Knoxville City Council on Climate and Energy: Andrew Roberto

Brady Watson | May 29, 2020 | Climate Change, Energy Policy, Tennessee

This is the fourth in a series of blog posts by the Southern Alliance for Clean Energy (SACE) where we conducted interviews with Knoxville City Councilmembers about climate and energy issues impacting Knoxville and its residents. Each blog provides background on the council member and a summary of the interview, as well as an audio recording of the interview. Read all the blogs in the series and listen to all of the recordings here. To learn more about SACE’s work in Knoxville and our efforts to #RenewTN, go to RenewTN.org. (Note: Councilman Roberto submitted written responses to questions, so no audio recording is available for this interview. You can view his written responses, however.) 

Background

Andrew Roberto was elected as City Councilman for the 2nd District on November 7, 2017, and sworn in on December 16, 2017. His term ends in December of 2021. He is also the Beer Board Chairman.

Source: Submitted by Councilman Andrew Roberto

A Knoxville native and a graduate of the Knox County public school system, Councilman Roberto graduated Summa Cum Laude from the University of Tennessee in 1999 with a Bachelor’s degree in Political Science and a minor in Psychology. He received his Juris Doctorate from the University of Tennessee College of Law in 2002 and later served as a Workers’ Compensation Specialist with the Tennessee Department of Labor. Since 2008, Councilman Roberto has been a local attorney and became a partner with The Lawyers of Brown & Roberto.  

Prior to serving on City Council, Roberto served as a Knox County Election Commissioner from 2014-2017, where he worked to encourage voter registration and participation. Passionate about community, Andrew served on The Salvation Army of Knoxville’s advisory board from 2012 to 2018, and as board chairman from 2015-2018. During his time on the advisory board, Andrew would frequently serve lunch at the soup kitchen and volunteer during the annual Red Kettle campaign. In recognition of his service, the organization presented him with their Partner in Mission Award in 2012. He was only the 33rd person nationwide to receive this honor.

Roberto served on the Sertoma Center board from 2016 to 2018, and in 2014 he served on the executive committee of the Congressional Medal of Honor Convention held here in Knoxville. As a small business owner, Andrew has led his firm in partnering with Celebrate Recovery in North Knoxville, the Epilepsy Foundation of East Tennessee, and the Tennessee Veterans Business Association over the past nine years.

Councilman Roberto and his wife, Sarah, reside in the Rocky Hill area with daughters Kylie and Hannah, who both attend Bearden High School. Sarah presently serves as the Director of Development and Outreach with the Muse Children’s Museum.

Below is a summary of the interview conducted by SACE’s Civic Engagement Coordinator, Brady Watson. The questions are grouped together for better flow but were not necessarily asked in the order listed. Councilman Roberto spoke often of the community aspect of climate and energy policy. You can view his written responses here.

KUB’s Recently Signed 20-year Contract with TVA

Councilman Roberto expressed support for the recently-signed contract between the Knoxville Utilities Board (KUB) and the Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA) citing greater flexibility in providing emission-free power that is locally generated. He mentioned he has been advocating for a community solar project since 2017: 

Community solar enables Knoxvillians to buy power units produced at a large local solar farm and receive a credit on their electric bill for the power their units produce. This program would support and expand solar power production locally and allow more of our citizens to participate, even if they can’t afford solar panels of their own. By providing an opportunity for more of our neighbors to participate in solar energy production, we can begin working towards our community reduction goals.” 

Knoxville’s Carbon Reduction Goals

Knoxville’s City Council unanimously voted in the summer of 2019 to pass carbon reduction goals:

  • Cut city government emissions 50% from 2005 levels by 2030
  • Cut community-wide emissions 80% by 2050

Councilman Roberto was supportive of the goals passed in 2019 and said he was proud to sponsor the measure to adopt the goals. He thinks the goals are ambitious but achievable. He also said the previous city goal, adopted in 2008, of reducing government emissions by 20% seemed ambitious but was accomplished. To this end, the Councilman stated,

Our greatest challenge is underestimating what we as individuals and as a community are capable of accomplishing.” 

Knoxville Mayor’s Climate Council

When speaking on the newly-formed Mayor’s Climate Council, the Councilman said,

I welcome any local effort, no matter how big or small, to help meet our climate challenge.”

Roberto thinks the city’s emissions reduction goals are ambitious, and the goals’ community-wide reduction outside of the direct control of City Council is likely the biggest challenge, but working together with the diverse members of the Climate Council, and engaging the community, can result in success.  

Renewable Energy

Adding reliable sources of renewable energy is critical to meeting Knoxville’s climate goals. These measures not only reduce carbon emissions and create new jobs but as we have seen with the LED light retrofit project, they can result in significant savings for taxpayers,” Councilman Roberto.

Councilman Roberto also supports setting renewable energy goals for both the City and the community. 

Energy Efficiency

The Councilman said energy efficiency and reducing energy waste is a key component to meeting the City’s goal of reducing emissions by 20% by 2020. On the role of energy efficiency in achieving this progress, he said,

“Investments in energy efficiency in city buildings improved efficiency by 14% in 2018, compared to 2010.”

Councilman Roberto was very supportive of the City’s LED streetlight retrofit project, having sponsored the measure on Council. Furthermore, he said he would support target goals for both municipal and community energy efficiency. 

“The installation of LED streetlights resulted in a 60% reduction in streetlight electrical use which not only allowed Knoxville to meet our 20% emission reduction goal, which by itself is a big deal. However, even if you aren’t concerned with carbon emissions, the program still saves taxpayers $2 million each year [after the 8-year payback period]. The LED program is a great example of taking local action on carbon emissions and saving taxpayer money by implementing a smart forward-thinking project,” Councilman Roberto.

Electric Transportation

Councilman Roberto is aware that transportation is the largest segment of emissions in the Knoxville area and that electrifying transportation is key to reducing the community’s overall carbon footprint and supports the recent purchase of electric buses. 

By supporting electric buses, we can make an impact on municipal transport emissions as well as showing overall support for electric vehicles. 

Additionally, he supports setting electric transportation goals and moving the city’s fleet to electric vehicles. 

Adopting More Clean Energy Programs to Advance Climate Goals

Moving forward, Councilman Roberto would, “like to see continued effort on municipal and community weatherizing programs to improve efficiency and reduce energy waste continued support for electrified vehicles to further address transportation emissions, and the implementation of a community solar program to significantly reduce carbon emissions.” 

To learn more about the movement for clean energy in Knoxville and throughout Tennessee and take action with us to #RenewTN, please visit our website at RenewTN.org.

#KnoxvilleCityCouncilClimate

Brady Watson
Kansas native Brady Watson attended Kansas State University where he received a bachelor’s degree in History, and then a master’s degree in Documentary Film and History from Syracuse University.  After…
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