St. Petersburg, Florida has committed to switching its power sources over to 100 percent renewable energy—the first city in the Sunshine State to pledge to do away with fossil fuels entirely.
The city council of St. Petersburg, Florida, voted unanimously Monday to dedicate $800,000 of the $1 million the city received from as part of its settlement with energy company BP over the 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil spill, to begin designing a logistics plan, impact report and cost summary of moving the entire city over to renewable energy.
Of that, $300,000 will be used for a county partnership to evaluate how climate change could impact the area's most vulnerable residents, such as impacts from sea level rise and stronger hurricanes.
Unfortunately, there's no date set yet for the adoption of this plan, but the next stage will involve a timeline, organizers said.
“Working towards 100 [percent] clean energy and zero waste will help ensure that St. Pete remains a city of opportunity where the sun shines on all who come to live, work and play," St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Kriseman said in a statement. The city is home to just over 250,000 people, as of a 2014 city report.
While the Tampa Bay region is known as an environmentally friendly area (it’s among a handful of regions in the U.S. that have built desalination plants to diversify their water supply), Pinellas County as a whole voted Republican in the presidential election, while St. Petersburg voted Democrat. At the same time, the state’s leader, Republican Governor Rick Scott, is a climate change denier and and consistently cut environmental regulation in favor of business opportunities.
"There was a clear need from a city to step up and take the lead on this."
This vote also comes on the heels of a failed solar power state ballot amendment voted down in the 2016 general election in November, which environmentalists said would put control of solar power leasing options entirely in the hands of Florida’s power companies (potentially making it more expensive to install).
Emily Gorman, a member of the national environmental group the Sierra Club and the campaign manager for Ready for 100 St. Pete, an environmental advocacy campaign to get the city to adopt renewable energy, told Motherboard in a phone call the vote is a victory for the environmental health of the region—but the hard work is just beginning.
The next steps will be designing a plan that looks at the total cost of several strategies, including creating a centralized energy generation station like a solar farm, or installing solar panels on all homes, and evaluating the impact of these plans on vulnerable communities.
Then, a full audit will be done of all energy usage in the city, including homes, businesses and city buildings, to evaluate how to increase the efficiency. There will also be an effort to retrofit infrastructure to be more energy efficient, including installing better insulation, solar panels and more energy-conserving home appliances.
Gorman said St. Petersburg’s location on the western coast of Florida makes residents aware daily of the impacts of climate change.
Some cities in Florida already have issues with saltwater flooding streets during some high tides, and saltwater intrusion into brackish water areas and freshwater areas has threatened marine life.
“There was a clear need from a city to step up and take the lead on this,” Gorman said. “We as a coastal, low-lying city are on the frontlines of climate change.”
St. Petersburg is the 20th city in the US to commit to transition to 100 percent renewable energy. Among the other 19 are: Aspen, Colorado; Santa Monica, California; San Francisco; Georgetown, Texas; and Nassau, New York.
Correction: this story originally stated St. Petersburg was dedicating $250,000 to the plan, when in fact the value is $800,000. We regret the error.
Get six of our favorite Motherboard stories every day by signing up for our newsletter.