Environmental issues: Ann Arbor community climate action proposal approved overwhelmingly by voters

Environmental issues: Ann Arbor community climate action proposal approved overwhelmingly by voters


David Fair: This is 89 WEMU, and welcome to the post-election edition of Environmental Issues. I’m David Fair. And it appears Ann Arbor voters have approved a 20-year tax for a single mill to fund the city’s response to the climate crisis. I say it seems approved because there are some pending votes under scheduling. Expected final results in the next 15 to 20 minutes. But, right now, 70% of Ann Arbor voters seem to have said yes to this proposal. It’s called the Ann Arbor City Charter Amendment to Community Climate Action. And our guest this morning will celebrate not only this victory, but his personal victory as well. Once again, counting just a few votes, Mayor Christopher Taylor appears to have won at least 10,000 votes for a third term in office. Thank you very much for your time, and congratulations on both fronts.

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Ann Arbor Mayor Christopher Taylor

Christopher Taylor: Well thank you very much. It’s an exciting day.

David Fair: In our conversations before the vote, you had expressed your really strong confidence in passing the ballot measure. Were you equally confident that you would win the mayor’s race?

Christopher Taylor: Oh, you know, I’ve always felt so good. You know, I knocked on thousands of doors and spoke to thousands of voters. I know that people appreciate and support a lot of people towards the city. As you know, we are working to improve basic services and improve the quality of life every day. And we do a good job. And I think voters realize that.

David Fair: Well, not only does it look like you won re-election for a third term, but after the primaries and yesterday’s vote, the makeup of the city council has changed. And those chosen to serve by the voters of Ann Arbor seem most in line with your goals and aspirations for the city. What difference do you see in achieving the climate goals set out in the A2Zero plan and the funding and initiatives planned with the passage of the Community Climate Action Scale?

Christopher Taylor: Well, with the CCAWG going through, we have a lot of opportunities to do great things. We have the opportunity to achieve our A2Zero goal of carbon neutrality at the community level by 2030. And we’ll get there. There will be direct rebates for homes, rentals and businesses to improve electric power. There will be energy waste reduction, renewable energy installations, appliance electrification, storage, expansion in composting, recycling, particularly with commercial and multi-family units, deployment of renewable energy in affordable housing sites, and much more. And with the new council, I think you’ll see a group of people passionate about impacting real, meaningful and positive change in the city – change that improves the lives of residents today but also prepares our community for tomorrow. It is a group of people who are not there to fight, who are not there to spread grievances and misinformation. It’s a group of people out there for… You know, we’ll disagree. And that’s wonderful. But we will do it like rational people, and we will always look to the inhabitants.

David Fair: One of the great things about a community investing in things like the Community Climate Action Plan is that it gives municipal leaders the opportunity to leverage that into more investment. So, I suspect you’ve also been watching the state and federal legislative races. Based on what we know at this hour, how do you feel about the results?

Christopher Taylor: Well, I’m particularly excited about the — well, I’m excited about the opportunities at the state and federal level. Seems like a whole new day in Lansing. And we’re going to have to, you know, recalibrate for a legislature that’s forward-looking, for a legislature that recognizes that we have to make investments in our community and our people and our infrastructure in our climate, if we’re going to have the present, frankly, but also more importantly the future that We all look forward to it. We will now have a legislature that understands that it will respond to it. And we can’t wait to get started.

David Fair: Environmental issues continue at WEMU with newly re-elected Mayor of Ann Arbor, Christopher Taylor. The first year of the climate action tax will be levied on the community in 2023, and is expected to be raised in the order of $6.8 million. What comes first with this money?

Christopher Taylor: Well, we’re going to put $1,000,000 of that money into two solar plants. We will improve recycling and composting. We will influence direct energy improvement grants for rental homes and businesses. We will work to support the resilience centers in neighborhoods to prepare for heat and floods. There will of course be, you know, the pedestrian and non-motorized transportation infrastructure, which is a really important part of our A2Zero plan. Thus, there will be more street lights, protected footpaths, and bike lanes. You will also notice the improvement and expansion of the electric vehicle infrastructure throughout the community. This is an opportunity for us to take real action, and I know the city council and staff can’t wait to get this done.

