Greg Lemons is the staunchly Republican mayor of Abita Springs, a bite-size town in rural Louisiana that both draws its water and gets its name from the famous and pristine aquifer that flows beneath its soil. A chatty and cheerful fellow, Lemons likes to think of himself as a pragmatic leader, the sort of person who strives to fix problems instead of fight about them. Nevertheless, in late 2014, he found himself in a legal brawl.
It was autumn of that year when he first heard that the Louisiana Department of Natural Resources had approved an exploratory drilling permit for a proposed fracking project just outside of town. The project, which had been approved despite the mayor’s protests, didn’t sit well with him. He feared it would degrade the community’s environment, disrupt its quality of life, and ruin its reputation.
“We are very sensitive about our water here,” says Lemons, adding that much of his town’s economic activity, including the locally based Abita Brewing Company, is based on the renowned quality of its aquifer. “I was not content to stay silent about it.”
In late December 2014, he sued, arguing in state court that the drilling permit violated local zoning ordinances. Though Abita Springs quickly lost its legal case and exploratory drilling commenced, the fracking project ultimately folded for financial reasons. In the meantime, Lemons learned some important lessons.
While he fought the frackers, with their noxious chemicals and earth-shattering drills, the mayor started reading up on alternatives to oil, gas, and coal. He educated himself about solar panels and wind farms, about energy-efficient lighting and electrical vehicles. He learned about the jobs that these technologies could help create and the budget savings they might enable. Being a business-minded member of the GOP, he liked what he saw. Soon enough, he was enamored with the economic and environmental promise of green energy.
“It convinced me that we need to develop sustainable energy sources and we need to start now,” he says. “We should have started a long time ago.”
So, alongside other residents in his town of 2,500, he set to work. He formed a committee to research and develop renewable-energy plans for the city. He started replacing all the town’s light bulbs with energy-efficient alternatives. He initiated talks with local electricity providers, hoping to obtain solar-powered street lights, install solar panels on municipal buildings, and perhaps even develop a solar farm outside of town in the months and years ahead. He crafted a plan to bring electric vehicle charging stations to Abita Springs. And in March of this year, in order to signal an official commitment to these lofty goals, Mayor Lemons joined the Sierra Club’s Ready for 100 campaign, announcing that his town will strive to run on 100 percent renewable energy by 2030.