Viewpoints

Cities are leading the way on green power

By Melissa Klein

Green power has become a readily available resource that a growing number of organizations are voluntarily turning to as part of their overall electricity use and climate strategy. According to a recent National Renewable Energy Laboratory report, from 2012 to 2013 total green power sales in the voluntary market increased 27 percent. Many municipalities are on the forefront of this trend, leading the way on green power use and accounting for a large percentage of the green power industry’s growth.  Cities are utilizing the full spectrum of procurement options to access green power, from purchasing green power products from their local utility, to choosing on-site installations and community choice aggregation in an effort to increase sustainability and even cut costs in certain instances.

As part of their green power strategies, cities and towns are participating in the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA’s) Green Power Partnership, a national program that supports organizations in procuring green power. The EPA defines green power as electricity produced from solar, wind, geothermal, biogas, eligible biomass and low-impact hydroelectric sources.

Cities Are Going Green

Green Power Partner and recent Leadership Award Winner Las Vegas is proving that long-term strategies to conserve energy and increase deployment of renewable energy resources can enhance tourism and diversify a city’s economy.

Las Vegas recently installed 3.3 megawatts (MW) of solar photovoltaic (PV) panels at its City of Las Vegas Water Pollution Control Facility, the largest municipal project of its type in the region. This facility uses approximately 120,000 kilowatt-hours (kWh) of electricity per day to process more than 75 million gallons of water and represents about one-third of the city's total municipal energy costs. With the addition of the solar PV panels, which came online in April 2013 and generate nearly 6.7 million kWh annually, green power accounts for about 20 percent of the plant's electricity use. Together with energy retrofits of city facilities and streetlights and installation of solar panels at 40 city-owned locations, more than $2.5 million per year will be saved in energy costs. Additional benefits include reduced energy demand on the grid and improved air quality.

Some leading local governments are also working with EPA’s Green Power Partnership Program to become Green Power Communities (GPCs). GPCs are towns, villages, cities, counties, or tribal governments in which the local government, businesses, and residents collectively use green power in amounts that meet or exceed EPA's requirements. Purchasing or using on-site green power is one of the easiest ways for a community to reduce its carbon footprint and support domestic energy supply. Currently, more than 50 GPCs are using more than 6 billion kWh of green power annually.  

Beaverton, Ore., became a municipal partner in 2007 and a GPC later that same year. In 2014, Beaverton became the first municipality in Oregon’s Portland General Electric service territory to meet 100 percent of its electricity demands with clean, renewable power sources. Part of its Sustainable Beaverton Strategy, the city’s annual purchase of more than 10 million kWh of wind energy is enough to power all of its facilities and operations, including street lighting, water pumping, and electric vehicle charging.

Beaverton also invests in on-site generation, with a 17.6 kW solar array on its main library building and a demonstration solar gazebo in the local farmers' market. In 2014, the Beaverton City Council approved the construction of a 433 kW solar photovoltaic array on a local reservoir, one of the city's largest facilities in terms of electricity use. Under a 25-year power purchase agreement (PPA), Beaverton will purchase the project’s generated electricity at a discounted rate. The array is expected to provide approximately 55 percent of the facility's annual power needs. Beaverton won a 2014 Green Power Leadership Award for its efforts.

Evanston, Ill., joined as a GPC in 2014. In May, the Evanston City Council unanimously adopted the next phase of a community-wide Evanston Livability Plan, aiming to achieve a 20 percent reduction in greenhouse gas emissions by 2016 from 2005 baseline levels. The City uses more than 23 million kWh of green power annually, which is equal to 100 percent of its electricity use. Evanston purchases Renewable Energy Certificates (RECs) and generates power from the Evanston Water Treatment Facility’s rooftop solar energy system. Evanston’s residents and small businesses also purchase an additional 130 million kWh of green power through the city's community choice aggregation program.

New Strategies for Procuring Green Power

  • Solar Power Purchase Agreements: A financial arrangement in which a third-party developer owns, operates, and maintains the photovoltaic system, and a host customer agrees to site the system on its roof or elsewhere on its property and purchases the system's electric output for a predetermined period.
  • Community Choice Aggregation (CCA): A procurement model that allows local governments to pool, or aggregate, the electric load of their residents, businesses and institutions in order to purchase electricity on their behalf. Because the community is now the decision maker, these procurements often include a high percentage of green power. The CCA system has been adopted into law in California, Illinois, Massachusetts, New Jersey, Ohio, and Rhode Island. 

The Benefits of Partnership

Partnering with EPA and joining the Green Power Partnership (which is free) provides credibility to voluntary green power use, and signifies that organization’s purchase meets nationally accepted standards in terms of size, content, and resource base. Additional benefits include:

  • Recognition: Becoming a program Partner can help bring positive attention to your community. Cities and towns receive recognition as Green Power Partners, which differentiates you from other localities and sets an example for others to follow suit. Partners may also apply for the annual Green Power Leadership Awards, which recognize organization’s leading actions that significantly advance the green power market. Award categories include green power purchasing, on-site generation, and Green Power Community of the Year. Currently, the 2015 Awards application period is open through April 17.
  • Tools and Resources: GPP’s Resource Library includes example contracts and requests for proposals (RFPs), as well as webinars that provide the latest information on green power use.
  • Networking Opportunities: Learn and share ideas and best practices with other green power leaders nationwide.

With climate change and smart growth essential factors to consider in order for cities and counties to thrive, municipalities will continue leading the way on green power use. To learn more about EPA’s Green Power Partnership, please visit www.epa.gov/greenpower.    

Melissa Klein is Communications Director at U.S. EPA Green Power Partnership.

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