McKees Solar Park

Newark’s McKees Solar Park has generated more than 1 million kilowatt hours of electricity.

Newark City Council last week approved a wide-reaching plan that aims to set the city on a path toward better environmental sustainability.

The plan calls for Newark to sell 100 percent renewable energy by 2045, reduce its greenhouse gas emissions to net zero by 2060, improve air quality, reduce water consumption and encourage a “car-free lifestyle,” among other goals.

While the sustainability plan lays out broad goals, it does not create any new laws or obligate the city to specific expenses. Rather, it’s a “roadmap” for the future, city planner Mike Fortner explained. Specific ordinances and large purchases will be subject to more debate and a formal vote by city council.

“This plan isn’t the end of the sustainability conversation in Newark, it’s a starting point,” Fortner said.

The plan is a result of two years of work by a committee of citizens with help from a consulting firm. The project was funded by a state grant.

“This is an opportunity for the city to show state leadership on this issue,” said Jeremy Firestone, a University of Delaware energy and climate professor who served on the committee. “The plan is well-balanced. It’s not out there. There are certainly communities in the country that have gone farther.”

Newark has long tried to position itself as a leader in sustainability. The McKees Solar Park, built in 2014, has already paid for itself and generated more than 1 million kilowatt hours of energy. In 2009, the city passed a well-intentioned though rarely-enforced anti-idling law. More recently, council directed city staffers to begin adding electric vehicles to the city’s fleet.

“I’m excited to see how the city and council can move forward to adopt some of these suggestions. This is a great guidebook,” Councilwoman Jen Wallace said, referring to the new sustainability plan. “I think we need to make a bold statement that sustainability is important.”

Notably, the plan does not provide any estimates for how much it could cost to reach the goals it sets forth. One obvious challenge to overcome is the city’s reliance on utility revenue.

Because so much land in Newark is tax exempt, the city relies on utility sales to balance the budget. The University of Delaware pays for utilities but not taxes, so the city's electric and water rates are artificially high as a way to bring in needed revenue.

That sets up the frustrating paradox that by encouraging energy conservation or residential solar installations to improve the environment, the city ends up hurting its finances. In order to achieve the plan’s goals, the city likely will have to find a way to rebalance its rate structure.

The city’s volunteer Conservation Advisory Commission will be responsible for implementing and updating the sustainability plan. The city will create the Newark Energy Transition Commission to advise the CAC on green energy initiatives.

The plan also calls for a robust public outreach campaign, including a website that includes a sustainability guide for residents and businesses as well as real-time metrics of energy usage, renewable power generation, water consumption and other components of the plan.

Here’s a look at some of the goals laid out in the sustainability plan:

• The electricity sold by the city’s electric utility will be 30 percent renewable by 2025, 65 percent by 2035 and 100 percent as soon as possible and no later than 2045.

• Triple the amount of solar power generated at homes, businesses and community solar programs

• Develop more community solar projects and other renewable energy projects, including evaluating city-owned rooftops for potential installation of solar panels.

• Prepare a greenhouse gas emission inventory with the goal of reaching net zero by 2060.

• Move toward a “complete community” standard through policy and design interventions to emphasize mixed-use, compact development that is structured to promote multimodal transportation choices such as walking, bicycling, and transit.

• Support a “car-free lifestyle” by implementing recommendations of the Newark Bicycle Plan, hiring a bicycle/pedestrian coordinator and developing a guide to living car-free in Newark.

• Transition the city’s vehicles to electric and promote use of electric vehicles among citizens by increasing the availability of charging stations.

• Require new buildings to use the latest sustainable design strategies.

• Reduce water consumption in Newark each year through 2025.

• Reduce the amount of inflow and infiltration (non-sewage water) that enters the sewer system.

• Increase the city’s tree canopy to 34 percent in 2025 and 36 percent by 2030.

• Improve the city’s green spaces and seek to acquire new open space.

• Reduce stormwater runoff by reducing street widths, promoting the use of rain gardens, restricting mowing in the riparian buffer and other strategies.

• Reduce the amount of trash sent to landfills by 5 percent by 2025 and 10 percent by 2030.

• Improve air quality through better enforcement of the anti-idling and anti-cruising laws.

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