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Cleveland Mayor to 'jumpstart transformation' with sustainability

Marc Lefkowitz  |  03/10/10 @ 3:00pm

In his State of the City address last week, Cleveland Mayor Frank Jackson detailed his plans to use sustainability as an economic engine, and a hoped for path out of poverty. Jackson-who convened 700 people to create a vision for a sustainable city last summer at the inaugural Sustainable Cleveland 2019 summit-started to spell out how he is implementing his green agenda.

Most notable from a green jobs standpoint, Jackson announced plans to bring Chinese LED-light manufacturer Sunpu-Opto's American headquarters to Cleveland, which he expects to create up to 350 jobs. The business community usually define sustainability as producing economic, social, and environmental or 'triple-bottom-line' outcomes, and so the city has created a sustainable business model directing its municipal-owned utility, Cleveland Public Power, to be Sunpu-Opto's first customer.

"The project would create an LED streetlight design for Cleveland, help reduce the City's $12 million streetlight bill and help create a city-wide energy conservation program for homes and businesses," the mayor said.

It is noteworthy that it took a Chinese manufacturer to get the deal done considering the Cleveland presence of GE Lighting and other LED makers, such as TCP in Aurora.

The city also looked to Asia for the technological backbone of its $180 million municipal solid waste to energy (MSWE) plant-and support services, including a renewed citywide recycling program and sorting facility-that it plans to build at its Ridge Road Waste Transfer Station. The waste gasification system that Princeton Environmental Group will design for Cleveland to burn trash into gas which can be captured to produce electricity in the form of steam and pellets was developed by Kinsei Sangyo in Japan, where landfill space is at a premium and thus burning solid waste has more economic impact.

"(It) has the potential to help Cleveland Public Power (CPP) reach its goal of 25% alternative energy sources by 2025; reduce the amount of waste going to our landfills; increase recycling; and, create a new profit center as the by-products of the process can be sold as fuel pellets and decorative bricks," Jackson said.

Some criticism we've heard about the MSWE project include: Does the city's cost-benefit analysis add up-should $110 million (less the recycling program and the decorative brick plant) get more bang for the buck on energy output than 120 megawatts of electricity? The city estimates that CPP will save $9.69 million annually on purchased power. But the triple bottom line benefits add up. Natural areas and biodiversity will be preserved from not building another landfill. Even if it costs the waste industry less to dump trash Ohio, Cleveland expects to reduce significantly its yearly $9.4 million cost to landfill trash. And the city anticipates creating jobs for plant operation and spin off businesses. For example, a byproduct of gasification are fuel pellets and feedstock for decorative bricks (the city plans to invest $8 million in a decorative brick operation).

Another concern local environmental groups have shared is the plant's impact on air quality. The region is already in a federally designated 'non-attainment' status for air quality, and environmentalists wonder about the impact, despite claims from the mayor that "once the facility is designed, we will work to obtain the air permit from the Ohio EPA to continue moving forward." Does the city need to produce more analysis on the environmental benefits of gasifying rather than hauling 40 miles and burying 3,000 tons of trash per day?

Back to the mayor's sustainability commitments in his speech. They include:

Cleveland City Council is considering new policy that would leverage its buying power to promote locally grown food and sustainable businesses. Ordinance No. 1660-A-09 was introduced by Mayor Frank Jackson and Councilmember Joe Cimperman in January to provide bid incentives on city contracts for local businesses, sustainable businesses and businesses that purchase local foods. Read more.

A major lens for economic, social and environmental work will be in the continuation of the Sustainable Cleveland 2019 summit (a second summit is being planned for September, 2010). The mayor mentioned that the city is paying for a strategic plan for sustainable development that ties in the work of a volunteer army from the 2019 Work Groups.

What is brave about the mayor's State of the City address is an acknowledgement of the hard financial times for Cleveland, and yet, without skipping a beat, his answer is to get the city on the right track through sustainability, efficiency, a renewed focus on education and inviting innovative ideas. Or as he said in closing:

If we fail to act on creating educational excellence throughout the county, on changing how local and county governments operate to become more efficient and effective in delivering service, on transforming our economy into a sustainable economy by 2019, on investing in our neighborhoods and residents to ensure quality of life and safety; and, on continuing fiscally stability and reducing the cost of government, we will have squandered the greatest opportunity this community has seen in decades to reinvent itself as a thriving city and county for generations to come."

Read Mayor Jackson's 2010 State of the City address here.

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