City officials want to ramp up Walt Disney’s original vision for Epcot to transform Orlando into the most sustainable city in the world.
Chris Castro, the city’s director of sustainability, spoke Thursday to a crowd of mostly young millennials about how the city aims to achieve that goal by using solar energy, recycling, fleet farming, green building technology and converting city vehicles from diesel to electric.
“We waste the vast amount of our energy through inefficiency,” said Castro, who took the job last May after overseeing the city’s green energy division for three years. “Our mission is to have all municipal operations powered by the sun by 2030.”
The city is tripling its solar energy capacity this summer, adding on to the 6-megawatt Stanton Solar Farm by converting a retired landfill across the street into a 12-megawatt solar farm. The 18-megawatt capacity will generate enough renewable energy to power more than 1,800 homes.
“Solar energy is hot on our priority list,” said Castro, who flashed a PowerPoint photo of a green roof garden on Orlando’s Fire Station 1 that saved the city $500,000 by mitigating the overflow of water rather than building a retention pond. He added that they are looking for similar opportunities “on flat roofs just baking in the sun” at community centers and fire and police stations throughout the city.
A partnership with Orlando Utilities Commission’s Solar Aggregation Program helps lower the installation cost of solar power for homeowners and neighborhoods by bundling them for a drop from $3.50 per megawatt to $2, he said. The Property Assessed Clean Energy (PACE) program allows homeowners to stretch the cost of installing solar roofs, energy efficient lighting and water pumps to be paid on their yearly property tax bill, while enjoying the savings clean energy provides.
The city’s sustainability efforts also include making Orlando a “Zero Waste Community” by 2040 by diverting waste from landfills through recycling and reuse. The city increased household recycling to once a week and is adding 20 recycling bins around the city along with solar-powered Big Belly Trash Compacters that will reduce the ratio of waste from 5 to 1 by this summer.
A food waste diversion program pilot has converted 2 million pounds of waste into clean energy fuel from 25 customers during the past 18 months. The city wants to include hospitals and more food service businesses to reach 200 tons diverted each week, which would create enough gas to fuel city trucks.
Also, the city plans to require all new commercial and multifamily buildings offer recycling. These solid waste methods are modeled after similar initiatives in San Jose, Calif., Portland, Seattle, Atlanta and Austin, Texas.
The city made a commitment in 2007 to shift away from energy that is generated through the burning of fossil fuels towards investments in clean, renewable energy. Orlando is building more efficiently like the new Orlando Police Department’s headquarters and two new fire stations using energy-efficient green building practices.
Through a $250,000 U.S. Department of Energy Farmer’s Market Grant, the city is promoting the Fleet Farming concept of creating farmlettes on homeowners’ yards, replacing St. Augustine grass that absorbs huge amounts of water and nutrients that cause algae blooms, Castro said.
Fleet farming can be found in Audubon Park and Colonialtown, where homeowners provides access to their land and farmers use bicycles to maintain and harvest the crops. It minimizes lawn maintenance and the homeowners get free, fresh produce, while the excess is sold at the Winter Park and Audubon Park farmer’s markets along with restaurants like Lazy Moon Pizza, The Sanctum Cafe and East End Market.
A Saturday morning farmer’s market will open across the street from the Orlando City Soccer Stadium by the fall in Parramore, the largest food desert in the city, where residents must travel up to three miles to buy fresh fruits and vegetables. The city will also sponsor community cooking classes to help residents learn to “turn kale, Swiss chard and tomatoes into something edible,” Castro said.
Also this summer, Orlando is embarking on a pilot program with LYNX to test three manufacturer’s electric LYMMO buses to decrease diesel emissions.
Castro promised those who attended the “Creating Sustainable Cities” meeting that by pursuing these goals, Orlando will curb waste, save money, boost the economy, create new jobs and support a cleaner, healthier environment.