The Cleveland Heights City Council voted unanimously Monday night, June 7th, to become a Power a Clean Future Ohio (PCFO) community. With that legislation, the council set a goal of reducing greenhouse gas emissions by 30% by 2030, below 2021 levels.
Council Vice President Kahlil Seren stated, following the vote:
“Joining Power a Clean Future Ohio is the first step in living up to our city’s values on environmental justice and prioritizing pragmatic, forward-thinking policy that benefits everyone that calls our city home. We are ready to lead on clean energy and build an economy that protects our environment and builds on the progress we’ve already made in ensuring we all have clean air to breathe and that local workers and students have access to the emerging career opportunities in these sectors.”
Globally, we face an impending disaster when it comes to climate change. U.S. President Joe Biden has set a target of reducing greenhouse pollution in the U.S. by 50% by 2030 as a response to the climate crisis. Ohio has typically lagged behind in clean energy initiatives.
Power a Clean Future Ohio works with local municipalities to take the lead instead. The organization helps communities find technical assistance to implement their carbon emissions reduction plans. Ohio’s law allows for local governments to make decisions on issues that impact their future, such as energy aggregation.
PCFO is, according to its website:
“a nonpartisan coalition that works with local leaders to develop and implement proven climate solutions”
The organization's campaign goals are as follows:
- Reduce the carbon footprint of local communities across Ohio
- Attract clean energy development to the state to create careers for Ohioans
- Implement equitable policy solutions supported by local communities
- Reduce energy costs for cities, businesses, and residents
Cleveland Heights is well-positioned to join this initiative. The Power a Clean Future legislation, put forth by Vice President Seren and passed on June 7th is a logical progression from another piece of legislation introduced by Councilmember Mary Dunbar late last year.
On December 7, 2020, the council unanimously passed Resolution No. 138-2020, to encourage effective plans to address climate change.
Along with other carbon footprint reduction initiatives, the city has already installed solar arrays on three government buildings. In addition, emissions dropped by 20% in Cleveland Heights between 2010 and 2017 according to the Cuyahoga County Greenhouse Gas Emissions Inventory.
Joe Flarida, Executive Director of Power a Clean Future Ohio said in a press release Monday evening,
“The City Council and the administration for Cleveland Heights are demonstrating real leadership in addressing our collective environmental challenges and planting the seeds for long-term economic growth in growing the local clean energy economy through their work with us. Passing this resolution puts Cleveland Heights on the map as an environmental leader in our state and emerging clean energy champion. PCFO is ready to get to work with city leaders to help build a clean energy future that benefits all Cleveland Heights residents.”
Cleveland Heights is the 15th community to join the PCFO push since the organization’s launch in February 2020, following Euclid, Lakewood, Lorain, Sandusky, Warren, Lima, Bexley, Reynoldsburg, Dayton, Cincinnati, Silverton, Lancaster, Athens, and Portsmouth. The organization hopes to increase that number to 30 communities by the end of 2021, according to PCFO’s press contact, Julie Theado.
When asked whether PCFO targeted specific communities to solicit their involvement in the campaign, Theado stated:
“We are open to working with any and all municipalities, however, we prioritize working directly with communities and community voices who have traditionally been underrepresented in the clean energy and climate conversations, but who have also been impacted the most by the changes we are experiencing. This intentional recruitment includes communities of color and economically disadvantaged regions and municipalities within the state. We have and will continue to engage with communities that are leading in this area as we work to develop a diverse network of communities that can serve as a valuable peer-to-peer network for one another.”
Theado also noted that Power a Clean Future Ohio partners with the Ohio Climate Justice Fund (OCJF), which is "investing in organizations across Ohio led and/or governed by people of color to lead communities in conversations about the best and most effective ways to address climate and environmental justice in their communities.”
She added that “together we are working to build a healthy, sustainable, clean energy future for all Ohioans. Organized citizen voices in dialogue with their elected leaders can become a powerful force for justice and change.”
In a presentation to the Cleveland Heights City Council's Administrative Services Committee on May 25th, Executive Director Flarida noted that the communities joining the PCFO initiative so far are spread around the state, rather than focused in just one area. Some are urban, some rural, some metropolitan, some villages.
The peer-to-peer network is crucial, as communities share with each other what they’ve tried so far, what has worked and what hasn’t. New PCFO communities like Cleveland Heights can take advantage of what the more experienced members have already learned.
Cleveland Heights can certainly take inspiration from a neighbor to the south. Cincinnati was an early supporter of the PCFO initiative, having pledged in 2019 to build the largest city-led solar array in the United States.
Cincinnati broke ground on the project in May 2021, and it is expected to be functional in December. Because the site is intended to produce enough energy to power 100% of Cincinnati’s electricity consumption for city-owned and operated services, the government’s electric usage will be carbon neutral by the end of 2021.
Now that the PCFO resolution has passed, Cleveland Heights will need to name a point person for the initiative. According to the resolution’s language, it will either be City Manager Susanna Niermann O'Neil or someone she delegates.
After December, when an elected mayor takes office for the first time in Cleveland Heights history, the mayor or the mayor’s delegate will become the primary contact.
Either way, community involvement will be critical.
While a community task force is not a requirement for PCFO, Executive Director Flarida told the Administrative Services Committee that hearing the community voice from the beginning is highly beneficial.
Here in Cleveland Heights, we’re always worried about how much things cost, and how we’re going to pay for them. The resolution notes that the city will be mindful of spending taxpayer dollars, critical in a municipality where we’re already shouldering the burden of some of the state's highest property taxes. The public will also have an opportunity to provide formal feedback, twice a year, on the effectiveness of the PCFO program.
In a community where taxes are already prohibitive for many residents, and frequent increases from school levies show no signs of abating (though Ohio’s school funding practices were ruled unconstitutional in 1997), the economic piece of this cannot be overstated.
Don’t forget, one of the main tenets of PCFO’s mission is to reduce energy costs for cities and bring clean energy jobs to the state. If this is managed properly, we have the opportunity to see both cost savings and environmental benefits as we invest in the future of Cleveland Heights and Ohio.
Given that the climate crisis should never be a political issue, this initiative has the potential to bring all members of our community together. City Council should form a citizen's task force immediately and regularly solicit feedback and involvement from all community members. Help us understand how we can help, and Cleveland Heights will be stronger for it.
Other Ohio cities and towns should take note. This is the future - communities banding together to combat climate change.
For more information about Power a Clean Future Ohio: https://www.poweracleanfuture.org/
For more information about the Ohio Climate Justice Fund: https://www.poweracleanfuture.org/about-ocjf
To read Cleveland Heights Resolution No. 62-2021 (Power a Clean Future Ohio Community): https://www.clevelandheights.com/DocumentCenter/View/9355/062-2021-2nd?bidId=