This guest post is by two members of a student environmental group on the University of Maryland campus called “UMD for Clean Energy”.
This upcoming fall, we’ve decided to get involved in our city’s elections, which take place in College Park, Maryland on November 3rd. Why now? At the state level, policies and programs such as the Maryland global warming bill, new energy efficiency standards, an improved Renewable Electricity Standard, and renewable energy rebates are underway. At the same time, the federal government is investing record amounts of money in clean energy and energy efficiency, and could soon pass a climate change bill that will drive hundreds of billions of dollars worth of public and private investment into clean energy and energy efficiency over the next decade. In the next 10 years, we expect to see clean energy investment and the jobs that come with it raining down on many states, including Maryland. Where is it all going to land? We think the areas that benefit the most will be the ones out in front and in the lead on clean energy and low carbon technology policy.
Unfortunately, both our county (Prince George’s County) and College Park are not leading. We think we’re way behind, especially compared to our neighbor, Montgomery County. We want College Park to step up and be the gold standard in Prince George’s County on this front. We’re aiming to not only improve our town, but to set an example for other municipalities, and ultimately the county. We want to push low-carbon investment in College Park, and create green jobs in Prince George’s County. This is why we’re pushing a platform of various recommendations that range from more sustainable transportation to more efficient buildings to better environmental practices.
We’ve elevated what we consider to be our priority policy to the top of our platform. This is the establishment of a low-interest energy efficiency loan fund. Montgomery County recently passed a bill which establishes a green loan fund, although we’re uncertain if they’ve actually gotten it set up yet. Interestingly, Congressman Chris Van Hollen collaborated with the Montgomery County Council on this, and he’s come up with his own financing mechanism which is included in the ACES bill, a clean energy bank. The concept for our proposed loan fund is pretty similar and simple, where residents in College Park can borrow from this pool of money like they would a bank in order to pay for energy efficiency improvements in their home. Then, the loan can be repaid in payments roughly equal to the energy savings being realized by the improvements. We’ve been told in meetings with elected officials the best way to do this is through a modest property-tax surcharge. After the loan is paid back, residents will reap the benefits of substantially lower electricity bills.
We thought it was best to have a more narrow focus on energy efficiency since there’s so much potential to save energy in this country, and efficiency improvements can be deployed faster and cheaper with a quicker payback rate than any other energy source. As many Climate Progress readers know, Mckinsney & Company has released a recent report showing that ”the U.S. economy has the potential to reduce annual non-transportation energy consumption by roughly 23 percent by 2020, eliminating more than $1.2 trillion in waste.”
We think establishing financing mechanisms for energy efficiency such as these loan funds is the best and most reliable form of long-term rate relief we’re going to see. The energy efficiency loan fund is our bottom line.
Making our proposals a priority for the City Council and the candidates running in this November’s election is important. Fortunately, there is a unique dynamic to these elections that has never been successfully taken advantage of. College Park is broken up into 4 districts, with two city council members representing each district. Then there’s the city-wide Mayoral race. Looking at past elections, less than 1,000 people vote in the city council elections. Candidates for a city council seat typically need a few hundred votes to win, and the margin of victory is less than a hundred votes. Although this was an unusually low turnout, in 2007 a vote count of 95-95-94 in District 2 forced counting of absentee ballots. At the University of Maryland we’ve got over 30,000 undergrad and graduate students, many of which have residency in College Park. Also, many students are registered to vote in College Park anyway thanks to the a massive voter registration drive last fall for the general election, among other efforts.
Attempts by our SGA in the past have been good at registering students to vote, but bad at getting them to follow through. Real bad. We’re focusing less on registering the apathetic masses, and more on reaching out and collaborating with the tens of active student groups and organizations on campus, many of whom we have worked with in the past. We think we only need a couple hundred educated students to make up an influential voting bloc. However, we’re not taking the challenge of getting students to vote for granted.
We want to make the vote a hyped event for those who don’t have class (or can skip). We plan on organizing a rally at the center of our campus in the late afternoon, and then marching the half mile to city hall to vote. A march can provide a great visual and it alone will make a statement.
Additionally, we plan on reaching out to the civic associations in College Park and telling them about our ideas and platform, and listening to theirs. We also intend to reach out to the City Council and all candidates by meeting as many as possible, preferably all of them. We want to work with the City Council wherever we can, especially on the loan fund. We’ve already held multiple meetings where we shared ideas with two members of the city council, the current mayor, and the candidate for mayor. We’ve been taken seriously in all of them, and many ideas have been well-received. The candidate for mayor is planning to come to our group’s semester kickoff meeting on September 14 to speak to us and address the platform.
We expect new developments in the coming months as this effort moves forward and evolves past November 3rd. We welcome support and ideas from readers of this blog. Just because a policy idea isn’t on our platform doesn’t mean we’ll exclude it from the conversation. If you would like to find out more about us or contact us, check out our website at www.umdforcleanenergy.com
Matt Dernoga, Campaign Director
Kenny Frankel, Media Director