Carol Brzozowski 2017-09-20 13:23:17
Long before President Donald Trump’s decision to pull the United States out of the Paris Climate Agreement, mayors across the country began pulling together to sign an important initiative: the Sierra Club’s Mayors for 100 Percent Clean Energy. Launched in January 2016, the initiative seeks to engage and recruit mayors to endorse a goal of transitioning to 100% renewable energy in cities nationwide. By mid-June, some 92 cities joined the effort and many have set target dates. “Local leadership on climate and clean energy has taken on new urgency following Trump’s decision on the Paris Climate Agreement, and mayors are responding to the challenge,” notes Shane Levy, senior press secretary for the Sierra Club’s Ready for 100 program. Perhaps the most notable response followed President Trump’s mention of the city of Pittsburgh in his remarks announcing his decision to withdraw from the Paris agreement when Pittsburgh Mayor Bill Peduto announced his support for powering all of Pittsburgh entirely with renewable energy. That same day, Portland, OR, and Multnomah County, OR, both approved commitments to move to 100% clean energy, says Levy, adding that Multnomah was the first county in the country to make that commitment. Each US city is dealing with its unique set of challenges. In Florida, Miami Beach is one of many along the coast endangered by threats of climate change such as rising sea levels. Its mayor, Philip Levine, issued a proclamation endorsing a goal of powering the city entirely with clean and renewable energy and is a national co-chair of the Sierra Club’s Mayors for 100 Percent Clean Energy initiative along with Jackie Biskupski of Salt Lake City; Kevin Faulconer, San Diego; and Stephen K. Benjamin of Columbia, SC. Salt Lake City, UT In Salt Lake City, Mayor Biskupski says she’s “promised to foster hope, ensure equity, and create opportunity for everyone. Climate change threatens our city’s well-being, so taking action on renewable energy not only helps us in the long-term, it benefits our community now,” she adds. “We can capitalize on this opportunity to generate economic growth and protect our environment at the same time.” Biskupski points out that US municipalities are “feeling the effects of climate change, but can also make a significant difference.” Cities collectively account for a majority of humanity’s greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, she says. “Add this to the fact that as a planet we have just a few decades to cut greenhouse gases dramatically and it’s clear that we must set bold goals and lay out the plans to achieve them,” says Biskupski. “Due to the long life of infrastructure, every decision we make from now forward will directly enable or prevent this. Policies at the national and international level are uncertain. That’s why emissions reductions at the local level are so critical.” Biskupski says that while cities are collectively contributing to GHG challenges, they also are acting through the Sierra Club’s initiative to collectively mitigate them. “In Salt Lake City, we’ve not only set bold goals, we’ve been successful in partnering with our utility to enact them,” she says. “It’s an example that I hope will inspire and motivate more mayors around the country to replicate.” Salt Lake City’s Climate Positive Report lays out its “big-picture plans” toward achieving the 100% clean electricity by 2032 goal and the 80% GHG reduction by 2040 goal. In its plan to achieve 100% renewable energy by 2032, Salt Lake City seeks 100% renewable energy for community electricity supply and 50% renewable electricity for municipal operations by 2020. In its GHG reduction plan, the city aspires to an 80% reduction in community greenhouse gas emissions by 2040 compared to a 2009 baseline and at least 50% reduction in community footprint by 2030. The City signed a cooperation statement and new franchise agreement last year with its utility, Rocky Mountain Power, laying out goals to work cooperatively to achieve the 100% clean electricity vision. Each year, the City and utility jointly publish a Clean Energy Implementation Plan. The exact mix of renewable energy produced in-state and at a reasonable cost is currently being studied in the partnership between the City and utility. The City also has partnered with Utah’s Summit County and Park City on a joint feasibility study to provide an independent analysis identifying pathways toward each community’s 100% goals. Greensburg, KS An EF5 tornado that ripped through Greensburg, KS, on May 4, 2007—destroying 95% of the city and killing 11 people—was the start of a thought process on how to harness that wind for energy, notes Mayor Bob Dixson, who signed on to the Sierra Club initiative. Today, Greensburg is 100% renewable 100% of the time as all of the electricity used in the city is derived from wind energy. “Not only do we want to build the community back to be sustainable for lifetimes, but with the very wind that blew us away. The question was, how we could harness that wind like our pioneering ancestors did,” says Dixson. “They utilized wind, solar, and geothermal and were the original green people in their own way.” Greensburg provides electric, water, sewer, and trash through its own utility. City officials started crunching numbers with the help of the Idaho National Laboratory to determine whether it would be beneficial to own, sell, or lease wind power, Dixson says. Meanwhile, John