St. Pete’s Historic Gas Plant District — one of the largest urban redevelopment projects in the U.S. — crackles with opportunity to enrich the city economically, socially and culturally. But quietly, the site also presents substantial opportunities to tackle the climate crisis and exhibit critically needed environmental leadership to the region, state and nation.
The U.S. Department of Energy estimates that buildings account for approximately 40 percent of U.S. greenhouse gas emissions. All pathways toward a clean energy future include as a focus, creating a building stock that is highly efficient (low-energy use), electrified (all-electric mechanical systems and appliances) and which integrates renewables whenever feasible. Building efficiency is “low hanging fruit” in the clean energy transition, particularly on new construction where design plays a significant role. Experts tell us that if we are to meet the targets outlined by the U.N.’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change to keep global heating below 1.5 degrees, every new building from today forward must be well on the path to zero carbon.
There are currently more than 700 Net Zero buildings across the nation — those that generate as much energy as they use — and there’s an ever-growing array of tools to help the building sector rapidly decarbonize including passive design, better insulation, improved heating and air-conditioning, “smart” building controls/sensors/software, and ever better and cheaper rooftop solar.
Better still, building to Net Zero has proven lucrative, with additional upfront costs amortizing in five to 12 years on average, then paying back many times over and raising property values. There is also significant federal financial support now available for building efficiency through the Inflation Reduction Act and Bipartisan Infrastructure Law.
Net Zero would also pay myriad benefits that align with the city’s stated priorities for the Historic Gas Plant district around sustainability, jobs and economic impact, and affordable housing in particular, by dramatically reducing power bills for future building owners and tenants.
In 2016 St. Pete became the first city in the Southeast to adopt 100% clean energy (transition) goals, a commitment rapidly adopted since by hundreds of municipalities and corporations across the U.S. and the world. The ‘Burg has had a long-standing commitment to sustainability as evidenced in their Integrated Sustainability Action Plan and numerous guidelines, ordinances and executive orders.
If we’re sincere about achieving these aims — which for our kids’ sake I pray we are — this opportunity is simply too big to pass up. It’s time to “walk the talk.”
David Sillman is the clean energy chairperson for the Suncoast Group of the Sierra Club Florida. Read more about building the Gas Plant project to Net Zero, including a petition to Mayor Welch here.