By Leslee Kulba- Tensions ran high during Tuesday’s meetings, even though Buncombe County Commissioner Joe Belcher stressed putting service before partisan divisiveness.
It started during the worksession, when the county’s Sustainability Officer Jeremiah LeRoy gave an overview of the Renewables Roadmap being developed by the CADMUS Group. CADMUS was contracted jointly by the county and the City of Asheville to develop strategies to zero out fossil fuel burning in the local public sector by 2030, and in the private sector by 2042.
Another goal is for the county to reduce its carbon footprint 2% each year, LeRoy specifying neither a start date nor whether the 2% was applied geometrically or arithmetically. Input from stakeholders has been solicited for almost a year, but a draft had not yet been uploaded to the county’s website.
Proposed actions in the report include requiring all local government construction projects to incorporate renewable features, leasing government land for solar and wind farms, establishing a revolving loan fund, and partnering among agencies and institutions to realize economies of scale.
In addition, laws and ordinances would be changed to streamline design review and permitting processes for green construction and to allow non-utility solar gardens, if not farms. The roadmap also calls for purchasing renewable energy credits. RECs are like green indulgences, which allow polluters to continue polluting as long as they pay for green energy projects elsewhere; and this explains how the county will, in 2042, be “using 100% renewable energy” while having reduced its carbon burning only 50%.
Commissioner Jasmine Beach-Ferrara said the roadmap represented a “big step” and called it “exciting.” She looked forward to the development of a policy detailing requirements for green generation and hoped the county could solar-power the early childhood education facility it is building for $500,000.
Belcher said the plan showed, “we can waste money, apparently,” and that was met with sounds of disbelief. Referring to an earlier plan, Belcher said leadership needed to “take a good look at the report” to make sure payback periods would be feasible. “Don’t do what you wouldn’t do with your own money,” he cautioned. Later on, he said common sense had to go before green policy; for example, it made no sense to prioritize putting solar panels on an old building where indoor air quality first needed remediation.
Toward the end of the meeting, Commissioner Mike Fryar said Senator Chuck Edwards had called him to tell him Chair Brownie Newman had called him to request that he kill Senate Bill 267. The bill is designed to require A-B Tech to use revenues from the quarter-cent sales tax to address deferred maintenance. It also allows funding to be used for new construction, emergency repairs, and operations.
The tax was initially approved in a nonbinding referendum where voters were told it would support new construction at A-B Tech and sunset when no longer needed. Fryar charged Newman wanted funds to be used for “other things, like solar panels.”
Newman replied he had contacted Edwards at the request of the Dennis King, the school’s president, and Mary Ann Rice, the chair of its board of trustees. They had asked his position, to which he replied he could only speak for himself. He did, however, say if A-B Tech’s leadership did not want the bill passed in its present form, he would support its stance.
The conversation then deteriorated into a spat about who had what conflicts of interest.
At their formal meeting, the commissioners had “simply a discussion” of letters to be sent to the state legislature opposing House Bill 370, which would require local sheriffs to honor Immigration and Customs Enforcement detainers. Beach-Ferrara took the view that everybody had rights and that sheriffs shouldn’t be imprisoning people for the non-criminal act of crossing the border illegally.
Other reasons included a need to build trust so undocumented persons would partner with authorities to fight violent crimes, and also that Sheriff Quentin Miller had been elected, “under the mandate … specifically to not cooperate with the ICE.”
Belcher said everybody on the board was sympathetic with the humanitarian concerns the letter attempted to address, but he understood his oath of office to commit him to upholding state and federal law. Furthermore, the commissioners had a precedent of not weighing in on state and federal issues as a body. He didn’t have a problem with individuals sending letters on their own behalf, but he did not like them using county letterhead, with every commissioner’s name on it.
Commissioner Al Whitesides said the bill was not yet law, and that the country thrived on an active political process. He regretted America’s growing tolerance for disrespect and inhumanity, the country’s slipping in its vision as a liberator, society’s loss of its moral compass, and what looked like a return to Jim Crow laws.