Add Atlanta to the list. The list, that is, of the 27 US cities in 17 states, with populations totaling more than 5.1 million, that have enacted ordinances that will enable them to get 100 percent of their electricity from renewable sources like wind and solar power. In Atlanta’s case, the City Council voted unanimously this week to power all of its municipal facilities—schools, libraries, fire houses—with clean energy by 2025, and then extend that commitment to all the electricity consumed in Atlanta by 2035. Mayor Kasim Reed is expected to sign the legislation soon.
With its population of more than 450,000, the Big Peach is the second city in the Southeast to make this world-changing commitment. In November, St. Petersburg, Florida (population 250,000) became the first. (Abita Springs, Louisiana, with only 2,450 residents, was the second Southeastern municipality make the pledge, in April.)
Wait, is this the laggard Southeast we’re talking about? The slow-to-get-with-the-clean-energy-picture Southeast? Yes, indeed. What’s going on here is what’s going on across the country. Not only are cities now increasingly aware of the many benefits clean energy offers their residents, they’ve come to a quick realization of how important local action on climate is in this new political age. Given what’s happening in Washington, cities and states must now lead the way.
In fact, so emboldened are cities these days that the Sierra Club’s Ready for 100 campaign, which helps cities move to 100 percent clean energy, reports that the number of cities with active campaigns has more than quadrupled since the November election, to more than 100; the number of mayors involved in its brand-new Mayors for 100% Clean Energy group has more than doubled, to roughly 35, since it launched only a week or so ago. As the Atlanta City Council’s resolution this week attests: “Whereas the City’s commitment to 100% clean energy will create good local jobs for Atlanta residents, reduce air pollution and associated public health risks, reduce the strain on water resources and save consumers money….[And t]hese sources of energy have significant public health co-benefits associated that can help address pressing environmental justice challenges in sensitive communities in Atlanta and around the country”—well, you get the picture.
While some of the cities that have made these commitments are, you might say, the usual suspects—San Francisco, Boulder, Colorado, Burlington, Vermont—the Southeast is increasingly working against type. Proposals for 100 percent clean energy are now in motion in Tampa, Orlando, and Tallahassee, Florida, along with other cities in Georgia and Louisiana.
In Atlanta, the resolution builds on a list of existing clean energy accomplishments. In November, 2015, the City launched its Solar Atlanta program to install solar on 28 municipal buildings. Less than a year later, it streamlined its solar permitting process to make installing solar easier for homeowners and businesses. The City, as part of its participation in NRDC’s and the Institute for Market Transformation’s City Energy Project, was also the first in the Southeast to mandate energy-use monitoring and reporting in private and City-owned commercial buildings larger than 25,000 square feet, covering about 80 percent of the city’s commercial building sector. (The practice of measuring energy use has been shown to create significant energy savings all on its own.) Two of Atlanta’s businesses are clean energy leaders, too: Both Coca Cola and Interface have pledged to get 100 percent of their electricity from renewable sources. And, of course, the resolution was supported by a broad coalition of community groups, including the Georgia NAACP, the Georgia Chapter of the US Green Building Council, Mothers and Others for Clean Air, NRDC, and the Sierra Club’s Georgia Chapter.
Atlanta’s decision to get 100 percent of its electricity from sources like wind and solar power confirms the City’s status as a national clean energy leader. But it should do more than that: inspire cities throughout our Southeast to take its lead and bring clean energy’s many benefits to their residents, too.