4 Ways Local Solar Projects Benefit Cities
By Lacey Shaver
When a city decides to transition from fossil fuels to clean energy, headlines follow. But the work has only just begun. Cities have many options for generating and purchasing renewable electricity, each of which comes with distinct benefits and challenges.
Large, off-site projects tend to offer scale and help make a measurable difference towards locally-defined renewable energy goals. But they can be legally and financially complex and harder to sell to elected officials and residents. For this reason, the first renewable project that a city undertakes is often based in its own community. This might be an on-site solar project, which is installed at the same location where the electricity is consumed. Or it could be a community solar program, which allows residents to subscribe to a shared solar project within the community.
These kinds of projects visibly demonstrate a local government's dedication to climate action. The clean electricity they provide to municipal facilities and residents can reduce community-wide greenhouse gas emissions.
But fewer emissions and cleaner air aren't the only reasons that cities want to go renewable. Many are using local solar projects to achieve broader community benefits and align with other priorities. These include saving money, creating local jobs, expanding renewables access to low-income residents, and advancing local resilience.
1. Saving Money and Managing Future Price Risks
Generating wind and solar is increasingly more competitive or cheaper than other forms of energy. That means switching to renewables can help municipal governments save taxpayers money. Nevertheless, the upfront cost of installing solar can be daunting to cash-strapped local governments.
One way a city can manage costs is by entering into an on-site physical power purchase agreement (PPA), a financial contract in which a solar developer owns and maintains a solar photovoltaic system that is installed on a municipally-owned building and sells the electricity to the city at a discount. A PPA allows a local government to leverage one of its key assets — land and roof space — in exchange for a cheap, fixed-term source of clean electricity.
This is exactly the kind of arrangement completed by Washington, DC. In April 2018, Mayor Muriel Bowser gathered community members to announce the completion of a 10.9 megawatt system comprised of on-site solar projects spread across 35 municipally-owned properties, including schools, hospitals and recreation centers. Over the 20-year term of the contract with developer Sol Systems, Washington anticipates saving $25 million from reduced electricity costs.
Fayetteville, Arkansas used a similar model to make progress toward its goal of achieving 100 percent municipal use of clean energy by 2030. In November 2018, Fayetteville's City Council signed an agreement with Ozarks Electric Cooperative and Today's Power, Inc. to install 5 megawatts of solar panels and 12 megawatt-hours of battery storage at each of the city's two wastewater treatment plants, which combined make up about two-thirds of municipal electricity use. The 20-year project is expected to save the city $6 million.
2. Stimulating the Local Economy and Creating Well-Paying Green Jobs
In 2018, the U.S. added 110,000 net new clean energy jobs, outnumbering jobs from fossil fuels by about three to one. Leading cities are working to bring these well-paying jobs to their own communities.
In August 2018, Philadelphia's Office of Sustainability released a roadmap for how the city can reduce carbon emissions 80 percent from 2006 levels by 2050 while emphasizing equity and community health. Local stakeholders encouraged the city to take a holistic view of energy and climate action when developing the plan and identify the potential for co-benefits such as job creation and air quality improvements.
Leading the roadmap's implementation is the Philadelphia Energy Authority (PEA), an independent municipal authority that provides targeted expertise for local energy efficiency and generation efforts and facilitates the purchase of energy services on behalf of the city. PEA is leading the Philadelphia Energy Campaign, an effort that leverages $1 billion in public and private financing to invest in clean energy and energy efficiency. The Campaign is expected to create more than 10,000 jobs for Philadelphia residents in 10 years and create $200 million in savings for the local economy.
Philadelphia leaders announce Solarize Philly as part of the $1 billion Philadelphia Energy Campaign.
Flickr / Philadelphia City Council
3. Expanding Clean Energy Access to Residents Who Can't Install Solar on Their Property
To bring clean electricity to renters and low-income communities, cities are launching innovative community solar programs, which allow residents to purchase a share of a solar installation and reap the benefits of clean energy (including cost savings) without having to physically install panels on their property.
Austin, Texas spearheads multiple initiatives to meet the solar requirements in the city's renewable portfolio standard — for example, solar rebates and a utility green pricing program that allows customers to pay a premium for wind projects from across the state. However, wealthier residents tend to take advantage of these programs more often than those from low-income neighborhoods: Austin zip codes with an above-average median family income received 75 percent of all solar rebates in 2017. To expand solar access more equitably across the community, Austin Energy has created a community solar program and is piloting an innovative shared solar solution that targets hard-to-reach solar markets, like multi-family affordable housing and non-profits.
