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.