Last April, Asheville City Council approved a long-term goal to reduce the city’s greenhouse-gas emissions: Every year, its emissions should be cut by 2 percent, with an end goal of an 80 percent reduction by 2050. Tackling that impressive-sounding feat will involve looking for ways to conserve, retrofitting city facilities with more energy-efficient technologies and generally finding creative, eco-friendly solutions for municipal needs.
Toward that end, the Sustainable Advisory Council on Energy and the Enviornment — a Council advisory board started by Council member Robin Cape — put a call out last fall for a full-time energy coordinator for the city.
Maggie Ullman landed the job, and began working full time as Asheville’s energy coordinator Jan. 15. “One of the neat things about doing a job that no one’s ever done before in an organization is figuring out what needs to be done, and catering my position to that,” says Ullman, who graduated from UNCA in 2006 with a degree in Environmental Policy and Management and worked as an alternative-transportation consultant in Atlanta before returning to Asheville.
The city “signed the mayor’s climate agreement, and we also are part of ICLEI, which is the International Council for Local Environmental Initiatives,” she explains. “The Sustainable Advisory Committee on Energy and the Environment got together and said ‘OK, we really need to get serious about this. We need to set goals, we need to create a plan to implement them, we need to implement them.’ And so at that point, the citizen’s advisory committee … said, ‘We have established a nail that we want to hammer in: Who’s the carpenter?’”
It’s an apt analogy for someone tasked with constructing a citywide energy-conservation plan from scratch. Undaunted, Ullman has already hammered out a pilot project for LED lighting in the Asheville Civic Center parking deck. To solve the problem of a poorly lit section of the parking garage that has drawn complaints from people who say it feels unsafe, Ullman decided to work with a LED lighting company to retrofit it with 25 super-efficient lighting fixtures. The lights will be installed for three months beginning in May, after which the city will decide to either buy or return them. “When you are spending other people’s money, you have to do it responsibly,” Ullman says, explaining why the purchase wasn’t made upfront. “A lot of times, cost is a big thing.” Bearing that in mind, Ullman says she hopes to see environmental issues claim a more central role in local government. Other projects coming down the pipe include an effort to “green” Bele Chere, a look into solar-power opportunities and an employee-conservation program.
Ullman will be supported by a student intern from Warren Wilson College, which is part of the city’s formal agreement with Warren Wilson to work together toward addressing climate change.
— Rebecca Bowe, contributing editor