This blog was co-authored with Neela Ram, Climate Advisor for Atlanta.
Recognizing the urgency to act on climate change, cities across the United States are accelerating the transition to clean energy by setting ambitious targets. But even the most laudable climate goals will not succeed without collaboration that extends far beyond city hall.
That's why Atlanta's decision to create a Clean Energy Advisory Board (CEAB) is an admirable and savvy step that will set the city up for success in its goal to achieve 100 percent clean energy by 2035. The board, which includes policy makers, community members, local partners, and city employees, had its inaugural meeting this past March. The Board will advise on strategies and proposed policies and programs to meet the city's clean energy goals—with an intentional focus on equity, resilience, and opportunity for all.
From the start, creation of the CEAB was part of Clean Energy Atlanta, a plan adopted unanimously by the Atlanta City Council in March 2019. "The board should not be consensus-based," the plan noted in outlining the CEAB concept. "Rather, it should hold an advisory role to City staff and elected officials, who will have the ultimate decision-making authority."
Accordingly, the City recruited both community advocates and technical experts for the board, which is co-chaired by Chief Sustainability Officer Shelby Busó and Chandra Farley, Director of the nonprofit Partnership for Southern Equity's Just Energy initiative. Additional support was provided by Hummingbird Firm and an unbiased third party facilitator to ensure robust and equitable participation from all members of the Board.
Before reviewing any actual policies, the board created a framework for thoughtfully engaging stakeholders, including a discussion of shared values across all members. Minutes from the CEAB's first meeting in March were published on the Clean Energy Atlanta website. One of the takeaways: "No matter what the issue is, if we are not aligned on why we need to be centering equity, then we will keep putting band aids on things and not getting to the root of the cause."
Atlanta needs steady, community-focused guidance as it pursues undeniably ambitious goals. As of 2019, the City derived 8 percent of its energy from clean sources, and its energy burden—the share of income residents pay for energy—was fourth-highest in the country. CEAB members are now setting up working groups to address specific tasks, such as decarbonizing buildings, alleviating energy burden where residents feel it the most, and using data to maintain accountability.
Atlanta and 24 other cities across the country are tackling issues like these with support from Bloomberg Philanthropies' American Cities Climate Challenge. Another participant in the challenge, St. Louis, has also convened a clean energy advisory board as part of its climate goals. As part of its mandate, the St. Louis board laid out clean energy priorities in five key areas: cost, public health, equity, jobs, and emissions.
Similarly, Atlanta's CEAB will weigh in on a range of topics that touch on every aspect of daily life for residents, from building codes to transportation to solar energy purchasing, all as part of implementing the city's sweeping clean energy strategy.
"This is not just a plan drafted in a vacuum at City Hall," said Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms in her introduction to Clean Energy Atlanta. "Our aim is to unlock the potential of Atlantans to take action to make our home more resilient to the shocks and stresses of a warming planet."
The board's challenging but crucial job will be to make sure the words and ideals behind this plan translate to effective clean energy policies that reach all Atlantans. Their success will mean the Atlanta of 2035 has cleaner air, lower energy bills, a stronger economy, and healthier residents in every neighborhood.