Knoxville City Council on Climate and Energy: Tommy Smith

Brady Watson | June 5, 2020 | Clean Transportation, Climate Change, Energy Efficiency, Tennessee

This is the fifth 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 Councilmember and a summary of the interview, as well as an audio recording of the interview. Read all the blogs in the series here 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

Tommy Smith was sworn in as the 1st District City Councilman on Feb. 20, 2020. His term ends in December of 2021. 

He was selected by City Council to serve the remainder of the term of former Councilwoman Stephanie Welch, who left City Council Feb. 16, 2020, to serve as the City’s Chief Economic & Community Development Officer and Deputy to the Mayor. 

Smith is Vice President of Marketing Strategy for Ackermann Marketing & PR. Before that, he served as Chief Marketing Officer for ORNL Federal Credit Union. Smith spent time in Dublin, Ireland, and Austin, Texas, working for Dell Inc. in consumer marketing, brand management, and business development.

Smith earned an MBA in marketing from the University of Tennessee, and an undergraduate degree in business administration from Emory and Henry College in Emory, Virginia. He has been a board member and volunteer for a number of community organizations, including Emerald Youth Foundation, Knoxville Entrepreneur Center, Dogwood Arts, Ijams Nature Center, Keep Knoxville Beautiful, Girls Inc. Knoxville, Leadership Knoxville, South Knox Neighborhood and Business Coalition, Alliance for Better Nonprofits, Knoxville Chamber, City of Knoxville Business Advisor Council, Knoxville Mercury, tnAchieves, Interfaith Hospitality Network, Salvation Army, All Souls Church, and South Knox Elementary PTO.

He and wife Jamie have three children: Carter, Caroline, and Avery.

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 Smith often spoke of his work with various nonprofits and community groups, which he believes will serve him well on Council. You can listen to the recording of this interview here

KUB’s Recently Signed 20-year Contract with TVA

Read more about the details of the Knoxville Utilities Board (KUB) contract with the Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA) here.

“It’s hard to do big things and get it all right.”

Citing the good aspects of the contract, Councilman Smith mentioned the 212 megawatts (MW) of solar energy the KUB will receive from TVA as part of the deal.

“So we’ve locked in solar-generated energy that’s clean that should allow KUB to pass along savings to our community. That’s a big deal.”

However, the Councilman touched on the downside of a 20-year agreement is it is “seemingly inflexible to new innovation.” 

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 Smith was not on City Council to vote on the City’s carbon reduction goals but said he supported them. He thought the 2030 goals would be achievable stating,

“The grander 2050 80% reduction for citywide I think is also achievable but will require something really special and I’m really excited about it.”

He went on to say the city has done a decent job of leading by example with projects such as the LED streetlight project and clean public transportation vehicles. 

Knoxville Mayor’s Climate Council

Talking on the newly-formed Mayor’s Climate Council, Councilman Smith stated,

“For the first time, there is a group of community people focused on sustainability and innovation in that regard. So I’m excited about that and what that group’s tasked with.”

And continued that the Climate Council is special because,

“…it allows an opportunity for the entire community — non-profits, business, and individuals — to row in the same direction.”

Councilman Smith also stated many issues relating to sustainability are interrelated, including income inequality. 

Regarding outcomes from the Climate Council, Councilman Smith would like to see,

“big ideas that the City can lead, but that individuals, focused nonprofits, and businesses can play a fundamental role in achieving.”

He cited public transportation as one example of a segment all of these parties can have a role in, and that transportation is the number one cause of emissions in Knoxville. 

The Councilman also mentioned he would be interested in participating with one of the working groups on the Climate Council, especially given his considerable experience with a variety of nonprofits, and that he could help coordinate efforts amongst the different groups. He mentioned groups like the Southern Alliance for Clean Energy (SACE) and Socially Equal Energy Efficient Development (SEEED) as examples of groups that could be part of said working groups. 

Finally, Councilman Smith mentioned working with startups and nonprofits like Mobius, the Sustainable Future Center, and Keep Knoxville Beautiful that are already working on sustainability initiatives and could be integrated into the work of the Climate Council.

“The role I’d like to play is a connector to people who are already doing things but need additional support or connecting.” 

Renewable Energy

The Councilman believes we should prioritize the resources we have in Knoxville.

“The sun shines here, so it’s available to all of us. I would like to see the Climate Council find a way, either through federal grants or through other funding with private organizations, to offset the cost of solar for individual consumers. I think of it as analogous to affordable housing in the sense that a developer says, ‘We’re going to build this apartment complex, we’re going to make sure it’s affordable to average median income.’ They get a subsidy upfront to enable them to keep rates low for people to have affordable housing. A similar model for solar, particularly for low-income residents, I think would be really important.”

Councilman Smith would also support targets for renewable energy, though he did not have specific numbers offhand. 

Energy Efficiency

The Councilman thought energy efficiency programs were great, especially when coupled with workforce development, calling it a “win-win.” Citing the city’s LED streetlight project as an example that not only saved energy but saved on costs as well, Councilman Smith stated, 

“Sometimes energy efficiency is efficient government.” 

Councilman Smith also supports energy efficiency targets but noted the need to make it achievable for small businesses as well. 

Electric Transportation

Again reiterating his earlier support, the Councilman said he was supportive of more electric transportation options.

“There are times when a car is necessary, sometimes daily, but for every trip, we can make it possible to ride public transportation, walk, or bike, we win.”

He also supported the city’s recent purchase of electric buses, and targets for electric transportation adoption. 

Adopting More Clean Energy Programs to Advance Climate Goals

Speaking on other clean energy and climate-related programs he would support, the Councilman said,

“We’re a city made up of moderate-income residents and small businesses, so scale is important for whatever we think of. It’s not either-or; we can have building guidelines and zoning code for new development, but that alone won’t get us to our goals. To me, the most important thing is that every individual who wants to, and every small business that can, has a practical way they can contribute.” 

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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