“Going green” is about transitioning to a healthier, cleaner, more livable city, while growing stable, living wage jobs and opportunities for all, built on proven, readily available, clean energy technologies. In contrast, the dirty fossil fuel “Energy Hub” plan is about turning back the clock to the 19th century, and writing off our city as an environmental “sacrifice zone” for the short-term profit of some of the worst corporate polluters on the planet.
As residents of Philadelphia, we need to
- change our City’s role in the energy marketplace,
- strengthen incentives for energy efficient & renewable improvements,
- strengthen disclosure requirements for commercial & residential buildings, and
- consider financing mechanisms for green projects that address market failures.
Here are some examples of each.
1. Change our City’s role in the energy marketplace
- Municipal (group) power purchasing/ community choice aggregation
Communities participating in the Sustainable Westchester coalition are going to be able to purchase power as a municipal group and offer it to their citizens. People can choose to participate and purchase from the town, or stay in the usual arrangement and buy from the utility. More here. Philadelphia could investigate pursuing an agreement like this with PECO. Lowering energy prices through a group purchase in conjunction with switching to REC powered electricity would really allow for a wider market signal in favor of renewables without a big cost increase.
- Virtual net metering/community renewables
DC recently passed a community renewables energy act giving utility rate payers access to virtual net-metering. Virtual net-metering permits anyone to subscribe to a solar installation. Once they have done so, the electricity produced by their portion of the solar installation is credited to their monthly electric bill. More here. This has not come into effect yet, but the relevant agency is in final rulemaking. What is really cool about this is it offers an opportunity for low income renters (for example) to participate by investing in solar facilities, and the design of this (last I heard) contemplated assistance for low income families so all could participate in a sustainable future as buyers, builders, and investors. DC’s effort is locally focused, so all the installations that produce energy have to be located in the city, producing local jobs.
2. Strengthen incentives for energy efficient & renewable improvements
- Student Conservation Corps: Building a New Energy Foundation – EPA & West Chester Area School District – $300k project cost, $281k saved annually on electric bill. Let’s do this in Philly! We can
- Save energy and money desperately needed for education
- Train students for jobs in weatherization & energy efficiency
- Train students for jobs as solar panel installers
- Outreach and weatherization projects for low income homeowners
3. Strengthen disclosure requirements for commercial & residential buildings
- Residential energy use disclosure ordinance
Austin has instituted an Energy Conservation Audit & Disclosure Ordinance that requires homebuyers to disclose the energy use of their home through an audit. This provides information to prospective buyers on the home’s energy purchase. By getting the information out there in relation to the purchase process, this is an important step towards moving to a real estate appraisal process that actually incorporates energy performance. By over time allowing homebuyers to make decisions that lead to sale prices that are higher due to efficiency features, future appraisals can start to incorporate these market comps into play. ACEEE has a policy brief here. If we can make it easier for the market to reflect the increased values of residential properties that have renewable/energy efficient features, that provides even more motivation for homeowners to upgrade. As a potential policy, this could always be designed to minimize the impact on low income households by making audits free for certain income thresholds.
4. Consider financing mechanisms for green projects that address market failures.
- Sustainable Energy Utility
The DC Sustainable Energy Utility is a private company under contract to the District Department of the Environment, which administers rebates that are funded by a Sustainable Energy Trust Fund, financed by a tax on all electric and natural gas utility ratepayers. Rather than rely on different utilities offering different incentives, DC SEU sort of offers them all, with a very user friendly interface to homeowners. It has gotten some rave reviews already and could be a model for Philadelphia. This hypothetical entity could help to address the challenges in coordinating energy retrofits.
- PennSEF & FREE
The Pennsylvania Sustainable Energy Finance program is a partnership between the PA Treasury Dept and FREE (the Foundation for Renewable Energy & Environment), to provide technical and legal assistance, as well as low-cost capital, for energy improvement projects by municipalities, universities, schools and hospitals. More here.
- Green Bank
New York State has recently started a green bank that invests in green flavored projects of many types, seeking to put capital in play where private markets are unwilling to do so and establish proven models to facilitate private investment, as NRDC details on this blog post. Connecticut also has one. I know of at least one county that is considering doing a green bank on the local level. I think the next mayor could pursue this idea, either in terms of talking with the state to implement one at a statewide level (the best way forward), or possibly implementing a local version.
- Commercial PACE
It would be great to see the next mayor advocate with the state for Commercial PACE enabling legislation so it is easier for commercial buildings to finance retrofits through property assessments. PA is one of only 22 states without enabling legislation, and every state to our Northeast (including NJ and NY) has it – but that is a bit out of the mayor’s direct control.
- Curious about the fossil fuel energy hub and why we oppose it? Read on.
- How do we intend to power ourselves if we’re rejecting fossil fuels? From web page of a local group (Energy Justice Network),
“When it comes to materials management, the simplified solution can be summed up as the three R’s — Reduce, Reuse, Recycle. These are in priority order. The equivalent in the energy world is Conservation, Efficiency and Clean Renewables”.
