Salem and Climate Change - Mayoral Debate Fact Check (Question 4) - October 18, 2021
On October 18, 2021, the Salem News and The Frederick E. Berry Institute of Politics at Salem State University hosted a Salem Mayoral Candidate Forum, at the Sophia Gordon Center at Salem State University. A panel of current Salem State University students questioned candidates for the mayoral position: incumbent Salem Mayor, Kimberley Driscoll, and challenger, Ward 7 City Councillor, Stephen Dibble.
The fourth question the candidates were asked was about the affect of Climate Change on Salem, and how the candidates will take steps to address it. A transcript of their answers, followed by research we have done related to portions of their responses, follows. In order to watch the video of the this question, follow this link, and begin at minute 29:15:00.
Question: “Councillor Dibble, This question comes from (Yule Sampson?) a Salem State student. Please address how climate change will affect the City of Salem, and what will you do to combat the problem for the city?”
Dibble: Well, this is the serious thing. I’m a huge environmentalist. I was one of the first houses to have solar panels on my roof. I later put up mini-split units. We need to stop burning fossil fuels. We need to go electric, basically, and be smarter about these things. I think everybody in this room will agree with this. So, offshore wind turbines. The mayor has put this in the back burner, trying to do luxury apartments down there for years, and we’re behind the 8-ball. Offshore wind turbines would work. They’d be 8-20 miles offshore. We would not notice them from the land here in Salem. I’ve been speaking on offshore wind turbines for 5 years now as a Councillor. It’s needed. Well, the mayor flipped 180 degrees a couple of weeks ago… a couple… two or three months ago. My three sons graduated from Salem High School, and my oldest graduated from Mass Maritime Academy and he’s presently off the shore, off the Atlantic seaboard, exploring the ocean floor for future offshore wind turbines there. Salem is so far behind. We’re years behind, in letting it happen here. If we were to build offshore wind turbines here with a good leader, we would bring cheaper electricity here to Salem and to the North Shore, like what Block Island, Rhode Island did where every resident of Block Island – there are 5 offshore wind turbines – every resident of Block Island has free electricity, and every resident of the state of Rhode Island has a reduced electric bill. With good leadership, we would already be working at the power plant property for offshore wind turbines. I’ll take action on that immediately.
Driscoll: Thanks so much for that question. I think Salem has really been a leader in the efforts to ensure that we think about a more sustainable future for our community. We’re one of the initial Green Communities designated so much in Massachusetts which brought us a solar coach, gave us opportunity to invest in things like municipal aggregation. We have 100% renewable electricity that’s provided to all our residents. We’re able to purchase all the street lights in Salem and convert them to LED thereby not only driving down the costs for the city but creating more efficient product, a more efficient way to deliver electricity in those areas. We adopted the stretch code earlier than we had to which required greater efficiencies in any building going on in Salem, and most recently we’ve worked with the City of Beverly and teamed up on a Resilient Together climate action plan, something we are so proud of. We now have a very long ‘to do’ list – our two communities are similar in demographics, similar in our carbon footprint. Two of the biggest contributing factors to our carbon footprint are buildings – commercial buildings, residential buildings, all of which are typically served by electricity born out of greenhouse… born out of fossil fuels, which deliver greenhouse gas emissions, and transportation. So on that front we’ve really worked hard to try to provide alternative ways of getting around as a means to reduce our greenhouse gas emissions. The Salem Skipper, a public ride share shuttle service, has provided over 21,000 rides. We’ve invested in things like bikes, and infrastructure, and bike share programs and car share programs to give people another way to get around outside of a car. We know that’s going to be so critical for tackling long term sustainability within our community. We’ve invested in greenspaces like our signature parks initiative, a 16 million dollar project that will improve five of our, you know, most favorite parks, used by everybody, city wide parks, something my opponent voted against. Investing in green spaces – places where you make memories – incredible places that were invested by our forefathers hundreds of years ago – some of these facilities like the Forest River Pool park, Palmer Cove, Salem Willows… we’re able to make investments in those spaces because we’ve done a good job managing finances but it’s with an eye toward managing a more resilient future. Many of those places are waterfront. We’ve been able to recapture development in those areas that happens for recreation to move them away from where we know flooding’s going to be continuing. Moving forward, we’re excited about the ‘to do’ list, and we’ve created a fully staffed resilient and sustainability division in our city for the first time, an additional quarter of a million dollar investment in our budget to position us to take advantage of grants and to move forward on our ‘to do’ list, to reduce, uh, to increase efficiencies within our community around the electricity that we use as a city and that all of us use in our community. There is a lot of work to do and we’re excited to get on it.
Here is the research, conducted by Salem 4 All, in response to some of these statements by the candidates:
1. "...like what Block Island, Rhode Island did where every resident of Block Island – there are 5 offshore wind turbines – every resident of Block Island has free electricity..."
While there are 5 wind turbines that have been constructed off the coast of Block Island in Rhode Island to provide enough electricity for the residents, it is not provided free of charge. We found many letters to the editors of local publications, blogs, and local and industry articles from both before and after the wind turbines were constructed in 2015 indicating that the wind turbines were expected to, and do reduce residential electric bills by approximately 40 percent from previously, when diesel fuel was used.
1. “We’re one of the initial Green Communities designated so much in Massachusetts which brought us a solar coach, gave us opportunity to invest in things like municipal aggregation.”
Salem was designated a Massachusetts Green Community in 2010, the first year of the program, and we are now one of 280 communities in Massachusetts to hold the designation. Here is the list of grants we have received as a result, and how they have been implemented since the designation in 2010:
2. “We have 100% renewable electricity that’s provided to all our residents.”
The City of Salem's vetted alternative to National Grid, "Salem Power Choice" provides 100% renewable electricity to all residents who opt into the program.
3. "We’re able to purchase all the street lights in Salem and convert them to LED thereby not only driving down the costs for the city but creating more efficient product, a more efficient way to deliver electricity in those areas.”
In 2015, the Salem City Council approved the purchase of all the street lights in the city, and the purchase and installation of LED lightbulbs in all of them. We can read an explanation of the project here.
4. “We adopted the stretch code earlier than we had to which required greater efficiencies in any building going on in Salem,”
Salem adopted the stretch energy code on May 13, 2010, and it became effective in January of 2011. It became a mandatory part of becoming designated as a Massachusetts Green Community in 2008.
5. “and most recently we’ve worked with the City of Beverly and teamed up on a Resilient Together climate action plan,”
In October of 2021, the City Councils of Salem and Beverly met together to discuss combatting climate change together. We can read about their efforts and plans on the Resilient Together website.
6. “We’ve invested in greenspaces like our signature parks initiative, a 16 million dollar project that will improve five of our, you know, most favorite parks, used by everybody, city wide parks, something my opponent voted against.”
At a special meeting of the City Council on December 10, 2020, the City Council passed a bond order in the amount of $16,100,000 for the Signature Parks Improvement Program. The order was passed by a vote of 10-1-0, with Councillor Dibble recorded as the vote against the measure.