Communities across the country are adopting renewable energy goals at a record pace. In September 2017, more than 150 mayors had signed the Mayors For 100% Clean Energy pledge, a pledge to power their communities with 100% clean, renewable energy. We applaud these local leaders for their commitments to future generations and for leveraging the power of their communities for transformative change.
At Brendle Group, we’re no strangers to community energy and climate goals. We have worked for decades in helping communities establish goals and define pathways and strategies for success. So as we see this wave of ambitious 100% renewable energy commitments take the nation by storm, we want to share some tips that may help communities position themselves to transform the existing energy system to meet their goals. Though each community has unique opportunities, we offer these top 10 suggestions to Get Ready for 100:
- Rethink your baseline. With many energy goals, a first step is knowing how much energy your community consumes and the sources that supply the energy. With a 100% renewable energy goal, your baseline is important to know, but not paramount in your planning efforts because eventually, all energy requirements will need to be met by renewable sources. As resources are deployed within the community, you’ll need to focus more attention and analysis on energy supply and delivery.
- Get smart on data. Is your community tracking rooftop solar permits and generation capacity? Do you know how large your community solar gardens are? Have an idea how electricity use breaks down across sectors of the community? Do you know the energy supply mix of your electric utilities? The answers to these questions and more will help identify the necessary information you will need to start collecting, monitoring, and analyzing.
- Collaborate with your energy utility providers. Few communities have municipally-owned utilities with direct control over energy supply decisions, so including your energy utilities early on in clean energy conversations is essential. If your community is pursing renewable energy adoption at a pace that is quicker than your utilities are planning for their overall service territory, you’ll need to work together to understand what is possible and what paths are available to achieve your goals. It’s important to recognize that utilities operate in a regulated environment with multiple stakeholders and may serve a broad range of communities and customers, so you’ll need to look for regulatory win-wins that benefit your community and your utility.
- Stay current with recent building and energy codes. Some states adopt building and energy codes that apply to all communities while other states allow for local control. If your community adopts codes locally, making sure the community implements the most recent codes will go a long way to reducing energy use in new construction and renovation and making sure that buildings are suited for new technologies.
- Revisit and refresh policies and regulations. After adopting an aggressive renewable energy goal, it will be important to revisit and update local policies and regulations to ensure alignment. Some areas that might warrant attention include historic preservation policies, solar access regulations, building height and shading standards, and even data privacy policies. Some of these policies and regulations might unintentionally be creating barriers to renewable energy adoption.
- Pursue new financial models and economic delivery. Adopting a renewable energy goal is an important preliminary step, but committing the necessary resources to achieving the goal is essential. Some minimum resource considerations include dedicated staff time for strategy development and implementation, as well as dedicated financial resources for subscriptions, credits, and other infrastructure investments and upgrades. It’s unrealistic to expect your local energy utilities to bear the full cost of getting your community to its goal and your community should be prepared to invest time and resources to make necessary progress. You may also need to find new funding streams, like fees or taxes, to fund the transformation. Finally, be sure to consider potential future value streams in your planning, such as renewable energy certificate ownership, emission reduction credits from your energy supplier, and the value of 100% renewable energy to large or strategic employers in the community.
- Demonstrate by example at municipal facilities. Communities that adopt aggressive renewable goals should be willing to test their approach on municipal facilities (e.g., City Hall, water treatment plants, recreation centers). Adopting an even more aggressive timeline or approach for municipal facilities can help communities understand the opportunities and challenges facing constituents in supporting these goals and can lead to better alignment and implementation community wide. As you consider options for municipal facilities, keep an eye toward potential leverage that may be gained via joint engagement and/or investment by businesses within the community.
- Accelerate divestment from fossil fuels. Cities must be willing to actively support and participate in divestment from fossil fuels by limiting and eventually freezing their investments in funds and companies that are largely based on fossil-fuel sources or technologies.
- Educate community members. While 100% renewable energy commitments are gaining momentum and support, not everyone will be on board or even aware of these commitments. Be prepared to share your community’s rationale for making the commitment, the broad benefits anticipated over the long term, how you plan to pay for the effort, and any direct impacts to businesses and residents.
- Strategize about fuel-switching. Fuel switching involves replacing the fossil fuels currently supplying energy needs with cleaner sources. Examples include switching from gasoline to electric-powered vehicles or converting from natural gas to electric heating systems (with renewable electricity supplies). Most clean energy development is currently happening in electricity (e.g., solar, wind), so shifting energy sources to electricity can help with the transition to cleaner and renewable sources. Communities will need to strategize about how to fuel-switch effectively.
Each community has its own drivers for adopting ambitious renewable energy goals and most utilities want to work with their customers to get there within the constraints of complex issues they face as our energy future evolves. We thrive on working with communities AND utilities in finding win-win outcomes and hope these tips help set you on a positive and renewable path forward.