Programs like these are more than just feel-good — they offer financial benefits to those who need it most. Minneapolis, which has one of the most successful community solar programs in the country, saves money for 92 percent of their solar subscribers, and nearly a third of the program serves public entities such as schools.
4. Contributing to Local Resilience
In addition to cost savings, renewable energy projects can also increase community resilience. Pairing renewable energy with storage or microgrids can reduce dependence on the grid in times of natural disaster.
Too often, city resilience efforts begin with a catastrophic local event. In September 2013, Boulder, Colorado experienced a 100-year flash flood event that caused fatalities, widespread power outages and critical infrastructure damage. As part of the recovery, Boulder sought to rebuild in a more resilient way that would mitigate the risks and damages of future floods. The city partnered with Boulder Housing Partners (BHP), an affordable housing developer, to implement a solar-plus-storage system that allows operations to continue during emergencies. It includes electric vehicle charging stations to ensure that emergency transportation is available even if the grid is down.
Similarly, Santa Barbara County, California was ravaged by a series of wildfires in late 2017, followed by disastrous flooding and mudslides in the following year. Besides suffering extensive property damage, cities and towns in the area dealt with a series of widespread power outages. Perched at the edge of the Pacific Ocean, the community is located at the end of Los Angeles' transmission line, where natural disasters can quickly leave residents in the dark. To reduce grid dependence, local cities like Santa Barbara and Goleta are exploring the potential to pair distributed renewable electricity generation with a microgrid and storage to mitigate future power outages.
It Takes Multiple Approaches
To achieve their clean energy and climate goals, cities will need to take a creative portfolio approach to renewable energy procurement that combines the tangible benefits of local solar projects with the scale of innovative large, off-site procurement options. The portfolio of renewable energy solutions will vary from city to city and should be paired with energy efficiency initiatives that reduce future electricity demand and enable a net zero-carbon electricity system. Successful implementation of local solar projects can be an effective first step to build momentum for other more ambitious renewable projects.
A Tale of Two Cities: How San Francisco and Burlington Are Shaping America's Low-Carbon Future… https://t.co/54F0M04M7a— EcoWatch (@EcoWatch)1521483808.0
The Renewables Accelerator is a key resource for cities already leading on renewable energy and those kickstarting their clean energy programs. Learn more about renewable energy procurement options for cities and the American Cities Climate Challenge Renewables Accelerator at www.cityrenewables.org.
Lacey Shaver is the city renewable energy manager within the global energy program at World Resources Institute.
By Matthew J. Landry and Heather Eicher-Miller
When university presidents were surveyed in spring of 2020 about what they felt were the most pressing concerns of COVID-19, college students going hungry didn't rank very high.
Why It Matters<p>This is not just a matter of growling stomachs. This is a straight-up education and health issue.</p><p>When students don't really know if they'll be able to get enough to eat, it can lead to a series of problems that make it harder to stay in school. For instance, it can affect <a href="https://doi.org/10.1177%2F1359105318783028" target="_blank">academic performance</a> and <a href="https://doi.org/10.1186/s12889-019-6943-6" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">sleep quality</a>. It can also lead to <a href="https://doi.org/10.1177/1359105318783028" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">poor mental and physical health</a> outcomes for college students.</p><p>Food insecurity can also result in disrupted eating patterns if there is <a href="https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6627945/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">not enough food or the variety</a> or <a href="https://bmcpublichealth.biomedcentral.com/articles/10.1186/s12889-019-6943-6" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">quality of what someone eats</a> is low.</p>
