Solar Energy

Published on June 25th, 2020 | by greentechheadlines

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How US cities and counties are getting renewable energy –

How US cities and counties are getting renewable energy –

Cities are a core driver of climate change, accounting for more than 70% of
greenhouse gas emissions. Precisely because they are such big GHG emitters,
cities can be at the forefront in tackling climate change by leading the switch
to clean energy. Over the last five years, more U.S. cities have started
setting and acting upon their renewable energy goals. This will be critical if
the United States is to achieve its Paris Agreement commitments, given the
current lack of federal action.

New data shows how cities are making this change by signing deals that move
their own municipal operations — and in some cases, their entire communities —
away from fossil-fueled electricity and toward renewable energy.

A new tool from the American Cities Climate Challenge Renewables Accelerator,
the Local
Government Renewables Action Tracker
, showcases renewable energy deals made
by U.S. cities, counties, tribal governments, municipal utilities and community
choice aggregations since 2015. Cataloguing over 300 deals, the tool equips
local governments with the resources to understand what other cities have
accomplished, which can help as they develop their own renewable energy
strategies and determine how to collaborate effectively.

The Local Government Renewables Action Tracker reveals the immense impact
that cities can have on national clean energy trends, helping to make these
efforts more commonplace. Here are five renewable energy trends across U.S.
local governments in the last five years:

1. Renewable
energy procurement by U.S. local governments is rising dramatically.

Between 2015 and the first quarter of 2020, U.S. cities signed 335 renewable
energy deals totaling 8.28 gigawatts (GW) — roughly the same electric generating
capacity of Alaska, Hawaii,
Rhode Island and Vermont
. This power, procured through on-site projects, community solar projects,
utility green
tariff
s and off-site power
purchase agreements
 (but not including unbundled
renewable energy certificate purchases
), is equivalent to nearly 1% of
the total current electric generating capacity installed in the United States.

In 2018 and 2019 respectively, renewable energy purchases made by local
governments were over three times those made in 2017. This spike came not long
after the federal government’s June 2017 announcement of its intended
withdrawal from the Paris Agreement, an event that spurred many subnational
governments
 to commit to formal climate and clean energy goals.
Implementation of these goals, combined with the declining costs
of renewable electricity
, help explain the growing interest in clean energy
procurement among city and county governments.

2. Most of the
renewable energy capacity purchased by local governments in the last five years
occurred in California and Texas, but procurement continues to grow
substantially throughout the country.  

California and Texas accounted for about 84% of the total renewable energy
purchased by cities between 2015 and early 2020. The prominent role of these
two states is no surprise, given that they are the country’s largest
electricity consumers
 and enjoy easy access to abundant wind and solar resources.
Both also allow electric retail choice and have the local autonomy needed to
access renewable energy options such as community choice
aggregations
 (CCAs). In doing so, local governments can aggregate the
power demand of their residents and businesses to get more leverage to choose
cleaner power sources, which could contribute to their higher rates of
procurement.

There is also a lot of progress in other regions, including through
community solar projects in Minnesota, Massachusetts and Washington.
Collectively, there were more than 120 clean energy transactions by local
governments in the other most active states.

3. Local
governments are using off-site power purchase agreements (PPAs) to drive most
of their new local renewable energy capacity.

The tracker shows that 90% of the renewable energy capacity purchased by
cities was completed through off-site PPAs, contracts between a buyer and a
developer for renewable energy projects that are not located at the site of the
buyer’s electricity usage. Off-site PPAs allow local governments to purchase
energy from utility-scale projects, which means that these deals can be very
large and cost-effective compared to other procurement options. This makes them
a popular choice for cities, especially in deregulated
electricity markets
 that allow retail electric choices.

Although community solar and on-site projects have a smaller average deal
size, these two procurement methods remain popular because they tend to be less
expensive, and, for on-site projects in particular, allow local governments to
host renewable energy projects on their own city- or county-owned property. For
this reason, many cities, including Cincinnati, Los Angeles and New Orleans,
built small-scale on-site or community solar projects as a first step before
signing large-scale, off-site PPAs.

4. On-site deals
are most popular in the Northeast, whereas off-site PPAs make up most of the
renewable energy purchases in California, Texas and the Southwest.

In the Northeast, most local government renewable energy deals are on-site
projects. Favorable distributed
solar policies
, such as expanded net metering and
policies like New York City’s Municipal Solar
Strategy
, enable a lot of on-site distributed generation. The modest rate of
sunshine
 in this region has also led to relatively few
large-scale renewable
project options
 available for off-site PPAs, compared with the
Southwest.

Meanwhile, off-site PPAs are most popular in California and Texas, as well
as the Southwest and PJM electric markets, because of their abundant
renewable energy
 resources and the relatively large amount of open
space, which are convenient for developing off-site solar and wind farms.
Moreover, 72 out of the 100 off-site PPA transactions in California were made
by local
CCAs
 that enable participants to buy power in bulk by aggregating
their demand and signing long-term contracts.

5. Solar leads
nationally in terms of the number of deals and overall capacity, while
individual wind projects are generally larger and have a strong presence in the
West. 

Solar accounts for 74% of overall capacity and 89% of the total deals
purchased by local governments. Although the amount of solar energy a city gets
varies by its location and weather, solar resources are more uniformly
distributed across the United States than wind power, making solar more widely
accessible and suitable not only for large projects where adequate space is
available, but also for smaller on-site and community-scale projects. Given its
daytime availability, on-site solar projects are also particularly well-suited
for city and county governments, whose electricity demand often peaks during
business hours.

Wind, on the other hand, is by far the leader when it comes to individual
project capacity, averaging about 72 megawatts (MW) per project, more than
three times the average project capacity for solar. The lack of access to
steady, unobstructed wind in cities typically makes urban areas unsuitable for
distributed wind projects.

Although solar energy deals make up the majority of capacity purchased
across the country, wind has a strong presence in the Southwest and Midwest,
thanks to an abundance of renewable resources.

What’s next for renewable energy in U.S. cities?

In total, over 150 U.S. local governments have made renewable energy deals
since 2015, and even more have committed to ambitious renewable energy
goals
. But to achieve their climate and energy targets, local governments
will need to accelerate their large-scale renewable energy procurement by
creating comprehensive clean energy plans that combine several types of projects and
by partnering with each other and other organizations to buy energy together.

To keep momentum up, many more local governments will need to enter the U.S.
renewable energy market. There are growing opportunities and pathways for doing
so as the efforts of early adopters have provided experiences to learn from,
renewable energy prices continue to decline and more resources and
tools
 are becoming increasingly available. 

By signing more deals to procure renewable energy for their own municipal
operations, cities can be a significant contributor to decarbonizing the
electricity system and tackling climate change, especially in emissions-heavy
markets like the Midwest and the Northeast. But looking beyond that, local
governments can and should use their ambition to expand renewable energy to
their entire communities, using approaches such as Solarize
campaigns
 and similar inclusive community solar
initiatives
 with an emphasis on low-income and minority neighborhoods.

Representing the majority of the U.S. population and GDP, cities are hubs for rapid learning and experimentation, with the potential to be a force that can reshape electricity use. To enable a clean energy future across the country, local governments will play an integral role in growing the renewables market and further accelerating these trends.

This article was originally posted on World Resources Institute and was republished with permission.


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