With the federal government hobbled by Washington gridlock politics, a nationwide price on carbon to reduce emissions and tackle climate change seems like a far-away dream.
But in the meantime, I still genuinely believe we can make significant progress to tackle climate change because we’ve got an ace in the hole: local governments.
The residents of cities and city officials really are on the front lines of climate change, and they don’t have the luxury of pretending it isn’t happening. When there’s a flash flood or a heat wave, citizens look to the mayor for answers. Regardless of what end of the political spectrum they fall on, these city officials have to deal with reality and find ways to keep their residents safe.
Because of this, they understand the issue and they understand the need to act. They understand the need to prepare their cities for a new climate and they understand the need to reduce pollution. This is why local leaders, for example, have joined the Resilient Communities for America Agreement. This is also why Community Choice Aggregation (CCA) has found its way onto the to-do list of every mayor who has this tool available to them.
Many U.S. cities are providing 100% renewable electricity for their residents, and many of them are doing it with immediate cost savings. They accomplish this by aggregating the purchasing power of all the homeowners in the city, putting out requests for proposals, and finding energy options that are renewable. It’s not always the usual-suspect cities, either. World Wildlife Fund just gave an award to the city of Cleveland for providing renewable electricity to their residents. The city of Cincinnati has done it. Normal, Illinois has done it.
In other words, your city council could help turn the tide when it comes to climate change policy.
Currently, six states allow CCA programs: California, Illinois, Rhode Island, Massachusetts, New Jersey, and Ohio, but more are on the way. Like nonprofit municipal utilities, CCAs offer cost efficiencies, flexibility, and local control. But unlike municipal utilities, they do not face the capital-intensive and open-ended challenge of valuing, purchasing, and maintaining expensive utility infrastructure. In this way, it is a great option for municipalities that don’t want the financial and operational burdens of owning their own utility.
Because CCA is revenue-based, not government-financed, these programs require no public subsidy to fund or operate, nor do they require a new revenue stream. The revenues that support energy aggregation already exist. That is, the electricity rates that consumers pay to a retail electric supplier or an investor-owned utility are redirected to support the group purchase of electricity through CCA.
As word spreads about the benefits of CCAs, I have no doubt that this trend will go nationwide, presenting an incredible opportunity for anyone in the business of producing or providing renewable energy.
Local governments are ready to act on climate change; they just need the tools. When I talked to the city government in Cleveland, they said it was great that they were doing this community aggregation program, but they wanted to do more. They are seeing clean energy jobs already and they want to grow those sectors into a thriving green economy.
So while it is about climate change, it’s also about jobs, about the future of the city, and creating a clean, livable, and prosperous place for their children and grandchildren.
Keya Chatterjee is director of renewable energy and footprint outreach for the World Wildlife Fund.
LEAN Energy U.S. is hosting a National CCA Summit in Chicago November 11-13. World Wildlife Fund is sponsoring the summit and I’ll be speaking, along with Rahm Emanuel, city leaders from around the country, CCA advisors and energy brokers, energy suppliers and developers, and more.