Tampa City Council hits pause on clean energy resolution

Despite pleas from nearly two dozen speakers, council members vote to delay action until March.
Council member Joe Citro during a city council meeting at the old city hall in downtown Tampa, Florida on Thursday, June 6, 2019.
Council member Joe Citro during a city council meeting at the old city hall in downtown Tampa, Florida on Thursday, June 6, 2019. [ OCTAVIO JONES | Times ]
Published Nov. 5, 2020|Updated Nov. 5, 2020

TAMPA — Be like St. Pete?

That was part of the argument Thursday presented to City Council members by nearly two dozen environmentalists, who urged them to adopt a resolution committing the city to rely completely on renewable energy by 2030.

Backed by the Sierra Club and other environmental organizations, the effort is part of a national push to persuade municipal governments to adopt clean energy technologies.

In 2016, St. Petersburg became the first Florida city to make the pledge, later joined by Largo, Sarasota and Orlando along with nearly 165 other cities across the country.

That fact was noted by several speakers and echoed by council member John Dingfelder, who said he thought Tampa had lagged behind the Sunshine City for a decade or more.

But the bay area’s largest city didn’t appear ready to embrace the pledge quite yet.

The resolution’s sponsor, Joseph Citro, pulled the measure until March, saying Mayor Jane Castor and her staff needed time to develop a plan. He took credit in nudging the mayor along.

“Sometimes you got to poke the bear,” Citro said.

Dingfelder said council members should show leadership by approving the resolution. It could always be amended later, he said.

His colleagues disagreed. By a 6-1 vote — with Dingfelder opposed — they pushed the discussion to March.

Luis Viera said he was confident Tampa would sign off on the proposal once the private sector had been briefed.

“I’m looking for something where everyone at the table feels like their voice is heard,” he said.

Castor’s spokeswoman Ashley Bauman said the mayor will keep working with local business and community leaders on making the city more resilient.

“We’re committed to working with all stake holders in ways the community and the city of Tampa operations team can move to clean energy,” Bauman texted.

Castor has pledged to put the city on the path to operate completely on sustainable energy by 2050. Environmental advocates have praised her naming Whit Remer as the city’s first sustainability and resiliency officer.

Related: Castor sets environmental agenda

Phil Compton, a Sierra Club senior organizing representative, said after the meeting that he was confident it wouldn’t take until March to reach an agreement with the business community. Getting serious discussions underway was “a major accomplishment."

Other bay area cities who have made the pledge haven’t set such ambitious targets. St. Petersburg has until 2035 to make the switch. So do Dunedin and Safety Harbor.

Tampa’s 2030 target is because recent technological advances and the worsening climate crisis make quicker action more cost effective and urgent, said Compton.

Citro said he was sure the effort to wean the state’s third-largest city will be difficult. Paraphrasing former President John F. Kennedy’s promise to put astronauts on the moon, Citro said Tampa faces a similar challenge.

“Sure it’s going to be hard, but it will be worth it for our children and our children’s children,” Citro said.