What do Burlington, Vermont, Aspen, Colorado, and Greensburg, Kansas, have in common? Answer: They're all powered entirely by renewable energy—the first three cities in the country that can say that.
The Sierra Club says 16 other cities have made commitments to 100% renewable power (that is, all their electricity consumption within city limits). "Cities are forming high-ambition coalitions to demand cleaner energy choices, while many utilities drag their feet," says Jodie Van Horn, director of the nonprofit's Ready for 100 campaign.
Normally, energy policy is dictated at a state level. But through climate action plans, mayoral decrees, standalone city council resolutions and public utilities, cities can start to move stakeholders along on renewable goals. "The common feature is leadership," Van Horn says.
The Sierra Club's report looks at how 10 cities have gone about it. In many cases, the switch to renewables is driven primarily by cost advantages, not necessarily environmental concern.
Jim Briggs, the city manager of Georgetown, in Texas, says: "I’m probably the furthest thing from an Al Gore clone you could find. We didn’t do this to save the world—we did this to get a competitive rate and reduce the risk for our consumers."
Greensburg, population 785, has the most heart-warming story. In 2007, it lost 95% of its buildings to a massive tornado. Now, it's rebuilding itself around the poetic 2.5 MW Greensburg Wind Farm.
Los Angeles could join the 100% club before too long. Its city council is about to consider a proposal directing the municipal utility to prepare for an all-renewable future. San Diego, which has a Republican mayor in charge, has also made a 100% pledge, and it's legally binding. The city wants to halve greenhouse gas emissions by 2035.
"It doesn't matter if cities are Democrat or Republican. Clean energy works for everyone and communities across the country are asking for more [of it] from their civic leaders," Van Horn says.
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