in her support of the plan.

"Climate change is happening at a record-breaking pace. Ten of the earth's warmest years on record have occurred in the last two decades," she said during Wednesday's news conference. 

"University of Nebraska-Lincoln climate researchers project that in Nebraska by the year 2100 our summers will have 13 to 25 days over 100 degrees, that we will have 20 to 40 more nights that are over 70 degrees and that we will see soil moisture decrease 5 to 10 percent," she said.

Lincoln residents recognize "we can increase our resilience to the risks climate change poses to our economy, environment and quality of life," she said.

"And we recognize now is the time to act."  

Reach the writer at 402-473-7250 or nhicks@journalstar.com

On Twitter @LJSNancyHicks.

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Reporter

Nancy Hicks reports on Lincoln city government, but she’s been following the leaders of local and state government for more than 40 years.

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