Larry Weis is pretty green, as far as electric-utility executives go. But Seattle Mayor Ed Murray’s nominee to head Seattle City Light may not be green enough for Seattle.

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Larry Weis is pretty green, as far as electric-utility executives go. But Seattle Mayor Ed Murray’s nominee to head Seattle City Light may not be green enough for Seattle.

Environmental groups are opposing his confirmation, saying Weis isn’t the clean-energy visionary the city needs to lead City Light in an era marred by climate change.

The local Sierra Club chapter and climate-justice organizations 350 Seattle and Rising Tide Seattle have asked the City Council to reject Weis. Councilmember Kshama Sawant, who chairs the council’s energy committee, shares their reservations.

The committee is scheduled to vote Tuesday on the Washington state native who quit his job running a public electric utility in Austin, Texas, to accept Murray’s nomination.

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“His record as an environmental leader just isn’t that impressive,” Sawant said.

Besides Sawant, only Councilmember Mike O’Brien has sent strong signals against Weis’ nomination. But activists are still lobbying others on the council.

People in Austin and Seattle seem to agree Weis is an able executive. Murray has lauded his role in Austin Energy acquiring more solar and wind power. The utility’s power mix, 5 percent renewable when Weis arrived, should be 55 percent by 2018, he said in a memo last month, calling himself “an advocate for the environment.”

Unlike Austin Energy, City Light enjoys access to hydro power. In 2005, it became the first electric utility in the country to achieve zero net greenhouse gas emissions.

“Larry stood out among our many applicants,” Murray said in December. “Under Larry’s leadership, City Light will continue to support a vibrant economy as the nation’s greenest utility, while providing access to affordable service to all of (Seattle’s) families.”

But the Seattle groups say Weis’ record in Austin shows he can’t be relied on to push the envelope on green initiatives. They point to a 2014 debate between Weis and members of a citizen task force.

The task force recommended replacing an existing natural-gas plant with 600 megawatts of solar power, while Weis recommended replacing it with 500 megawatts of solar and a new 500-megawatt natural-gas plant.

“Solar cannot replace natural-gas-fired power plants today,” he said in an Austin Energy news release at the time. “It’s the other way around: very efficient, combined-cycle natural-gas plants allow us to add solar to meet environmental goals and remain affordable. Solar is a good thing. The task force wants too much of a good thing.”

Weis’ opponents called building the new gas plant irresponsible, a view shared by Robert Cruickshank, executive-committee member of the Sierra Club’s Seattle group.

“We’re concerned about his comments against solar energy and his strong advocacy for a natural-gas plant,” Cruickshank said. “We as a nation need to be moving away from fossil fuels like natural gas. We need to be working on clean-energy solutions.”

Seattle’s goal is to be a carbon-neutral city by 2050, said Alec Connon, a 350 Seattle organizer. When asked about that recently, Weis “spoke in platitudes,” Connon said.

“Weis isn’t a terrible choice,” he said. “He’s not a bad man. But Seattle doesn’t need someone who’s a competent manager. Seattle needs someone with a greater vision.”

Rising Tide Seattle activist Ahmed Gaya said Austin activists are down on Weis.

“We spent weeks speaking with colleagues in Austin and the best thing anyone said about him was that he’s a C-plus candidate,” Gaya said. “Seattle deserves better.”

The most critical of three Austin activists The Seattle Times spoke to declined to talk on the record, however.

Two other Austin activists were more complimentary. Jim Marston, climate and energy vice president at the Environmental Defense Fund, described Weis’ renewable-energy record in Texas’ most liberal city as “very good,” considering pressures put on him by conservative state lawmakers and demanding corporate customers.

“The Legislature here hates Austin,” Marston said. “Larry couldn’t go too far, too fast without giving our enemies in the Legislature opportunities to undo what he was doing.”

Sawant said she knows Texas politics are challenging but she isn’t very sympathetic.

“The oil lobby exerts its tentacles everywhere in the world,” she said. “We need people in leading positions to have backbones to stand on the right side of history.”

Cyrus Reed, conservation director at the Sierra Club’s Texas chapter, was on the task force whose report Weis criticized. His group wound up supporting a compromise plan that included the possibility of building the natural-gas plant Weis had proposed.

“Larry wasn’t the fossil-fuel lover some people are painting him as. He wasn’t a clean-energy visionary, either,” Reed remarked. “He was somewhere in between.”

The City Light general manager and CEO post is open because former headman Jorge Carrasco stepped down in May after more than a decade in charge.

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