An ambitious resolution for Keene to transition to all-renewable energy usage in coming decades won City Council approval Thursday night, 14-1.
The nonbinding resolution sets goals for the Elm City and its residents to rid fossil fuels from electricity use by 2030 and from thermal and transportation use by 2050.
Keene’s energy and climate committee, which proposed the resolution, is now tasked with coming back to the City Council by December 2020 with a strategic plan to switch to renewable sources, such as solar energy, wind and others that don’t add carbon dioxide or other greenhouse gases to the atmosphere.
Last week, at a municipal services, facilities and infrastructure committee meeting, City Manager Elizabeth Dragon explained why the resolution’s deadline for the strategic plan was moved from April to December of next year, citing the additional time likely needed by city staff for the project. Committee members recommended the full council adopt the resolution, 4-1.
A resolution, unlike an ordinance, states the council’s opinion or intent on a particular matter. It is not a piece of legislation.
While not as crowded as past meetings on the resolution — which brought the City Hall chamber to capacity — there were some 20 audience members in attendance Thursday night, many representing the Monadnock Progressive Alliance’s Clean Energy Team.
The council’s final vote was met with applause, but not before some tension filled the room during dissenting remarks from the lone nay vote, Ward 4 Councilor Robert B. Sutherland.
Like in past meetings, Sutherland said he is in favor of the intentions of the resolution, but believes the city should hire consultants and avoid over-committing to renewable energy sources that may be popular today, but obsolete by the time 2030 and 2050 roll around.
He cautioned against setting expectations too high, quipping that it would be nice to use “unicorn farts” as a replacement for fossil fuels, but ultimately unrealistic.
Sutherland also joked that most of the people in the room would be dead by the time the renewable energy goals were to be reached, and he raised more earnest skepticism about child labor used to extract lithium and other resources for battery-powered vehicles.
Ward 2 Councilor Mitchell H. Greenwald responded by stressing that the level of urgency and attention devoted to the resolution will be more important than any specifics.
Mayor Kendall W. Lane touted the resolution as a sign that Keene is a leading city on environmentalism, recalling positive feedback he received on a trip to Washington, D.C., where he spoke to fellow mayors about adapting to climate change.
“It was clear that we were being watched by a lot of the country as a small community taking giant steps,” Lane said.
After the meeting, Pat Martin of Rindge said she’s proud of Keene’s taking the lead on environmental goals when many other communities are cautious to do so, citing Concord and Hanover as exceptions.
“The thing is that people from other towns came (tonight), just like I got involved, because if there’s any place that’s going to do this, it’s going to be Keene,” Martin said. “So I knew that once it starts here, it has a chance of spreading to other Monadnock Region towns, including mine.”