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Council Corner: Solar power in Ashland's future

After six years of serving the citizens of Ashland as a city councilor, hearing the voice of the public during testimony and at many public events I attend, I can only say that I am in awe of our community and its citizens. We are a visionary, generous, pragmatic and often opinionated community.

I know that what makes Ashland special is you — everyone who has chosen to live in a town on the side of a hill where we enjoy the benefits of world-class theater, an excellent public school system, and a vibrant regional university. Ashlanders are gracious in opening their hearts, minds and homes to visitors from every state and from around the world while honoring their community’s history and shared values. I am grateful to be a part of this caring community.

Given who we are, we have the tools to face the serious issues before us with confidence. We’ve done it before; we can do it again. I‘m presenting a brief overview of some important issues the city is facing, and then highlighting what I believe we must do in the very near future. Our city’s infrastructure — electric power, water, streets, waste management — provides us with the basic services that allow us to enjoy our quality of life. Support for maintaining and improving our infrastructure must continue to be the focus of everyone in the community, not just our city officials.

Ashland is indeed fortunate to own its sewer treatment plant, electric power, fiber network and water treatment plant. We pay for these vital operations through our utility rates and property taxes. The unrecognized and essential resource that we don’t have to pay for and that we use daily is nature and the beautiful setting in which we live. We are beginning to care for the amazing natural resource that is our watershed — thousands of acres of forestland that keep the snow melting slowly in the summer and into the streams that fill Reeder reservoir, our source of water. By removing the fuel for fires in these forests, they are being restored to a more natural state whereby controlled fires can keep our watershed resilient and protected from a catastrophic fire.

Our responsibility for our natural surroundings doesn’t stop with this. Here is a glimpse of my vision for what we in Ashland must do within the next five years if we are to do our small part in slowing climate change.

First, let’s build a solar farm on the city owned property located across the freeway. This property reaches from about Valley View Road to Eagle Mill Road and Oak, then east to the power lines. Three hundred acres out of this over 800-acre parcel is excellent for solar. In addition to this, federal and state governments are offering funding close to 50 percent for such a project. Let’s act on this to create a solar farm on city property.

All we need to do is to invite businesses to bid on a project. Our costs are minimal. This is a win-win for Ashland — renewable energy at our fingertips. Such a resource can keep us from reaching Tier 2 that is far more expensive energy rates from Bonneville Power. The urgency is that Congress is threatening to take away all funding for solar in early 2016. We need to act now in order to ensure a reliable and renewable source of energy for Ashland.

Another idea that we have toyed with for years is creating a trolley service downtown during the high tourist season. Dozens of tourist destination cities offer such a service. Visitors take the trolley from their hotels to downtown, to OSF, or to restaurants; and they don’t have to use their cars. This lessens the pressure on existing parking, cuts down on street congestion and carbon emissions. Let’s do a trial run this summer using the Tourist Occupancy Tax, otherwise known as the hotel/motel tax — dollars matched by business community contributions with no expense to residents, who can use the trolley. We need to stop dreaming about it and act now. We must reduce our carbon emissions and our carbon footprint now.

I’ve used my word limit so must stop. I want to listen to you. I’m beginning a “Community Listening Post” on March 14 and April 3 at our library. Let’s talk about the issues before the council and our community. Watch for the Tidings ad and flier.

Carol Voisin is a member of the Ashland City Council.