Savannah leaders, community members discuss shift to clean energy at town hall

Our Changing Climate

SAVANNAH, Ga. (WSAV) — Community members and leaders from the City of Savannah packed the Unitarian Universalist Church on Tuesday night in support of clean energy. 

The “100 Savannah: A Community Conversation” town hall forum brought together those concerned about the future of the city amidst a changing climate. 

On the panel of speakers were Alderman Nick Palumbo; Alderwoman Kesha Gibson-Carter; Director of Citizens for Environmental Justice Dr. Mildred McClain; Director of Environment Georgia Jennette Gayer; and Tybee Island Beach Task Force Chair Cathy Sakas.

Among Savannah residents in the audience and making sure they heard the concerns of their constituents were City of Savannah officials including Alderwomen Linda Wilder-Bryan and Bernetta Lanier as well as Alderman Kurtis Purtee. 

Kevin Ionno, the chair of the Climate Reality Project and the Unitarian Universalist Green Team, told Now that although city council has many projects on its docket, he hopes to ensure that transitioning Savannah to 100% clean and renewable energy by 2035 is an issue that stays near the top of their list. 

“The way to do that is to hold them accountable,” Ionno said. 

Mayor Van Johnson opened the town hall meeting with remarks about why a shift to clean energy would benefit Savannah as a whole, now and in the future.

“We are the recipients of what was passed on to us, and we have the responsibility to ensure for those who follow behind us that we leave things better than when we found them,” Johnson said.

Panelists touched on topics like how clean energy can bring thousands of jobs to Savannah.

“If we make those big investments in solar, big investments in energy efficiency, we [could] create 99,000 jobs in Georgia, which is the equivalent of buying another Coca-Cola headquarters,” Gayer said during her presentation.

She demonstrated the Advanced Clean Energy Mapping tool, created by Georgia Tech grads, that showed the audience how they can calculate and visualize what would happen if Georgia made certain key changes and investments toward its goal of switching to clean energy. 

The discussion also shifted to how preparing residents in vulnerable areas like Hudson Hill, Woodville and West Savannah can equip them for climate change-related emergency situations like flooding and hurricanes.

McClain invited residents of these neighborhoods to stand up during her speech.

“These are the people who would have to be at the table in order to ensure that racial, social and economic inequities are built into the plan [for clean energy in Savannah],” McClain said.

“There can’t be the ‘Haves’ at the table and the ‘Have-nots’ sitting around watching the decision-making process go forward without them,” she added.

Alderman Palumbo told the crowd that it’s time for Savannah to become the resilient coastal city that it needs to be. 

“It starts with adopting this resolution, it starts with contacting your elected officials and encouraging them to accept this resolution as our city moves forward,” he said.

Alderwoman Gibson-Carter said she hopes the city can work together to tackle the resolution in a “strategic” way. 

“Oftentimes, we have goals and plans, and when it’s in the hands of the government, there’s a tendency for it to be lost,” she said. “But I assure you that this won’t be one that will be lost.” 

Gibson-Carter added that to make the transition to clean energy a reality, the city needs to approach the task in a way that is “smart” — in other words, “specific, measurable, attainable, realistic and time-oriented.”

The alderwoman also addressed that during the previous campaign season, the goal was to switch the city to clean energy by 2030, and that it’s now been extended to 2035.

“We don’t want to leave here, and then next week, it’s 2040,” she said. 

Ionno said he was “amazed” at the overall turnout.

“We had a candidate forum in this church in October, and we packed it the way we packed it tonight,” he said. “But the fact that this church was packed shows you how ready this community is to make the shift to safe, clean, renewable energy and all the benefits that go with it.”

He added there are talks to create a citizens advocacy program so Savannah residents can remain in constant contact with city council members.

“The idea of holding a quarterly town hall as part of that is an excellent idea,” he said. 

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