The Pinellas County Commission voted unanimously on Tuesday to adopt a goal that countywide electricity be sourced entirely from clean energy by 2050.
The decision makes Pinellas the first county in Florida to sign onto a national campaign spearheaded by the Sierra Club, which seeks to move communities toward 100 percent clean energy sources in response to climate change.
More than 180 municipal governments across the country — including St. Petersburg, Dunedin, Largo and Safety Harbor — have already made the pledge.
“We’re excited to present this resolution to you today to have a positive effect on operations and investments going forward for the county,” Pinellas Sustainability and Resiliency Coordinator Hank Hodde told commissioners on Tuesday. “We are confident in meeting the goals that are set within it.”
The adopted resolution comes in response to a 2018 special report from the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, which laid out the rapidly growing and irreversible threat of the climate crisis.
The report set a global goal of reducing greenhouse gas emissions by 45 percent by 2030, and by 100 percent by 2050.
Pinellas County’s resolution specifies that all county operations and facilities should be powered by clean energy by 2040, with at least 50 percent by 2030.
County Administrator Barry Burton said that Pinellas has already begun to adopt clean energy practices. However, Burton said, the county’s ability to meet the newly set goals will depend on increased production of clean energy technologies.
“We’re certainly going to move in that direction,” Burton said. “But the production (of green technology) has to ramp up significantly. Buying green power is limited right now.”
Burton said it’s also important to remember that the adopted resolution is aspirational.
Dave Sillman, a member of the executive committee of the Suncoast Sierra Club and one of the community members who helped lobby the county to establish such goals, said that aspiration is a good thing.
“We in Pinellas County have so much skin in the game,” Sillman said. “This resolution is a formal recognition of the dire science. This is our leadership saying we recognize this need and are going to do our best to accomplish what the science says we must.”
The resolution comes as the county prepares to release its sustainability and resiliency plan, which will detail steps that Pinellas can take to reach the targets set in the resolution. That plan is expected to be released in June.
In addition to setting goals, the resolution also calls for the board to receive biennial updates on progress made.
Before Tuesday’s vote, Commission Chair Dave Eggers asked that commissioners consider modifying language in the resolution to include a statement expressing empathy for people who have worked in coal, oil and gas, as well as to clarify that the resolution would not act as policy.
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“I’m just talking about transition and reality,” Eggers said. “We need to make sure that we’re embracing all of us.”
His proposed changes did not find support. Commissioner Janet Long suggested the value expressed by Eggers be incorporated into the Strategic Plan, which is to be reviewed in January.
“What we’re doing here today is not for us, it’s for our kids and our grandchildren,” Long said. “This is about the resolution.”
In addition to environmental impacts, the resolution aims to bring economic value to Pinellas.
The cost of renewable, zero-emission energy from sources including wind, solar and geothermal, is now less than that for fossil fuels. The resolution states that the transition to Clean Energy represents an “enormous economic opportunity to save taxpayers money, create jobs in emerging industries, and expand prosperity for residents, as well as provide actions to improve air and water quality and protect public health.”
At Tuesday’s meeting, about a dozen residents offered support for the resolution during a public comment period. That was in addition to the more than 200 residents who communicated support to commissioners via email or phone call, prior to Tuesday’s vote, according to county records. Only one resident contacted the county in opposition, stating concerns about Pinellas becoming a solar farm.