A Tale of Two Cities: How San Francisco and Burlington Are Shaping America's Low-Carbon Future
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.
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By D. André Green II
One of nature's epic events is underway: Monarch butterflies' fall migration. Departing from all across the United States and Canada, the butterflies travel up to 2,500 miles to cluster at the same locations in Mexico or along the Pacific Coast where their great-grandparents spent the previous winter.
Millions of People Care About Monarchs<p>I will never forget the sights and sounds the first time I visited monarchs' overwintering sites in Mexico. Our guide pointed in the distance to what looked like hanging branches covered with dead leaves. But then I saw the leaves flash orange every so often, revealing what were actually thousands of tightly packed butterflies. The monarchs made their most striking sounds in the Sun, when they burst from the trees in massive fluttering plumes or landed on the ground in the tussle of mating.</p><p>Decades of educational outreach by teachers, researchers and hobbyists has cultivated a generation of monarch admirers who want to help preserve this phenomenon. This global network has helped restore not only monarchs' summer breeding habitat by planting milkweed, but also general pollinator habitat by planting nectaring flowers across North America.</p><p>Scientists have calculated that restoring the monarch population to a stable level of about 120 million butterflies will require <a href="https://doi.org/10.1111/icad.12198" target="_blank">planting 1.6 billion new milkweed stems</a>. And they need them fast. This is too large a target to achieve through grassroots efforts alone. A <a href="https://www.fws.gov/savethemonarch/CCAA.html" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">new plan</a>, announced in the spring of 2020, is designed to help fill the gap.</p>
Pros and Cons of Regulation<p>The top-down strategy for saving monarchs gained energy in 2014, when the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service <a href="https://www.fws.gov/southeast/pdf/petition/monarch.pdf" target="_blank">proposed</a> listing them as threatened under the Endangered Species Act. A decision is expected in December 2020.</p><p>Listing a species as endangered or threatened <a href="https://www.fws.gov/endangered/esa-library/pdf/listing.pdf" target="_blank">triggers restrictions</a> on "taking" (hunting, collecting or killing), transporting or selling it, and on activities that negatively affect its habitat. Listing monarchs would impose restrictions on landowners in areas where monarchs are found, over vast swaths of land in the U.S.</p><p>In my opinion, this is not a reason to avoid a listing. However, a "threatened" listing might inadvertently threaten one of the best conservation tools that we have: public education.</p><p>It would severely restrict common practices, such as rearing monarchs in classrooms and back yards, as well as scientific research. Anyone who wants to take monarchs and milkweed for these purposes would have to apply for special permits. But these efforts have had a multigenerational educational impact, and they should be protected. Few public campaigns have been more successful at raising awareness of conservation issues.</p>
<span style="display:block;position:relative;padding-top:56.25%;" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="91165203d4ec0efc30e4632a00fdf57d"><iframe lazy-loadable="true" src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/KilPRvjbMrA?rel=0" width="100%" height="auto" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" style="position:absolute;top:0;left:0;width:100%;height:100%;"></iframe></span>
The Rescue Attempt<p>To preempt the need for this kind of regulation, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service approved a <a href="https://www.fws.gov/savethemonarch/pdfs/Monarch%20CCAA-CCA%20Public%20Comment%20Documents/Monarch-Nationwide_CCAA-CCA_Draft.pdf" target="_blank">Nationwide Candidate Conservation Agreement for Monarch Butterflies</a>. Under this plan, "rights-of-way" landowners – energy and transportation companies and private owners – commit to restoring and creating millions of acres of pollinator habitat that have been decimated by land development and herbicide use in the past half-century.</p><p>The agreement was spearheaded by the <a href="http://rightofway.erc.uic.edu/" target="_blank">Rights-of-Way Habitat Working Group</a>, a collaboration between the University of Illinois Chicago's <a href="https://erc.uic.edu/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Energy Resources Center</a>, the Fish and Wildlife Service and over 40 organizations from the energy and transportation sectors. These sectors control "rights-of-way" corridors such as lands near power lines, oil pipelines, railroad tracks and interstates, all valuable to monarch habitat restoration.</p><p>Under the plan, partners voluntarily agree to commit a percentage of their land to host protected monarch habitat. In exchange, general operations on their land that might directly harm monarchs or destroy milkweed will not be subject to the enhanced regulation of the Endangered Species Act – protection that would last for 25 years if monarchs are listed as threatened. The agreement is expected to create up to 2.3 million acres of new protected habitat, which ideally would avoid the need for a "threatened" listing.</p>
A Model for Collaboration<p>This agreement could be one of the few specific interventions that is big enough to allow researchers to quantify its impact on the size of the monarch population. Even if the agreement produces only 20% of its 2.3 million acre goal, this would still yield nearly half a million acres of new protected habitat. This would provide a powerful test of the role of declining breeding and nectaring habitat compared to other challenges to monarchs, such as climate change or pollution.</p><p>Scientists hope that data from this agreement will be made publicly available, like projects in the <a href="https://www.fws.gov/savethemonarch/MCD.html" target="_blank">Monarch Conservation Database</a>, which has tracked smaller on-the-ground conservation efforts since 2014. With this information we can continue to develop powerful new models with better accuracy for determining how different habitat factors, such as the number of milkweed stems or nectaring flowers on a landscape scale, affect the monarch population.</p><p>North America's monarch butterfly migration is one of the most awe-inspiring feats in the natural world. If this rescue plan succeeds, it could become a model for bridging different interests to achieve a common conservation goal.</p>
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