Mayors, Businesses Pick Up the Ball on Climate

The Paris Agreement sent a strong signal that the nations of the world are ready to address climate change. But, they are not alone. States, cities, and companies have been showing climate leadership, and they can make strong progress in the near term.

In the absence of federal leadership on climate policy, local governments and businesses are pushing ahead efforts to reduce carbon emissions and spur the transition to a low-carbon future. In a meeting of The US Conference of Mayors (USCM) in June, the 1,400-member Conference pledged to support cities establishing targets of powering their communities with 100 percent clean, renewable energy by 2035. Importantly, the question of how cities across the U.S. will reach such ambitious goals must be answered through a variety of practical solutions.

C2ES President Bob Perciasepe speaks at a panel discussion with U.S. mayors at Climate Week NYC. Also pictured are Salt Lake City, Utah, Mayor Jackie Biskupski, Des Moines, Iowa, Mayor Frank Cownie and Santa Fe, N.M. .Mayor Javier Gonzales, chairman of the Alliance for a Sustainable Future.

The full potential of local climate measures has yet to be realized. By working together with businesses and other cities, effective programs can be implemented more economically across the country. In a new nationwide survey by The USCM and C2ES, a third of participating cities revealed they are already working with businesses and other local governments to reduce emissions. And in a set of newly released case studies, we’ve captured how some of these partnerships are advancing climate action in communities around the country:

Energy Efficiency

City governments can lead their communities in energy efficiency efforts, and most start with action in their own buildings. Two-thirds of surveyed cities have established efficiency standards for new and existing municipal buildings, and half have policies to promote efficient commercial and residential buildings. Cities are taking a variety of steps to reach all types of building sectors in their communities:

  • Kansas City promotes energy efficiency investments in residential buildings through an innovative PACE loan program. In conjunction with the Missouri Clean Energy District and Renovate America, the HERO program offers Kansas City residents loans to finance home energy efficiency and renewable energy investments. Since its launch in September 2016, the HERO program has approved 650 residential assessment applications and completed 538 projects with homeowners in the city, an estimated value of $5.2 million.
  • The Renew Boston Trust is ensuring that City of Boston buildings are as efficient as possible through an expansive, long-term energy service performance contract with Honeywell. As a first step all city facilities will undergo an energy audit (a step that 2/3 of surveyed cities report routinely pursuing to some degree), which will be followed by a focus on improvements to 38 pilot facilities.
  • While cities are leading efficiency efforts through policy measures, utilities are important partners in successfully cutting energy use. Duke Energy is working in North Carolina with the cities of Charlotte and Asheville to pioneer approaches to cut energy use in commercial buildings and establish a community-wide strategic energy planning process to meet community preferences to avoid additional natural gas generation.

Renewable Energy

The sustainability survey also revealed that cities large and small are supporting renewable energy in their communities, with 65% of responding cities purchasing renewable energy for municipal operations.

The potential impact of cities fully supplying their operations with clean power is tremendous: the aggregate electricity bill of just 74 surveyed cities sums to over $1.4 billion, representing a significant potential investment in the renewable energy industry. While some of these dollars are already going toward renewable electricity purchases, the ambitious renewable energy goals of a broad group of cities points to greater procurement expectations. For example, eighteen of the cities considering entering the renewable electricity market in the next few years spend a combined $123.5 million annually.

The following cities are pioneering programs to advance renewables in their community, providing examples that could be replicated across the nation:

  • Las Vegas powers 100% of its municipal operations with clean energy while greatly reducing electricity costs. The City has pursued energy efficiency projects and installed clean energy systems on municipal buildings. The remaining electrical demand is met by clean energy produced at the Boulder One solar facility, contracted through a simple but innovative Renewable Energy Agreement with utility NV Energy. Through these efforts, the city has reduced its emissions by 90% and cut annual electricity costs from $15 million in 2008 to just $9 million in 2017.
  • A new Santa Fe program aims to jointly address economic disparity and sustainability efforts. The city’s newly established Verde Fund ensures that the benefits of solar energy and energy efficiency reach disadvantaged communities through a unique fund for local non-profits. The inaugural Verde Fund recipients bring solar and energy efficiency technologies to moderate and low-income households, and integrate workforce development into their delivery models.
  • In August 2016 Salt Lake City and Rocky Mountain Power signed a Clean Energy Cooperation Statement pledging to work together to meet the city’s goal of 100 percent renewable energy by 2032. The unique 5-year agreement requires the city and utility to report progress annually. This establishes more frequent check-ins than a typical 25-year franchise agreement, which is commonly held by cities and utilities.

The innovative local programs and policies described represent incremental steps towards an economy that provides Americans affordable and abundant clean energy, energy efficiency, and low-carbon transportation. These collaborative investments and strategies create environmental and financial benefits, and can also address economic and resilience issues that challenge communities.

Cities and businesses are experiencing the impacts of climate change now and want to reduce the risks of even greater harm in the future. That’s why they’re already demonstrating that elements of a low-carbon future are beginning to improve our communities, and there is plenty of room for greater action. Without the certainty and leadership of the federal government, partnerships will become increasingly essential to a successful and swift transition to a low-carbon future. Luckily, more than half of U.S. cities are interested in establishing new collaborations, and appear ready to lead the country toward a sustainable future for us all.