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“Write to be understood, speak to be heard, read to grow.” ― Lawrence Clark Powell

Destined for 100: Is Atlanta Ready for Clean Energy?

Posted on 2/6/2018 by in renewable energy solar renewable energy certificates clean energy RECs energy efficiency
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Benjamin Greenberg, Sterling Planet Social Media Manager, attended Atlanta's Ready for 100 Community Conversations and shares his experience as the city begins its work toward 100% clean energy.

“Atlanta is a city of destiny whose growth has hardly begun”

- William B Hartsfield, Atlanta Mayor, 1960.

I first read Hartsfield’s quote on an installation between the concourses at the airport that bears his name. It became all the more relevant on May 1st, 2017, when the Atlanta City Council unanimously approved a resolution to transition the city to 100% clean energy. Nearly half a million Americans had recently assembled in cities across the US to assert their opposition the current administration’s stance on climate policies, including proposed cuts to the EPA and removal of the Clean Power Plan. Taking up the torch from her predecessor, former Mayor Kasim Reed, Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms is now championing the Clean Energy Pledge. In support of this resolution, The Sierra Club’s Ready for 100 program has worked in tandem with The Southface Energy Institute, The Atlanta Office of Resilience, The Greenlink Group, NRDC, and Rocky Mountain Institute, to draft a plan that would make Atlanta the largest city in the southeast to source 100% clean energy.

The resolution states that all city-owned properties will be transitioned by 2025 and the remaining properties by 2035. That’s less than 10 years to upgrade the busiest airport in the world and less than 20 to cover a city that is in the national top 10 in metropolitan statistical area and 4th in the nation for residential growth. Of the 38 cities reviewed Atlanta also ranks 4th for highest energy burden, or percentage of average household income spent on energy costs. While these numbers may seem daunting, they really highlight the opportunity we have to set a precedent for other southern cities.

To help bridge the knowledge gap and seek out public buy-in, the partnership held several town hall style engagements, aptly named Community Conversations, as part of the plan development process. These gatherings opened up the dialogue about clean energy and its benefits to the community. With 93% of the total electricity consumption in the city going to non-state run buildings, it is clear that this will require a lot of involvement from residents and businesses. Since some may still view renewable energy as an “alternative” or remain unaware of the benefits of energy efficiency, engaging and educating as many citizens as possible is key in shaping a clean energy future that works for everyone.

 The resources presented at the Community Conversations identified 3 main components to achieving 100% clean energy here in Atlanta:

  1.   Energy Efficiency
  2.   Renewable Generation
  3.   Renewable Energy Certificates

Most people think of clean energy as towering wind turbines or sapphire hued photovoltaics and while wind, solar, and other methods of renewable generation are definitely important, the real cornerstone for any clean energy plan is energy efficiency. Simply put, energy efficiency is about achieving optimal results with less energy. Energy not used or wasted results in less energy that needs to be produced, and less impact on the environment. Things like switching to LED lighting, weatherizing, and upgrading HVAC systems are a few examples. After energy demand is reduced it’s time to look at the possibilities for renewable generation, such as rooftop solar. The final piece of the plan is the renewable energy certificate, which is an economic tool designed to accelerate the growth of the renewable energy market and is used to reduce the global impact of carbon dioxide emissions associated any remaining electricity generated through traditional, fossil fuel based resources.

With Plant Scherer (Juliette, GA) and Plant Bowen (Cartersville, GA) coming at #2 and #4, respectively, as the top emitters of CO2 in the entire country, it’s apparent that we have a big opportunity for improvement. The 2 plants combined spewed out a whopping 33,079,877 metric tons of CO2 emissions in 2016. To visualize that, if you removed every single passenger vehicle from Metro Atlanta roads for an entire year, you still wouldn’t reduce the equivalency of CO2 in greenhouse gas emissions. It would take over 38 million acres of forest to sequester that carbon which is larger than the total land area in the entire state!

Using the Athenia model, Southface and The Greenlink Group presented a variety of scenarios in which we can reduce the city’s total emissions by up to 16,680,000 metric tons. This transition also manifests benefits in public health savings, household bill savings, and local job creation. Toss in a reduction in the massive amount that the state spends on importing fossil fuels and moving forward with clean energy seems like a no-brainer.  

We’ve already taken part in projects that show we want a smarter way to look at energy:

  • ·        Atlanta has led the nation 3 years in a row in the Better Buildings Initiative, which is a program designed to make commercial buildings more energy and water efficient.
  • ·        The city is in the beginning stages of Solarize Atlanta, a community-based bulk-purchasing solar program, in which residential and commercial customers can sign-up together during a limited timeframe to receive a discounted rate on rooftop solar.
  • ·        The City of Atlanta is working on SmartATL a project utilizing IoT and data analytics to give real time data that can improve municipal energy efficiency.
  • ·        Georgia has The Ray, a stretch of I-85 that includes solar-powered vehicle charging stations and a stretch of solar roadway.
  • ·        Georgia ranks #2 in the country for electric vehicles and plug-in hybrids.
  • ·        Georgia ranks #7 in the nation for LEED projects, boasting 71 total projects for 2017

It would seem that Atlanta’s growing reputation for being a Tech Mecca has an opportunity to expand into the energy arena and these highlights show that we’ve already taken steps in that direction. With the international community committed to breaking ties with fossil fuel, global adoption of clean energy won’t be slowing down. If we want to keep up, the way we think about our energy production and consumption here at home needs to keep pace. This is our chance to determine our clean energy destiny, if you will. As an Atlanta native with a strong love for this city I can safely say that I am ready for 100. Are you?

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