The US Conference of Mayors will be working with the private sector to try and achieve the goals of the Paris climate accord to keep temperature increases to no more than 2 degrees Celsius by mid century. An overwhelming number of mayors from a cross section of America’s cities are on board — both Republican and Democrat, saying that they face first hand the challenges posed by a changing climate and rising temperatures.
The goal of the mayors is to run their cities entirely on renewable energy. It will undoubtedly take time to reach those targets and include using such tactics as entering into power purchase agreements — or the willingness to buy wind and solar power under long-term contracts and to have that power wheeled into city boundaries.
“By approving this historic measure, we are showing the world that cities and mayors can and will lead the transition away from fossil fuels to 100 percent clean, renewable energy,” said Columbia, SC Mayor Steve Benjamin. “There is more work to be done to realize this vision for our nation, but this vote represents an important first step towards cleaner air and water for our families, more good-paying jobs in clean energy, and stronger cities across the country.”
The initiative coincides with a separate one involving a range of stakeholders from cities to universities to businesses and investors. WeAreStillIn is comprised of such companies as Acer, Adidas, Adobe, eBay, Amazon, Mars, Evian, Nest Labs, Nestle, Netflix and Nike: “In the U.S., it is local and state governments, along with businesses, that are primarily responsible for the dramatic decrease in greenhouse gas emissions in recent years. Actions by each group will multiply and accelerate in the years ahead, no matter what policies Washington may adopt.”
According to a Sierra Club analysis, if the 100% energy targets by cities were achieved by 2025, the total electric sector carbon pollution reductions go a long way to helping the United States meet its targets under the Paris Agreement. Thus far, 36 cities have committed to 100% renewable energy goals while 118 mayors have signed to the recent proclamation by the US Conference of Mayors.
Cities such as Aspen, Colo., Burlington, VT, Greensburg, KS., Kodiak Island, AK and Rockport, MO say that they are already running entirely on renewable energy.
San Diego, Salt Lake City, Las Vegas, Madison, Wis. and Abita Springs, La., San Diego and Denver say that they are on board. Chicago, furthermore, aims to transition its municipal buildings and operations to 100% clean and renewable energy by 2025.
And it’s not just and environmental thing, it’s also an economic proposition. The Climate and Energy Solutions said 47 cities spent nearly $1.2 billion annually on electricity for city operations, reports the Guardian newspaper.
“But if we don’t do it, who’s going to do it, right?” New York Mayor Bill de Blasio said, in a separate Guardian piece. “Cities and states around the country are now doing the kinds of things the national government should do. It’s just that we can’t depend on our national government anymore.”
It’s a challenging goal, given that cities generally rely on their local utilities for electricity. To move past that paradigm, jurisdictions depend in part on government incentives and technological advances. Indeed, properly structured policies can give local governments better access to low-carbon solutions while innovations like onsite power generation and localized microgrids can free buildings and businesses from centralized networks.
A Stanford University study says that the barriers to success are neither technical nor economic; rather, that they are mostly social and political: complacency and entrenched financial interest are key issues. But the analysis then says that the benefits of this conversion exceed the costs, citing reduced global warming and less air pollution along with stable energy prices and new jobs.
Consider San Diego: Beyond its pledge to go all-in for renewable energy, it is partnering with General Electric and Current to deploy an IoT network for such things as directing drivers to open parking spaces and helping first responders during emergencies. Its smart city platform is also upgrading a quarter of the city’s outdoor lighting to add both efficiencies and sensors, all of which the city expects to save $2.4 million a year in electricity costs.
“Local governments are increasingly striving to become carbon free, exploring cleaner energy options to build low-carbon communities; however, over 65% of electricity produced in the U.S. comes from fossil fuels,” says Lauren Riga, an energy and smart cities analyst in Indianapolis, in an interview.