This blog post was written by Brady Watson, former Civic Engagement Coordinator for the Southern Alliance for Clean Energy.
This is the fourth in a series of blog posts by the Southern Alliance for Clean Energy (SACE) where we conducted interviews with Knoxville City Councilmembers about climate and energy issues impacting Knoxville and its residents. Each blog provides background on the council member and a summary of the interview, as well as an audio recording of the interview. Read all the blogs in the series and listen to all of the recordings here. To learn more about SACE’s work in Knoxville and our efforts to #RenewTN, go to RenewTN.org. (Note: Councilman Roberto submitted written responses to questions, so no audio recording is available for this interview. You can view his written responses, however.)
- Cut city government emissions 50% from 2005 levels by 2030
- Cut community-wide emissions 80% by 2050
Councilman Roberto was supportive of the goals passed in 2019 and said he was proud to sponsor the measure to adopt the goals. He thinks the goals are ambitious but achievable. He also said the previous city goal, adopted in 2008, of reducing government emissions by 20% seemed ambitious but was accomplished. To this end, the Councilman stated,
“Our greatest challenge is underestimating what we as individuals and as a community are capable of accomplishing.”
Knoxville Mayor’s Climate Council
When speaking on the newly-formed Mayor’s Climate Council, the Councilman said,
“I welcome any local effort, no matter how big or small, to help meet our climate challenge.”
Roberto thinks the city’s emissions reduction goals are ambitious, and the goals’ community-wide reduction outside of the direct control of City Council is likely the biggest challenge, but working together with the diverse members of the Climate Council, and engaging the community, can result in success.
“Adding reliable sources of renewable energy is critical to meeting Knoxville’s climate goals. These measures not only reduce carbon emissions and create new jobs but as we have seen with the LED light retrofit project, they can result in significant savings for taxpayers,” Councilman Roberto.
Councilman Roberto also supports setting renewable energy goals for both the City and the community.
The Councilman said energy efficiency and reducing energy waste is a key component to meeting the City’s goal of reducing emissions by 20% by 2020. On the role of energy efficiency in achieving this progress, he said,
“Investments in energy efficiency in city buildings improved efficiency by 14% in 2018, compared to 2010.”
Councilman Roberto was very supportive of the City’s LED streetlight retrofit project, having sponsored the measure on Council. Furthermore, he said he would support target goals for both municipal and community energy efficiency.
“The installation of LED streetlights resulted in a 60% reduction in streetlight electrical use which not only allowed Knoxville to meet our 20% emission reduction goal, which by itself is a big deal. However, even if you aren’t concerned with carbon emissions, the program still saves taxpayers $2 million each year [after the 8-year payback period]. The LED program is a great example of taking local action on carbon emissions and saving taxpayer money by implementing a smart forward-thinking project,” Councilman Roberto.
Councilman Roberto is aware that transportation is the largest segment of emissions in the Knoxville area and that electrifying transportation is key to reducing the community’s overall carbon footprint and supports the recent purchase of electric buses.
“By supporting electric buses, we can make an impact on municipal transport emissions as well as showing overall support for electric vehicles.”
Additionally, he supports setting electric transportation goals and moving the city’s fleet to electric vehicles.
Adopting More Clean Energy Programs to Advance Climate Goals
Moving forward, Councilman Roberto would, “like to see continued effort on municipal and community weatherizing programs to improve efficiency and reduce energy waste continued support for electrified vehicles to further address transportation emissions, and the implementation of a community solar program to significantly reduce carbon emissions.”