All politics are local. So is the progress in greentech.

Federal and state Renewable Portfolio Standards, federal loans and stimulus packages are vitally important programs.

But progress in greening our cities is going to come from local efforts as much as from on high. We take a quick look at some city-based green initiatives.

San Jose, Calif. considers itself the capital of Silicon Valley, and wants to be the global center of greentech innovation. The city and its Mayor, Chuck Reed, have initiated one of the nation's most aggressive green initiatives – the Green Vision program with a 15-year goal that includes:

1. Creating 25,000 cleantech jobs

2. Reducing per capita energy use by 50 percent

3. Receiving 100 percent of its electrical power from clean renewable sources

4. Building or retrofitting 50 million square feet of green buildings

5. Diverting 100 percent of waste from landfills

6. Recycling or reusing 100 percent of its wastewater (100 million gallons per day)

7. Ensuring that 100 percent of its public fleet vehicles run on alternative fuels

8. Planting 100,000 new trees

9. Replacing 100 percent of its streetlights with smart, zero emission lighting

San Jose calls itself the capital of Silicon Valley but Palo Alto, Calif. could arguably assume the mantle of its' heart (against the protestations of Mountain View and Menlo Park). Palo Alto is the home of Stanford University, Packard's garage (of Hewlett Packard fame), Facebook, and a lot of Venture Capital firms. Steve Jobs of Apple and Larry Page of Google call it home.

Palo Alto can also lay claim to be one of the nation's greenest cities.

In June 2008, Palo Alto adopted mandatory green-building requirements for residential and commercial development -- one of the most stringent green building ordinances in the nation.

New buildings and remodels in Palo Alto must meet standards developed by the U.S. Green Building Council or the Build It Green organization. Expect some public pushback since the green requirements can add from $2,000 to $10,000 to the cost of a home and 2 percent to 5 percent to the cost of a commercial project, according to a city report.

Palo Alto also has

  • A climate protection plan addressing CO2 emissions and water
  • A program for less-toxic pest control
  • Proposed stringent ordinances on construction and demolition debris, a major source of landfill material, waste, and toxics.
  • The "greenest" congressional office. Anna Eshoo, a high-powered Congressperson, recently unveiled the very first congressional office in the nation to go maximum green. Eshoo's office has installed a 1.6 kilowatts photovoltaic system and 100 percent of the electricity used by the office is obtained from renewable sources. The office has made profound green modifications to its' lighting, water, heating, cooling, materials, waste stream and the transit habits of its' employees.

Palo Alto has some competition from its neighbor/rival across the Bay – the Republic of Berkeley, Calif. 


Late last year, Berkeley's city council approved a plan to offer city-backed loans to building owners who install PV systems. The loans, up to $20,000 each, would be paid off as part of the owners' property-tax bills. This type of program could eliminate the biggest obstacle to solar deployments – the large upfront cost.

If this program succeeds, it could be expanded to finance other energy-efficiency efforts such as installing double-glazed windows or thermal insulation.

How about tiny Greensburg, Kan.? After being decimated by an F-5 tornado that leveled the city and left few homes standing, the survivors launched a plan to resurrect their town as the greenest city in America. All public buildings are to conform to LEED platinum standards.

Now, two years after the disaster, Greensburg's new homes are almost 50 percent more energy-efficient due to energy-saving windows, improved insulation, efficient heating, etc.

The people of Greensburg are pioneering the greening of a municipality, in one of the reddest states, no less.

Gainesville, Fla. is the first U.S. city with Feed-in-Tariffs.

In the first such program in the country, The Gainesville City Commission has approved a solar feed-in tariff for residential and business customers served by the Gainesville Regional Utilities in Florida. Wrote Ucilia Wang:

"Under the program, owners of solar energy systems would sell the electricity to the utilities at $0.32 per kilowatt-hour under a 20-year contract. The rate, which is higher than the price for conventional power, will remain for the first two years of the program. ... The program is modeled after the successful one in Germany, which has become the largest solar market in the world."

Other cities with claims on "the greenest" include:

Austin, Texas: Austin Energy, the city's municipally owned utility, plans to grow the renewables' portion of Austin's energy portfolio to 30 percent by 2020 and to build solar power's share to 100MW by 2020.

Boulder, Colo.: The city has resolved to become a zero-waste community.

Burlington, Vt.: More than one-third of energy used in the city comes from renewable resources, an impressive figure for the frosty Northeast.

Madison, Wis.: A bike-friendly city with an extensive recycling program that claims more than 90 percent participation.

New York City: High-density populations like NYC use fewer resources per capita. New Yorkers use of public transport dwarfs that of any other city.

Portland, Ore.: Portland is bike friendly, has set an urban growth limit to protect 25 million acres of open space, and recycles more than half of the city's trash.

San Francisco: More than half the city's residents use public or alternative transportation to get to work.

Please forgive the slightly California-centric selection in this list. Feel free to comment and let us know your choice for greenest city.