Deere Renewables—which has since been acquired by Exelon—had 10 turbines in stock and developed a wind farm for Greensburg. “They had a power purchase agreement with us so that we can take the electricity from the wind farm; and then we have the renewable energy credits [RECs] to certify that all of our consumption comes from the wind farm,” says Dixson. “By doing that, we have a constant, consistent load management period through the grid instead of being direct-wired to the wind farm.” That benefits business and residential customers in the city, he adds. “We’ve been able to keep rates at the same level that they were at during the time of the tornado,” says Dixson. “The thought process was: how can we do this, still be good environmental stewards and take care of the resources we’ve been blessed with, but at the same time be financially sustainable? “We all want to take care of our environment and leave a legacy for future generations. But there is a lot of debate out there on how that is achieved and we have to make sure we get past the ‘feel good’ process. Yes, this is the right thing to do, but also hand in hand with that, we’ve got to make a business case for it. “It’s like a three-legged stool: if you focus on just one or two legs of the stool, the stool falls over. It’s the old triple bottom-line thinking that we have to have people, we have to have commerce and business, but yet we need to be environmental stewards. When you balance all of that, good things will happen, but if you focus on only one or two of those, you’re not accomplishing what you want in the long term.” Portland, ME Mayor Ethan Strimling of Portland, ME, is on board with the Mayors for 100 Percent Clean Energy program as well. Every 10 years, the City creates a comprehensive plan that looks 10 years out to what type of policies are necessary to achieve goals for the city. “In the end, none of that matters if we don’t get climate change right,” notes Strimling, adding that initiatives such as the Mayors for 100 Percent Clean Energy help to achieve that. “We are working in every aspect of government right now to determine whether it’s our impact on the private sector or our own carbon footprint how we can best confront these coming changes,” he adds. The City’s goal is to achieve 100% clean energy in all municipal operations by 2040. Toward that end, the City has installed one of the largest solar arrays in the state to power city hall. A plan is in place that businesses of certain sizes have to benchmark their carbon footprint and “hopefully will take steps to reduce their impact on the climate,” notes Strimling, adding his goal is to get 25% participation from businesses and residents. In an effort to choose from among the various technologies on the market, Portland City officials enlisted the help of experts. “When we built the solar array, we went to ReVision Energy, one of the leaders in solar energy here, and worked with them to develop a contract through a public process,” says Strimling. Portland is rehabilitating four of its elementary schools “and we expect all four of those schools to be LEED-certified when they’re done. So as the process goes forward, anybody who’s going to bid on that project will have to have the ability and wherewithal and the expertise to make those schools LEED-certified,” points out Strimling. “We look to anybody who is bidding on our projects to understand what their familiarity is with environmental regulations and how progressive are they in trying to think about what it is we could be doing that’s ahead of the curve.” Portland Housing Authority, a quasi-governmental organization that develops housing in the city recently constructed a 45-unit passive house. “It took them a few years to be able to put the entire project together, which is affordable housing serving low-income, a lot of immigrants, and a lot of refugees. It’s an entirely passive house that doesn’t even have centralized heating because it doesn’t need it. That’s a remarkable step forward. They worked with folks in the private sector in order to make that happen.” Portland is seeking to incentivize the residential sector to pursue clean energy initiatives and there may come a time when it will be required, says Strimling, adding “we just can’t keep building buildings that are going to be under water.” The City may have to pursue ways through its planning and zoning process to shore up buildings for climate resiliency as well as reduce carbon footprint through better insulation, says Strimling. “We have to do both the carrot and the stick, although I wouldn’t say it’s a stick in the sense that we’re going to push,” he says. “We’re going to make it a requirement. I don’t think we’re going to get there simply by making this voluntary.” Santa Barbara, CA Santa Barbara, CA, recently voted to operate 100% on renewable energy by 2030. Mayor Helene Schneider joined the Sierra Club initiative. “The city of Santa Barbara has always been thinking that sustainability and environmental leadership is extremely important going back to the 1969 oil spill that prompted the environmental movement and Earth Day,” she notes. The city makes sustainability a priority in its day-to-day operations. “It’s obvious with the Trump administration leaving the Paris Agreement that cities need to step up and show leadership on their own and we can do it and just make it happen.” The foundation for achieving that is accurate measurements, says