Campus Food Pantries<p>Previous strategies by <a href="https://www.gao.gov/assets/700/696254.pdf" target="_blank">colleges and universities</a> to fight hunger in their student bodies have varied widely. They include campus food pantries, emergency cash assistance and nutrition education through noncredit classes or workshopse.</p><p>These strategies were put to the test during the spring 2020 semester, when nearly <a href="https://hope4college.com/wp-content/uploads/2020/06/Hopecenter_RealCollegeDuringthePandemic.pdf" target="_blank">three in five students</a> said they had trouble meeting their own basic needs during the pandemic.</p><p>College food pantries saw <a href="https://www.utrgv.edu/newsroom/2020/05/01-utrgv-student-food-pantry-seeing-recent-increase-in-demand-during-covid-19.htm" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">big increases</a> in demand. Others said they <a href="https://www.theprospectordaily.com/2020/09/22/uteps-food-pantry-is-running-out-of-food/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">were getting less donated food</a>. This made it even harder to meet the rising food needs of students.</p><p>Campus food pantries largely rely on local or regional food banks, which have been dealing with <a href="https://www.indystar.com/story/news/local/2020/10/04/indiana-food-banks-call-more-food-stamps-meet-publics-need/3523683001/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">greater demand</a> than they are able to meet during the pandemic.</p><p>The many students who are attending college remotely will, of course, have less access to campus resources like food pantries.</p>
Federal Help<p>Other potential ways to get more food are government programs like the <a href="https://www.fns.usda.gov/snap/recipient/eligibility" target="_blank">Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program</a>, known as SNAP. Yet the majority of able-bodied students are not eligible. Long-standing restrictions, like the <a href="https://www.fns.usda.gov/snap/students" target="_blank">college SNAP rule</a>, prevent full-time students from receiving these benefits.</p><p>Such regulatory hurdles were created under the assumption that most students can rely on their parents to get enough to eat. However, college students have vastly different levels of financial support. Some students can rely on their parents for everything and others cannot rely on their parents for anything.</p><p>Decreased reliance on parental financial support is <a href="https://ir.library.louisville.edu/jsfa/vol47/iss3/5/" target="_blank">especially common</a> for first-generation students and students of color, who now make up <a href="https://1xfsu31b52d33idlp13twtos-wpengine.netdna-ssl.com/wp-content/uploads/2019/02/Race-and-Ethnicity-in-Higher-Education.pdf" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">45% of enrolled college students</a>.</p><p>Under normal circumstances, many college students might rely on part-time jobs to pay for their food.</p>
Short-Term Solutions<p>Universities and colleges can make it a priority to ensure students are aware of all available campus resources and services. They can also potentially help students apply for federal assistance benefits.</p><p>Campus food pantries are not a fully effective and efficacious solution for the scale of college food insecurity, but they can be a good interim solution to increase access to food for students.</p><p>Campuses without food pantries can start one, making use of resources the <a href="https://cufba.org/resources/" target="_blank">College and University Food Bank Alliance</a> provides. Schools with food pantries can try to get them to <a href="https://www.swipehunger.org/5campuspantry/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">reach more students</a>.</p><p>Universities and colleges can also lean on one another for support. The <a href="http://wp.auburn.edu/endchildhungeral/alabama-campus-coalition-for-basic-needs/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Alabama Campus Coalition for Basic Needs</a> is a great example of this. It brings together 10 universities across the state of Alabama collectively working to address student food insecurity.</p>
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Plain Naturals is making waves in the CBD space with a new product line for retail customers looking for high potency CBD products at industry-low prices.
Is More CBD Really Better?<img lazy-loadable="true" src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yNDU2ODQyNC9vcmlnaW4uanBnIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTYzMzYxMDMzN30.6B08i5QYW_Iq5bUf3qtm8oK8o6FKsRUZ74gdakgJ_TY/img.jpg?width=980" id="0ef5b" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="bac86abf3ce246742b18b0dc4052f4dd" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" />
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The Truth About CBD Product Potency<img lazy-loadable="true" src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yNDU2ODMyNC9vcmlnaW4uanBnIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTYyNDc2NTg1N30.OAm3iOTO_pKZLXi7KdJ7n0DGOFMdOmIYuG4ArGooFC4/img.jpg?width=980" id="d657c" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="ee016a81b29caa699b9185b64ce345d6" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" />
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By Dr. Kate Raynes-Goldie
Of all the plastic we've ever produced, only 9% has been recycled. So what happened to all that plastic you've put in the recycling bin over the years?
