Sunday, March 04, 2007

Will Rockland become a ‘Cool City’?

Maine Coast Courier
By Kelly Michaud
Friday, March 2, 2007

ROCKLAND — City councilors will hear a presentation Monday evening about what it would take to make Rockland a “Cool City.” The designation has nothing to do with its nightlife or attractions; rather it deals with how environmentally focused and energy efficient the city is.

Cool Cities — also called Cool Communities — is a project of the Sierra Club.

“What we call a cool city or community is our way of explaining the commitment that over 400 mayors in the U.S. have made to reduce global warming and pollution and reduce energy cost and taxpayer money wasted on inefficient energy use and production,” said Glen Brand, director of the Sierra Club’s National Cool Cities Campaign based in Portland.

The commitment comes in the form of signing the U.S. Mayor’s Climate Protection Agreement. By signing the agreement, a city or community makes the commitment to reduce carbon dioxide — the gas that causes global warming — to 7 percent less than 1990 levels by the year 2012, Brand said.

It also offers them a menu of smart and clean energy solutions such as purchasing hybrid vehicles, purchasing Energy Star appliances and electronics or investing in renewable energy, Brand explained.

“In the absence of federal leadership, the local leaders have stepped up to meet the challenge of addressing the serious problem of global warming,” Brand said. “They are demonstrating on the ground the solutions are feasible, cost effective and politically popular. This is really a grassroots movement.”

Representatives of Maine Partners of Cool Communities will make Monday’s presentation. The group includes representatives from the Maine Chapter of the Sierra Club, Maine Council of Churches, Maine Chapter of the American Lung Association and Maine Chapter of the Physicians for Social Responsibility.

Anne D. Burt of Edgecomb of the Maine Council of Churches and Joan Saxe of Freeport of the Maine Chapter of the Sierra Club will make Monday’s presentation.

The pair will share success stories from other communities around Maine and offer some suggestions of what Rockland might consider undertaking, Burt said.

They also will encourage Rockland to sign up for the Governor’s Carbon Challenge, which aims to reduce greenhouse gas emissions to 1990 levels by 2010 and to 10 percent less than 1990 levels by 2020, with the goal of an overall 75 percent to 80 percent decrease from 2003 levels. In 2003, Maine became the first state to enact these goals into statute, Burt explained.

An incentive to sign on for the challenge is a free energy audit, Burt said.

“(The audit) will look at the municipal buildings and get the city on its way with the low-hanging fruit — the measures that will be the most cost-effective and give you the most reduction in energy usage for the lowest cost so that you’ll begin to see the savings — there’s a pretty quick turnaround,” she said.”

Rockland City Manager Tom Hall said it would be an interesting discussion for the city to have.

“The notion is we all need to be doing our part and if we do, the world will be a better place,” he said.

Hall said Rockland is energy-efficient conscious and already has an energy audit planned for this year. Hall also plans to implement an anti-idling policy for most city vehicles and set thermostat points to certain levels, he said.

Hall said he is looking forward to the presentation so he and the city council members can learn what other cities are doing and know what they would be agreeing to. It remains to be seen if the council will approve the agreement, he said, but added that he expects they will want to become a Cool City.

“Everyone is concerned about global warming but the important step is moving from being concerned and worried to taking action and there is no better place than in our towns and cities,” Brand said. “The real leaders on global warming solutions are found in our town halls and city halls and our churches and labor halls and businesses. People are no longer looking to the federal government — they have been absent on this.”

Burt said she has met with people in the Rockland community who are concerned about climate change.

“We’re hoping the city will be interested in following a model that is starting to take root in several Maine communities where a citizen’s group works with the city and helps to identify background work and what other communities have done,” Burt said.

Other communities in the state that have signed the U.S. Mayors Climate Protection Agreement are Portland, Biddeford, Saco, Kennebunk, Yarmouth and nearby Belfast.

“Having been named a cool city, I know Rockland is very jealous — they want to be cool, too,” joked Belfast Mayor Mike Hurley.

Hurley signed the agreement last year; the Belfast City Council endorsed it in February, he said.

In early 2006 there were no Cool Cities in Maine; now there are six and at least 20 other communities are considering the agreement, Burt said.

Hurley said he did not see any cons to signing the agreement and said Rockland should consider signing the agreement, as well.

“It’s not like it’s a binding agreement, but it adds weight — there is strength in numbers and the more people who sign on to this, the more it raises the priority and gets the attention of citizens.”

Belfast is now in its planning stages and has formed an energy and climate committee to look at ways the city and its residents can be more energy efficient, he said. That committee will then make recommendations to the city.

“Most communities are already doing things,” he said. “Rockland would be right up there with Belfast.”

Belfast is having energy audits conducted and also is looking at pedestrian access, among other things, Hurley said.

“This has moved beyond politics — 99.9 percent of all scientific studies say climate change is happening and it’s warming,” Hurley said. “What little part we can play in trying to deal with that, is something we’d like to offer. Obviously we’re not going to do it alone … People look to government like there is some program to stop global warming but this is something we all have to do -.”

Signing the agreement is the first step. Next, the city will need to come up with a plan of how to meet its goals, Brand said.

“The more cities do in terms of reducing their energy use and using cleaner technology, the greater the reduction will be,” Brand said. “It’s really exciting to see Maine communities becoming cool communities.”

The presentation will begin around 7 p.m. Monday, following the city council’s agenda setting meeting in the council chambers at City Hall, Pleasant Street.

“Hopefully the presentation will be broad enough that residents tuning in may learn something for their own households,” Hall said.

Hall said the city council could take action on the agreement as soon as its next regular meeting, which is scheduled for Monday, March 12.

Kelly Michaud can be reached at

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