Pete Bsumek

Coalition Partner of the Month:  Pete Bsumek
May 15, 2018

Pete.5.15.18.picWe invited a long-time friend to tell the Climate Action Alliance of the Valley’s steering committee about progress in a very important and interesting volunteer effort with Renew Rocktown: Climate Action Advocacy for Harrisonburg, VA.

Pete Bsumek is Professor of Communication Studies at James Madison University; he has been involved with Renew Rocktown since it first organized in 2015.

Renew Rocktown (RR) embarked on the difficult journey of Climate Action Advocacy for Harrisonburg because:

  • It’s the right thing to do at the right time: to help bring local government into consensus with the international community in commitment toward control of greenhouse gas emissions.
  • Since the national movement toward that goal has been closed off, state and local effort is the logical transition. California is leading the way, but New York City and others are also stepping up.
  • Change is inevitable as the status quo on fossil fuel use is challenged.

Possibilities at the local level

  • Harrisonburg has a new city manager, Eric Campbell, who has worked in cities where climate policies are not unheard of and some are involved.
  • Some local support already, as from Council Member Richard Baugh.
  • The success of the Paris events at Pale Fire Brewery in 2015 and 2017.
  • The creation of the Environmental Performance Standards Advisory Committee (EPSAC) by the Harrisonburg City Council last year.

The February Meeting
Hosted by RR to develop a campaign strategy to get the city of Harrisonburg to adopt a Climate Action Plan. Meeting notes.

  • Started with a specific proposal.
  • Designed an inside/outside strategy. Inside: EPSAC’s sustainability action plan; outside: RR grassroots action to encourage City Council to adopt the proposal.
  • Constraints:
    • Harrisonburg Electric Commission’s (HEC) contract with Dominion Power lasts until 2031. HEC is a part of a conglomerate of other municipal electric providers.
    • There is a shortage of City staff to implement a plan.


  • Promote more rooftop solar.  (This may be challenged by a large rental market for businesses and homes.)
  • Work on conservation measures.
  • Renegotiate the HEC contract with Dominion (HEC is not excited about that possibility)
  • Look for a new partner when the contract expires or a new type of contract.  Could the city commit to 100% renewables by 2035?
  • Help identify City staff capacity. Who has time for efficiency planning or working locally to conserve more?
  • Identify who can work across sectors to effect change.
  • Could we reduce energy footprint by adopting conservation and energy efficiency measures at the Council level?

Refining the Outside Ask

  • All of the above, but still must deal with HEC
  • The need for City staff capacity that can work with HEC as well as the business community, with plans from EPSAC.  Might the City environmental compliance officer be that connection?

From the Q&A Discussion 

EPSAC is expected to report to the City Council at the end of May or in June.

Harrisonburg is fast approaching the 1% cap on solar. “There is an overall cap of 1% of a utility’s peak demand that can be supplied by net metered systems (as measured at their rated capacity).” (from Ivy Main’s blogpost 7/2017)  It could be raised but HEC is not enthusiastic about that.  It will take a community effort to move the dial now, but solar on the two new schools could blow past the cap. This may be what is needed to force the issue.

A map of current solar/renewable energy installations in Harrisonburg could be helpful.  This could be used to calculate the current percentage of all power used in Harrisonburg that is derived from solar energy. Additionally the map could demonstrate all potential available solar power in Harrisonburg given existing rooftops and their orientation and sunlight exposure.

Could HEC supply the data?  Enlist journalists from the Daily News-Record (DNR) to raise interest? It has been reported in the DNR that 100 homes in Harrisonburg have rooftop solar now.  Who could help?  JMU’s ISAT faculty?  A team of students?  A senior project?  A broad coalition, perhaps public safety, transportation, sustainability?

A new comprehensive plan is underway; Renew Rocktown representatives have participated. It will have some statements on climate and greenhouse gases, but it is aspirational only, no teeth.

Pete urged everyone to engage in any public comment period on the comprehensive plan, particularly:
–what’s in it
–what should be strengthened
–what was left out.

– Anne Nielsen, with Adrie Voors, for the CAAV Coalition-Building Committee, May 2018

Most months, the CAAV Coalition-Building Committee invites a community member or group to present to the CAAV steering committee about projects with which they are involved. We are grateful to be working with so many other groups and individuals passionate about creating a more resilient, healthy and just world.