David Fair: As mentioned, the A2Zero plan and the city both have a carbon neutral goal by 2030. That’s just over seven years old, and there’s still a long way to go to achieve that. While there have been tangible improvements in this direction over the past few years, how will this infusion of money speed up the process?

Christopher Taylor: It will enable us to work on structural changes. It will enable us to work on improving power generation in Ann Arbor – energy storage in Ann Arbor. We’ll be able to, you know, have a landfill with a roof where we want to build a solar array of over 20 megawatts. This is just the beginning. We have rooftop solar, and it’s something we’ve been incredibly successful in – our solar program. We’ll be able to expand that further. We need to bring about and influence real structural change. We’ll be in a position to do that directly, and of course, you know, we’ll be able to take advantage of foundation grants, state and federal grants in a way that absence previously held us back from funding domestic matches. Now that local funding is available, we can get creative with some of the leading experts on climate action and climate response across the country. And we, you know, get dizzy. We look forward to it.

David Fair: That’s a lot of investment in a relatively small community. Do you expect job creation and economic improvement in this city as a result of passing this measure?

Christopher Taylor: Well, there is no doubt that there will be jobs and economic improvement. This is not about taking off. This is about being an additive. As you know, we will look to power our homes, our community, and our businesses. There will be a need for improvements to the infrastructure built across the city. It will need to be new, improved and more efficient infrastructure, and new buildings throughout the city. Energy Efficiency Programs. You know, a green economy is great for the environment, and great for carbon neutrality, but it’s also pro-jobs. You know, I can’t say enough about it.

David Fair: Once again, we speak with Ann Arbor Mayor Christopher Taylor. He was re-elected for a third term in the midterm elections. It also celebrates the passing of the city’s climate action community ballot proposal. This is the focus of this week’s edition of Environmental Issues. You may have sensed it, but I want to go more direct. Talks were underway, and studies were exploring the possibility of establishing a municipal facility and taking full control of the city’s energy future. Where does this stand at the moment?

Christopher Taylor: Well, that continues to be explored. We have a feasibility study to explore a conventional power facility, which will require the takeover of the subsequent maintenance of DTE’s existing electricity distribution infrastructure. We also have, in this feasibility plan, an exploration of a sustainable energy facility, which is essentially a series of nano-grids and micro-grids spread across the city, where we create, store, and use clean, renewable electricity locally in both homes and businesses. The process of getting a conventional power facility hasn’t taken place in, you know, nearly 90 years in Michigan. We need to explore it, because, of course, it’s an option. We need to understand the cost of the process. It will, in my estimation, require at least years of litigation with DTE – over specific litigation – in order to determine the price at which we will have to purchase existing infrastructure across the city. But it is important that we have a feasibility study and maybe if it continues to emerge, subsequent feasibility studies, because it is an option. We have to explore it.

David Fair: You mentioned that it might turn out to be a long and tight controlled process with DTE power. Were there any initial conversations to sort of get to know where they are and where they are? Are we going to court?

Christopher Taylor: Well, there was not. As you know, the city council did not direct the staff to follow up on this. We are looking into the feasibility of the project. This first feasibility study, as I said, will consider the sustainable energy facility as the final action. And we’ll also look at a conventional power facility, where we forfeit DTE’s existing assets. The feasibility study will give us some direction. And if we continue to move forward and another feasibility study gives us more specificity, more clarity, about what we think the price of DTE assets is, then, at this point, the board can make a decision to go ahead and seek to engage with DTE. At this point, there was no participation. I think it would not be difficult to speculate that they would not support the confiscation of their assets, even for the price set during the litigation. But, you know, who can say?

David Fair: Well, this is a conversation for another day, maybe another year. But thank you very much for your time today, Mr. Mayor. I appreciate it.

Christopher Taylor: It is always my pleasure. thanks for the call.

David Fair: This is Christopher Taylor, the mayor of Ann Arbor, who has been re-elected and will serve a third term in office and is celebrating the passing of the city’s Community Climate Action proposal today. A single mill tax will be imposed over the next 20 years to help fund the city’s goal of being carbon neutral and becoming a more sustainable city. Environmental Issues is produced in partnership with the Washtenaw County Water Resources Commissioner’s Office. We bring it to you every Wednesday. I’m David Fair, and this is your community’s NPR station, 89 WEMU FM Ypsilanti.

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