Climate Change Prevention and Response on Display as Mayor Presents Budget

City Skyline, Knoxville, April 2020
City Skyline, Knoxville, April 2020

Tonight Mayor Kincannon will formally present her proposed budget to City Council. That budget includes significant commitments to reducing or fighting climate change, as we as strategies to mitigate the impact. At the center of her proposal is electrification of the city fleets and adding infrastructure for public adoption of the emerging technology. But there are also less high-profile, but equally as important elements.

The goals the city has set are not small. The first marker established by the city was to reduce greenhouse gases produced by city government 20% by 2020. That goal was met before the deadline. The city now has a more ambitious goal – to cut emission by 50% (compared to 2005) by 2030 for city operations and by 80% for the community by 2050.

As has been widely reported, funding is being committed to transforming KAT to the use of all electric buses. The first twelve electric buses should arrive and be in use by this fall. Through the budget, the mayor proposes $15.3 million for KAT, including $1.2 million specifically for this purpose.

A less discussed, but essential element of infrastructure is charging stations. Downtown charging stations are a focus as downtown residents cannot as easily charge a car as a suburban resident. $150,000 “would fund additional public electric vehicle charging stations and install charging banks at the City County Building and at the Public Works Service Center,” according to a city press release. The current number of 21 charging ports would increase to 45, “with most of the new ports going into downtown parking garages and City parks.”

The city will also be moving toward transforming the city fleet of automobiles and trucks to electric vehicles. According to Brian Blackmon, Sustainability Director for the city, there are two EVs currently in use by the city, but with the additional charging stations inside the City County Garage and elsewhere, they plan to increase from two vehicles to about 30 within the next two years.

Knoxville Skyline from the South, September 2018

I spoke with Mr. Blackmon, who said that electrification both by government entities as well as the general public is the key to improving air quality. Noting that critics point to coal production of the electricity, he said that will change in coming years and has already begun to change.

One concern he expressed for public adoption is the need for Level 3 chargers (the ones in the city are level 2) that can charge a car in 30 minutes or less. He said there aren’t any from Gallaher View to Dandridge and that has to change. This is, of course, a big focus of the currently proposed Biden infrastructure bill.

In order to both improve drainage and water quality, $4 million is devoted to storm water infrastructure. An additional $721,000 is set to protect and expand the urban forest. Heavier rains and more intense storms are anticipated due to climate change and the storm water infrastructure is critical to limiting damage from runoff. Green spaces consume carbon and help clear the air.

The budget also supports the “Knoxville Convention Center’s enrollment into the KUB/TVA Green Switch Match program, which will provide 100 percent renewable electricity to the facility. Knoxville is now the top city in the Southeast for investing in solar power, thanks to KUB’s investment in 502 MW of solar through TVA’s Green Invest program.

“The City is partnering with KUB to support a community solar project at the City’s Public Works Service Center, 3131 Morris Ave., just north of Interstate 40.  “This happens to be a highly visible location,” Mayor Kincannon said. “At some point in the near future, passing motorists on I-40 will glance at the large solar array and understand that Knoxville is committed to sustainability.”

Baker Creek Reserve, Urban Wilderness, Knoxville, October 2016

The first reading is tonight, a public hearing will be held on May 14 and the final vote by city council is scheduled for May 18. Not directly related to the budget, but it is sure to be a topic, Mayor Kincannon will be the guest speaker at the downtown quarterly resident’s meeting sponsored by the Downtown Knoxville Alliance at 6:00 p.m. a week from today, May 11, via zoom. You can register for the meeting here.