Schneider. Santa Barbara has established baselines throughout the city facilities, noting existing gaps and ascertaining what energy-efficient programs need to be in place to reduce energy consumption. For example, when the City examined lighting in all City-owned facilities, a program was established to re-open sun roofs and use better lighting fixtures in parking garages. The move has saved the City hundreds of thousands of dollars in annual electricity costs. “The easiest way to do it is to try to reduce consumption and then do what we can do to upgrade,” notes Schneider. An additional approach is sourcing partnerships for solar panel arrays, she says. The City Council is hoping to have a solar panel array constructed at its municipal airport to offset its energy use. Other initiatives the City has established include a co-generation cell converting methane gas at the wastewater treatment plant into electricity to power most of the plant’s energy needs. Santa Barbara uses LED lights in all of its traffic signals. “We’re trying to find everything we do on a day-to-day basis, look at its sustainability impact and how can we reduce our energy use,” says Schneider. In Santa Barbara, one of the challenges in doing so is drought. “We just re-commissioned our desalination plant. We still need the water,” says Schneider. “It’s very energy intensive to create desalinated waters, so we’re seeing what we can do to mitigate those energy uses.” Public-private partnerships are helping to fund the initiatives, such as one done several years ago with the motor pool. “It was an RFP process where we arranged with a private company to do the capital outlay to create the project, so we did not put funding of our own for it,” says Schneider. “We then guaranteed them payment of a certain rate for electricity use, which was less than if we were just using electricity from Southern California Edison over time. That’s how they were able to get their return on their investment.” The City also is pursuing PACE funding, helping people through their property assessments pay for upfront capital for solar arrays on their property. For water conservation efforts—especially during times of drought—the City offers financial incentives to replace a lawn with drought-resistant plants that use less water and less energy. Schneider notes that what works best for cities is when sustainability efforts become a part of day-to-day activities and not viewed as an extra. “It’s a component of getting the job done,” she says. “If you can measure it, you can see the results. You can see time and again when you implement good energy efficient projects that not only do they reduce greenhouse gas emissions and energy but save a lot of money. You can be environmentally strong and fiscally sound all at once.” Abita Springs, LA As a Republican, Mayor Greg Lemons of Abita Springs, LA, is a stand-out among the mayors signing on to the Sierra Club initiative, with the overwhelming endorsement coming from Democratic mayors. “Louisiana is an oil and gas state. That’s a finite resource. Even though they say there’s plenty of it, it’s at a cost. There’s an environmental cost, especially for fracking issues we have in Louisiana,” says Lemons, adding “we need to start moving towards alternative energy, sustainable energy.” A second driving factor for Lemons coming on board with the initiative is his belief that his town needs to start reducing energy costs, focusing on solar energy. “We have sun lots of days in the year and lots of hours in the day we have plenty of sun,” he says. “We can hopefully move towards sustainable solar energy for the town, reduce costs, and protect the environment.” Lemons says that part of the motivating force for signing on to the mayors’ initiative is an event that took place four years ago when “we had an opportunity to look into fracking here in Abita Springs. We started digging into it and all of the problems it caused, and the economic impact on the economy itself—both good and bad.” When the Sierra Club program came to his attention, Lemons says he saw it as a “good way to move forward with some kind of sustainable energy.” The City plans to reach 100% clean energy by 2030. “It’s a very aggressive goal to be 100% sustainable. I don’t know how we’re going to get there, but we’re certainly going to find out,” says Lemons. Lemons says it will likely take place as a healthy balance between the environment and the economy. “We’ve insulated town hall, we’re insulating some of the other buildings, we put energy-efficient lighting in all of our buildings,” he says. “We’re moving to solar panels on our museums and our town hall, and our public works building. We’re looking at solar panels on our lift stations and sewer systems.” The town is in the process of partnering with its energy provider, Cleco Energy, to do a pilot project of LED street lights following an inventory showing the town’s 300 street lights consume $25,000 a year in energy. The town also is working with Cleco Energy on a potential solar farm installation at an old sod farm area. Lemons aims to put solar panels on every municipal building, including its town hall, which dates to 1890, starting early next year. To help make decisions about the available technologies, Abita has industry experts on the team, as well as a Louisiana State University professor. Abita Springs also has a committee of like-minded people to advise the government about what can be done, what works, what