Knoxville City Council on Climate and Energy: Lauren Rider

Brady Watson | May 18, 2020 | Climate Change, Energy Efficiency, Tennessee

This is the second 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.

Background

Lauren Rider was elected as City Councilwoman for the 4th District on November 7, 2017, and was sworn in on December 16, 2017.  Her current term ends in December of 2021. Rider is a resident of North Knoxville and native of Evans, Georgia, is active in the community and a faculty member at Pellissippi State Community College (PSCC), serving as the Librarian at their Division Street campus. She previously worked as a Research Librarian in Healthcare at Methodist Medical Center-Oak Ridge, the National Library of Medicine’s Go Local-Indiana project, and at Community Health Network of Indiana.

Councilwoman Rider contributed to revitalization efforts in North Knoxville by organizing and managing community-based efforts to rebuild abandoned, condemned properties and return them to the tax rolls. She employed LEED and Energy Star building practices in her projects and worked through programs in the city’s Community Development Department: the Homemaker Program and the Blighted Property Redevelopment Program. Her efforts were recognized with several Knox Heritage awards, including the 2011 Knox Heritage Ronald E. Childress Award for Preservationist of the Year. To foster stability in the community, she continues to collaborate with businesses and neighborhoods on efforts to mitigate disinvestment and blighted properties.  

Councilwoman Rider became active in the community working with neighbors on traffic calming, abandoned and blighted properties, a pocket park, and solar installation, greenway clean-ups, crime prevention, and zoning issues.

She lives in North Knoxville with her husband, Steven Rider, a Neurologist at UTMC, their two sons, Finley, age 10, Hagen, age 8, and their two poodles, Camoodle and Spike.

The Councilwoman’s community service includes KAT Community Advisory Committee, Knox County Library Advisory Board, Broadway Corridor Task Force, City of Knoxville Public Property Naming Committee, Old North Knoxville, Inc., City of Knoxville Neighborhood Advisory Council. 

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. Councilwoman Rider has experience in weatherization of older buildings, which came up often throughout the interview.  Listen to a recording of the interview here.

KUB’s Recently Signed 20-year Contract with TVA

Councilwoman Rider said she has heard varied opinions on this, including from our own Executive Director, Dr. Stephen Smith. She also mentioned that she knows Memphis is considering leaving TVA and hasn’t signed TVA’s contract, which SACE discussed in a recent blog. Ultimately, she hopes that the savings generated by the KUB-TVA contract will trickle down to customers, and she is excited about the prospects of more solar and wind energy. 

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

Councilwoman Rider was part of the unanimous vote to approve the city’s carbon reduction goals. 

“I think goal setting is important. I think if you don’t set goals and targets, then you won’t aim high. And that sounds trite, but it’s true. I think if you set goals that you can easily meet or surpass, then you’re just looking for an easy way to pat yourself on the back. That’s one thing. It’s important that we strive high because we’re behind the eightball and we’ve got to be aggressive.” 

She also said that while there are a lot of negatives with the coronavirus, one potential positive is that people are learning to work from home, which can potentially lead to long term changes after the pandemic ends. 

Knoxville Mayor’s Climate Council

On the same day as the interview with Councilwoman Rider, Mayor Indya Kincannon’s new Climate Council held their first meeting. Speaking about the Climate Council, Councilwoman Rider said she was excited to hear from them and rely on their expertise. She said that City Council members are not experts on issues affecting climate and energy, so they would be relying on members of the Climate Council to provide guidance. “I expect Brian [Blackmon, City of Knoxville Sustainability Director] and all of them to bring in viewpoints and information from other people. Don’t reinvent the wheel when you can see what other people are doing, and see what’s transferable.” 

Renewable Energy

Regarding renewable energy, Councilwoman Rider said it is a “key piece of the puzzle” in reducing carbon emissions. She also mentioned taking one piece at a time approach to look for small ways to incorporate more renewable energy. For instance, before she came to the Council, Councilwoman Rider worked to electrify a pocket park in her neighborhood. “The city told us if we wanted electricity, we would have to pay for it.” It became the first park in the city to be fully powered by renewable energy. On setting renewable energy targets, Councilwoman Rider said she would be supportive, and it would be ideal to partner with Knox County. 

Energy Efficiency

As mentioned in her background information, Councilwoman Rider has some personal experience with energy efficiency and sees the problem of energy waste as something that has to be addressed. Speaking to how builders view weatherization strategies, she said, “Part of it is learning techniques and learning what to pay attention to. When you’re doing new construction, some of the techniques are novel to people and they haven’t done them before. Automatically they’re dismissive because they see it as more expensive. I think there’s a balance to it.” She also mentioned the need for residential energy efficiency programs because there are a lot of older homes in Knoxville that need energy efficiency upgrades. As far as the City setting energy efficiency targets for buildings, the Councilwoman said she would be supportive, and that many international building codes the city has implemented have already raised standards for builders in Knoxville. 

Electric Transportation

The Councilwoman said that electric transportation is another important aspect of reducing carbon emissions. She supported the purchase of electric buses for the city fleet and mentioned that many city codes and enforcement staff are going out in EVs. She also brought up another aspect of vehicle fleets: fuel prices. “One of the things that impact the city budget is the fluctuation of fuel prices. You either have to build that into the budget or you dip into your rainy-day fund because we don’t control the petroleum market. Sometimes it really wears us out and digs into the budget. If you were able to electrify your fleet, you aren’t as susceptible to those fluctuations in that market.” As for setting electric transportation goals for the city, she said “Yes, I support that, and I wouldn’t be surprised if we already had some goals or thoughts and that we’re going in that direction anyway. The thing is if you codify it or adopt resolutions/goals that support it, that way if the leadership changes, the support is still there.” She also mentioned the City has a vehicle replacement plan that after a certain number of years, vehicles are replaced, and that the City tries to replace them with EVs.

Adopting More Clean Energy Programs to Advance Climate Goals

When asked about what programs she would like to see in the city to advance climate goals, some of the things Councilwoman Rider mentioned were continued and even expanded recycling in the city. She noted the pricing has changed dramatically since the program started and some market and external pressures have made it more expensive to recycle glass in particular, which the city recently stopped collecting in curbside pickups. She also mentioned the idea of having a composting program that the city could facilitate.

Touching on an earlier theme, the Councilwoman again mentioned transportation. “I would really love to see the bus system expanded out into the county as a partnership, to make it more feasible for people to ride the bus, not just in the city.” Commuter traffic is a large contributor to carbon emissions, and this could potentially help with that, according to the Councilwoman. 

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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