Miami looking to go green to save energy, help prevent rising seas
By Yudislaidy Fernandez
With a big chuck of Miami at risk if continuous climate change causes a rising sea level, the city is targeting reductions in greenhouse gas emissions and other energy-reducing measures.
Miami commissioners approved last week MiPlan, Miami's first climate action plan that targets areas in which the city can make substantial reductions and work toward a more sustainable city, Miami officials said.
The plan was crafted by an action climate committee with ideas and suggestions from city directors, employees and a private energy and sustainability consultant.
Miami is most at risk of the rising sea level, said Robert Ruano, city director of sustainable initiatives. "We need to lead by example and make a difference."
Mr. Ruano said the city's areas of biggest consumption are utilities and fuel, both expected to increase by $5 million this fiscal year.
To address the consumption, Miami is targeting a 25% reduction of 2006 levels of greenhouse emissions by 2020 citywide and a 25% reduction in its government operations by 2015.
Mayor Manny Diaz, a big promoter of Miami's green direction, said MiPlan is an "evolving document," which the administration and staff need to continue working on to achieve its goals.
"The rest of the world is looking at what we are doing," Mr. Diaz said. "…Miami should be a leader in this effort because we are most at risk."
To reduce the gas consumption and emissions of its car fleet, the city is making it easier for people to carpool by getting employees who live in the same areas to ride together to work, he said.
Commissioner Marc Sarnoff, a supporter of green initiatives, asked the administration to consider hiring people who live within the city to reduce the city-incurred expenses of workers who drive city vehicles and live far from Miami.
"Some of the low-hanging fruit is hiring employees from the city when possible," Mr. Sarnoff said.
That's an option City Manager Pete Hernandez said the city has yet to explore as part of the criteria for city jobs.
Mr. Ruano said employees are also encouraged to use mass transit by buying monthly passes through the city at a discount rate of $66 pre tax.
In June, the city commission approved a green fleet ordinance that binds the city to buy more fuel-efficient cars and reduce gas consumption by 5% on all city vehicles.
Police, fire and code enforcement departments consume the most fuel. To ease consumption, the city is prohibiting departments from leaving cars idling, he said.
The city had 15 hybrid vehicles and recently bought 10 more. It has an inventory of 150 flex fuel vehicles and is buying more fuel-efficient cars.
For example, the police department is trading Ford Crown Victoria cars for Chevy Impalas to save fuel, he said. Some commissioners also use hybrid SUVs for city-related business.
Fleets are using a biodiesel blend of 10%, which Mr. Ruano said is set to increase to 20% in the next year. He said that's the biggest savings, because fewer emissions equal a cleaner city.
But with Miami's buildings including Miami Riverside Center, Miami's administrative hub, and City Hall responsible for 40% of city government's greenhouse emissions, the plan is to focus on making some reductions.
The city is going to audit the operations and energy management of its buildings to find ways to run them more efficiently. The next step after that is to renovate the buildings based on the findings, Mr. Ruano said.
The city is also considering an alliance with other entities to gets its wishes with the Florida Power & Light Co. For example, he said if Miami, the University of Miami and Miami-Dade County team up, they could leverage with the utilities company to change rules limiting the use of renewable sources.
Miami is exploring future legislation that would require new city buildings to attain silver certification from the Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED), which requires using building products from recycled materials.
The green plan also highlights land-use changes that would encourage construction around Metrorail stations and other transit stations and support building mixed-use projects that bring an array of services to residents' doorsteps, Mr. Ruano said.
Another aspect of MiPlan is a bicycle action plan aimed at improving city infrastructure to make it more bike-friendly.
Under the bike plan, the city looks to add bike lanes on some neighborhood streets, set up more bike parking and educate drivers about sharing roads with cyclists.
City commissioners are to vote on the plan Oct. 16. An educational event, Bike Miami, is set for Nov. 9.
Mayor Diaz said the biggest challenge is the struggle among traffic engineers, city public works and county public works, which he said for years have only focused on designing streets for cars alone.
But now the mentality is changing, Mr. Diaz said. "If we can change that mentality, there will be a paramount shift in urban planning."