Local Communities Lead the Way on Clean Energy

Across the country, there is a growing trend of local governments, businesses, and non-profits taking the lead on addressing climate change by making their communities more sustainable. With the lack of Congressional support for climate change legislation[1] and the challenges facing the EPA’s recent emissions regulations,[2] local initiatives and partnerships may be among the most significant efforts to combat climate change in the coming years. In fact, a recent study found that roughly sixty-five percent of U.S. cities with a population over 50,000 already have explicit sustainability initiatives.[3]

One way communities are working to improve sustainability is by encouraging residents and businesses to use “green power,”through the EPA’s Green Power Partnership.[4] According to the EPA, green power is a subset of renewable energy consisting of sources that provide the highest environmental benefit, such as solar, wind, geothermal, biogas, and low-impact small hydroelectric sources.[5] Communities that meet minimum usage requirements, based on percent of total annual usage from green power sources, are recognized as Green Power Communities. To date, over fifty-five communities have been recognized through the program, ranging from small towns to major cities such as Portland, OR and Washington, D.C.[6]

Through the program, the EPA provides technical and outreach assistance to residents and businesses, including a guide to purchasing green power for organizations and an online tool for finding green power sources and their residential price premiums. The guide includes an explanation of the benefits of using green power and options for purchasing green power. Benefits include protecting against the risk of future electricity price volatility, developing a green brand and reducing infrastructure vulnerability.[7] Residential pricing varies between location and source. In Michigan, for example, the average rate for conventional power from major utilities is ranges from about 14¢/kWh to 17¢/kWh.[8] Green power is available from six state-specific utilities at an additional cost ranging from 0.9¢/kWh to 3.0¢/kWh.[9]

While renewable energy is typically more expensive than conventional sources, growing demand and new technology are helping to reduce prices in many markets.[10] In some markets, renewable energy sources are now able to compete with coal and natural gas prices, albeit with the help of federal subsidies.10 For example, with higher levels of production, average upfront prices to install utility-scale solar energy projects has dropped by more than a third since 2009, resulting in lower prices for residential and small business use.10

Local clean energy initiatives can help raise awareness about a community’s energy source and shift demand to encourage the growth of the renewable energy market. While this sometimes involves the assistance of the federal government through programs like the EPA’s Green Power Partnership and the price effects of federal subsidies, it starts with communities and individuals choosing to reduce their impact on the environment.

Even if Green Power doesn’t become cheaper than conventional power in a particular area, the increased awareness of the community’s impact on the environment could spark other sustainability initiatives like recycling programs, plastic bag bans, and increased public transportation options. Green Power  – while more directly addressing the driving forces behind climate change – is just one piece of the puzzle. In a political climate where even incremental top-down solutions are hard fought, local initiatives, while smaller in scale, have the potential to produce a significant impact.

 

Rick Stepanovic is a General Member on MJEAL. He can be reached at rstepano@umich.edu.

 


The views and opinions expressed in this blog are those of the authors only and do not reflect the official policy or position of the Michigan Journal of Environmental and Administrative Law or the University of Michigan.

[1] John c. Nagle, President Obama’s Law, CNN (July 25, 2014, 9:55am),  http://www.cnn.com/2014/07/25/opinion/nagle-law-obamacare-climate-change/index.html?iref=allsearch
[2] Coral Davenport, Obama to Introduce Sweeping New Controls Aimed at Ozone, New York Times (Nov. 25, 2014),  http://www.nytimes.com/2014/11/26/us/politics/obama-to-introduce-sweeping-new-controls-on-ozone-emissions.html
[3] Rachel M. Krause, Cities are sustainability leaders in the U.S. but there is little understanding about how to best administer these local efforts, London School of Economics Blog (Nov. 13, 2014), http://blogs.lse.ac.uk/usappblog/2014/11/13/cities-are-sustainability-leaders-in-the-u-s-but-there-is-little-understanding-about-how-to-best-administer-these-local-efforts/
[4] Green Power Partnership, EPA, http://www.epa.gov/greenpower/index.htm (last visited Dec. 5, 2014).
[5] Green Power Market, EPA, http://www.epa.gov/greenpower/gpmarket/index.htm (last visited Dec. 5, 2014).
[6] Green Power Communities, EPA, http://www.epa.gov/greenpower/communities/index.htm (last visited Dec. 5, 2014).
[7] Guide to Purchasing Green Power, EPA (2010), http://www.epa.gov/greenpower/documents/purchasing_guide_for_web.pdf
[8] Comparison of average rates (in cents per kWh) for MPSC-Regulated Electric Utilities in Michigan, Michigan.gov (Dec. 1 2014),  http://www.dleg.state.mi.us/mpsc/electric/download/rates1.pdf
[9] Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy, U.S. Dep’t of Energy, (last visited Dec. 5, 2014). http://apps3.eere.energy.gov/greenpower/buying/buying_power.shtml?state=MI&print
[10] Diane Cardwell, Solar and Wind Energy Start to Win on Price vs. Conventional Fuel, New York Times (Nov. 23, 2014), http://www.nytimes.com/2014/11/24/business/energy-environment/solar-and-wind-energy-start-to-win-on-price-vs-conventional-fuels.html?_r=0

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