Jerry Clifton speaks on renewable energy, cars, air pollution
Managing News Editor
Nearly eight months after winning Newark’s mayoral election and discussing his goals toward sustainability for the city, Jerry Clifton touched upon the issues of establishing renewable energy, combating the effects of pollution caused by vehicles and maintaining a clean environment in Newark.
In a previous interview with The Review, Clifton elaborated on his plans to partner with the private sector when it came to supplying the city of Newark’s electricity, in the hopes that it would provide price consistency to consumers, as well as making a responsible decision to choose an environmentally-friendly option.
“Until people show that there is a market for it, the price isn’t going to come down, and we’ve got to all participate— the state, the county and anyone who is involved in the sale of electric— in showing the world that we want renewable and we’re willing to start the process to that end,” Clifton said.
He previously detailed partnering with a private company that would “stabilize [Newark residents’] rates for a decade or two” in the effort to get renewable energy with “rates [being] locked in for a long period of time.” However, this plan has since fallen through.
“The company who had reached out to me said ‘Well, we’ll stabilize your rates for 20 years,’” Clifton said. “[They suggested] a cost of a [consumer price index] escalator. Well, that’s where the problem begins. I think in 10 years, the cost of renewable energy is going to start to come down because of more and more people going to that resource, and why would I go for the 20-year contract and then for a cost escalator?”
The consumer price index (CPI) is a measure of the average change over time in the prices paid for a market basket of goods and services. Escalation agreements often use CPI to adjust payment for changes in price over time. However, Clifton states that in this particular negotiation, the CPI would be used in order to maintain or increase electricity rates even if the cost of production went down.
“[The company was] going to tie increases to that,” Clifton said. “Even if their cost of doing business went down, our cost of buying their product would be stabilized and actually creep up a little bit.”
Since, Clifton has favored working with the Delaware Municipal Electric Corporation (DEMEC) when it comes to providing electricity to Newark citizens.
“In retrospect, what I was looking for controlling costs for the neighbors of Newark, but I think it became clear to me [that it isn’t] going to happen through a private sector company because DEMEC [is controlled] by the member cities,” Clifton said. “Tom Coleman, the city manager, sits on the board of DEMEC, because we are a member city. And we own about 35% because we use 35% of the power.”
DEMEC represents and serves the nine different cities and towns, also known as the member cities, located throughout Delaware by fulfilling their electrical needs. According to Clifton, since DEMEC is a government agency, each city can control of portion of DEMEC through their governmental representatives that is proportional to the amount of power they use. One of these cities is Newark.
“We have the best of both worlds because we have reliable energy, and we have energy that is starting to nonetheless move towards a renewable portfolio,” Clifton said. “But the citizens of Newark, through the government [control] the system. I’ve got to tell you, I’m a strong proponent of public power, because I think they do a far better job than the private sector in controlling costs and providing consistent power to their consumers.”
University professor and director of the Center for Research in Wind, Jeremy Firestone, detailed the nuances that the city of Newark must face when trying to purchase sustainable energy. One of the complications is the mere presence of the university, which owns the land it was built upon and therefore doesn’t pay property taxes.
“They’ve got this big land mass that isn’t generating property taxes, so the city generates a lot of its revenue through fees on electricity, water, sewer and storm,” Firestone said. “It’s in part a complicated factor because the city in part relies on electricity revenues for its budget.”
Another reason that Newark has not purchased as much energy as other cities in Delaware is due to the fact that it is under no mandate to do so. The City of Newark recently decreased their goal of reaching 50% sustainable energy by the year 2025 to 25%.
“Other cities, like Wilmington, are a part of Delmarva Power, and they were under state law mandates for a longer period of time about renewables,” Firestone said.
Clifton finds that the most detrimental cause of climate change and air pollution in Newark is actually the usage of fossil-fuel consuming cars. Since becoming mayor, Clifton has established several electric car charging stations in the hopes to encourage Newark residents to use electric cars.
“It’s also up to us to have charging stations in various places throughout the city, so that if someone comes to Newark with an electric vehicle, they know they can charge it while they’re having dinner or shopping, and so forth without having to fear that if [they’re] low on charge when [they] leave the house, they’ll have no place to replenish their battery,” Clifton said.
Clifton additionally addressed the pervasive air pollution found throughout New Castle County. Only seven months ago, New Castle received a failing grade for ozone pollution for the 19th year in a row.
“Some of our factories outside Newark city limits are extremely clean, and environmentally friendly, and I can only speak to Newark issues, it’s my opinion at least, that [cars are] the biggest contributing factor,” Clifton said.
Regardless, Newark has been making changes towards positively impacting the local environment.
Businesses in Newark have been participating in a voluntary ban to get rid of plastic straws in favor of reusable ones. The city also redeveloped a former municipal landfill and brownfield site in McKees Solar Park which serves to reduce the City’s peak power demand and lower the wholesale cost of power through sustainable solar energy.
Newark has also recently established a community sustainability plan that utilizes $80,000 from the Delaware Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Control in an effort to improve air quality, renewable energy sourcing and more.