Austin Climate Protection Program tries to ramp up its work


Jake Stewart, former soldier, sees the work as a security issue

Asher Price
Austin American-Statesman
April 22, 2009

On a bookshelf in Jake Stewart’s dimly lit Austin Energy office leans a framed set of Army commendations and epaulets, including a tiny pin that says "Always Out Front!"

Now he’s out front of another enterprise, one he sees as related to the intelligence work he did for the military: working on local energy security to tamp down Austin’s energy consumption.

Stewart, 34, manages the Austin Climate Protection Program, which is charged with figuring out diverse ways for the city and its residents to cut their power use and carbon emissions.

The program, established by the City Council in February 2007, has had its hiccups.

Senate report: Bush admin. solicited torture ‘wish list,’ ordered ‘communist’ tactics obama 340x169A Web site with an online carbon calculator to help Austinites measure their energy consumption, so they can reduce it to save money, and a social networking component so they can communicate with like-minded neighbors, has yet to materialize. That has delayed attempts to promote climate protection in the community. A deadline for a report on meeting city targets was missed last year.

The city budgeted $805,864 this year for the Climate Protection Program. That includes pay for nine full- and part-time employees, both young talents and a sprinkling of veterans. City officials say the program will save money in the long run by determining ways to cut overall energy use.

The program aims to reduce carbon emissions, which scientists link to global warming and which Stewart says will get pricier if the federal government begins regulating them. As part of the broad strategy, the city invests in energy-efficiency projects — such as subsidizing home insulation upgrades — to avoid having to pay for more electricity plants.

"I’m pleased with some of the progress, disappointed with other pieces" of the program, said Mayor Will Wynn, who pushed it forward last year, with the sponsorship of Council Members Lee Leffingwell and Brewster McCracken, both now mayoral candidates.

Wynn said he was thrilled, for example, that the city had added to its fleet vehicles such as plug-in hybrids that don’t rely on gasoline, but disappointed that contractors the city considers hiring are not scored on their environmental policies.

The next year or so might be critical for the viability of the program.

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