With 50 US Cities Committed to 100 Percent Clean Energy, 2018 Presents New Renewable Challenges
Cities will narrow their focus and begin the vital, if less glamorous, process of figuring out how to implement their environmental policy goals.
Image via Wikimedia Commons
In 2017, the Sierra Club’s Ready for 100 campaign, their effort to get 100 cities to move to 100 percent renewable energy, hit its halfway mark. On November 28, the town of Truckee, California became the fiftieth municipality to commit to a fossil fuel-free future.
Truckee is a small community, nestled in the foothills of the Sierra Nevada near Lake Tahoe, the kind of mountain town whose elevation in feet exceeds its number of permanent residents. It is a town with deep ties to winter sports and the outdoors; Jeremy Jones, the pro-snowboarder and founder of the climate organization Protect Our Winters, spoke at a November council meeting. But even setting aside a sports celebrity cameo, town manager Jeff Loux told VICE Impact that the atmosphere at that meeting was exceptional.
“You know, we’re a small town,” Loux said. “We don’t normally get a packed house unless its a controversial question.” But in this case, he says, it was “one supportive comment after another.”
To achieve their goals, Truckee will need to maintain that political will. The deadlines the town set are ambitious — 100 percent renewable electricity for the town and its facilities by 2030, and 100 percent renewable across entire community, for not just electricity but energy, by 2050. It is one thing to pass a resolution and quite another to get down to the nitty gritty of how to bring it to fruition.
Cities participating in Ready for 100 will in all likelihood still face a national agenda almost diametrically opposed to their work toward a fossil fuel free future.
But Truckee won’t be alone in that work. Looking ahead to 2018, Ready for 100 cities will be narrowing their focus and beginning the vital, if less glamorous, process of figuring out how to implement their environmental policy goals.
St. Louis, for example, is just beginning that journey. In October 2017, city aldermen unanimously passed a resolution to transition to renewable energy by 2035. City Council President Lewis Reed was the resolution’s sponsor and he told VICE Impact it’s an issue with personal as well as political resonance.“I suffer from chronic allergies and I have two kids with asthma,” he says. “So I have always been a staunch advocate for having a cleaner environment and using more renewable sources of energy.”
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The lens of social and racial equity and the centrality of environmental justice was also a motivating force for Reed; he says he remembers growing up in St. Louis in a family of nine kids and having their heat and power cut in winter because they couldn’t afford their bills. He hopes renewables can help make energy more accessible and jobs more abundant.
But the state’s long history with coal will make the transition more fraught than it might be elsewhere. Missouri still draws over 80 percent of its energy from coal and St. Louis is home to the headquarters of two of the nation’s largest coal companies. As reported by the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, when Anheuser Busch wanted to transition its local plant to 100 percent renewable energy, they had to look out of state for renewable sources. Local energy providers like Ameren will be crucial in the work to transition away from fossil fuels. (Reed, for one, says that he has been “pleasantly surprised” by the cooperation from Ameren thus far.)
Elsewhere, those outreach efforts to communities and stakeholders are nearing completion.
Atlanta has been holding community conversation sessions across the city since passing their renewable energy resolution in May. Their timeline, however, is much tighter than St. Louis’s — The city’s blueprint is due to come out on January 31, meaning there will have been barely eight months between committing to clean energy and figuring out to actually move forward on it. The final community meeting on the topic is coming up on January 10 and, according to local organizer Misty Novitch, several key priorities have emerged from the citizens attending: the inclusion of communities of color and low income populations, accountability for the city and the power utility and ensuring that the plan also includes jobs training for in-state workers. But more fundamentally, Novitch told VICE Impact, she’s heard from these sessions a desire for education.
"The President of the United States, because of his positions on the environment, has given us a bigger incentive to organize and to organize in a major way.”
“This happened so quickly and so quietly in some ways, that a lot of people don’t even know this has passed,” she said of the resolution. Helping bridge that communication gap — between the city and the citizens – will be a critical component of making the transition to renewables successful and equitable.
“If people can’t afford their electric bills and their power is getting cut off,” she says, “you can’t talk to them about investing thousands of dollars on solar panels.”
Cities participating in Ready for 100 will in all likelihood still face a national agenda almost diametrically opposed to their work toward a fossil fuel free future; In one of their final acts of the year, congress opened the Alaskan National Wildlife Reserve to oil exploration as a part of the Republican tax bill. But Alderman Reed says that, in some ways, federal policy has given local action a boost.
“Strange as it may seem, I’m thinking that the President of the United States, because of his positions on the environment,” he says, “has given us a bigger incentive to organize and to organize in a major way.”
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