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Council Corner: The '10 X 20' ballot initiative

During the last two months, over 2,000 Ashlanders signed a petition in favor of bringing a renewable energy initiative to the November ballot. The measure will require Ashland to produce at least 10 megawatts of new energy from clean, renewable, local sources by the year 2020.

Who instigated the initiative?

To get this initiative on the ballot, 1,644 valid signatures were needed, and over 2,000 signatures were collected by 30 determined volunteers. The effort was spearheaded by a group of five: Dave, a retired civil engineer and solar project manager; Tom, an SOU professor emeritus in physics; James, a civil engineer and electric car advocate; Louise, a citizen concerned with the impact of climate change; and Jeffery, a professional engineer and engineering, procurement and construction management contractor. These people, all of them our neighbors, gave untold hours of their time and effort to see that this initiative would come before Ashland voters.

Why is 10 X 20 important?

As a supporter of the 10 X 20 initiative from its inception, I believe the measure reflects an entirely appropriate sense of urgency regarding climate change. Fourteen of the 15 hottest years ever recorded have occurred since the year 2000. The hottest month ever recorded was July of this year. If nothing is done to mitigate the trend, climate projections for our area include the likelihood that, by the year 2100, Southern Oregon will experience at least 50 days a year with temperatures above 100 degrees. Accompanying this heat will likely be extreme drought. The longer we delay in addressing this issue, the more devastating its impact will be on our area’s ― indeed, our planet’s ― livability. It is time ― now ― to “think globally and act locally,” and 10 X 20 is an excellent place to start.

What is the current status of the initiative?

Before appearing on a ballot, all initiatives must be taken before the local governing body, in this case, the Ashland City Council. On Aug. 16, the council unanimously “adopted” the initiative. This means that, instead of the initiative going to the voters in November, the council will vote to make the initiative an ordinance in city law. On Sept. 6, the council will present an emergency first and second reading. The ensuing vote must include five yes votes for the initiative to become an ordinance. If that fails, the initiative will appear on the ballot for voters to decide.

It’s important to note that there are no specifics in the initiative regarding how to implement 10 X 20 or what it will cost. Such details are for the council to determine with citizen input and discussion. Many suggest that a 10-megawatt solar farm with direct connection to the city’s distribution infrastructure might provide the most cost-effective approach to meeting the ordinance’s requirements.

When does the ordinance take effect?

Immediately upon adoption of the ordinance on Sept. 6 or, failing that, upon adoption by Ashland voters in November.

How will this ordinance be rolled out?

The key first step is to apply best practices including community involvement and planning, utilizing existing resources. We’ll need a project manager with experience in municipal solar power installations to lead the council and citizens through the roll-out process.

To quote from the city’s website:

“Ashland has owned the Municipal Electric Utility since 1909. It is the second oldest municipal utility in Oregon. With Ashland’s publicly owned utility, citizens control the destiny of the utility through their elected officials. This assures local control and accountability."

The city purchases power from the Bonneville Power Administration and produces its own at the city's hydroelectric plant, distributing it to customers through city-owned feeder and distribution lines.

Energy from the solar farm or other new installation will need to be incorporated into this existing infrastructure.

I urge all citizens to pay close attention to the council vote on Sept. 6 and, if successful, the subsequent implementation of 10 X 20. The project must immediately become part of the city’s 2017 budget. As the saying goes, “Watch this space.”

Carol Voisin is a member of the Ashland City Council.