100% Renewable Energy at the Local Level: A Small but Growing Movement

David Fessler By David Fessler
Energy and Infrastructure Strategist, The Oxford Club

Alternative Energy

Here’s a tale of two cities, both in the southeastern United States.

Abita Springs, Louisiana, has a population of 2,365 and is mostly conservative, with a Republican mayor. Atlanta has a metro population of 5.7 million, a Democratic mayor and a progressive city council.

Despite their obvious differences, they have something in common: They are the first two Southeast cities planning to use 100% renewable energy.

It’s all part of a small but growing movement of energy leadership at the town and city levels. These energy pioneers are crafting their own energy destiny.

And they are doing it in spite of Trump rejecting the Paris climate agreement. Or Secretary of Energy Rick Perry’s negative attitude toward renewables.

So far, 27 U.S. cities and towns have committed to the 100% renewable goal. But only four have achieved it: Aspen, Colorado; Burlington, Vermont; Georgetown, Texas; and Greensburg, Kansas.

Twenty-seven cities and towns out of an estimated 19,354 “incorporated places” in the U.S. reflect only a sliver of the entire country. But it’s a start.

These towns and cities are sending a clear message to utility companies and state and federal governments: Our energy destiny is in our own hands.

Atlanta’s energy committee is gathering data to determine its renewable needs. The first stage of its plan is to power all of its municipal facilities with clean energy by 2025.

These include city buildings, water treatment plants, libraries and the Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport, the busiest in the world. By 2035, Atlanta wants all homes, businesses, universities and churches on renewable energy.

And the state’s largest city is sending a powerful message to Georgia Power: Get with renewable energy.

The utility is getting the message. Despite the fact that its primary power sources are coal-fired plants, Georgia Power already ranks among the top utilities in the country in installed solar capacity.

It currently has more than 850 megawatts of solar capacity online. By 2021, Georgia Power expects it will have nearly twice that available.

But it still may not be enough to meet Atlanta’s needs. The city will probably require some level of battery storage.

Meanwhile, Abita Springs is about an hour north of New Orleans. Its lone claim to fame is the Abita Brewery.

This past March, Greg Lemons, the mayor of this small, conservative town, signed a proclamation to commit to 100% renewable energy by 2030. The town’s committee for energy and sustainability had already approved it.

Like Atlanta, Abita Springs will need help from its utility provider, Cleco, to meet its goal. The town is now looking at hundreds of acres of fallow farmland to use for solar farms.

Though Louisiana abolished its solar tax credits last year, many residents of the Bayou State want solar on their rooftops.

The No. 1 challenge for any city going 100% renewable is figuring out how to fund the initial costs. Fortunately, prices for wind and solar continue to drop, making that less of an issue.

The important thing about what these two municipalities are doing is the shift itself. Just 10 years ago, going 100% renewable would have been unthinkable. Ten years from now, it will practically be a requirement. And state and federal politicians will be touting the idea as their own.

And millennials will be a decade older, with many of them making the decisions for these towns and cities.

Before the 100% renewable trend becomes national, and cities and towns across the country follow the lead of Abita Springs and Atlanta, investors might want act. They would be smart to have some exposure to solar and wind in their energy investment portfolios.

Getting ahead of this trend before it becomes a watershed moment could prove to be very lucrative.

Those who do could reap real financial benefits as we all breathe a little easier…

Good investing,

Dave

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