Quantcast

A Tale of Two Cities: How San Francisco and Burlington Are Shaping America's Low-Carbon Future

Renewable Energy
iStock

By Kyra Appleby

President Trump's commitment to pull out of the Paris agreement signaled what appeared to be the worst of times for a transition to a low-carbon future in the United States. But actions being taken by a significant number of cities could instead make it the best of times for renewable energy in America.


Cities both in the U.S. and around the world are increasingly setting low-carbon goals and implementing local policies that recognize sustainability investment as essential to new markets, jobs and creating attractive places to live, work and do business.

New research released last month by CDP, a U.K.-based charity that runs the global disclosure system for businesses and governments, showed more than 100 global cities that report that they are getting at least 70 percent of their electricity from renewable sources.

The world's renewable energy cities: more than 100 cities now get at least 70% of their electricity from renewable sources such as hydro, geothermal, solar and wind. CDP / Flourish

Click here to see CDP's infographic about cities around the globe that are using renewable energy.

In the U.S., 58 cities and towns have now committed to transition to 100 percent clean, renewable energy, including big cities like Atlanta and San Diego. Earlier this year, U.S. municipalities Denton, Texas and St. Louis Park, Minnesota, became the latest communities to establish 100 percent renewable energy goals.

In June 2017 the U.S. Conference of Mayors, representing 250 U.S. mayors, resolved to support the procurement of 100 percent renewable energy for cities by 2035.

Burlington's Bold Breakaway

Burlington, Vermont is one of the first U.S. cities to report to CDP that it sources 100 percent of its electricity from renewable sources.

Burlington began its transition to a net-zero economy back in 1978 when it replaced its coal plant with a 50-MW generating station powered on biomass. The next step was harnessing wind and solar power through the construction of a 10-MW wind farm and the installation of rooftop solar PVs on high schools, the airport and the electric department. In 2014, when citizens voted to approve a $12 million bond in 2014 for the city's energy department to purchase the 7.4-MW Winooski Hydroelectric Plant, Burlington's transformation to 100 percent renewable energy was complete.

The city's shift to green energy has also helped its residents, not raising electricity rates in eight years. And seizing the opportunity to turn Burlington into a center of innovation, the city has continued its progressive push by investing in charging stations for electric vehicles and developing plans to pipe steam from the biomass plant to heat downtown homes.

Solar San Francisco

Three thousand miles away on America's west coast, San Francisco is trailblazing the path in solar power—driven by economic reality. Last year, municipal leaders took the bold move to become the first American city to mandate solar roofs on most new construction. Under the legislation, all new buildings under 10 stories must have solar PV or solar thermal panels installed on at least 15 percent of their roof space. Consequently, the city now boasts more than 15-MW of solar PV.

With an electricity mix of 34 percent renewable energy, San Francisco still has a long way to go to reach its ambitious target of 100 percent by 2030. But the wheels are clearly in motion to scale-up solar power, with the city serving as a shining example of the power of solar.

Unsubsidized renewables were the cheapest source of electricity in 30 countries last year according to the World Economic Forum. With renewables predicted to be consistently more cost effective than fossil fuels globally by 2020, the rate at which cities around the world follow San Francisco's lead is likely to pick up pace.

Cities as the Battleground

Cities are vital to the transition to a low-carbon economy. Cities are home to half the world's population and are expanding rapidly. In the U.S. alone, over 80 percent of the population lives in urban areas. Meanwhile, cities around the globe are responsible for over 70 percent of energy-related carbon emissions.

As cities expand, they need to ensure that the new infrastructure they put in place is fit for a low-carbon economy. Public-private partnerships will be crucial to transitioning to green energy, particularly with the propensity for deficits in public finance.

The good news is that CDP's data shows that globally, cities are moving in the right direction in engaging with the private sector. In 2016, we collected data from 570 cities around the world and found that municipalities highlighted a total of 720 climate-related projects suitable for private sector investment, worth a combined $26 billion. One year later, that figure had ballooned to 1,045 projects and more than $52 billion.

Much of the drive behind city climate action and reporting comes from the 7,000+ mayors signed up to the Global Covenant of Mayors for Climate and Energy who have pledged to act on climate change.

Despite the prospect of the American withdrawal from the Paris agreement, cities in the U.S. and around the world are still putting ambitious plans in place to harness the power of clean electricity. Cities not only want to shift to renewable energy, but most importantly, they can. We urge all cities to disclose to us, work together to meet the goals of the Paris agreement and prioritize the development of ambitious renewable energy procurement strategies.

Kyra Appleby is Director of Cities at global environmental impact non-profit CDP.

Reposted with permission from our media associate AlterNet.

EcoWatch Daily Newsletter

A NOAA research vessel at a Taylor Energy production site in the Gulf of Mexico in September 2018. NOAA

The federal government is looking into the details from the longest running oil spill in U.S. history, and it's looking far worse than the oil rig owner let on, as The New York Times reported.

Read More Show Less
Golde Wallingford submitted this photo of "Pure Joy" to EcoWatch's first photo contest. Golde Wallingford

EcoWatch is pleased to announce our third photo contest!

Read More Show Less
Sponsored

Zero Waste Kitchen Essentials

Simple swaps that cut down on kitchen trash.

Sponsored

By Kayla Robbins

Along with the bathroom, the kitchen is one of the most daunting areas to try and make zero waste.

Read More Show Less
Damage at the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge from the 2016 occupation. USFWS

By Tara Lohan

When armed militants with a grudge against the federal government seized the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge in rural Oregon back in the winter of 2016, I remember avoiding the news coverage. Part of me wanted to know what was happening, but each report I read — as the occupation stretched from days to weeks and the destruction grew — made me so angry it was hard to keep reading.

Read More Show Less
Computer model projection of temperature anomalies across Europe on June 27. Temperature scale in °C. Tropicaltidbits.com

A searing heat wave has begun to spread across Europe, with Germany, France and Belgium experiencing extreme temperatures that are set to continue in the coming days.

Read More Show Less
Sponsored
Skull morphology of hybrid "narluga" whale. Nature / Mikkel Høegh Post

In the 1980s, a Greenlandic subsistence hunter shot and killed a whale with bizarre features unlike any he had ever seen before. He knew something was unique about it, so he left its abnormally large skull on top of his toolshed where it rested until a visiting professor happened upon it a few years later.

Read More Show Less
A house under construction with plastic bottles filled with sand to build shelters that better withstand the climate of the country where temperatures reach up to 50° C Awserd in the Saharawi refugee camp Dakhla on Dec. 31, 2018 in Tindouf, Algeria. Stefano Montesi / Corbis / Getty Images

A UN expert painted a bleak picture Tuesday of how the climate crisis could impact global inequality and human rights, leading to a "climate apartheid" in which the rich pay to flee the consequences while the rest are left behind.

Read More Show Less
The Oregon Senate Chamber. Cacophony / CC BY 3.0

Six days after Republican Oregon Senators fled the state to avoid voting on a bill to address the climate crisis, the Senate president declared the bill dead.

Read More Show Less