City Action on Clean Energy

One of the key strategies that cities are using to reduce their climate impact and improve their sustainability is procuring and promoting low-carbon energy. As the U.S. energy mix becomes cleaner, cities are increasingly interested in buying more renewable energy to accelerate the pace of decarbonization. Although few cities have established specific renewable energy goals, such targets are becoming increasingly common.

Procuring low-carbon energy

To procure cleaner energy for its own operations, a local government may work with the utility, independent power providers, or other local partners. Available options depend on state policy, but there are several common methods:

  • On-site power generation is a common approach in which a local government covers the costs of system installation and operation to generate electricity that can be used by a certain facility or sold back to the grid if state policy allows. Common examples include solar arrays, biogas cogeneration, and methane capture from capped landfills.
  • Under a power purchase agreement (PPA), a city or county government agrees to buy power from a renewable project at a negotiated, fixed price over a certain time period. The project developer is responsible for the project costs and maintenance, while the local government may receive the renewable energy credits, or RECs, instruments used to ensure the environmental benefits are not claimed by others.
  • With green tariffs, a local government agrees to buy from a utility a certain amount of renewable energy from a specific project at a fixed price, and receive the RECs.
  • Community choice aggregation allows cities and counties to buy and/or generate electricity for residents and businesses within their areas.

When cities are not able to cover their energy needs directly from low-carbon projects, they can purchase “un-bundled” RECs generated from projects elsewhere.

Cities seeking to make significant shifts can conduct energy mapping exercises to understand current and future demands and available supply options. This is especially useful for cities seeking to substantially decarbonize the community’s energy mix.

Local governments are adopting ambitious goals to reduce greenhouse gases and improve quality of life.

Promoting low-carbon energy

Local governments can also be instrumental in creating a supportive environment for private investment in renewable generation. Building codes, incentives, and streamlined processes can be designed to promote greater uptake by developers, commercial building owners, and residents. Governments can also provide technical assistance and allow Property Assisted Clean Energy (PACE) financing to further aid adoption.

Providing sites for clean energy projects is another way cities are facilitating deployment. For example, the city of Phoenix has developed innovative partnerships with neighboring governments, the private sector, investors, and the state to site local renewable energy generation. This includes an agreement with SunPower Corporation to develop large-scale solar energy at Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport and the city’s water treatment plant.

Some examples of local action on clean energy:

  • The U.S. Conference of Mayors voted in June 2017 to support efforts by cities to adopt 100 percent renewable energy by 2035. Atlanta, Salt Lake City, San Diego, and San Francisco are among the cities that have set such targets so far.
  • The city of Georgetown, Texas, has already met its 100 percent community-wide renewable energy goal through power purchase agreements for 144 megawatts of wind energy and 150 megawatts of solar energy through 2039.
  • The city of Annapolis, Maryland, is leasing its closed landfill to BQ Energy LLC for a, 54,000-panel 16.8 megawatt solar array. The city and the county where it is located also signed a 20-year power purchase agreement to buy all the energy produced for public schools.