Shortly after President Donald Trump announced in June 2017 that he planned to pull the U.S. from the Paris climate agreement, the mayors of more than 400 U.S. cities stepped up to defy the climate deniers. The mayors signed a statement agreeing to honor the nation’s commitments to the goals of the Paris agreement by doing such things as investing in renewable energy and energy efficiency and reducing climate-damaging greenhouse gas emissions.
The list of signees includes the nation’s biggest cities and many smaller ones too. Six are in Texas. You probably can guess most of them – Austin, Dallas, Houston, San Antonio and San Marcos. But the sixth city, Smithville, population 4,000, is a shocker to many folks.
When Smithville Mayor Scott Saunders signed the climate statement, he took flak on social media from the usual naysayers whose flawed arguments have been swamped by melting glaciers and rising seas. But signing the statement “was absolutely the right thing to do,” Saunders said recently. Saunders and the other “climate” mayors are being proved correct almost daily by news reports of extreme weather, deadly wildfires, and other threats associated with climate change worldwide.
A 50-minute drive east from Austin when traffic cooperates, Smithville is a mix of old, well-preserved historic buildings and some new development fed partly by Austin’s unabated boom. I’ve always enjoyed visiting Smithville over the years – biking and fishing at nearby Buescher State Park; showing visiting friends the high-columned, neoclassical house made famous by the 1998 Sandra Bullock movie Hope Floats; or hanging around while my wife explored every antique and second-hand store in town.
Since moving to Bastrop County in 2015, we also discovered Smithville’s Comfort Café, with its weekend breakfast menu that rivals any in the region. After breakfast, a few blocks away we drop off cans, plastic and paper at the only free public recycling center in the county.
The recycling center is one very visible clue that Smithville has long had a green tint that’s not just from the tree canopy along the streets. Another clue is the regional household hazardous waste facility, where residents of Bastrop and Lee counties periodically can take old paint, chemicals and other products for safe disposal.
City Hall on Main Street offers evidence of Smithville’s clean-energy commitment. The roof has a solar-panel array that provides part of the building’s power needs. The solar unit has been in place almost nine years. Smithville also has replaced old lighting in city buildings and streets with more efficient LED lighting. The resulting electricity savings is about $125,000 annually, according to Saunders. Also, for many years the city hosted a Green Expo, which has morphed into Eco-Fest, scheduled for June 13 this year.
Smithville’s most ambitious green project to date is in the works. The City Council recently approved a 25-year agreement under which Austin-based Go Big Solar will build a one-megawatt solar power plant on 24 acres near the Smithville airport. The city of Smithville will purchase the power, which would provide about 6% of the community’s electricity needs at a price lower than it currently pays for wholesale power from the Lower Colorado River Authority. The solar plant’s planners believe it would save Smithville’s customers hundreds of thousands of dollars in power purchases and transmission costs over its life. If final details can be worked out, the plant could be operating by the end of 2020 and could be expanded later, Saunders said.
Meanwhile, Saunders says he is proud that Smithville, where he grew up, stands tall with green communities nationally in doing its part to protect the planet. We all should be proud.