Triangle of Mistruths<p>The myth created around plastic recycling has been one of simplicity. We look for the familiar triangle arrows, then pop the waste in the recycling bin so it can be reused.</p><p>But the true purpose of those triangles has been misunderstood by the general public ever since their invention in the 1980s.</p><p>These triangles were actually created by the plastics industry and, according to a report provided to them in July 1993, <a href="https://www.npr.org/transcripts/912150085" target="_blank">were creating "unrealistic expectations"</a> about what could be recycled. But they decided to keep using the codes.</p><p>Which is why many people still believe that these triangular symbols (also known as a <a href="https://sustainablepackaging.org/101-resin-identification-codes/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">resin identifier code</a> or RIC) means something is recyclable.</p><p>But according to the American Society for Testing and Materials International (ASTM) – which controls the RIC system – the numbered triangles "<a href="https://www.astm.org/Standards/D7611.htm" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">are not recycle codes</a>." In fact, they weren't created for the general public at all. They were made for the post-consumer plastic industry.</p><p>In other words, the symbols make it easier to sort the different types of plastics, some of which cannot be recycled – <a href="https://www.ecobin.com.au/understand-recycling-codes/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">depending on the recycling facility</a>.</p><p>"Unfortunately, just placing your plastic into the recycling bin doesn't mean it will get recycled," says Lara Camilla Pinho. She is an architect and lecturer at the UWA School of Design who is researching novel uses of plastic waste.</p><p>"The recycling system is complicated and often dictated by market demand. Not all plastic is recyclable. We cannot recycle plastic bags or straws for example."</p>
Behind the Scenes<p>So, what makes recycling plastics so difficult?</p><p>"Essentially, there are two types of plastics – thermoplastics and thermosets. While thermoplastics can be re-melted and re-molded, thermosets contain cross-linked polymers that cannot be separated meaning they cannot be recycled," says Lara.</p><p>"Even thermoplastics have a limit to the amount of times we can recycle them, as each time they are recycled they downgrade in quality."</p><p>Even when plastics are recyclable, it is <a href="https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2019/oct/13/war-on-plastic-waste-faces-setback-as-cost-of-recycled-material-soars" target="_blank">often more costly</a> than simply making new plastics.</p>
Sugar, Seaweed and Mushrooms<p>If the conventional recycling system isn't working, what else can we do with all the plastic we've created?</p><p>Lara is looking for ways to add value to recycled plastics such as using it in the design and development of architectural products. She hopes to use these architectural products to help underserved communities that are disproportionately affected by plastic waste.</p><p>In addition to recycling, we also need to find ways to reduce our use of virgin petroleum-based plastics.</p><p>Bioplastic is one such product that has been getting a lot of hype over the last few years. And although they're better than petroleum-based plastics, bioplastics also come with their own <a href="https://phys.org/news/2017-12-truth-bioplastics.html" target="_blank">set of challenges</a>.</p><p>"There are already a lot of bio-based alternatives to plastic, such as bagasse – a byproduct of sugar cane processing," says Lara.</p><p><a href="https://blogs.scientificamerican.com/observations/the-mycelium-revolution-is-upon-us/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Mycelium</a>, a type of fungi we most often associate with mushrooms, are also providing an interesting plastic alternative.</p><p>"In the field of architecture, mycelium is starting to be used as an alternative to plastic insulation, but also as compostable packaging and bricks," says Lara.</p><p>"The bricks take around five days to make and are strong, durable, water resistant and compostable at the end of their use."</p><p><a href="https://www.arup.com/news-and-events/hyfi-reinvents-the-brick" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Hy-Fi Tower</a>, created by <a href="http://www.thelivingnewyork.com/living_about.html" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">The Living</a>, is an example of a building made from these bricks.</p><p>And finally, there's seaweed.</p><p>"[Seaweed is] cheap and can reproduce itself quickly without fertilizers. In architecture, there is use for seaweed as an alternative to plastic insulation but also as cladding," says Lara.</p>
More Money, More Problems<p>While all these alternatives are great, the main cause of our plastic dilemma is not scientific or technological, but economic.</p><p>As long as it remains <a href="https://engineering.mit.edu/engage/ask-an-engineer/why-is-it-cheaper-to-make-new-plastic-bottles-than-to-recycle-old-ones/" target="_blank">cheaper to create new plastics</a> from fossil fuels rather than from bioplastics or from recycling, we're going to be stuck with plastic garbage islands floating in our oceans.</p><p>The true cost to our health and our environment has yet to be included in the equation. But once it is, maybe that is when the real shift will happen.</p>
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