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City Council attacks power crisis

By John Geluardi Daily Planet Staff
Thursday March 22, 2001

The City Council adopted an energy plan Tuesday that will take some of the financial sting out of the energy crisis and begin implementing programs for renewable energy and energy conservation. 

The council unanimously approved the two-year Community Energy Plan, which includes financial assistance for low-income residents, public information campaigns and materials for residents who want to make their homes more energy efficient. The plan will also explore the possibility of city or regional utility ownership. 

The council also approved $519,500 to begin instituting the plan in fiscal year 2001-2002. City staff estimates that the plan will require another $855,750 for fiscal year 2002-2003 in order to institute a series of renewable, conservation and efficiency programs.  

“The most important thing in the short term is probably the financial assistance for low-income residents,” said Energy Officer Neil De Snoo. “The long-term goal is a package of programs and each piece has an important role.” 

The council referred 50 energy initiatives to city staff and the Energy Commission at a Feb. 13 meeting. They became the basis for the Community Energy Plan. 

Energy Commission Chair Jeffrey Siegel said it was a challenge to put the plan together by Tuesday’s council meeting, and much of the credit goes to De Snoo. 

“It was very difficult because some of the ideas were contradictory and we had to come up with a document that either everybody would be happy with or nobody would,” Siegel said. 

The plan is organized in two phases – the first is designed to combat the current energy crisis, and the second is aimed at implementing plans to reduce future energy use. 

The first phase will immediately provide $49,750 for bill payment assistance for an estimated $1,400 low-income households. The average payment this year per household will be approximately $210 and is expected to be raised to $275 when additional funding becomes available next year, according to the written plan. 

Berkeley EcoHouse will begin a program at King and Willard middle schools to train students to identify inefficient home weatherization and then remedy the situation. The $20,000 program will also provide weatherization materials. 

Councilmember Linda Maio said the EcoHouse program could blossom into a larger program in which the students could possibly use their new skills to install weatherization measures in seniors’ homes. 

“It’s part of the education we have to do,” Maio said. 

The city will also launch a citywide information campaign that will include a mailing to all residents detailing ways to reduce energy use in the home and office.  

After some contentious discussion, the council also voted to fund a public power utility study. Originally the plan called for the study to be funded next year. But a motion made by Councilmember Kriss Worthington guaranteed funding in fiscal year 2001-2002. 

The $85,000 study was approved by five votes with Councilmembers Betty Olds and Polly Armstrong voting in opposition and Mayor Shirley Dean and Vice Mayor Maudelle Shriek abstaining. 

Richard Challacombe was among several members of the Social Action Committee of the Berkeley Fellowship of Unitarian Universalists in the audience to support municipalization by holding up brightly colored signs that read “Power To The People.”  

“We were very pleased that the money for the study was approved,” he said. “We don’t want to wait a year or 18 months for the ball to get rolling.” 

Mayor Shirley Dean said she was glad the city was able to put together such a comprehensive energy plan. She pointed out that an additional energy resolution had been approved on the consent calendar – items on the consent calendar are approved unanimously without discussion – that could be a significant force in moving to solar power. It was a resolution by Dean and Shirek, to join the Bay Area Solar Consortium, which will facilitate research, development and education of solar power. The program is part of former President Clinton’s Million Solar Roofs initiative, which encourages residents and businesses to install solar panels on one million rooftops by 2010. 

Medical marijuana 

In other matters the council was unable to reach a decision on the number of marijuana plants certified individuals would be allowed to grow in their residences under the pending Medical Marijuana Ordinance. 

The item was set for next Tuesday’s meeting.