See their one page chart for recommended hierarchy of waste management & energy production (from cleanest to dirtiest). So when we speak of clean energy, we aren’t just talking about solar panels; implied is Conservation, Efficiency, and then Clean Renewable Energy like Solar & Wind.
- As to whether we can actually power ourselves by solar & wind, see this infographic by the Solutions Project, and zoom into PA. The data is from a Stanford University research. They’re actively developing a more detailed roadmap for New York State.
Some local proposals
- ECA’s Recommendations for the Next Mayor of Philadelphia: UNLEASH THE POWER OF ENERGY EFFICIENCY TO GROW PHILADELPHIA’S ECONOMY AND CREATE LOCAL JOBS
A lot of the energy efficiency (EE) work will pay for itself within a year or two. We’ve heard about a suburban school implementing EE and saving 40% of their energy cost, which could go right back into the school budget. Would love to see this for PHL schools.
- Philadelphia‘s GreenWorks program, and the 2014 progress report
Mayor Nutter’s GreenWorks plan. The City’s met quite a few of the targets. But in terms of energy, we haven’t met the first target (T1). We need to reach the 5 energy targets, and develop an 80% by 2050 plan like other cities, possibly dubbing it Greenworks+.
- Mayor-Elect Kenney’s Environment policy announced May 4th, 2015, found here.
- A renewable-energy alternative to Philadelphia’s fossil fuel vision, excerpts below
According to National Renewable Energy Laboratory data, the Philadelphia region has the potential to install 8,700 megawatts of rooftop solar — equal to about 25 percent of the region’s energy usage. Over 20 years, this equates to $1.3 billion annually in direct economic activity and $1.95 billion annually in indirect economic benefits for the Philadelphia area. Philadelphia could potentially get about 5 percent of this economic activity, or about $97.5 million, in the form of property, sales and wage taxes. By 2035, solar energy could annually provide more than 4,000 direct, well-paid jobs to local workers.
Energy efficiency is also a key part of turning our city into a renewable energy hub. Efficiency like weatherization has immediate environmental, health and climate benefits, saves people money on electricity bills, and provides many local construction jobs. Jobs in energy efficiency can take advantage of the existing local workforce, and the work is much more job intensive than the natural gas industry. The American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy completed a study in 2009 that found that with the right policies, installation of energy efficiency and solar measures could spur the growth of at least 9,000 jobs in Philadelphia by 2025.
On Fiscal Transparency
- Increase fiscal transparency and making metrics available online. This article highlights how Pittsburgh and NYC have very inexpensively made their budgets easy to use online. Could be used for energy, as recommended by the ECA, to track energy consumption patterns.
The Need to Act on Climate Now
The threat of catastrophic climate disruption is looking Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, the United States and the entire world, square in the face. The science is settled; we cannot afford to ignore it. The time for agressive action for prevention, mitigation & adaptation is now if already impending disasters are to be mitigated and future disasters are to be avoided. To insure a safe, healthy and prosperous future for our city, we must begin now to embrace every available measure for our transition to renewable energy, as well as taking strong steps to protect our citizens from the economic and environmental challenges to come through conservation, mitigation and adaptation.
- Climate change could knock out power in Philly
- SEPTA fights a changing climate’s threats to sink it
- Climate change impacts & Adaptation in Northeast US
- National Security and the Accelerating Risks of Climate Change
- 8 ways climate change is making the world more dangerous
- Steady increase in climate change related disasters
- The Impact of Climate Change on Natural Disasters
- Without National Policy, Mayors Try to Combat Climate Change on Their Own
It might be good to see the targets Mayor Nutter has laid out
The Morality of Acting on Climate
Continuing to heedlessly pour greenhouse gasses into our atmosphere threatens the continuation of civilization itself and possibly the survival of the human species and other forms of life on earth.
- 2015 the ‘last effective opportunity’ to safely limit warming, says Vatican conference statement
- Vatican official calls for moral awakening on global warming
- The reality, risks and response to climate change
- Climate change: Threats & Impacts
- UN Panel Issues it starkest warning yet on Global Warming
Is it possible to change our course?
Fortunately, we have all the technology needed to convert to a sustainable economy without sacrificing jobs and opportunity.
- Net Savings of $71 trillion by 2050 with transition to renewable energy
- A clean energy future is possible
On Health Impacts
- Haunted by an industrial future
- Climate change & health
- The White House wants to explore how climate change makes you sick
On a Transparent, Public Conversation about Philadelphia’s Energy Future
We need to firmly reject the proposed plans to turn our city back toward 19th century technologies through the build-out of a so-called “energy hub” which is morally and economically unsustainable and presents an unacceptable risk to the health and safety of our citizens, particularly the most vulnerable among us.
To do this, we need an open and transparent process for decision-making about the energy and economic development future of our city. This process will provide opportunities for those directly affected by these decisions to be heard, including hearings in communities at times when working people can attend. We must not allow the voices of our neighborhoods, communities, local businesses and civic groups to be drowned out by outside monied interests.
- Presentation, community meeting Wednesday on risks of oil trains in Philadelphia neighborhoods
- Philadelphia should resist Marcellus ‘energy hub’ vision