doesn’t work, and seek financing for the projects, notes Lemons. Grants are among the funding options. “We’re a small community of only about 2,900 residents and we don’t have a big budget—about three million dollars,” says Lemons. “We are a utility producer. We do sell natural gas.” All sustainability efforts have to be within the budget and provide some return on the investment, Lemons points out. The town’s commercial entities are getting on board, such as the Abita Brewing Company, which has put solar panels on its roof. “Part of this initiative is to encourage our citizens to put solar panels on their house and show them that there are options out there that are a pretty good deal to save money and then it gets invested back into those manufacturers and we get a better product in three to five years,” says Lemons. “A lot of people make a big deal about me being a Republican and doing this,” says Lemons. “The Republican in me says we have to have business. But the environmentalist in me says we have to do what’s smart and make sure it’s sustainable. We have to develop technology. You can’t just skew it in one direction or you’re going to wind up with a faulty system. “We have to live in this world, so we have to have energy, but we also have children and grandchildren, so we need to make sure it’s sustainable and we’re not polluting the environments out there.” Lemons says the biggest challenge instituting his town’s initiatives in an oil and gas state is that there are incentives for oil and gas production but reduced incentives for solar panel installation in Louisiana because of budget constraints. “It’s the old thinking with elected officials that’s the problem,” he says. “They don’t understand we just can’t continue to go on using up a resource that won’t be there in 10 to 15 years. We also need to develop a resource that needs development.” East Lansing, MI East Lansing, MI, Mayor Mark Meadows signed on to the Sierra Club initiative, noting that the driving factor is that “clean energy is good for the environment and eventually lowers the cost of energy for the consumer. Our citizens benefit and so does everyone else.” As one of its strategic priorities, East Lansing adopted a 100% clean energy objective that aligns with that of Michigan State University, which is located in the city of East Lansing. “In the last year, East Lansing and the University has approved alternative energy installations within East Lansing borders and has worked with our major energy supplier, the Board of Water and Light (BWL), to make renewable energy available to our—and their—customers,” says Meadows, adding that the City will continue to work with BWL to expand clean energy offerings within its border. In doing so, the City does not undertake a bid process “but because the council’s priorities include clean energy we look first to that objective with regard to any purchases,” notes Meadows. “For instance, if a clean energy vehicle is available and can perform the task for which it is purchased, that is the vehicle we obtain.” The City looks at 100% clean energy for all purposes, says Meadows. Meadows says the major challenge faced in doing so in East Lansing is a lack of available locations for technology installations such as solar arrays. Additionally, “we do not produce our own electricity so we need to negotiate with BWL to purchase that portion of their renewable portfolio, which is produced by renewable sources,” he says. Job Creation Schneider concurs with other mayors that green energy initiatives drive jobs. “Innovation is a great industry and in Santa Barbara County, we have our university, a very strong entrepreneurial spirit, and issues related to sustainability,” she says. “Products and technologies might come out of that to help become more sustainable. It is a growing industry. There are twice as many people involved in the solar industry than in coal.” According to a report by The Solar Foundation, Florida alone has created more than 1,700 new jobs in the state’s solar industry in 2016, bringing the state’s total to 8,260 solar jobs—an increase of 26% from 2015 figures. Strimling says he sees the pursuit of clean energy as “a very important part of our growing economy. It’s a good job opportunity. We’re seeing more industries specialize in this. We’re also seeing a lot of businesses recognize that putting these changes in place also creates an environment where people want to work.” Strimling calls that a “win-win” for the environment and for business. “You protect the environment and in the long term, you’re creating more sustainable businesses. Its effect on the clean energy sector is growing every day. ReVision Energy is getting bigger every year, employing more people because folks are trying to shift over to clean energy.” Lemons says in President Trump’s efforts to bring jobs back to the United States, “I firmly believe that the energy sector other than oil and gas has to be part of that. We need to move forward—to have entrepreneurs come up with manufacturing jobs that produce products used in the sustainable energy markets,” he says. “The opportunity to lead is only going to be there for a certain amount of time. I feel very optimistic about the opportunity.” DE Carol Brzozowski specializes in topics related to energy and technology.
Published by Forester Media. View All Articles.
This page can be found at http://digital.businessenergy.net/article/Clean+Energy/2883735/437671/article.html.