27 Jun Achieving 100 Percent Renewable Energy
By the numbers, the vision of 100 percent clean energy across the United States grew exponentially in one year’s time: In 2019 alone, 51 cities and towns, four states, Puerto Rico, and Washington D.C. committed to 100 percent clean, renewable energy.
North Carolina has 27 communities with a 100 percent renewable energy resolution for some future date (usually 2030 or 2050). These communities are all over the state from Asheville in the mountains, to Hillsborough in the piedmont, to Wake County in the central part of the state, and Forsyth County in the foothills.
Passing the resolution is one thing, getting there is something else. What’s the best way to ensure success? That question is something I think about day in and day out. There are several important steps that ensure success:
– Management & Funding: An action plan should be developed with goals and timelines (short term, medium term, long term) noting the responsible divisions, preferably with a senior city or county official managing the process. The Sustainability Director or Fleet Manager cannot single handedly get a city or county to that milepost on his/her own.
– Funding: The city/county must designate funds to fulfill its resolution. The best avenue for that is a revolving loan fund with dedicated projects allocated to the capital improvement budget.
– City/County Buildings: Higher sustainability standards for new buildings: Hold new construction to stricter building standards, thereby reducing the environmental impact of development and ensuring new construction projects won’t lock the city into long-term high-carbon infrastructure. Examples include use of daylight instead of electrical light fixtures; green roofs; and sealing/testing a building envelope to minimize air leakage. Conventional energy retrofits: These include quicker, cheaper retrofits that target individual components of a building. Conventional energy retrofits can reduce a building’s energy consumption by 15-25 percent. Purchase, install, or lease renewable energy for all local buildings: Meeting some or all of a building’s energy needs through renewable energy is an easy and cost-efficient strategy. A 2017 law created a framework for solar leasing in North Carolina, including oversight of lessors and consumer protections, and could be an avenue for local governments that wish to use PV solar but do not want to purchase solar PV panels outright.
– Fleet and Transportation: Transportation electrification is one of the most important strategies a city or county can take to meet its clean energy goals for two main reasons: (1) Transportation emissions are rising as a percentage of North Carolina’s statewide carbon emissions; and (2) Changing out the vehicle fleet does not require any “permission” from the investor-owned utility. Fleet rightsizing: One of the easiest ways to improve energy efficiency within a fleet is to assess whether it has any unnecessary vehicles or components. Downsizing means immediate reduction in fleet footprint as well as fewer vehicles that must be transitioned to low carbon. Low-carbon vehicles: Replace traditional vehicles with electric vehicles. Vehicle stock does not turn over quickly. Vocational electrification, which means tracking a government’s employees against their needs for transportation, is the first step in analyzing what opportunities for electrification exist. It does require, however, that the jurisdiction have EV charging stations available.
– Procuring Renewable Energy: There are three ways to procure renewable energy: (1) Own the renewable energy asset and use the energy; (2) Get a purchase power agreement that is linked to a physical asset; or (3) Purchase renewable energy credits (RECS) on the market. North Carolina does not allow third-party sales of electricity, so the first option is not available. However, there has been some traction with the Green Source Advantage (GSA) program for large energy consumers. Example: The City of Charlotte worked with the N.C. Utilities Commission Public Staff on the state’s first city GSA. There are 31 MW left under the GSA available for large consumers. Purchase of Renewable Energy Credits: Local economic development benefits are accrued when city or county projects are planned and implemented, but the lack of third-party sales means development of local renewable energy product for a local government’s use is legal only when done within one of Duke Energy’s programs. Nevertheless, a jurisdiction can purchase RECs on the open market to mitigate energy from fossil fuel use. This approach may be considerably less popular among residents.
Finally, communities should address environmental justice so that under-served areas can acquire and own solar, energy efficiency infrastructure, or other renewable energy technologies either on homes, or in community systems. Whether a local government hires a consultant to achieve their renewable energy resolution, or goes it alone, there is a breadth of information available to make the transition as smooth as possible.